It was a cool, spring night that twenty-nine-year-old grad student Lana Murphy went missing from her apartment in Baton Rouge. The date was March 23, 2015, but the exact hour remains a mystery, as does the nature of what happened to her. What it was she did. Theories put forth by those who knew her, those who saw her last, are all over the place, with some believing she’s dead, others assuming she fled the country, and at least one person insisting she’s still there in her apartment.
We’ll probably never know the truth.
Yet through every theory there weaves a certain suspect, one we maybe too easily dismissed, a suspect that Baton Rouge police chief Charlie LaFleur would later call “absurd.”
“I know,” says Suzy Hazmat, former neighbor and self-described frenemy of the missing. “I know how it sounds, but, swear to god, I saw it that very afternoon. I was having a cigarette on the porch when Lana came out to check her mail. She didn’t close her door all the way and there was this smell coming from inside. Like the den of a wild animal. I looked and that’s when I saw it, peering out at me through the door. All that fur . . . Those eyes . . .”
The same bear that would later devour Lana, according to Suzy Hazmat’s killer bear theory. “I heard it all through the walls,” she insists. “Screams. Growling. Munching sounds. I know some people say Lana had it coming, but that . . . no one deserves that.”
In a composite sketch released by police, the suspect is an adult female, seven feet tall and covered in fur. And it is strange, according to wildlife expert Angela Clark, because bears are almost never found in these parts.
Still, those who were closest to Lana are reportedly not very surprised: for the past year, she’d been growing a forest inside her apartment.
“It started off as a hobby,” says former boyfriend Saul DeSoto. “You know, a couple bonsai, some potted evergreens, a ficus or two. But that was Lana for you. Once she got started on something, she always took it way too far.”
Lana’s mom, however, disagrees. “I think my daughter wanted to stop that forest,” she says, “but couldn’t. I think it took over. Last time I saw her, there were so many branches, I couldn’t see the ceiling. And roots had broken up the floor. Not to mention the waterfall in the kitchen, though to be fair, that wasn’t really her fault. That was the landlord, he never fixed anything—so yeah, the leak in her sink was eventually a waterfall, and there was water everywhere, lily pads in the dish rack, moss on the silverware, that sort of thing.”
Lana was, at the time, sequestered beneath her bed, draped in mosquito nets.
“And that,” says her mom, “is when I made her promise to start looking for a new apartment. I tried to take her with me, but she kept saying she was fine. So I left her there . . . and as I left, I could have sworn I heard the sound of a loon echoing down the hall.” This is the last anyone ever saw of Lana Murphy. What we know now is what we have pieced together from stories, as well as Murphy’s final Facebook posts and Internet search history.
“OMG,” she wrote on Facebook the week she disappeared. “There’s a SQUIRREL in my apartment.”
“Wow,” replied her cousin Daisy Martinez, approximately eight minutes later. “WTF Louisiana?!??”
Soon after, in an email, Lana complained to a friend of “wild animals” in her closet. The friend, assuming that Lana was being metaphorical, never wrote back.
We know too from her Amazon Prime history that she ordered a half-dozen coil-spring bear traps, and one week later gave those traps a scathing, one-star review. Why was Lana so dissatisfied with her purchase?
“Because,” chimes in police chief Charlie LaFleur, “there was. no. bear. Of course Lana wasn’t happy with her damn bear traps. All along, she was trying to catch something that wasn’t there.”
In her final days, she would Google “owl” and “bear” and “how to get rid of bears,” and her apartment would grow so unruly that it was noticeable from outside, with reports of vines creeping from the mail slot and birds escaping from the chimney.
“It was a total wilderness in there,” says Suzy Hazmat. “There is no doubt in my mind that Lana Murphy was consumed by a bear.”
“And yet,” points out Lana’s mom, “the cops found no signs of struggle in that apartment.”
The Police would later confirm this statement as well as provide an account of what they did find:
They found an indoor forest, quiet and still, but very dense. They found a narrow trail leading to its heart, winding its way down the hall, past the shady glen of a broom closet. The trail led them to the waterfall of her sink, and there on its ledge, atop the white tiled counter, the police found a pile of bones. The bones were picked clean, and all about the size of a small child’s finger. Police lab tests revealed that these bones were those of fish and birds, mostly salmon and chicken – animals, in other words, that Lana might have kept in her freezer.
“Which proves,” says her mom, “that my daughter is alive and well in there, making herself dinner each night. That neighbor of hers might have been right about the forest, and who knows, maybe she was right about the bear. God only knows what lived in that place. But what Suzy Hazmat got wrong was the so-called ‘cannibalistic ordeal’ she says she heard through the walls. That wasn’t a bear eating Lana. It was the other way around.”
Her eyes mist as she discusses the state of that indoor forest, which, in the year since her daughter’s been gone, she visits every week. “Those bones,” she says. “The police took them from her apartment, but there were more when I went back, and then that pile just kept growing. The bones themselves seemed bigger each week, like Lana had run out of frozen meat, and was hunting wild animals in there – big ones. Wouldn’t surprise me really, she was always good at sports. One day I arrived to find the pile of bones as high as a house, and arranged in a big square, all stacked on top of each other like those Lincoln Logs she used to play with when she was a girl. Exactly like Lincoln Logs, in fact, as though my daughter were building herself a new home in the middle of the forest inside her apartment. A little cabin made of bones. I knock, every week, on its door. I’m still waiting for an answer.”