She was beloved by her family and adored by her son and daughter. Then, in the early morning hours of March 27, 2018, Samantha Sperry vanished.
Searches through dense woods, pleas on social media and even national attention from sites like Dateline’s “Missing in America” have led to more questions than answers and an unbelievable pain from scars that have yet to start healing.
It was another cloudy start to a typical spring day, but even in the early morning hours, a family’s worst nightmare was just beginning.
“I can remember just feeling dread … heart-stopping, numbing paralyzing fear,” Sperry’s mother, Tina Artis said.
The past three years when the calendar flips to March, those same raw feelings are brought back to the surface for Artis. But even before missing person flyers were put up and social media posts with her picture were being shared, Sperry was just a small town girl from Graves County.
“She will give you the shirt off her back,” Artis said. “She would go out of her way to help you. If at some point in time you needed her help, she would be there for you.”
Life hadn’t always dealt Sperry an easy hand, but she’d done her best to put herself back together for her family, especially her two children. Then one day she didn’t come home.
Graves County Sheriff Jon Hayden described the case as “complicated.” He didn’t take office until about three months after Sperry disappeared, but right away he made the case one of his top priorities. Hayden brought in investigators with Kentucky State Police and the FBI to get some fresh eyes on the case and make sure nothing had been missed. That included going back and talking to the last people who saw her.
“They tell their story and they maintain their story is the truth,” Hayden said. “Then you have to evaluate it and take a step back and look at it objectively and what we’ve been told simply doesn’t make any sense.”
The story told to investigators is that Sperry showed up at the home of Paul Holder with her on again, off again boyfriend Rhen Hendrickson. They claim she was upset and started walking towards a tree line. That’s when Hayden says the men claim Rhen’s father, Dusty Holder, rode up on his ATV and she said she wanted to go for a ride and they set off to an area known as Kaler Bottoms.
“It’s a very rural, remote area,” Hayden said. “Very swampy and when all this occurred we’d had a lot of rain.”
It was in those woods that Dusty Holder told investigators they got stuck and decided to spend the night on the four wheeler, using the exhaust to stay warm before running out of gas.
He then told investigators when they came out of the woods they ended up on Ky. 131. Holder claims he went one way and Sperry went the other. That was the last time she was apparently seen.
Searches through the woods were done by law enforcement as well as volunteers, but Hayden says they weren’t able to find any sign of Sperry.
“It’s frustrating on so many levels,” Artis said. “We don’t have our closure. We are stuck in a grief cycle that can’t move forward. We can’t go to the next phase simply because we have so many unanswered questions. School would’ve been in session, there would have been buses coming through, there would have been parents taking their kids to school to drop them off and headed to work. There would’ve been someone who would’ve seen her.”
Now three years later, Sperry’s family and law enforcement continue to struggle to connect the dots, as does Hendrickson. He told investigators he took Sperry to his uncle Paul Holder’s house shortly before she got on a four-wheeler with his father, Dusty.
Hendrickson said his and his father’s relationship has been strained since Sperry disappeared.
“Do I believe him? No, I don’t believe anything he has to say,” Hendrickson said in an interview with WPSD. During the interview, he went back and forth about what he thinks his father knows, as well as the events leading up to the four-wheeler ride. Hendrickson admits to not being in his right mind at the time because of drugs.
Hendrickson said he went into the woods with plans to commit suicide. A couple of days later, he came out of those woods, suffering from hypothermia. At the time, he claimed he didn’t know Sperry was missing. Once he learned she was, he said his own questions started.
“I said, ‘Dusty, we need to talk man,’” Hendrickson told the TV station. “I said, ‘You need to give me some answers,’ and he told me to shut up. You know how people avoid people when they know they did something foul? If he didn’t do anything foul, he’d be right here beside me.”
The Holders were asked by WPSD for an interview to share their story. Dusty Holder reportedly contacted WPSD and was quoted as saying, “it’s best for him to keep him mouth shut and not talk about what happened.” He also said he hopes the family can find closure.
Hayden was also asked about Sperry’s husband, who she was separated from at the time of her disappearance. The sheriff said he wasn’t in the area at the time.
All of the unknowns and unanswered questions are what Hayden compares to a big puzzle that law enforcement is trying to put back together.
“I feel good knowing that this case was not put on the shelf and forgotten about,” Hayden said. “This is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s mother. What if that was your relative, what if that was my sister, how would you want the police to handle that investigation? Would you want them to just get frustrated and throw their hands up and say ‘there’s nothing else we can do?’ No, you wouldn’t want that and we’re going to continue to work on the case.”
Sperry's family and friends gathered near where she was last seen for a vigil on Saturday.
If anyone has any information regarding Sperry’s disappearance, they can call the FBI at 502-263-6000, West Kentucky Crimestoppers at 270-443-TELL, Kentucky State Police at 270-856-3721, or the Graves County Sheriff's Office at 270-247-4501. Information can also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, an email address dedicated to the case.