During the course of the last two years, Van Dorn and his colleagues chased down more leads than they could remember. But they never found a thing. Despite this, his gut told him that this time it would be different, but he was well aware that many cases like these ended badly.
His flashlight hovered over the staircase, and that’s when he saw it. His heart was pounding as fear overtook him. He prayed for good news as a deep frown set between his eyebrows. But when one of the stairs was wrenched open, everything changed for Van Dorn.
As a police officer working in one of the most famous cities in the world, Detective Erik Van Dorn wasn’t easily fazed by the challenges of his job.
Now, Van Dorn worked in the town of Saugerties in Ulster County, New York; truth be told, the place was a far cry from the big city life of Manhattan. But that wasn’t all.
However, Van Dorn had still encountered his fair share of disturbing cases there. He had already been a detective for a few years by 2021.
Still, nothing had prepared him for what he would find under that staircase. It was something way more unnerving and eerie than anything he had seen in his previous years as a police officer in New York City.
The case in question had been a troubling one from the beginning. While it was still early days in the investigation, Van Dorn and his colleagues remained hopeful that there would be a breakthrough early on.
They still didn’t know what they were heading for. They were in for quite a long wait, which would culminate in an unsettling discovery.
In cases of that nature, time was of the essence. When the days turned into weeks and eventually months, Van Dorn began to lose hope.
While it wasn’t an easy thing to admit, he had begun fearing the worst. What if they didn’t find what they were looking for and that became one of those cases that remain unsolved forever?
Although the stakes were as high as they could ever be in a case like this, the most likely angles that Van Dorn worked early on felt promising.
Detective Van Dorn never allowed himself to contemplate the worst scenarios in those days. However, those fears kept creeping into the back of his mind, and memories from a past case kept haunting him.
It wasn’t the first time that Van Dorn worked on a missing girl case. The last one had taken place during his time working as a police officer in Harlem, Manhattan.
No other case before had ever impacted him like that one. To that day, even though years had passed, he still felt the guilt and remorse torturing him.
It had been one of the most intense times in Van Dorn’s life: his mind was racing day and night, going through all the possible cues and all the variables in the case.
The girl, a four-year-old orphan, had disappeared from a foster care agency’s facilities in Harlem. She just seemed to vanish in thin air. But that wasn’t the eeriest part of it.
Van Dorn questioned and interrogated numerous members of the agency’s staff but was invariably met with the same response: complete silence and obliviousness, either genuine or simulated.
It didn’t take long before his mind began fostering a suspicion: what if some of the agency’s workers were involved in the girl’s disappearance? And there was a further, even scarier possibility.
What if it was the agency’s higher management that orchestrated the girl’s abduction and terrorized the rest of the staff into staying quiet, or else?
However, the most unnerving detail of the whole case was yet to come. When Van Dorn checked the agency’s facilities’ CCTV footage from the day the girl disappeared, he instantly knew something was very wrong.
All the footage from that day was gone! No matter which of the multiple cameras in the facility Van Dorn checked, none of them had any records from that day, the previous one, or the one after.
At some point in the footage, the day before the girl disappeared, the screen just turned black and stayed like that until two days after the vanishing.
That was all the confirmation Van Dorn needed to know what he had been suspecting all along: someone in the foster care agency, probably someone in a higher-management position, had been involved in the girl’s disappearance.
However, Van Dorn didn’t know where to start. None of the staff members said a peep, so he was faced with one big problem.
That was one of those cases where the evidence that there was something wrong was, paradoxically, the absolute absence of any evidence. However, something was very clear to Van Dorn.
The police department would have a hard time building a case or finding the true culprit of the disappearance. But after weeks of being absorbed by this case, Van Dorn received some fateful news.
He was transferred to the town of Saugerties in Ulster County, New York. They didn’t give him any explanation at all for the change; however, Van Dorn had his own theories.
He feared that his investigations into the girl’s disappearance might have bothered the wrong people. He didn’t have any proof of that, but it was what his gut told him.
Deep inside, Van Dorn also suspected that, along with the move to Saugerties, they might have promoted him to detective to keep him happy, busy, and quiet.
Sometimes, when he caught himself fostering those kinds of doubts, he wondered whether he was being too paranoid. It’s not like he had any proof of a big conspiracy around the girl’s disappearance. But what if…?
Eventually, he almost ended up forgetting about the case. Sometimes he felt guilty about it, but his thoughts quickly went back to the cases he had to handle in Saugerties. He had enough on his plate as it was to keep dwelling on the past.
