WASHINGTON, Iowa — An Iowa businesswoman who vanished last week apparently left on her own to get away from family and work stress, investigators said Friday, as her husband made a brief but tearful plea for her to come home.
Investigators said Sharon Hopf, 45, of Crawfordsville, wrote herself a check for $1,000 for an "employee bonus" from the home furnishings company she owns on Jan. 3 and cashed it at a local bank. The following day, she deleted all emails sent from her work computer and many she had received. On Jan. 5, she left for work at Hopf Home Furnishings in Kalona an hour earlier than usual and was reported missing after she failed to show up.
Investigators say she turned off her cellphone, used her credit card to put gas in her car and hasn't been heard from again. Her 1999 Chevy Lumina was found two days later at an abandoned home off of I-70 outside of Wright City, Mo., about 30 miles west of St. Louis and 200 miles south of her home.
"At this point in time, the investigation shows no sign or no evidence that would suggest foul play in Sharon Hopf's disappearance," Special agent Jeff Uhlmeyer of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said at a news conference Friday. "According to family and co-workers, it was thought Sharon was suffering from a large amount of stress from the day to day stressors in her life."
Uhlmeyer said Hopf's vehicle was found locked, but was operational and still had gas. The vehicle's contents suggested she was traveling alone and included her cellphone, her driver's license and credit cards, he said. Several items were collected and are being analyzed for fingerprints and DNA.
"Whoever was operating that vehicle locked the car and walked away with the keys," he said.
A search dog picked up her scent at the scene, but soon lost it, he said. On Wednesday, police and volunteers searched a one-mile radius near where her car was found but she was not located. The Iowa State Patrol conducted an aerial search.
Uhlmeyer said co-workers thought it was "very odd" Kopf had deleted a large number of emails since she was not the type of person who had a well-organized inbox. He said investigators had the computer forensically examined, but were unable to recover the content of the missing correspondence.
Washington County Sheriff Jerry Dunbar said Hopf was stressed because of added responsibilities at work and family related issues that he would not specify. He said the information suggests "the disappearance was one of her own" and that there is no threat to public safety.
Her husband, Perry Hopf, read a brief statement saying he was satisfied with efforts to locate his wife.
"We want Sharon to know that we understand the stress she has recently been under and just want her to contact us and let us know that she is okay," Perry Hopf said. "Sharon, if you see this, please know that I love you and miss you, and that you are the most important thing to me."