By Aisha I. Jefferson
The last time a Florida business woman who has mysteriously disappeared was seen, a video surveillance tape recorded her leaving the Henry County motel alone where she had stayed the night.
Chong Chapman's silver 2002 Mercedes Benz SLT was impounded Tuesday after Henry County Police found it abandoned along the northbound lanes of Interstate 75 near mile marker 213 in Locust Grove. Police attempted to retrieve Chapman's small dog, which along with her purse was found a short distance away, but it was run down after darting into interstate traffic.
The Mercedes, which had been abandoned for several days, was found with its windows down and Chapman's luggage and personal items inside.
A key was not found, but police discovered a receipt indicating Chapman had stayed at the Red Roof Inn on Bill Gardner Parkway in Locust Grove.
Chapman, a 40-year-old Palm Harbor, Fla. resident, was last seen Sept. 20 checking out of the motel, according to police.
Chapman checked into the Red Roof Inn after 11 p.m. Sept. 19 and checked out before 7 a.m. the next day, according to motel General Manager Michelle Lassiter. Lassiter said motel surveillance cameras recorded Chapman leaving the property in her car. Henry County Police have the tape in their possession.
Although Lassiter didn't personally meet Chapman, she said the woman had limited contact with motel staff. Lassiter said she doesn't believe Chapman made any phone calls from her room, and said she didn't have any visitors.
With the motel being right off the interstate, Lassiter said it was not unusual to have travelers stay for a short time.
Attempting to find more information on a missing Florida woman has been a challenge for local and Florida law enforcement agents.
As of Thursday, police have not been able to locate any of Chong Chapman's family members, nor do they know why she was in Locust Grove. She was last seen checking out of a local motel.
"It is indeed a mystery," Henry County Police Lt. Jason Bolton said. "I can't say at this time that we suspect foul play, however, the circumstances surrounding her disappearance are suspicious."
About 40 Henry County Police officers, S.W.A.T. members and detectives continued combing the wooded area along I-75 Thursday where the car was found. No new evidence was discovered, Bolton said. Police spent most of Wednesday examining the vicinity.
Henry County Police also were joined by Henry County Sheriff's deputies and the Locust Grove Police. In addition, Department of Natural Resources agents used dogs and drove through the area on four-wheelers and had several officers on horseback in the search. The search was called off when nothing was found.
Police are not expected to return to the scene unless new information on the case leads them back to the interstate.
"We conducted a thorough search of the area - two days in a row now," Bolton said. "We're following other leads in the form of telephone tips from motorists who have seen the news over the last day or so."
While Henry County authorities look for clues pointing to Chapman's whereabouts, Pinellas County Sheriff's detectives are continuing with their efforts to locate her family members, Pinellas County Sheriff's spokesman Mac McMullen.
As of Thursday afternoon, none of her next of kin have been located, despite McMullen saying they are exploring every avenue to find them. There is no word on whether Chapman is married or has any children.
Since being notified about Chapman's disappearance Tuesday, a Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy searched her apartment after the complex's property manager let them in, McMullen said. The deputy found a "neat and orderly apartment" and saw no signs of forced entry.
"It appeared that she lived alone," added McMullen.
Detectives also discovered that the Palm Harbor business Chapman owns, Suki Spa, has been closed for about two weeks, McMullen said. He said Chapman purchased the facility last year.
Anyone with any information on Chapman's whereabouts is urged to contact Henry County Police at (770) 954-2484 or (770) 957-9121.