Investigators believe a truck driver strangled his former girlfriend and drowned her 11-year-old daughter as the manhunt for a central Missouri truck driver enters its eighth day.
According to the probable cause statement filed Monday in the 13th Circuit Court for Boone County, investigators cite evidence that Allison Abitz, 43, a second-grade teacher at Bush Elementary School in Fulton, was found lying on her bed and “bruising around the area of her neck suggests she was strangled.”
Her daughter, Jozee Abitz, who was set to start sixth grade in Fulton last week, was found submerged in a bathtub filled with water, according to the statement.
Boone County Chief Prosecutor Daniel Knight charged Fulton truck driver J.T. McLean, 45, with two counts of first-degree murder on Aug. 25, three days after Boone County deputies found the two bodies.
Both were wearing their pajamas, according to court documents.
Investigators believe the victims were killed between 11:22 p.m. CST on Saturday, Aug. 21 and 10:15 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 22, based on a witness statement and video footage.
Investigators claim that McLean was the last person in contact with Abitz and her daughter. The three were at the house of a witness until around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 21, according to the statement, then were later seen together on video footage entering and exiting a Hy-Vee grocery store. A Hy-Vee receipt was found at the scene, according to the statement by Columbia Police Officer David Wilson.
Allison Abitz’s vehicle was seen at approximately 11:22 p.m. on a neighborhood security system entering the subdivision. Investigators allege that McLean left the victims’ residence in his black Lexus RC coupe around 10:15 a.m. the next morning, according to a neighbor’s video system.
Court filings state that McLean’s vehicle was later found at a residence he is known to stay at in Callaway County, Missouri, according to the probable cause statement. Investigators also found a smoldering burn pile in which two Android phones were destroyed, according to court filings.
Capt. Brian Leer of the Boone County Sheriff’s Office told FreightWaves on Monday that state and federal agencies still are searching for McLean’s whereabouts.
“Investigators have talked to all family members and there hasn’t been a big break in the case,” Leer said. “We are just trying to work a bunch of different angles to try and really hone in on where he’s at.”
His office also released new images of McLean, showing his different appearances over the years.
All of the vehicles belonging to McLean have been recovered, Leer said, and authorities still aren’t sure if he left the area in a tractor-trailer, a personal vehicle or on foot.
“We currently don’t know his means or mode of travel,” Leer told FreightWaves. “He’s been associated with several vehicles, but we just don’t know what he’s currently in.”
McLean is described as 5 feet, 9 inches tall and around 210 pounds. He has green eyes and brown hair. He was last seen with longer hair than shown in the January photo provided by the BCSO but has been known to shave his head, according to investigators.
McLean’s older brother, Steven Nagy, 55, of Las Vegas, told FreightWaves on Friday that he’s still in shock that McLean has been charged in the double homicide. A Boone County judge issued a warrant for McLean’s arrest and has set a $1 million cash-only bond.
Court documents show two orders of protection have been taken out against McLean since 2017. He is on probation for violating one of them with his ex-wife in 2018. However, Leer said the protective orders did not involve Abitz or her daughter.
Nagy says he hasn’t heard from his brother since deputies discovered the bodies.
Missouri investigators said in a release that J.T. McLean may be using aliases, including John McLean, Steven Nagy and Steven McLean, noting that he has previously changed his name. His older brother claims McLean changed his name after becoming a U.S. citizen when he was a teenager after the brothers immigrated from Central Europe.
Leer said McLean could be anywhere as he has ties to Las Vegas, Chicago and Saint Peter, Minnesota, through his family’s over-the-road trucking company, Challenger Express Inc. The company was once headquartered in Illinois and is now located in Nevada.
Steven Nagy told FreightWaves he owns the trucking company and that both of his brothers, Jani Nagy, 58, of Fulton, and McLean drove for Challenger Express until recently.
Investigators are still trying to determine how many miles McLean drove for Challenger Express or what type of truck he drove to deliver freight, Leer said.
“I really wish we had a specific truck or knew if he had a dedicated route or something like that, but we have no indication of where he’s at,” he said.
Steven Nagy told FreightWaves that all of his trucks are accounted for and that he’s open to speaking with federal investigators about McLean.
“I want the federal police to investigate,” Nagy said. “I want to know what happened — and where is my brother?”
Although Steven Nagy is listed as the owner of Challenger Express, in January 2017, a lien that was filed against “Jt McLean” by the Illinois Department of Revenue for unpaid taxes listed his address as the same as Challenger Express’ former headquarters in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. The company relocated to Las Vegas in 2019.
According to Nevada secretary of state documents, Steven Nagy is listed as the registered agent of Challenger Express Inc., as well as the president, director and treasurer of the company, after moving operations out west two years ago.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s SAFER website lists Challenger Express as having four power units and the same number of drivers. The website states that its authority is active and it hauls general freight, construction and refrigerated goods.
Over the past 24 months, FMCSA shows tractor-trailers and straight trucks running under Challenger Express’ U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) number received 33 violations during inspections in 17 states, with the latest ones occurring in February and March — both in Georgia.
The license plates linked to Challenger Express are registered in Florida, Nevada, Illinois and South Carolina, according to FMCSA data.
Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of McLean is asked to contact the Boone County Sheriff’s Office through Boone County Joint Communications by calling 573-442-6131 or 311 for local residents.
Those wishing to remain anonymous may call CrimeStoppers at 573-875-TIPS (8477).
“We would appreciate any tips or leads that anybody may possibly have regarding this case,” Leer told FreightWaves. “If we get one, 10’s even better.”
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