DuPage County

What Happened to Jake Cefolia? Missing United Executive Case Still Unsolved, One Year Later

Did a search warrant executed by police at Jake Cefolia's home trigger his disappearance? New information in the disappearance of a suburban airline executive.

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UPDATE: The mystery behind Jake Cefolia's disappearance reached a tragic point over the weekend. Read the latest updates here.


In the years before Jake Cefolia, 49, was reported missing on Aug. 8, 2020, he seemed to live the jet-setting lifestyle of a newly divorced, telegenic top executive at United Airlines.

As a senior vice president of worldwide sales, Cefolia traveled the globe from Hong Kong to Singapore to London and Tel Aviv.

Police and court reports obtained by NBC 5 Investigates showed him signing up for OkCupid, meeting one girlfriend on Bumble in Chicago, dating another woman in San Francisco. Staying at the Ritz Carlton Marina Del Rey in California and dining at Hula Grill in Honolulu with a tab of $528.

But the last purchase Cefolia ever made on his Chase credit card was $59.50 for gas at a Shell station on Butterfield Road near his Elmhurst home in Illinois.

A grainy video from gas station cameras showed Cefolia wearing hiking boots, cargo shorts, a dark-colored shirt and dark-colored baseball cap while pumping gas into his gray Range Rover the morning of Aug. 7.

His car was later captured by a traffic camera at 9:23 a.m. going westbound on Butterfield Road at Commonwealth. An elderly neighbor told police he was 60 to 70 percent sure he saw Cefolia’s Range Rover leave just before noon, according to Elmhurst Police reports.

That was the last sighting of Jake Cefolia.

A high-powered Chicago airline executive is acting strangely in the days before his Range Rover is found abandoned near the trails where he trained for marathons. Did he run toward a new life or away from trouble in his old one? Follow the twists and turns in the strange case of Jake Cefolia.

What Triggered Jake Cefolia's Disappearance?

On Aug. 6, the day before Cefolia vanished, NBC 5 Investigates learned that Elmhurst police showed up at his house with a search warrant, according to police reports. Detectives' notes show they were there to "search and collect/package evidence." Elmhurst police declined to comment on the investigation, and Cefolia has never been charged with a crime.

"It’s unlikely that it’s coincidental that he disappears, the day after the search," said retired Chicago homicide detective Richard Schak, who now teaches criminal justice at a local university. "Whatever they were looking for, or whatever they found might have triggered something for him to take off."

Cefolia’s Range Rover Sport was later seen parked in the early morning hours of Aug. 8 outside the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Lemont. An avid runner, Cefolia used to run and hike the trails at the 700-acre forest. The car’s license plate was run by a DuPage County Sheriff twice, once at 1:13 a.m. and again at 4:07 a.m. but because Cefolia had not yet been reported missing, nothing came up.

Later that afternoon, Cefolia’s ex-wife Kristine called 911 to report him missing, telling operators that she had not heard from Jake since Aug. 6. "I’ve left him with multiple text messages, emails, nothing," she told 911 dispatchers. "Something is absolutely not right."

Once the missing person’s report was filed, DuPage County Forest Preserve Officers identified Cefolia’s car. Police reports say that a COVID face mask was hanging from the steering wheel, a grey pullover was left in the back seat and a golf bag with a set of clubs and $120 in cash were found in the trunk.  

A search team with bloodhounds were put together using Cefolia’s pullover and a pair of glasses as scent for the dogs to search the woods. The bloodhounds tracked the scent south-east from where the SUV was parked but lost the scent 20 yards in and stopped, according to police reports.

Is Jake Cefolia Out There?

"Without anything surfacing in 12 months about Jake, I think the likelihood that he’s alive is very remote. Just because something would have surfaced," said Schak. "If you lived that kind of lifestyle, there would be a money trail of some sort."

Police reports indicate that "Cefolia’s passport, credit cards and financial accounts have not been used or accessed" and there have been "no significant withdrawals before his disappearance" nor has there been "contact with family or friends ever since."

'He's Acting Out of Character,' Ex-wife Told 911 Dispatcher

Cefolia's former wife who called 911 to report him missing told police their son went to his house for dinner and told her his father seemed extremely drunk, according to police reports. That was just hours after police searched the home on Aug. 6.

A United Airlines pilot friend told police that Cefolia had been under immense stress during the coronavirus pandemic, "taking a 50 percent pay cut while still paying the same amount as agreed to in their divorce settlement."

The friend told police Cefolia was "worried because he was in charge of laying off a large number of United employees due to the economic downturn."

A girlfriend of Cefolia’s described their relationship as on-and-off again, in police reports. She told police that he was getting therapy and whatever happened was not planned.

More than a thousand man hours of searching at the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserves and surrounding areas have been done by multiple Illinois police agencies, by foot and air without success. Hundreds of volunteers have searched as well. Search and rescue teams with bloodhounds and cadaver dogs have not led to any discoveries.

Police checked on Cefolia’s MetLife insurance policy from United Airlines for $770,000 dated June 1, 2012.

"Most insurance policies have disclaimers for suicide and that lasts a year or two. It doesn’t negate the insurance, it just means you can’t go buy a policy on Monday and take care of yourself and collect a bunch of money," Schak said. "But you have to be declared legally dead to collect insurance and that could take seven years."

Jake Cefolia left behind teenage twins, a boy and a girl. One year later, whatever trouble Cefolia was in remains a secret, and the man whose been just about everywhere is still nowhere to be found.

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