9 Investigates has learned there are still no suspects or persons of interest connected to the disappearance of a Seminole County businessman and father of three, a man who disappeared in New York City five months ago.
For the New York Police Department, the disappearance of 56-year-old Charles Butler, an insurance company owner from Lake Mary, remains a missing person's case, Channel 9's Christopher Heath has learned.
Heath has been working on the Butler case for several weeks and has traveled to New York City twice to help Butler's family get some answers. He also had an in-depth interview with Butler's girlfriend, a Brooklyn woman who likely was one of the last people to ever see Butler.
9 Investigates found a series of inconsistencies, including bizarre text messages and an alarming lack of physical evidence linked to the case.
What remains are many videos and photos of Butler enjoying his life.
Butler's own videos shot on his
cellphone show a man in love with New York City. In one video, he's standing across the street from the iconic Bloomingdale's department store. He pans toward the building and says, "I'm up here on 16th and Third Avenue and look what I found: everybody loves Bloomies!"
Butler had found just about everything he wanted out of life, except a woman with whom he could share the city he now called home, at least part of the time. But soon enough, the city provided for him again.
New York is where he met his girlfriend, Anna Lioznov.
"I looked for the normal American man," Liznov told Heath, laughing. "So, we found each other."
Lioznov met Butler online. Their conversations led to dates and things quickly became serious. By mid-September, Butler left central Florida for New York. His first stop there was to see his daughter, Molly, in Manhattan.
"I saw him Monday. We had a little conversation," Molly Butler told Heath. "He said, 'I'm going to sleep at Anna's house, but we'll do lunch Wednesday.' Everything was fine. I got no bad feeling from her."
Charles Butler and Lioznov took the subway out to Brooklyn. They bought a bottle of wine and a cantaloupe in the Brighton Beach section of the borough. Then they went to her apartment.
The next morning, Lioznov gave Butler a key to her apartment and left for work. That was the last time anyone who knew Charles Butler ever saw
"I gave him the key and he closed the upper lock, so it means he left," said Lioznov, who spoke with Heath during a lengthy interview inside her apartment.
"Have you had the locks changed since this?" Heath asked.
"Since this, no," Lioznov
If Charles Butler did leave the apartment, where did he go? He didn't have a car in New York. He would have had to take public transportation or a taxi. Both have cameras and so far, New York police have found no video of him anywhere outside the apartment.
Almost immediately, Butler's daughter suspected something bad had happened to her father. Normally, they were in regular contact by phone and text.
"I knew that something bad had happened," Molly Butler told Heath.
Records show a missing person's report filed with NYPD on Sept. 22. The report indicates Butler was last seen at the Brighton Beach apartment the evening of Sept. 19.
After calling police and hospitals, Molly Butler suddenly received a text from her father's phone, a text she says "was not" from her father.
"It was broken up English and abbreviations that he used and he called me 'honey,'" she said, explaining he never called her
Molly Butler still has the texts. Lioznov said she also received texts that day while at work, but she said she deleted those messages.
None of Charles Butler's credit cards
have been used. His cellphone has never been found, nor has any trace of his body.
New York police questioned Lioznov twice about Butler's disappearance. Once they interrogated her for hours after 9 Investigates started looking into the case. She said detectives asked her about that evening and about her ex-husband.
They also placed a missing person's flyer on her building, although that same flyer could not be found in the missing person's section of NYPD's website.
To this day, however, NYPD still classifies this as a missing person's case. But Molly and other members of the Butler family have said their goodbyes, and they recently held a memorial service for her father in Seminole County.
And late last month, the family attended a hearing in Seminole County during which Charles Butler's assets were transferred so that they could be protected.
"They believe he may be deceased and be the victim of foul play," family attorney Frank Nisi told a circuit judge in Seminole County late last month.
A sworn affidavit submitted to the court and signed by a private investigator working for the family states, "Evidence uncovered during the course of our investigation indicates Mr. Butler may be the victim of a homicide."
While Charles Butler may appear to be dead on paper, that may be as close as his family will ever get to closure, unless someone walks into NYPD and confesses or turns over new details.
During Channel 9's interview, Lioznov told Heath that surveillance video shows she and Charles Butler entering her apartment building that night in September, but the video never shows Butler leaving.
The apartment building, which has a court yard with parking in the back, has other exits not covered by cameras. The surveillance video that shows the couple entering was turned over to NYPD.
In addition, potential evidence also could have been lost when the apartment building was damaged during Superstorm Sandy.