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MISSING IN MARYLAND: Michelle Rust case remains unsolved for nearly 20 years

Rust disappeared July 20, 2002
Posted at 7:56 AM, Feb 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-21 18:09:46-05

TOWSON, Md. — A Baltimore County woman has been missing for nearly two decades. Police say she went to the store and never returned home.

Michelle Rust was last seen on July 20, 2002, and her family has been without answers ever since.

A lot has changed in the Halethorpe community since the summer of 2002, but one thing which hasn't changed is the love Ray and Gwen Lins have for their missing daughter Michelle Rust.

Michelle’s father Ray said “every day, I think about it. Every day I go over everything, hoping I might find something.”

The pain of having a daughter disappear has taken its toll on Michelle's father.

“It’s a struggle for me really to get by the day. I mean, I had to go to a psychiatrist and a psychologist myself. And it sort of helped, but well, he told me when I first went in, it’s not going to go away, you just have to deal with it the best you can,” Ray Lins said.

Saturday July 20, 2002, Michelle Rust and her husband Dwight were planning to host a birthday party for their three-year-old son that day.

Michelle’s mother Gwen Lins said “I got a phone call about 9:30, maybe quarter of ten, and Dwight called me and he said ‘do you know where Michelle is?’ and I said no, I thought she was home and he said she went to the store.”

The family went on a search for Michelle right away.

They checked several nearby Walmarts, hoping a surveillance camera might have caught a glimpse of Michelle on video but there was no sign of the 24-year-old missing mom.

“And as we were going to the Walmarts, Gwen got a phone call, and said that they found her van,” Ray Lins said.

“They canceled the party. We canceled the party. We knew she was missing, and everybody was just frantically looking for her. And his father, everybody was looking, his family and our family. And his father ended up being the one that found the van,” Gwen Lins said.

Baltimore County Police Cpl. Donna Carter said “the key actually was in the driver’s side door, broken off, inside of that caravan when it was found. Neighbors in the area were questioned about anything they may have seen. And, unfortunately nobody saw anything leading to how that van got there or who may have driven it.”

It was a spot along Clyde Avenue near Zion Road in Lansdowne, and a few miles from her house in Halethorpe where Michelle's father-in-law discovered that first and only clue into her disappearance.

“We went over there. The van was there, the cops were, the police were there and everything and the window was down about that far. They looked for the keys, they went to the houses, and nobody had seen anything,” Ray Lins said.

Finding Michelle's 1998 green Dodge Caravan but no sign of Michelle brought out Ray's worst fears.

“I mean, I just filled up, it was just a natural emotion. I just couldn’t hold it back,” Ray Lins said.

Michelle's husband at the time, Dwight Rust Jr. declined to go on camera to talk about this case but said he thanks WMAR-2 News for looking into Michelle's disappearance after all these years, and he hopes this will help things moving forward.

Police said people who knew Michelle told investigators she had said if anything ever happened to her, that one of her husband's ex-girlfriends might be responsible.

In the twenty years since, police have only ruled out two people as suspects in this case, Michelle's parents, Ray and Gwen Lins. So, we asked Ray and Gwen who do they think is responsible for their daughter's disappearance.

“What we think really doesn’t make any difference. It’s what you can prove,” Gwen Lins said.

Baltimore County detectives believe Michelle fell victim to foul play. “Her credit cards were never used, there was no ATM activity, her checking account never had checks written against it, so foul play was assumed. Also, she was a diabetic and she was a devoted mother, so it just doesn't make sense,” Carter said.

Both Gwen and Ray also believe something terrible happened to their daughter and that she is dead.

“But we find peace knowing where she is, because we believe in a God that’s stronger, and we believe when you die, you have eternal life and you’re going to go to heaven,” Gwen Lins said.

It is that faith which has brought this family some closure.

Meanwhile, much of the science and technology used in finding a missing person has changed over the last 20 years: DNA, cell phone tracking, cell phone video along with doorbell cameras are just a few of the resources police can now use to get answers for worried families.

“A person doesn’t just disappear off the face of the earth. It's just so hard not being able to give all of these families’ answers. With as many missing persons and cold cases that we have, we try to work them and no case is ever too cold. There’s no information that’s too small. We’re always hoping to get that little piece of information that can bring closure to somebody,” Carter said.

Anyone with information about this case who could help find answers for both Michelle's family and detectives is asked to contact the Baltimore County Police Homicide and Missing Persons Unit, 410-887-3943.