Missing N.Y. Pastor Found in Ohio Strip Club
‘Distraught’ Reverend Tells Authorities He Does Not Remember 36-Hour Span, 400-Mile Ride
By DAVID SCHOETZ
March 28, 2008—
A pastor whose disappearance from a small town in upstate New York triggered a search by police and the FBI was found earlier today inside an Ohio strip club.
Police said that when the Rev. Craig S. Rhodenizer, 46, was confronted by an officer, he began crying and said he couldn’t remember anything about the 36 hours he was missing.
But dancers at the club remembered Rhodenizer. They told investigators that Rhodenizer spent two hours drinking, soliciting dances and making threatening comments. He also said he wanted to take the dancers back to his motel, according to the police report. In his car was a bottle of Bacardi rum.
Sgt. Frank Previte, an investigator with the Lewiston Police Department, told ABC News it was one of the most bizarre cases he’s seen.
"They questioned him a bit. He was very distraught, crying and hysterical," Previte said. "He did not know where he was."
Rhodenizer was discovered more than 400 miles from his Lewiston, N.Y., home by police in Riverside, Ohio, who were checking out-of-state license plates of cars parked at the club in a high-crime section of the city.
When officers ran the New York license plate on Rhodenizer’s Toyota Camry, the check showed the pastor as a missing person being sought by New York police and FBI. Riverside police called authorities in Lewiston and were instructed to approach Rhodenizer.
The pastor broke down when police asked if he was Rhodenizer, crying and asking about the welfare of his wife and son, according to a Lewiston police report.
Ohio police took Rhodenizer to a hospital and towed his car.
Previte was relieved the search for Rhodenizer ended safely for the pastor, even if it was under unseemly circumstances.
"Regardless, we don’t have any indication that a crime has been committed," Previte said. "And I don’t see that changing."
Susan Rhodenizer, the pastor’s wife, told ABC News that the family is making arrangements for her husband to return home.
"This was very much a stress-induced emotional crisis," his wife said. "He’s never had any of this, historically." The family intends to seek ongoing mental health treatment for Rhodenizer.
Susan Rhodenizer reported her husband missing Wednesday after he said he was going to a Best Buy 30 minutes away to have a computer repaired. The family was scheduled to go on a vacation Thursday.
New York authorities initially feared the pastor may have been kidnapped and the FBI joined the search. They picked up a cell phone signal placing Rhodenizer in northern Pennsylvania Wednesday night, once at 9 p.m. and again at 9:30 p.m. Previte said there was no cell phone or credit card activity throughout Thursday.
Rhodenizer is the pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in the Village of Lydonville.
Police said the pastor did not have any relevant criminal history. "In our check into his background, we could not come up with anything that indicated this was stress-induced," Previte said.
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