The Chilling Story Of Karlie Gusé, The California Teen Who Vanished Alongside A Highway

Published April 12, 2024
Updated April 15, 2024

Karlie Gusé hasn't been seen since October 2018, when she became deeply paranoid after smoking marijuana and walked away from her home in Chalfant Valley, California.

Karlie Gusé

Lindsay FairleyKarlie Gusé, shortly before she went missing in October 2018.

Karlie Gusé seemed like a typical teenage girl. She had a boyfriend, liked hanging out with her brothers, and enjoyed scary movies. But her life took a seemingly tragic turn in October 2018, when she walked out of her family’s home and disappeared into the frozen desert nearby.

The night before, Karlie had gone to a party with her boyfriend and some friends. She’d smoked marijuana, which triggered such an intense paranoia response that her father and stepmother suspected it was “laced” with something. Then, though her loved ones managed to get her home and into bed, she slipped out the door.

She hasn’t been seen since.

“We will not give up on Karlie,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan said of the ongoing case. “People don’t disappear into thin air.”

Who Is Karlie Gusé?

Born on May 13, 2002, Karlie Lain Gusé had a fairly typical life until her disappearance. Her parents divorced when she was two years old, and after initially living with her mother, Lindsay Fairley, Karlie moved to live with her father Zachary and his wife Melissa in Bishop, California.

Karlie Guse And Brothers

Melissa GuséKarlie Gusé at the age of 13 and her three brothers, Kane, Cole, and Cody.

She was described by classmates at Bishop Union High School as “sweet and quiet,” according to a 2019 Fox News report. She was well-liked in school, and to most people who knew her, there were no obvious signs that anything might have been troubling her.

In retrospect, however, there were some potentially concerning things about Karlie Gusé’s life in the weeks before she vanished.

For starters, she’d had a couple of adverse reactions to smoking marijuana. And Karlie had purportedly shown signs of paranoia, telling friends she was worried about being “tracked” on her phone.

Still, everything seemed normal on the night of Oct. 12, 2018. Then, she attended a small party with her boyfriend, Donald Arrowood III. But around 8 p.m., things took an alarming turn.

The Disappearance Of Karlie Gusé

On the last night Karlie Gusé was seen alive, she called her stepmother in a panic and asked to be picked up from the party. She had smoked marijuana and apparently had had an adverse reaction. Arrowood later recalled that she became frightened of the music, and frightened of him.

“She was frantic,” Melissa Gusé later recalled to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “She wanted me to pick her up.”

Melissa came to get her stepdaughter, only to find that Karlie had already fled the party. The 16-year-old was running down a dark lane, and continued to act paranoid even after Melissa got her into the car. According to Fox News, she repeatedly told Melissa she was scared, changed seats within the vehicle multiple times, and fretted that the car would kill her.

Karlie Lain Guse

Mono County Sheriff’s OfficeKarlie Gusé was 16 years old when she vanished in 2018.

Once she got home, Karlie seemed so paranoid that her father suspected that the marijuana she’d smoked had been laced with another drug.

He and Melissa recorded their conversation with Karlie, in hopes of showing her the next day how drugs could be dangerous. The eight minute, 45 second recorded conversation is evidence of how deeply paranoid Karlie was that night.

“I really messed up today,” Karlie says at one point, to which Melissa responds: “We all do things in life that we regret. Drugs especially.”

At another point, Karlie accuses her stepmother of wanting to kill her. When Melissa tells her that’s “preposterous,” Karlie responds through sobs: “I’m just thinking all this demonic stuff. I can’t help it.”

As SF Gate reported in 2021, the timeline from this moment on gets a bit unclear.

Initially, Melissa told the media that she’d checked on Karlie at 5:45 a.m. When she returned at 7:15 a.m., the girl was gone. Later, Melissa amended this account, saying that she actually spent the entire night in Karlie’s room. When she woke up around 7 a.m., Karlie was no longer in her bed.

Karlie Gusé had disappeared completely.

The Search For The Missing Girl

When they realized that Karlie Gusé was missing, Zachary and Melissa immediately searched their home and the surrounding neighborhood. After two hours of searching, Zachary told his ex-wife what had happened, and filed a missing persons report with the Mono County Sheriff’s Office.

Age Progression

National Center for Missing and Exploited ChildrenAn age-progression photo of Karlie Gusé that shows how she may have looked on her 20th birthday.

Investigators soon arrived on the scene and began to look for the missing teenager. Promisingly, they found a handful of witnesses who’d seen her that morning.

The first witness, who lived near the Gusés, had seen her walking with a piece of paper in her hand, looking at the sky. Another spotted her walking toward Highway 6, and also noted that she had a piece of paper in her hand. The third and final witness saw her standing near some sagebrush near the highway, which is where search dogs lost her scent.

After that, the trail went cold.

The Mystery Of Karlie Gusé’s Disappearance

So what happened to Karlie Gusé?

It’s possible she perished in the desert, where the mornings can be freezing cold and the days swelteringly hot. Karlie was wearing sweatpants or jeans, a white t-shirt, and Vans when she disappeared. She could very well have wandered deep into the desert where no one could find her and died of exposure.

Terrain Near Bishop California

FBIThe unforgiving terrain near Bishop, California, where Karlie may have vanished.

Some theories suggest that someone may have picked her up as she walked along the road. Others have pointed the finger at Melissa Gusé, because of how her story has changed. In fact, Karlie’s mother Lindsay Fairley suggested in 2019 that Karlie may have died of an overdose — and that Melissa and Zachary had hidden the evidence.

However, the couple have been cleared by a polygraph test. Police reportedly found no evidence that Melissa and Zachary Gusé had anything to do with Karlie’s disappearance.

To date, no one knows for sure what happened to Karlie Gusé. It seems that, wracked with paranoia and fear, she walked out of her home on that October morning and vanished into thin air.

“My whole body and soul. I’d give it all up,” her father Zachary told the FBI in an interview. “Just to have her home safe.”

After reading about the disappearance of Karlie Gusé, learn about the disconcerting case of Brandon Lawson, who vanished from a Texas highway. Or, discover the sad story of Bryce Laspisa, the teen who disappeared in the Sierra Pelona Mountains of California.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "The Chilling Story Of Karlie Gusé, The California Teen Who Vanished Alongside A Highway.", April 12, 2024, Accessed June 21, 2024.