Like many small town girls in America, 19-year-old Morgan Bauer dreamed of life in the big city. In 2016, that dream became a reality when she packed her bags and headed to Atlanta. Less than two weeks later, she had vanished into thin air.
After leaving her home in Aberdeen, South Dakota, Morgan caught a flight from Minneapolis and landed in Atlanta on February 12, 2016. Morgan arrived with little to her name - she was was waiting for her tax return to be loaded onto a card, and until that happened she had very limited funds.
She had told her mother, Sherri, that she was moving with two roommates, perhaps to avoid the concern that her real plans would have invited. With no money for rent, she had arranged to stay with people she had met on Craigslist in return for cleaning their house. At first the plan seemed to be working well, and the trio even enjoyed a meal out at a restaurant on the night Morgan that arrived. But the next day she returned home to find her belongings outside and a note telling her not to come back.
Dependant on others for transport and shelter, her whereabouts over the next few days are not known for certain, although it appears that she was drifting between motels in the area. It wasn't long before the money ran out, and Morgan started dancing at the now defunct strip club Top of Gainesville. She was also hired at another venue, Club Tease, but as she did not have the necessary permit she never actually worked a shift.
Morgan was an avid user of social media and had updating her friends regularly since leaving South Dakota. But after February 25 her posts suddenly stopped. After a couple of weeks her best friend Taryn got in touch with Sherri to let her know she hadn't heard from Morgan. Sherri hadn't noticed anything unusual up until then - she her daughter hadn't been speaking at the time after a disagreement about some documents Morgan needed before she moved. Sherri reported her missing and a police investigation was launched.
Morgan’s last known contact was on the early hours of February 26 after she finished her shift at the Top of Gainesville. She had left the club that night with another dancer and her boyfriend, though it is not clear what the three of them did after they left. When Morgan's phone was traced, police discovered it had last pinged just after midnight in the couple's town of Porterdale. Her phone has never been found, and there has been no activity from it ever since. The couple claimed to have dropped her off at Citgo Gas Station just a few miles away, but on other occasions denied ever seeing Morgan at all. Despite this, the man and woman have never been thoroughly investigated; they have since split up and now live in different states.
It wasn't long before Morgan's case gained traction in the national media, her story and her face an increasingly familiar fixture on news sites and forums across the web. But with this increased awareness came negative attention that would have a catastrophic effect on the investigation. Some of this attention came from a most unlikely source - Morgan's very own sister, Alyssa. Alyssa had been using Facebook and Reddit to spread the word about Morgan's disappearance, but her posts took a drastic turn one month after she went missing.
Alyssa announced that not only was her sister alive and well, but that Sherri knew she was too. She claimed that Morgan had left South Dakota to get away from their 'manipulative, bipolar' mother, and that Sherri had spoken to Morgan since she moved to Atlanta. She also alleged that Sherri had publicised her disappearance for attention and monetary gain after setting up a GoFundMe to aid the investigation. Morgan's best friend Taryn, who had originally told Sherri that Morgan was missing, also posted on a Facebook group that she believed she had been talking to Morgan online.
With that, more and more people began to question whether Morgan was missing at all, despite her inclusion on the NamUs and NCMEC databases, as well as an active police investigation. But why would Morgan need to disappear to get away from her mother? Legally she was an adult, and was in no way obligated to stay in touch with Sherri, who she hadn't even been living with prior to her move. Morgan had also been due in for a shift at work on the evening of the 26th, though she never turned up nor got in touch to let them know. It seems unlikely that someone who used their phone and social media accounts as often as Morgan did would use both during her first two weeks in Atlanta before ditching both, never to be used again. It is just as unlikely that someone so short of cash would leave a $630 tax return untouched in their account.
Morgan has now been missing for over two and a half years, and in that time police have made few developments in the case. Thanks to internet rumours and widespread gossip, some people don't realise that Morgan hasn't been found. Some are convinced she was never even missing.
But what if they're wrong?
If you have any information regarding Morgan's disappearance, please the Atlanta police on (404)546-4235 and quote case #160721563. Many thanks to Morgan's mother, Sherri, and Marissa of The Vanished Podcast, whose work was instrumental in the writing of this case.