‘He essentially just disappeared’: Investigators search for man missing since 2017

MIDDLETON, Wis. (WMTV) -- In the Good Neighbor City, police are asking for neighborly help. For more than two years, investigators have been searching for answers connecting to the disappearance of a Middleton man.

“We think somebody knows something,” says Sgt. Darrin Zimmerman, a detective with the Middleton Police Department.

John Balistreri Jr. was last seen on September 15, 2017, at the home he was staying at in the 1600 block of Maple Street. The same day, all traces of him were wiped clean.

“I would say this is definitely not a regular missing persons case … He essentially just disappeared,” Sgt. Zimmerman tells NBC15 News.

Investigators checked with Balistreri’s former employers or last known addresses for more information. They also checked into his financial information and phone records. His cell phone has been inactive since that day in September, and no money has been removed from any of his accounts.

“Where everything kind of ceases after one day, that’s pretty strange and unusual for missing persons cases,” he says.

Investigators also say Balistreri did not have access to a vehicle and did not contact any transportation services on the day he went missing. They call the disappearance “suspicious” and “strange,” now presuming Balistreri dead, but are still puzzled as to why a body has not been found in such an urban area.

“We don’t think at this point that he’s alive, based on our investigation,” Sgt. Zimmerman says. “There’s no evidence to think that he is at all. Nobody’s heard from him, there’s been no contact.”

Sgt. Zimmerman calls it “a big red flag” that Balistreri never reached out to his family. He was close with sister Amy LaPlant and now 16-year-old daughter Arianna.

“It was more alarming that my niece called me and said, ‘Have you talked to my dad?’ She had been texting him and trying to call and there was no response. And that’s when I was like, ‘Something’s wrong,’” LaPlant tells NBC15 News.

LaPlant says she last saw her brother on September 11, 2017. She had picked him up from work and dropped him off at the home he was staying in on Maple Street. LaPlant says her brother was going through “personal things,” and was considering moving back in with her. At the time of his disappearance, Balistreri was in recovery for drug addiction.

LaPlant believes foul play was involved with her brother’s disappearance, saying he would not abandon his family.

“Family is very important to him. It’s not a person that would just take off,” she says. “For a while, [his daughter] thought that he left her. And it was hard because you don’t want to tell her the truth of, ‘No, that’s not what we believe, [he’s presumed dead].’ But we don’t want him to believe he left you either.”

Balistreri’s sister remembers him as kind, funny and a great father to Arianna.

“We miss him a lot. Want him home,” she says. “It’s so hard to explain. There’s the pain … It affects you every single day. And just not knowing, not having answers, it’s so hard. You can’t even describe it and I hope others don’t have to go through this.”

LaPlant says her brother’s disappearance has greatly affected her every day life.

“You don’t stop thinking about it, you don’t stop checking the news. You don’t drive and not look. It’s always there,” she says.

But in the two years since Balistreri’s disappearance, the investigation has slowed.

“We're kind of getting to a point where we've gone through our checklist of things to do, and we're coming toward the end,” Sgt. Zimmerman says.

Authorities say they have not received a tip on this case since the one-year anniversary of Balistreri’s disappearance.

“Somebody might think that what they know is not a big deal. But it could very well be a big deal. It could fit into that little piece of the puzzle that we're searching for,” LaPlant says.

As more time passes since his disappearance, Balistreri’s family is still holding on. They believe someone knows something that could help close the case.

“There's always hope,” she says. “Always. You just don't know. Oh, that would be the best thing ever. "

If you have any information, even if you think is unimportant, contact the Middleton Police Department at (608) 824-7300 or Madison Area Crime Stoppers at (608) 266-6014. You can remain anonymous in your tips.