However, this new case of a missing girl reignited his memories of that case in Harlem and his pain over having been unable to solve it.
Van Dorn promised himself to do right this time and solve the case, no matter what it took. So he went to work and began investigating.
All the evidence pointed in one direction. Van Dorn’s instincts told him the answers were there. Yet, each time the leads were followed nothing ever turned up. He began wondering if he could have missed something.
If someone had explained the facts of the case to Van Dorn in theory, it would have been an open-and-shut case to his mind. The chief suspects were clearly involved somehow—they had to be!
In reality, every time Van Dorn thought he had what he needed to solve the case, all leads against chief suspects Kirk Jr. and Kimberly would evaporate again. This led to the unsettling thought that maybe there was someone else involved.
Van Dorn’s training had taught him that remaining objective was vital. Human beings were all capable of personal biases. Having a case tainted with a phenomenon called “confirmation bias” could be disastrous.
It could result in objectivity being clouded and cause him to draw conclusions based on what they wanted the truth to be rather than what it actually was. On the other hand, Detective Van Dorn’s experience had also taught him that, more often than not, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
So many officers from the Saugerties PD could place themselves in the shoes of the affected family. This made it especially difficult not to take the case personally. It was everyone’s worst nightmare.
Everyone wished for a good outcome but now two whole years had passed without a breakthrough. The worst part was the hope constantly dangled in front of them by all the tips and leads over the years.
Over the years, several tips had been received. Despite the original scene of the crime being 180 miles away in Cayuga Heights, the leads kept pointing to a house in Saugerties.
The residents of the house had an undeniable tie to the case. But what exactly was the extent of their involvement? Or, in other words: how guilty were they?
However, Van Dorn and his men soon found an obstacle in the way of their investigation: comprehensive search warrants were hard to come by. The reason for this was that the tips were all based on hearsay evidence.
Every search of the property had turned up nothing, but Van Dorn was still convinced that something was being hidden.
These legal loopholes were extremely frustrating for Van Dorn and his men, as each search warrant only allowed for limited access to the house. Naturally, this posed a big difficulty for their investigations.
And to make things worse, police teams who combed the house for clues weren’t allowed into some parts of the house. But that wasn’t all.
They were also always on a time limit which prevented them from being able to search as thoroughly as they wanted to. It almost seemed like the system was trying to keep them from finding the truth about what really happened in that house.
However, these challenges only made Detective Van Dorn more determined to solve the case.
Although the main suspects were the couple Kirk Jr. and Kimberly, the house belonged to the father, Kirk Sr. It wasn’t always apparent if he had anything to do with the case or was simply unaware of what was happening under his roof.
These dynamics compounded an investigation that had already proven to be complicated. That was until one final tip-off gave Detective Van Dorn and his colleagues the breakthrough they needed to finally solve the two-year case.
While official reports don’t provide many details about the tip-off that broke the case, it was revealed that this tip “was corroborated” and led to a new search warrant for the house being issued.
This time, Detective Van Dorn’s instincts proved correct. As he walked up the house’s main staircase, the light from his torch bouncing ahead, he noticed the light flicker against something between the stairs.
When Detective Van Dorn saw what looked like a blanket visible beneath a crack in the stairs, he immediately called his colleagues over. Detectives used a special tool to pry open some of the stairs. What they first noticed shocked them.
A makeshift little room had been hidden under the stairs all this time. Also visible was a pair of little feet. After all their previous searches, they had finally found the little girl that had gone missing two years ago.
Paisley Shultis was living with her custodial parents when she went missing in 2019 age 4. While Kirk Shultis Jr. and Kimberly Cooper were her biological parents, they had lost custody of her back then.
It now seemed that the concealed area was used to hide her during previous searches. The area clearly showed signs of being used before and contained blankets, a pillow, and stuffed toys. Paisley was treated and found to be unharmed and in good overall health.
Kirk Shultis Sr., together with Kirk Jr. and Kimberly (who had been found hiding under the stairs with Paisley) were all charged with a variety of offenses.
For detectives like Van Dorn, the safe return of little Paisley marked the end of one of the most grueling and heart-wrenching investigations of their entire careers.
The dramatic but ultimately good ending to this case illustrated how vital it can be to never give up hope. The sterling work of Detective Van Dorn and the other police officers involved was a testament to this fact.
With so many similar cases ending tragically, the case has unsurprisingly received much media attention for its positive outcome. Paisley, now 6 years old, was said to be in good spirits after being reunited with her custodial family.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.