jake cefolia

Search for Missing United Executive Shifts Deeper Into Suburban Chicago Woods

Jake Cefolia, 49, was a senior vice president of Worldwide Sales for United Airlines overseeing a team of 725 people. He was last seen on a gas station surveillance camera at 9:23 a.m. on Aug. 7 filing up his Range Rover.

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

With the leaf foliage now gone, suburban Chicago forest preserve officers returned last week to the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Lemont where the Range Rover of missing United Airlines executive Jake Cefolia was first discovered on Aug. 8.  

This time, a smaller team of officers searched deep into the woods, off the trails, looking for any signs of Cefolia.

"Now that the leaf foliage is down, it gives us a different perspective. So, we are taking another look,” said DuPage County Forest Preserve Chief David Pederson. "We’re doing so because there hasn’t been any other lead, or any other information regarding Jacob Cefolia."

Jake Cefolia seemed to have it all. At age 49, the telegenic United Airlines executive was the senior vice president of worldwide sales and a father of two who lived in Chicago's western suburbs. Then came a call into DuPage County’s 911 center: "Something is absolutely not right."

Traversing through thick brush, officers methodically walked while stretched out in a single line through the designated search area. An eerie silence engulfed the chilly November air, punctuated only by the crackling underbrush from advancing footsteps. Officers occasionally shouted at each other to keep from getting lost in the dense woods.

"I thoroughly believe it would be nothing but a recovery effort if he’s here in the forest preserve," said Chief Pederson. "Our thoughts are with the family and friends in this situation."

Chief Pederson said that Cefolia’s Range Rover was originally spotted twice on Aug. 8 -- at 1:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. -- by a deputy from the DuPage Sheriff’s Office. It was seen parked on the gravel road near Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, but no missing person bulletin on Cefolia had been filed at that point. On both occasions, the deputy reported the vehicle was unoccupied, according to police reports.

It was only several hours later, after Cefolia’s ex-wife Kristine Cefolia reported him missing, that forest preserve officers connected the car to the missing man and immediately started a K-9 search for him at 9 p.m. that night. There were no signs of foul play or suicide. No note inside Cefolia’s car. The only items found were a sweatshirt, golf clubs, a face mask and a first aid kit.

The divorced father of teenage twins, Cefolia, 49, was a senior vice president of Worldwide Sales for United Airlines overseeing a team of 725 people. He had worked at United Airlines since 2007. Elmhurst police have declined comment on reports Cefolia was under criminal investigation prior to his disappearance. Cefolia’s family and friends have declined multiple interview requests from NBC 5 Investigates.

Cefolia was last seen on a gas station surveillance camera at 9:23 a.m. on Aug. 7 filing up his Range Rover. Cefolia reportedly took the day off from work that Friday. His ex-wife reported him missing Aug. 8 at 12:51 p.m., telling the 911 dispatcher that “he missed a meeting with the kids.”

More than two months after a United executive went missing, authorities clearly know more than they are sharing. NBC 5's Rob Stafford reports on the search for Jake Cefolia.

DuPage Forest Preserve Chief Pederson described initial search efforts for Cefolia at the 2,000-acre forest preserve as massive, saying, “this has been one of our most extensive searches with a lot of resources, volunteers to law enforcement staff and drones to aircraft thermal imaging. We really put in a lot, including some water searches in the nearby Des Plaines River.”

Search efforts are smaller and deeper into the woods. “This is a place where people can feel secluded and go back to nature and maybe feel some peace, “ said Chief Pederson.

Three months after his disappearance, the search for Cefolia continues, but the question remains as to whether the answer to this mystery is somewhere in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve or somewhere else.

Contact Us