It was supposed to be a cross-country road trip laid on the foundation of a blossoming romance. But just a few months after the road trip began, Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie are dead: she from manual strangulation and he from, as of yet, unknown causes.
Amid national pundits speculating what happened, internet detectives assuming what happened and law enforcement officers keeping their mouths shut, the actual facts of the case have occasionally become lost in the weeds.
The link between her disappearance in late August in the Grand Teton National Park area and his returning to Florida soon after has led numerous attorneys, law enforcement agents and news outlets to connect the dots, especially after the cause and manner of Petito’s death were revealed.
When Laundrie first returned to Florida alone, he was silent, leaving the Petito family wondering where their loved one was. If he had something to turn himself in for, he did not. When law enforcement officers asked for him to cooperate in the search for Petito, the Laundrie family instead handed police a number for the family attorney.
Laundrie had Petito’s financial information and allegedly used her debit card between around Aug. 30 to Sept. 1. He was grieving before he left home Sept. 13, Laundrie’s family attorney Steve Bertolino told ABC News, and he never returned home.
Yet, no charges have been filed against Laundrie regarding Petito’s homicide. And by the time she was found dead, Laundrie was already gone — presumably in the Carlton Reserve in Florida, the same area where he was found dead Oct. 20. The FBI’s communications about the case have been limited, as they typically are in ongoing investigations.
In the meantime, internet sleuths have been slinging conspiracy theories, protesters have been posted outside the Laundries’ home, and the families of other missing people, especially missing and murdered indigenous women, have been wondering why they never received a fraction of the attention that shone so heavily on the Petito case. The latter conversation has led everybody from the Petito family to United States Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to ask for the public to devote equal attention to other missing persons cases.
What is known for sure is that Petito was found dead in the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping area just south of Grand Teton National Park Sept. 19, almost one month after she was last heard from. By that point, Laundrie, who had returned to Florida Sept. 1, was already gone, and Petito had been dead for more than three weeks, according to Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue.
On Aug. 12, about two weeks before Petito was killed, police in Moab pulled over the couple’s van following a call from a witness who told police that he saw Laundrie slap Petito multiple times. Police separated the couple for the night but filed no charges.
The couple continued their adventure, before Laundrie headed back to Florida Aug. 17 to grab a few items for the trip and, per Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino, to empty a storage unit to “save money, as they contemplated extending the road trip.”
He returned Aug. 23, two days before Petito made her last Instagram post. By the first day of September, Laundrie was home in Florida, but Petito’s parents wouldn’t report her missing until Sept. 11. Four days later, Laundrie was declared a person of interest in her disappearance.
As has been widely covered, Petito’s body was found Sept. 19 and identified a few days later. On Sept. 22, the U.S. District Court of Wyoming issued an arrest warrant for Laundrie for using Petito’s Capital One Bank debit card and withdrawing more than $1,000. While that warrant would have allowed for authorities to arrest Laundrie, it would not be for Petito’s homicide, for which he remains a person of interest.
On Oct. 12, Blue said Petito died by manual strangulation, which domestic violence experts say is one of the most common and deadly forms of domestic abuse.
On Oct. 20, law enforcement found human remains in the Carlton Reserve in Florida, where searchers had been looking for Laundrie for about a month. The next day, the FBI confirmed the remains were Laundrie’s, but the initial autopsy did not provide a conclusive cause of death, in part because the remains were skeletal.
As of yet, no further charges have been filed regarding Petito’s homicide. Nor has the FBI commented on what could be next.
But the questions lingering in many people’s minds are whether Laundrie killed Petito and if that could be proven.
Among the most seamless ways to prove homicide is DNA matching, but that would be complicated in this case because Petito’s body had been outside for weeks before she was found. Additionally, because Petito and Laundrie were romantically involved, it would make sense for his DNA to be on her.
According to the Associated Press, though, forensic experts have many techniques to solve crimes despite those obstacles.
“Reconstruction experts can do amazing things, so I would not be surprised if at some point we got a definitive, or near-definitive, conclusion that Laundrie was the killer,” Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Florida’s Nova Southeastern University, told the AP.
Additionally, the existing circumstantial evidence, including Laundrie’s use of Petito’s credit card, could potentially lead to a near-conclusive analysis.
“That would be circumstantial evidence that points to him,” Alfredo Garcia, former dean at the St. Thomas University College of Law in Miami Gardens and a one-time Miami prosecutor, told the AP. “It’s a difficult proposition to establish but not impossible.”
Another question people are asking is whether Laundrie’s parents could be charged with obstruction of justice for hiding their son. But according to Garcia, that’s an unlikely scenario.
“That’s a steep hill to climb,” Garcia told the AP. “How can you establish they knew he committed the crime? Did they intentionally help him avoid detection and arrest? You have to establish knowledge and intent.”
In the meantime, the FBI investigation is continuing, though it is unlikely to lead to charges if Laundrie is indeed found to be the killer. Teton County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Clay Platt declined to talk about what could happen if Laundrie is found to be the killer, and he declined to speak about other aspects of the case. He did say that, typically, an investigation would be continued after a suspect dies, but charges are rarely filed and cases are usually closed.