Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Phyllis in 1980 (left) and age-progression to 56 (right)

Real Name: Phyllis Jean Strub
Aliases: None known
Wanted For: Embezzlement
Missing Since: November 17, 1980


Details: Home movies of family vacations are classic Americana. How many husbands have turned the lens on a reluctant, camera-shy wife? And how many of those wives had a secret life that no one ever even guessed at? Forty-two-year-old Phyllis Strub of Cincinnati, Ohio, did, and to this day, her family still cannot believe it. Her husband, Earl, thought of her as a great wife who loved and took care of him and their four children. She was also the ideal employee. She managed the Netherland Terrace Federal Credit Union for a large Hilton hotel in Cincinnati. There was no reason to think she would ever run afoul of the FBI. She was a trusted employee who was also the only paid one there. She had worked there since 1967, both as the treasurer and a teller. There was no reason at all to suspect that she was involved in any wrongdoing.
All of that changed on July 16, 1980; on that day, a federal auditor was waiting at the hotel credit union when Phyllis returned from the yearly family vacation. Despite her surprise, she seemed to take the auditor’s visit in stride. She claimed that, because of her three-week vacation, she was not prepared for the audit at all. She told him that she needed more time to get the records and the paperwork together. She stuck to that story for the days that he was there at the credit union.
The auditor worked long hours both days, but he kept coming up short - by nearly a quarter of a million dollars. On July 17, he told Phyllis that he had checked the records multiple times, and kept coming up short. Once again, she seemed totally unruffled. She suggested that he look through the records from the last two weeks. She then said that she had to go to the bank and make a deposit because it was closing soon. She proceeded to calmly walk out of the credit union, taking care to hang a “Be Back Soon” sign on the front door. But she never came back, to the credit union, or to her family.
Phyllis told Earl that she would probably be working late that day with the auditor. So, when she did not come home for dinner, he was not concerned. As the evening went by, he still was not concerned. He later went to bed without her, assuming that she was spending the night at the hotel because of the audit. However, the next day, he was asked to meet with the auditor and with Phyllis’s boss. They told him that she had not come into work that day. When he told them that she had not come home the night before, they knew something was wrong.
The auditor suspected that Phyllis had embezzled $247,826.54 in regular withdrawals between 1975 and 1980. It is believed that she altered vouchers and journal entries. The possibility of her embezzling that much money came as a complete surprise to everyone, including her family, friends, and the employees and customers of the credit union. Earl felt that when she left, she took a chunk of his life with her. Their children were deeply affected by it as well since they were so close to her. As time passed, he did not know what to do. He still does not know what she did with the money, where it went, or how she got it out. He feels that only she can answer those questions.
Phyllis managed to keep one jump ahead of the law. Yet, she was driving the family car, a 1977 Oldsmobile, and using her own credit cards. Earl was happy when he learned that she was using the cards because he was able to track her movements. He created a map, based on the credit card receipts he was able to get ahold of, and traced her movements throughout the country. Over a seven-month period, she covered 22,000 miles and 2/3 of the United States. She winded her way from Ohio down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Phyllis, a model wife and mother, a perfect employee, was last seen on November 17, 1980, hitching a ride on a tanker truck headed for New Orleans. Her car had broken down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Ironically, she told a repairman that she did not have a penny to fix it. In November 1982, she was indicted on four counts of making false statements and twenty-six counts of credit union embezzlement.
Earl believes that Phyllis misses him and their children greatly. He believes that she is suffering because of their separation. Her son, Darren, says that they often look through photo albums, which brings back the memories of their time with her. Today, her children are grown and married, and there are seven small grandchildren she has never seen. Even though she is wanted by the FBI, and may have to spend time in prison, her family wants her to come home. After fourteen years, Earl still loves her and wants her back. He had to divorce her for financial reasons, but he hopes that if she is found, they can remarry.
One fascinating footnote to the case: there is no evidence that any of the money Phyllis is accused of embezzling was ever spent, either before or after she disappeared.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the October 14, 1994 episode.
  • It was excluded from the FilmRise release of the Robert Stack episodes.

Results: Captured. Cincinnati FBI agents reopened their investigation into the case while working with producers for the show. They received a tip that Phyllis was living near New Orleans. She was reportedly using her own Social Security Number to help get treatment for medical issues. On December 2, 1994, she was arrested by FBI agents at her home in New Sarpy, near New Orleans. She had remarried and was living under the name "Phyllis Jean Johnson". Her new husband did not know about her other life or embezzlement. They were reportedly destitute and living in a shack. A week after her arrest, her family traveled to New Orleans and she was reunited with them after fourteen years.
Phyllis was extradited back to Ohio to face charges of embezzlement and making false statements. She initially denied embezzling the money. However, in January 1995, she admitted to it, saying that she had done it to help her family. She claimed that she had taken small amounts over the years. When the auditor came, she knew she would be found out and would be unable to pay the money back. She decided to flee because she did not want to "embarrass" her family and figured that they would hate her for what she had done.
Phyllis pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement; federal prosecutors agreed to drop the other twenty-seven charges. She was sentenced to forty-one months in prison. However, shortly after she began serving her sentence, doctors diagnosed her with terminal cancer. In August 1995, a judge ordered her release so she could spend her remaining time with her family. On September 28, 1995, she passed away in a nursing home at the age of fifty-seven. On November 18, 2007, Earl passed away at the age of seventy-four.