A filmmaker’s obsessive search to find a 21-year-old mother who vanished without a trace nearly 12 years ago is the subject of a new true crime docuseries.
In Discovery+’s six-part series Relentless, director Christina Fontana explores the unfounded theories surrounding Christina Whittaker’s mysterious disappearance in the small town of Hannibal, Mississippi, where nothing is as it seems.
‘What I find so intriguing about this case is that on the surface, it really did seem like there was this girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ Fontana told Fox News. ‘But once I started scratching underneath that surface and uncovering these layers to Christina’s life, there was so much more to the story.’
Vanished: The mysterious disappearance of Christina Whittaker, a 21-year-old mother from Hannibal, Mississippi, in 2009 is the subject of the new true crime series Relentless
The filmmaker was filming a separate documentary about families of missing persons when she met Whittaker’s parents in 2010. They were so passionate about finding their daughter that she shifted the focus of her original project to focus solely on their case.
Fontana has over 400 hours of footage from her 11-year investigation, which remains unsolved. She said there have been allegations against ‘almost everyone in Christina’s life,’ including members of her family and the police.
Whittaker disappeared on November 13, 2009, after going out with friends. There were eye-witness accounts of the young mom being intoxicated and getting into an altercation with someone at the bar, which led to her being kicked out.
She was separated from her friends and went to two other nearby bars, reportedly begging people for a ride home along the way. She was last seen leaving one of the bars around 1 a.m.
Obsessed: Filmmaker Christina Fontana started investigating the case in 2010 after meeting Whittaker’s parents, who were desperate to find her
Mystery: Whittaker disappeared on November 13, 2009, after going out with friends. She left behind her six-month-old daughter
‘She had come alone, visibly upset and she was on the phone arguing with someone,’ Fontana said. ‘The bartender had asked her, “Do you need anything? Would you like a ride home?” And she said, “No, I’m OK.” And ran out the back door. The next morning, her phone was found on the ground. That was the last time anyone had seen her.’
Whittaker left behind her six-month-old daughter, and her sudden disappearance has spawned hundreds of theories as to what has happened to her.
Her mother, Cindy Young, is convinced that she was taken to Peoria, Illinois, against her will and put into sex trafficking. She believes her daughter was brainwashed into thinking she can’t go home.
Young shared her theory with the local ABC 7 news station KHQA on the 10th anniversary of Whittaker’s disappearance in 2019.
Theory: Whittaker’s mother, Cindy Young, is convinced she was taken to Peoria, Illinois, against her will and put into sex trafficking
Hard to handle: There are theories that Whittaker was murdered or died in a hit and run, but there is no evidence to back up any of the claims, and the case remains unsolved
‘Christina, if you see this, honey, please contact me,’ she said, hoping her daughter was watching. ‘Please give just a call. No one’s going to make you do anything you don’t want to do. We all need you. We need you back home.
‘You don’t have to come if you don’t want, but at least call me, and let me know you’re okay,’ she added. ‘I need to hear your voice. I just want you to know I love you with all my heart. You’re my little hero, little survivor. I’m so proud of you. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.’
The Hannibal Police Department told KHQA that it had interviewed more than 200 people during its investigation and worked with 45 agencies from across the country to obtain leads.
Lt. Jennifer Grote said the FBI came to Hannibal two months into the case to investigate, and the department also interviewed prisoners behind bars who were convicted of other crimes.
Missing: Whittaker was last seen leaving a bar around 1 a.m., according to Fontana, and her cellphone was later found on the ground outside
Rumors: ‘This isn’t just a story of a girl gone missing,’ the director explained in the trailer for the series. ‘This is also a story of a small town filled with dark secrets’
Fontana investigated a number of theories while filming the documentary. One popular belief is that Whittaker has been living in Peoria of her own volition this entire time.
Another suggests she was murdered and her body was disposed of at a hog farm. There was even a theory that she was killed in a hit and run, but neither Fontana nor any of the private investigators working on the case have been able to uncover evidence that proves any of these suspicions.
However, the information they do uncover doesn’t match what they have been told by Cindy and her husband Alex Young, Whittaker’s stepfather.
In 2012, one of the family’s cousins came into possession of a cellphone with a text message about removing Whittaker’s body, Decider reported.
The way in which they came about the text seems unlikely, and when Fontana showed it to the investigator the Youngs hired, she was told the message may have been faked to prevent her from uncovering the truth.
Confusing: Fontana was told that Whittaker had a drug problem and her disappearance may be related to a drug-related debt, but her family denied that she used narcotics
Conflicted: During her 11-year investigation, Fontana was confronted with possibility that the Youngs weren’t being forthcoming with her about Whittaker’s case
The investigator also said Whittaker had a drug problem and her family knows her disappearance had to do with a drug-related debt, despite their denials that she abused narcotics.
‘This isn’t just a story of a girl gone missing,’ the director explained in the trailer for the series. ‘This is also a story of a small town filled with dark secrets.’
Fontana told Fox News that there are ‘a lot of what-ifs flying around’ that add to the mystery of the case.
‘Maybe she wanted to leave home because of certain things. Maybe people wanted to harm her because of certain activities that were going on in her life that we uncover in the show,’ she said.
‘This is a very small town of about 17,000 people. When you engage with the locals, they all have one thing in common to say — there are a lot of rumors in Hannibal. And nothing is what it seems.’