She vanished months before the Idaho murders. Why has her death been linked to Bryan Kohberger?

Bryan Kohberger (left) and Dana Smithers (right)  (AFP/Facebook)
Bryan Kohberger (left) and Dana Smithers (right) (AFP/Facebook)

The horrifying case of four University of Idaho students butchered in an off-campus home has taken another dramatic twist after it emerged that the parents of their accused killer are testifying in a separate case thousands of miles away in Pennsylvania.

In a bombshell development this week, it emerged that Bryan Kohberger’s parents have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury investigating the disappearance and death of mother-of-three Dana Smithers.

Smithers, 45, was last seen alive in May 2022.

Her remains were finally discovered last month, with her cause of death still a mystery.

It remains unclear what connection – if any – her disappearance and death may have to Mr Kohberger, who was living close to Smithers at the time she vanished.

But multiple reports have revealed that Mr Kohberger’s parents Michael and Maryann Kohberger have been ordered to testify in the case.

A source told CNN that the accused killer’s mother has already given evidence to the grand jury while his father is expected to testify on Thursday.

Any information in the case can then be turned over to prosecutors in Idaho who have charged Mr Kohberger with the quadruple murders of Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Ethan Chapin, 20.

While many questions remain unanswered, here’s what we know about Dana Smithers and what happened to the mother-of-three.

Mysterious disappearance

In May 2022, Smithers vanished without a trace from Monroe County – the same county in Pennsylvania where Mr Kohberger was living at the time before moving cross-country to Washington state in the summer to pursue a graduate degree program in criminal justice.

A ring video camera captured Smithers leaving a neighbour’s house at around 11.05pm on 28 May, holding her cellphone in her hand.

She was never seen alive again.

What was especially odd was that Smithers’ cellphone, wallet and daily medication were all found at her home.

Dana Smithers was found dead last month (Stacey Smithers)
Dana Smithers was found dead last month (Stacey Smithers)

Earlier that day, Smithers and her youngest daughter, 7, had gone to a local festival at the Happy Hour Bar and Grille in Stroudsburg with her daughter’s father.

Smithers’ sister Stacey told NBC’s Dateline in December that the couple were no longer together but were still on good terms.

At the festival, Smithers appeared to be having a good time, dancing and saying hello to people.

The three later returned to the home that Smithers, her daugher and Smithers’ mother shared.

Later that night, best friend Tara Cioni said that Smithers called into her home to hang out. The two women lived just a couple of doors down from each other and would often just stop by to see each other on an evening.

“We’re best friends. She’s been my neighbor for 16 years. We’ve raised our children together,” Ms Cioni told Dateline.

“It was an open door policy, like, with her. So she came in and she was here for a little bit.”

Ms Cioni said that, in hindsight, she wonders if something was troubling her friend that night.

Smithers – who had a history of substance abuse – was smoking, something she only did if she was “nervous” or on edge.

Ms Cioni said that Smithers later asked her if she wanted to come back to her house to hang out but she was tired so said she was going to bed.

Dana Smithers missing persons poster (Stroud Police)
Dana Smithers missing persons poster (Stroud Police)

That was the last time anyone saw her.

“If I would have known that was the last time I would have seen her, I would have definitely asked more questions but I was sort of like, ‘I’m going to bed,’” she said.

Looking back, she said that she doesn’t think Smithers was using drugs again.

“I really don’t think it was that,” she said.

Her sister added that Smithers had recently had her medication adjusted and appeared to be “getting much better” at the time.

It was the following morning when Smithers’ mother realised her daughter had not come home that night.

Initially, the family wasn’t too concerned as Stacey said the 45-year-old had stayed out all night in the past.

But, when she didn’t show up for Memorial Day celebrations with the family on 30 May, they knew something must be wrong.

Smithers and her children, aged 25, 23 and 7, had a family tradition to go to Knoebels Park in Pennsylvania ever Memorial Day.

