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Missouri trucker charged in double homicide is still at large

Exclusive: No motive established as manhunt continues; suspect’s brother speaks out

Manhunt continues for a Missouri truck driver charged in double homicide. Photo: BCSO/Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Law enforcement is seeking the public’s help in locating a central Missouri truck driver charged in the deaths of his former girlfriend and her daughter as a manhunt enters its fifth day.

Prosecutors charged J.T. McLean, 45, of Fulton, Missouri, with two counts of first-degree murder on Wednesday in connection with the deaths of his former longterm girlfriend, Allison Abitz, 43, and her daughter, Jozee Abitz, 11, whose bodies were found in their Columbia home around 11 p.m. Sunday by Boone County deputies. 

Investigators claim that McLean — who remains at large — was the last person in contact with Abitz, who was a second-grade teacher at Bush Elementary School in Fulton, and her daughter, who was set to start sixth grade this week, also in Fulton.

Allison Abitz, 43, a second-grade teacher in Fulton, Missouri, and her daughter, Jozee Abitz, 11, were found dead in their home by Boone County deputies late Sunday. Photo: Facebook

Capt. Brian Leer of the Boone County Sheriff’s Office told FreightWaves on Friday that no motive has been established in the slayings. He said investigators were not ready to release any details about how the two died. 

Authorities aren’t sure if McLean left the area in a tractor-trailer, a personal vehicle or is 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 in their home five days ago.

“My brother has a 9-year-old daughter, I just don’t believe it,” Nagy told FreightWaves on Friday.

Trucking connection

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., once headquartered in Illinois and 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.

Investigators seek leads as manhunt enters 5th day 

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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Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 14 years. She is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative and business reporting. Before joining FreightWaves, she wrote for Land Line Magazine and If you have a news tip or story idea, send her an email to [email protected].