Let me start by acknowledging that this is a travel blog, and I don’t usually cover missing people stories. However, this is something I wrote about early on (given the airline industry connection). In the weeks and months following the incident, it’s something I checked on almost daily, and lately it’s something I’ve looked at every few weeks.
I know a lot of readers have taken interest in this story as well, and every so often I get a message from a reader asking if there’s an update on the case. It has now been a year since this happened, so I wanted to share the latest, especially as there’s some new information that was made public since the last time I wrote about this.
A United Airlines executive has now been missing for one year, and there’s still no sign of him. While details have progressively been released about the case, they’ve only made things more confusing, rather than clearing things up.
Before we get into the latest, if you have any information about the case, contact the Elmhurst Police Department at (630) 530-3050.
The basics of missing United executive
49-year-old Jake Cefolia was United Airlines’ Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales (he was removed from United’s company leadership page in early October 2020). He had worked at the airline since 2007, and led a team of up to 725 people.
Unfortunately Cefolia was last seen on Thursday, August 6, 2020, and was reported missing on Saturday, August 8, 2020. His car was found at the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, not far from his home in Elmhurst. Police and volunteers searched that area, but didn’t find any clues.
Details of Cefolia’s disappearance
Since it has been about a year, let me try to recap some of the highlights of what the investigation has found (or at least what has been made public).
Here’s my understanding of the timeline of what we know, which has been made public through a combination of statements from the police, and details obtained through FOIA requests:
- Cefolia flew to San Francisco on August 4 to spend time with his girlfriend for her birthday, and the girlfriend claims she recently broke up with Cefolia, but he wanted to get back together; she said he didn’t make any concerning comments, but was drinking more than usual
- Cefolia was allegedly seeing a second woman, who he communicated with on August 6; she didn’t hear from him on August 7, and he missed the dinner they were supposed to have together on August 8
- On August 6, Cefolia returned from California, and had dinner with family at home, where he was allegedly intoxicated
- On August 7, Cefolia missed a corporate event; however, he was seen on video getting gas at around 9:15AM (his last credit card transaction), and was also seen on video entering Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve (where he would often jog), wearing hiking boots and khakis
- His car was parked in a gravel parking lot, and a search didn’t reveal anything suspicious — the car had golf clubs, a first aid kit, a sweatshirt, and a face mask
- He didn’t take any traceable devices with him, as his cell phone and Apple Watch were both found at home
- On August 8, Cefolia was reported missing
- On August 10, Cefolia’s family hired a private investigator
- Police and volunteers have carried out several searches of Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, and while some articles of clothing have been found, none of them were linked to Cefolia
A few more things to note:
- Cefolia’s ex-wife claimed he had previously fantasized about “getting off the grid”
- Cefolia was trying to sell his Elmhurst home, and it hit the market on June 16, had a price reduction on July 16, and had a further price reduction on August 4 (two days before he went missing); it ended up finally selling on November 5
- There’s video surveillance of Cefolia getting gas before going to Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, where his car was found; he spent $59.50 on gas, which suggests he was filling up the tank, rather than just topping off the tank to get somewhere nearby (his car is the Range Rover Sport that can be seen in the distance for the second half of the video)
Cefolia was under criminal investigation
More details have emerged about this in recent months, and it adds quite a different element to the story. We knew from the beginning that Cefolia was allegedly being criminally investigated. In recent months it has been revealed that police executed a search warrant on Cefolia’s home the day before he vanished, the same day he had dinner with his family and appeared intoxicated. Allegedly the warrant was to “search and collect/package evidence.”
We don’t know what the criminal investigation was for, and if it was at all related to his work.
A United Airlines executive has been missing for a year now. He hasn’t been seen in person since August 6, 2020, though was caught on video getting gas, and then also entering Waterfall Glen Forest Reserve.
The updates that have been provided since his disappearance only make the situation even more confusing, given that they point to opposite conclusions. My thoughts are with Cefolia’s family and friends, especially as he has kids. I can’t imagine how tough it must be to deal with this uncertainty…
Another question -- couldn't the person who sold his house be funding him cash for him to remain quiet ?
Where is the money for his house that was sold ? What happened to the person who represented him to sell the house ? Lots of unanswered questions here. Wouldn't finding these answers make tracking him down very easy ?
