Monday, October 3, 2022

The Disappearance of Joan Cook

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Joan Renee Cook vanished in Salem, Virginia on January 24th, 2010. The then-44-year-old was last seen leaving her husband's residence on Elderwood Rd. Joan and her husband, Mike Cook, were separated at the time of her disappearance, but Joan often spent weekends at his home so she could spend more time with their daughter. According to Mike, Joan left the residence around 11:00 PM after saying she was going to walk to a friend's house. She never returned and has never been seen again. 

After Joan was reported missing, it was determined that her phone was used one final time at 5:00 AM. A text message from the phone was sent to the friend that Joan was reportedly going to see that night. The message simply read, "I love you". Both Joan's phone and bank accounts have not been used since her then. 

Joan's disappearance was quickly deemed suspicious by both investigators and family members. Joan's loved ones described her as a dedicated mother who would never leave her daughter behind. Due to this, and due to the fact that Joan had not accessed her phone, bank accounts, or social media, investigators believe that foul play is responsible for her disappearance. 

To this day, no suspects or persons of interest have been publicly named in Joan's case. However, there are a few potential theories about what happened. Joan split her time between her boyfriend's home and her husband's home. She also worked and interacted with several different people on a daily basis. There were several things going on in Joan's life prior to her disappearance that have led to a few different theories. 

What happened to Joan?


From an outsider's perspective, it appeared that Joan Cook had a fairly typical life. She had a daughter whom she loved, and she had a consistent job. Although Joan was separated from her husband Mike, it appeared that they were on decent terms prior to her disappearance. They were co-parenting and seemed to be getting along. 

However, a closer look at Joan's relationship with Mike reveals that there were several troubles throughout their relationship.

The marital troubles.

Before her disappearance, Joan had been married to Mike for 22 years. According to Joan's sister, Carol, the marriage between Joan and Mike had been troubled from the start. In 2018, Carol was quoted telling Dateline, "They were never happy. It was more of a comfort thing for both of them."

One positive result of their marriage was their daughter. As previously noted, Joan was a dedicated mother and loved spending time with her daughter. 

Image source: Roanoke Times

Joan, Mike, and their daughter all lived together in Salem, Virginia up until 2007. At that point, Mike moved to Des Moines, Iowa to look for a new job. Joan and their daughter remained in Virginia. The plan was for the three of them to reunite in Des Moines once Mike was settled.

Unbeknownst to Mike, Joan made other plans. After her husband left for Des Moines, Joan started a new job and met a man whom she began dating. Joan initially kept her new boyfriend a secret, but Mike found out about his wife's new relationship about three months after he moved to Des Moines.

Learning about his wife's affair prompted Mike to move back to Salem. Still, Joan remained in a relationship with her new boyfriend even after Mike returned. According to Joan's sister Carol, Mike then began engaging in some troubling behavior. He reportedly would go to Joan's workplace and wait for her and her new boyfriend to come out of the building together. He also was allegedly caught putting nails under Joan's car tires. 

Life with a new boyfriend.

Joan and Mike remained separated following his return from Des Moines. By the end of 2009, Joan had moved in with her new boyfriend. Mike and their daughter remained at the family's home on Elderwood Road. Carol explained to Dateline that her family members felt Joan should have legally split from Mike before moving in with another man - but at the time, she could not afford the divorce. 

Joan's new boyfriend had a child from a previous relationship. Every other weekend, the boyfriend had visitation with his child. During those weekends, Joan would stay with Mike and their daughter at her old residence. The arrangement initially appeared to be working out well. 

Joan's disappearance.

Joan was staying at Mike's house on the evening she vanished. As previously stated, she was last seen at the residence on Elderwood Road around 11:00 PM on January 24th, 2010. Mike would later tell authorities that Joan left the residence on foot to visit a friend at a nearby house. 

According to reports, the friend whom Joan was supposedly going to visit was not home at this time. Said friend did receive a text from Joan's phone a few hours later, but to this day it is unclear if the text was sent from Joan herself. The phone has not been located.

Joan's family members learned that she was missing a few days later. Carol received a call from Joan's workplace stating that Joan had not shown up to her last few shifts. Knowing this was unlike Joan, Carol contacted Mike to ask if he had seen her. It was then that Mike explained that Joan had left his residence on foot on the evening of January 24th. Carol immediately thought this was odd, as the night of the 24th had been cold and rainy - and it did not seem like Joan would want to go on a walk in such conditions. 

Mike also told Carol that he did not report Joan missing because he did not know she was missing. When she did not return to his house, Mike simply assumed Joan had gone back to her boyfriend's residence. This did not seem like a stretch, since Mike and Joan did not see each other every day. Still, as the last person to have seen Joan, there are inevitable suspicions against Mike. 

The investigation.

Although Mike immediately appeared to be a potential suspect, it was necessary for detectives to investigate the other people in Joan's life, as well. As such, Joan's new boyfriend was looked into, but he was quickly ruled out when it was determined that he was out of town with his child. Detectives were able to rule out other people in Joan's inner circle as well. 

At this time, Mike has not been ruled out. He denies involvement in Joan's disappearance. Mike told police that he and Joan were not arguing that weekend, and nothing unusual had happened between them prior to her disappearance. Police also interviewed Mike and Joan's daughter, who was only 7 years old at the time. She told detectives that she did not witness or hear anything loud or out of the ordinary that weekend. 

Cadaver dogs were brought to Mike's home, but apparently nothing of interest was found. There was no blood, or any other evidence of a struggle found around the home either. It appears investigators were unable to find any physical evidence at the home that suggested Mike was involved in Joan's disappearance.


The most prominent theory in the case is that Mike is responsible for Joan's disappearance. Theories on how, exactly, he was involved remain varied. Some believe that Mike intentionally killed Joan and disposed of her body. Others believe that Mike accidentally killed Joan and covered it up. Even with the lack of physical evidence that Mike was involved in her disappearance, there are still plenty of other reasons to suspect him - especially since they had marital issues AND he was the last one to have seen Joan before she vanished. 

However, since years have passed without any charges against Mike, it's worth looking into other theories as well. As previously noted, Joan's new boyfriend was determined to be out of town at the time of Joan's disappearance - so he has been ruled out. 

It's possible that Joan became a victim of opportunity by a violent stranger. It's also possible that Joan became injured and/or disoriented on her walk and succumbed to the elements. This theory seems less likely, because it does not explain the text that was sent from Joan's phone at 5:00 AM. If Joan was a victim of foul play, it seems more likely that the text was sent by the perpetrator. 

Many people believe that Mike knows what happened to Joan. Carol told Dateline that she believes "something happened between [Mike and Joan]" that lead to Joan's disappearance. Mike has never been charged with anything related to Joan's case and he continues to deny involvement in her disappearance. He has since moved back to Des Moines with his and Joan's daughter. 

Where the case stands today.

Joan Renee Cook remains missing. Her loved ones are holding out hope that she will someday be found. If you have any information that could help the investigation, please contact the Roanoke County Police Department at 540-562-3265.

Charley Project
NBC News
Roanoke Times

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