By Mike Rush
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Money meant for the kids of a mother who was tragically killed is mysteriously missing. Some suspect it was stolen.
Twelve-year-old Haylee, 2-year-old Landon, and 8-year-old Hayven. Their resilient smiles in a recent picture together mask the sad reality that their family picture will never be complete.
Their mother, 28-year old-Patricia Dempsey, died suddenly last summer when an Amtrak train hit the ATV she was riding on.
"I can't imagine the struggles that they have emotionally," said Nina Schellhase, Patricia's cousin, who says she was more like a sister. She says Patricia adored her kids and they adored her.
"Not understanding why bad things happen to good people, you know," said Schellhase about the questions the kids have. "So, that's really a hard question."
To celebrate Patricia's life and to raise money for her children, Patricia's family organized a party along with an auction in November, but it's a fundraiser a few months before that one, at a restaurant in Maryland Heights, that continues to baffle the family.
"Family and friends came here, spent money, items were donated from companies and they were asking how much did we make and we can't answer that," said Richard Nelson, Nina's husband.
Because the money is missing.
"My personal opinion is that someone took this money on purpose," said Schellhase.
Weeks before her death, Patricia began working at John Beal Roofing.
"My heart dropped. I felt first for her kids because I know that she really wanted to be with her children," said Sharina Eichhorn, who worked with Dempsey.
Eichhorn says she and other John Beal employees decided they wanted to help the kids, so the fundraiser was born.
Eichhorn says although it was not a John Beal sponsored event, employees organized and attended it. She considered the function a success, with somewhere around $25,000 raised. But there's one big problem.
"Where is that money today," asked 5 on Your Side's Mike Rush.
"I don't know," said Eichhorn.
Eichhorn says she gave the combination of checks and cash to John Beal accountant Chris Larson.
"We sat down at the table and he ran through the money real quick," she recalled. "Did a counting and he said 'Okay, good, we got it.' He's like, 'I'll deposit it tomorrow or I'll keep it in a safe.'"
She says that's the last time she saw it.
"I can promise to God and all my children I did not touch that money," said Eichhorn.
Larson, who has since moved out of state, did not return Rush's repeated phone calls, but Rush did get in touch with John Beal.
"Straight up, Mike. I don't know anything about what happened to the money," said Beal.
Beal says he didn't have anything to do with the money because his company wasn't the sponsor, even though a flyer advertising the fundraiser gives that impression. And Beal defends his accountant.
"I don't believe Chris would do any wrong-doings. I have all the faith in the world in Chris," said Beal.
Nonetheless, Schellhase believes Beal has an obligation to investigate. Beal says he feels for Patricia's kids.
[Reporter]: "After I spoke with him he wanted to, he said he is trying to get to the bottom of it, but in the meantime he wanted to give you this check. It's for $2,000."
"Wow, that's great. This is exactly what I mean by step up to the plate and do the right thing," said Schellhase.
Despite the donation, Schellhase says she owes it to Patricia's children and people who gave at the fundraiser to continue to try to solve the mystery of the missing money.
"The most important deposit is the deposit of the people that we have reached out to and asked for their support and they did that," said Schellhase.
A couple of months after the event, and right around the time people started asking questions about the money, somebody deposited one of the checks given that night.
Through their lawyer, Sharina Eichhorn and her husband have subpoenaed videotapes, pictures and other records from the bank where the memorial fund is set up.
They are hoping to show who made that deposit.