Inside the Convoluted Case of a Vanished Deputy

Officers say Jon Aujay committed suicide, others say he was killed by one of his own
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2015 1:29 PM CST
Inside the Convoluted Case of a Vanished Deputy
This, the Devil's Punchbowl, is where Jon Aujay was reportedly last seen.   (Wikimedia)

Six days after Jon Aujay disappeared in the Devil's Punchbowl in California's Antelope Valley on June 11, 1998, authorities assumed he committed suicide. A resident said he heard a gunshot in the Punchbowl, where Aujay often went running, and though no body was ever found, some of Aujay's last words to his wife of 12 years, Debra, had been, "Have a nice life." The two were headed for divorce and Debra said Aujay, 38—a Los Angeles County K9-unit dog handler—had been acting oddly, reports Los Angeles magazine. During a fight a month before he vanished, she said he held a loaded gun to his temple. Some family and friends, however, said Aujay had a "zest for life" and was dedicated to his 5-year-old daughter. Perhaps he'd moved to Alaska, like he'd always talked about doing. After all, there was no physical evidence of suicide, Aujay's former partner says. "It was circumstantial." Eventually, more sinister possibilities presented themselves.

Tipsters said bikers who controlled meth cells in the valley had "taken care of" Aujay. Others said the deputy in charge of the region, Rick Engels, was involved. When homicide detective Larry Brandenburg tried to get a search warrant for Engels' home, he says his boss threatened to fire him. An investigation around the same time turned up 50 suspicious incidents involving deputies; drugs and counterfeit bills were found in one deputy's home. Aujay's case was reassigned to another detective who found the claims against Engels were baseless. (Brandenburg says he heard his boss tell the detective, "Take care of me on this.") Today, Aujay is regarded a missing person with a possible suicide. But as Brandenburg says, "When someone commits suicide, it's rare not to find their body." Click for the full story of the convoluted case. (More California stories.)

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