There is a strange missing-persons case taking shape in San Francisco. Over a month after friends and family stopped hearing from 50-year-old Mission District resident Christopher Woitel — a month in which he has not used his bank account or cellphone — there have been a few leads, but it remains unclear how Woitel left his apartment without being seen on a surveillance camera.
Woitel was last seen on the evening of January 8 entering his apartment at 65 Guerrero Street, but the same surveillance camera never shows him leaving. As Mission Local reports, on January 9, Woitel sent a message to his niece telling her to tell her mother to check her messages, and saying that "It's urgent." Woitel was asking for her to put money into his bank account, saying he wanted to visit friends in the mountains and "75 bucks isn’t going to get me very far."
Woitel, the middle child of eight from a Chicago family, was frequently in touch with family members. His sister, Lara Haben, tells Mission Local that he had been sounding paranoid and erratic in the days leading up to his disappearance — set off, apparently, by the images of Trump supporters storming the Capitol on January 6. Haben says Woitel was worried that Trump supporters were going to descend on San Francisco, and he allegedly told her that a "man on a loudspeaker" passed by his apartment in a car urging people to "get out now." He had also apparently been obsessing about the DC riots in Facebook posts, and asking people for money to replace a lost cellphone.
Still, if Woitel had escaped the city to get some peace of mind, there surely would have been some activity on his bank account after January 8, and there has been none. His apartment, according to a private investigator, shows no signs of foul play, and the chain lock on his front door was still engaged — and when police entered the apartment a week after he was reported missing, they found no sign of him. And what of the surveillance camera? Another camera that monitors the back stairs of the building apparently also showed no sign of Woitel exiting the building.
There's more to the story that opens up the possibility of foul play.
Frustrated that the SFPD didn't seem to be treating the case with much urgency, Woitel's siblings hired a private investigator, Scott Williams, who tracked down a homeless man called Bood at an encampment in Emeryville. Bood was a friend of Woitel's, and someone whom Woitel had welcomed into his home for extended periods. Bood had reportedly stayed at Woitel's apartment at some point in recent years while recovering from a leg injury. And Woitel had apparently given Bood his cellphone to use in the past, and let him use his Facebook account.
Bood apparently was not the only homeless person whom Woitel had invited into his home.
As longtime friend Jennifer Berg tells the Examiner, "It was always a little concerning, and he didn’t really like to talk to me about it too much because I would always say ‘What are you doing, why are you doing that?'"
A longtime neighbor of Woitel's, Steve Willis, tells Mission Local, Woitel frequently delivered food to homeless people, and would sometimes let them use his shower. "He was the type of person that would give you the shirt off his back," Willis says.
But according to Williams, there may have been some unrequited romantic attraction that complicated the relationship with Bood — and a close friend of Woitel's, Jose Reyes, tells Mission Local that the relationship had turned toxic. Woitel had reportedly often spent his money — while living off disability himself for chronic depression — buying things that Bood asked for. "I just got this vibe from him,” Reyes tells Mission Local. “He would freak out when Chris didn’t get him what he wanted."
Bood was seen entering Woitel's apartment on January 7 and exiting the next day at 5:45 a.m., and Woitel subsequently wrote an angry message to Bood on Facebook, after Bood had apparently used Woitel's account to send messages to people of his own.
The text of the message, obtained by Mission Local: "You fucking asshole! DONE. THAT’S IT. ENOUGH. You are on your own. You are far too much trouble. Phone number? Get your own. I’m not paying for you to harass people. You are an asshole. Don’t ever come here again!"
Reyes questions whether Bood could have done any harm to Woitel, given his own physical condition — he apparently had difficulty walking.
But Williams tracked Bood down in Emeryville on February 2, he was in possession of Woitel's cellphone, claiming Woitel had sold it to him on February 7. He also claimed to have psychic abilities and had a vision of how Woitel had been murdered, naming several first names of the perpetrators, whom he also named as Woitel's killers in a Facebook post on January 29: "Nigel, Alonzo, lc, and Eric."
Three of Woitel's siblings flew to San Francisco and were passing out flyers on Friday at the corner of Guerrero and Duboce, near his apartment building, as KPIX reports.
"My gut feeling is something bad happened," Haben tells Mission Local.
The SFPD has said they were getting a warrant to search Woitel's apartment, and they put out a news release about the case on February 10.
Woitel is described as 5 feet 10 inches tall, 200 pounds, with brown eyes and dark brown, wavy hair, with a gray-brown beard and glasses.
A Facebook group set up by his family to help with the search asks anyone with information about his whereabouts to call 312-715-8157.
The SFPD is asking anyone with information to call the 24-hour tip line at 415-575-4444 or text TIP411 and begin the text message with SFPD.