“She would not have missed Memorial Day,” said Stacey, adding that she would also never have left her youngest child for that long.

“She didn’t do anything that didn’t involve her kids,” she said. “That was her thing. I mean she was always there with the kids.”

Smithers was finally reported missing days later after Stacey said law enforcement initially didn’t take her disappearance seriously.

Dana Smithers’ remains were found in a wooded area one year after she vanished (Facebook)
Dana Smithers’ remains were found in a wooded area one year after she vanished (Facebook)

In June, the Pennsylvania State Police and local police carried out searches with cadaver dogs at Glen Park in Stroudsburg – a heavily wooded area close to her home. The search did not turn up anything and the case went cold for months.

A missing persons report described Smithers as a 45-year-old white female, 5 foot 5 inches, approximately 165 pounds, with brown eyes, brown hair and last seen wearing black jeans with a burgundy shirt.

For almost a year, the mother-of-three’s family desperately searched for answers and Smither’s case featured in an episode of NBC’s Dateline in December 2022 – one month after the four students were murdered in Idaho.

Stacey feared the worst, saying: “I think something happened. I don’t think she’s here anymore.”

Remains found

Almost one year later – on 27 April – Smithers’ remains were found in a wooded area in Stroudsburg.

Stroud Area Regional Police said that a Borough employee had discovered decomposing human remains in a wooded area close to Park Avenue in the Borough of Stroudsburg.

Due to extensive decomposition, the gender and identity of the individual was unclear at the time.

Using dental records, the remains were later identified as belonging to Smithers.

Her cause and manner of death is not yet known.

What is Bryan Kohberger’s connection to the case?

There are many unanswered questions around what happened to Smithers – and what it may have to do with Mr Kohberger.

It is currently unclear why Mr Kohberger’s parents Michael and Maryann Kohberger have been called to testify in the case.

A lawyer for Mr Kohberger’s parents tried to have the subpoenas cancelled but was unsuccessful, the source told CNN.

Pennsylvania judges will be permitted to share transcripts of the grand jury witness testimony with law enforcement agencies across the country in Idaho.

Bryan Kohberger in court for his arraignment over the Idaho murders (Reuters)
Bryan Kohberger in court for his arraignment over the Idaho murders (Reuters)

At the time of Smithers’ disappearance in May 2022, Mr Kohberger was also living in Monroe County with his family.

That summer, he then moved cross-country to Pullman for a graduate program in criminal justice at Washington State University (WSU).

A few months later on 13 November, he allegedly broke into an off-campus student home just over the border in Moscow, Idaho, and murdered the four college students.

He was back at his parents’ home in the Pocono Mountains for the holidays when police swooped and arrested him for the quadruple murders on 30 December.

In that case, it remains unclear what motive and what connection Mr Kohberger may have had to the victims.

And now, in Smithers’ case, a possible link also remains unclear.

Mr Kohberger is said to have a solid alibi for Smithers’ disappearance and is likely not connected to her death, a source told Eyewitness News.

But the grand jury investigation is still ongoing and no findings have been revealed.

Back in January, Stacey posted an update on the Facebook page “Finding Dana” saying that many people had contacted her about a possible link between her sister’s disappearance and the Idaho murders.

Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21 (Instagram)
Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21 (Instagram)

“Thank you to everyone who has been reaching out recently regarding the possibility of the suspect in the horrific murders in Idaho having been in our area around the time of my sister, Dana’s disappearance,” she wrote.

“I have forwarded all of your suggestions on to local law enforcement. Please pray for everyone involved.”

However, it comes following a report that one of the accused killer’s older sisters grew increasingly suspicious that her brother could have been involved in the Idaho murders prior to his arrest.

Her suspicions were so great that – at one point – several family members searched Mr Kohberger’s white Hyundai Elantra for possible evidence of the crime when the family gathered to spend the holidays together, sources told NBC’s Dateline.

They found nothing but investigators had already allegedly seen Mr Kohberger scrubbing his car with bleach.