SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - 9 Investigates has spent several weeks probing the unexplained disappearance of a successful Seminole County businessman.
Five months ago, Charles Butler, a 56-year-old insurance company owner from Lake Mary, walked into his girlfriend's apartment in New York City -- and simply vanished.
Butler's family is convinced he's dead -- so convinced they've hired a private investigator to look into the case and filed legal documents in Seminole County to protect Butler's assets.
And yet, as Channel 9's Christopher Heath learned, New York police will only say Butler is missing. And his girlfriend in New York doesn't seem to know much about the last day he was seen alive last September.
Heath traveled to New York twice to find out more about Butler's disappearance and what authorities there are doing there to answer his family's many questions.
Before Butler disappeared, he seemed to be having fun in the big city.
Some of the last images of Butler are iPhone videos he shot of himself.
They show how much he loved New York.
In one video, Butler sings happily, "Manhattan… Manhattan… the city that never sleeps."
Butler, the owner of a successful central Florida insurance company, split time between raising his kids in Lake Mary, and running his business. But with his kids grown, he was ready to return to the city of his birth.
"He called this home; he absolutely loved it," said his daughter, Molly Butler.
The hundreds of pictures his daughter still has show just how much Butler treasured New York City. But he had another love too – a new woman in his life.
"We loved each other and wanted to spend our lives together," explained Anna Lioznov, Butler's girlfriend from Brooklyn.
They had a whirlwind romance and by all indications, Butler was in love with Lioznov and was busy rediscovering New York.
"OK, Saturday afternoon in the city, that's what I'm talking about," Butler said in one of his cellphone videos.
He and Lioznov would travel to Florida. She would meet his friends and his children. By late September, they'd make plans for a long weekend in California's wine country. But Butler would never make that flight.
"It just happened so quick, it's … like one day he just doesn't come back," Molly Butler told Heath.
Somewhere in Brooklyn, Charles Butler disappeared.
An apartment building in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach is, by all indications, the last place Butler was ever seen by anyone he knew. Police know he entered the apartment building in mid-September. They also know he has not been seen alive since then.
Heath has a number of unanswered questions: Where did Butler go? Why did it take NYPD so long to question anyone in this case? Why was so much forensic evidence possibly destroyed? And why, after so much time, is this still just a missing person's case?
"They believe that he may be deceased," Butler's family attorney Frank Nisi told Judge Donna McIntosh in a Seminole County courtroom late last month.
Court documents meant to protect Butler's assets indicate Butler may have been "the victim of foul play" and even "the victim of a homicide." Those documents include a signed affidavit from a private investigator.
Monday, Heath talks at length with Lioznov. They discuss what she has to say about Butler's final few hours. And Heath examines the bizarre text messages Butler's two daughters received the day after their father vanished.
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