32-year-old Patty Vaughan was looking forward to her future as she celebrated Christmas Eve with her family in 1996. Her family never imagined this would be the last day they saw her alive. Patty went missing on Christmas Day 1996. What happened to Patty Vaughan?
In May of 1985, Patty Brightwell married J.R. Vaughan in San Antonio, Texas. Within five years, the two would have three children. The family moved a few times, for the sake of JR’s job, but by December of 1990, they settled down in LaVernia, Texas (about 25 miles east of San Antonio).
Patty dedicated her life to her children and her church, but behind the happy faces at church on Sunday, Patty and JR were in trouble. Patty’s family worried that she had lost herself in the relationship. In a 2007 interview, her sister Barb, revealed that the family had become concerned that Patty was in an abusive relationship. As Barb put it, a controlling relationship in which Patty had not been allowed to work outside of the home.
Barb claimed that in the year before Patty disappeared, she noticed bruises and had become concerned for her sister’s safety. According to Barb, as tension increased in the relationship between Patty and JR, the control increased.
Patty’s family felt relieved when, in October of 1996, J.R. and Patty agreed to a six month trial separation. Patty remained in their LaVernia home with their children while J.R. moved into an apartment in nearby San Antonio.
Patty’s family noticed a change in her as soon as the separation began. Patty went to work. Got a job in the office of a local electric company. She began to stand up for herself and work towards a better life.
As the family prepared for the upcoming holidays, J.R. and Patty agreed that the best way to celebrate would be for Patty and the kids to join her family for a gathering on Christmas Eve.
J.R. would come to town and celebrate Christmas Day with his children at Patty’s house. Later that evening, Patty and her kids planned to join another relative for a Christmas day celebration. But Patty would not arrive for that gathering.
Within 24 hours, her cousin would be filing a missing person report.
24 years later, her family continues to wait and hope for answers as to what happened to Patty Vaughan.
Anyone with information that could be relevant in the case of Patty Vaughan, is asked to contact the 81st Judicial District Attorney’s Office at 830-393-2200
If you are in an unhealthy or unsafe relationship or are concerned that someone you know might be, you can call the National Domestic Violence hotline any hour of the day or night at 1−800−799−7233. You can also get help without saying a word. You can chat online at thehotline.org and find more information about creating a safety plan…a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to remain safe while in a relationship, planning to leave, or after you leave.
“Tracy Allen & Patty Vaughan”, Defrosting Cold Cases, December 1, 2010
Matthews, Todd (Host). (2007, March 27). Christmas 1996 Was The Last Anyone Heard From A Distraught Patty, Missing Pieces Show [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://missingpiecesshow.homestead.com/MissingPiecesEpisode29Archive.html
“Silent Night” (2011, March 28). Disappeared [Television series episode] Investigation Discovery Network. Retrieved from
“Investigators still trying to close Patty Vaughan case 15-years later”, KSAT News, December 21, 2011
Milano, Susan (Host). (2012, April 17). Patty Inez Brightwell-Vaughn, Victims Heartland [Radio Interview] Retrieved from
“New DNA findings in Patty Vaughan’s 1996 disappearance”, KSAT News, December 7, 2012
“Patty Vaughan investigation continues”, Wilson County News, April 2, 2014
“New leads in missing mom’s case”, Fox San Antonio, September 21, 2016
“Authorities say 22-year-old case of missing Patty Vaughan is ‘not cold’”, Fox San Antonio, 8 December 28, 2018
“At Rest”, “Ambient”, “In Your Arms”, “Almost in F”, “Echoes of Time” and “Reawakening” by Kevin McLeod. “I Am A Man Who Will Fight” by Chris Zabriske. All music licensed under Creative Commons