It's 2020/2021. A person with that much responsibility in life doesn't just leave both their iPhone and Apple Watch at home by accident. Maybe one, but not the other too. That leads to intent to be lost. Now, suicide or escaping "off the grid" are all possible, but given the fact he left his devices at home, accident is certainly the last possibility. When you go on a solo hike, you *want* your communications device(s)...
It's 2020/2021. A person with that much responsibility in life doesn't just leave both their iPhone and Apple Watch at home by accident. Maybe one, but not the other too. That leads to intent to be lost. Now, suicide or escaping "off the grid" are all possible, but given the fact he left his devices at home, accident is certainly the last possibility. When you go on a solo hike, you *want* your communications device(s) with you. Not the other way around.
Also, warrants are not that vague. Literally, it's not legally possible to get a warrant that doesn't specifically say what they're after, and "evidence" doesn't cut it. Either it's redacted in what law enforcement was seeking at his house, or you only have part of the warrant. But the reason is in there... it's just not available to the public.
1. He went off the grid and did a great job.
2. He is under witness protection.
3. He was a witness without protection.
4. He doesn't want his body to be found.
You need to travel more, things are starting to get a bit too slow here now. If you are settling down and this will be OMAAT moving forward, you will be losing readers. The Greece trip was good, make more trips.
Waterfall Glen is actually a pretty big place, so (sadly) his remains could still be there - especially if he intended to commit suicide and not be found. It's a lot harder to stay off the grid and not be seen or detected by anyone for all this time. For starters, you would need another form of transportation to leave that area and you would need (lots of) cash. Again, I suppose he could have...
Waterfall Glen is actually a pretty big place, so (sadly) his remains could still be there - especially if he intended to commit suicide and not be found. It's a lot harder to stay off the grid and not be seen or detected by anyone for all this time. For starters, you would need another form of transportation to leave that area and you would need (lots of) cash. Again, I suppose he could have set that up - and if he did, I'd be fascinated to know the details. But it would seem unlikely.
So strange the family hasn’t been more present in the media re the search and keeping the story alive.
And Elmhurst PD knows a lot more about motives with that search warrant
Thanks for the update
Some of my friends suspect he’s in witness protection. Explains why his family don’t want any help.
If I was writing a mystery novel, the criminal investigation would probably be implicating himself and some other party, and he went to meet up with someone representing the other party. It would explain why he filled up his gas (he intended to remain alive) but left behind everything traceable.
He was probably one of the few united bigwigs not to go along with Newsom's bribery plan to help UA at SFO.
Ben, why haven't you said what the criminal investigation is/was about? Is it classified or just too icky to mention?
From what I’m seeing on the web they aren’t telling what the investigation is about.
Was his company photo a glamour shot? I’m like oh yum then see the other photo and am like am I being catfished.
I’m sure he’s in Barbados or grand caymans lying low. His body would’ve been found otherwise.
I know this is speculation and don't mean to upset anyone that may have been friends of this man but it seems apparent he is no longer alive. To drop off the face of the earth and disappear to avoid criminal charges is very difficult and well beyond the scope of most people so assume that isn't the case. It would seem likely he either had an accident hiking and later perished or possible committed...
I know this is speculation and don't mean to upset anyone that may have been friends of this man but it seems apparent he is no longer alive. To drop off the face of the earth and disappear to avoid criminal charges is very difficult and well beyond the scope of most people so assume that isn't the case. It would seem likely he either had an accident hiking and later perished or possible committed suicide since he was obviously under a lot of stress with the events in his life.
In any event very sad for the family.
Agreed. The odds he's alive are virtually zero. Which is tragic, but is probably the case sadly.
The older fleet of the aircraft of the 1990s with three girlfriends and four people whom live in Atlanta Georgia of United.
I appreciate your update on this as I was curious about it.
It's especially sad since I know and have worked with Jake in his capacity before he was promoted to SVP sales and after he was promoted. The Jake I knew was an awesome guy. I feel awful for his family and colleagues at United. @Lucky - thanks for keeping this story alive.
Will this become an annual post?
He “disappeared” himself. Unless he gets sloppy or the authorities (who don’t seem to be actively looking) get lucky I’ll look forward to the 2022 update!
So he had 2 girlfriends and a family, was under criminal investigation, and had fanaticized about going off the grid, and then he disappeared with no trace?