It was the disappearance of Macedonia resident Cari Farver that prompted Det. Ryan Avis, Investigator Jim Doty and Special Deputy Anthony Kava of the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office to join forces in April 2015.
Their goal: to crack the mysterious case of the missing 37-year-old mother that remained unsolved.
In November 2012, Farver abruptly broke up with her new boyfriend and quit her job via text messages. She stopped going home to her family, who immediately grew concerned. It wasn’t like Farver to shirk responsibility. By all accounts, she was happy. She worked in Omaha as a computer programmer and had a strong bond with her son, who was in high school at the time.
But according to text messages, emails and social media updates sent to family from Farver, she needed a break. She was moving to Kansas to take a new job, she said, and didn’t want to see any of them — indefinitely.
Doty, a 12-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, said there was something peculiar about Farver’s sudden need for a break from everyone she cared about.
“Someone just doesn’t disappear like that,” Doty said. “A single mom who had a great relationship with her kid and a great relationship with her mom, had a good job — someone like that doesn’t just disappear.”
The nagging case, which Pottawattamie County personnel had relegated to the cold case shelf, was reopened at the request of Doty and Avis.
“(Avis) and I worked in the same office,” Doty said. “We were both detectives, and we talked about the case from time to time. We asked ‘Hey, can we put a fresh set of eyes on it this?’”
Doty and Avis successfully lobbied to have the case re-examined. Farver hadn’t been seen in more than two years, but she had communicated — strictly through digital platforms — extensively with certain people. That’s when Avis and Doty turned to Kava.
In addition to serving as a special deputy, Kava worked full-time in Pottawattamie County’s Information Technology Department. Avis and Doty quickly brought him into the fold, and it was his expertise that would prove invaluable in solving the case of Farver’s bizarre disappearance.
A Woman Scorned
Farver was dating a man who lived in Omaha at the time of her disappearance. The man, Dave Kroupa, had briefly been involved with another woman, Shanna Golyar — who went by Liz — prior to meeting Farver.
Farver didn’t know Golyar, except for a chance encounter at Kroupa’s apartment one fateful evening. The two passed one another when Golyar showed up to retrieve belongings she had left at his home. Farver, who was Kroupa’s new romantic prospect, seemingly thought little of the incident, Kroupa said during a televised interview.
But it wasn’t long after the two women crossed paths, that Farver suddenly declared her intentions to leave for Kansas, amid a series of other strange correspondences to her family, friends and coworkers.
Kroupa was baffled at Farver’s about face. Farver’s teenage son and mother, Nancy Raney, had suspicions that something was amiss.
Kroupa and Golyar soon became the target of what was thought to be Farver’s vitriol. Dozens of harassing messages were sent to them from accounts bearing Farver’s name. It escalated to the point of arson, with Golyar’s house being set on fire, killing her pets.
As months went by, Kroupa and Golyar were continuously bombarded with message after message. Kroupa and Golyar filed multiple complaints against Farver with the Omaha Police Department alleging harassment and stalking, to no avail.
With no evidence that the digital presence communicating through cyberspace was that of Farver’s, police looking into the matter were forced to set the case aside. But they continued to receive complaints about Farver from Kroupa and Golyar for years.
Golyar and Kroupa even rekindled their relationship. Brought together by Farver’s constant threats and harassment, the two began an on-again, off-again relationship, Kroupa has said.
During this time, it began to dawn on Golyar that perhaps it wasn’t Farver who had been relentlessly pursuing her and Kroupa. After all, the two had only dated for a couple of weeks.
The better suspect, Golyar determined, was another one of Kroupa’s exes — the mother of his children, Amy Flora. Flora had once hoped to marry him. It stood to reason, in Golyar’s mind, that Flora may have been a more likely suspect than Farver, the investigators said.
One day while on duty, Avis noticed Golyar at the sheriff’s office. She was there to file yet another complaint. This time, against Flora.
Avis asked if he could take the complaint.
When Avis sat down to talk to Golyar that December, he, Doty and Kava had been investigating the Farver case for about seven months. Though it was a work in progress, the trio had started to see Golyar as a person of interest in her disappearance.
“I think when we revisited this, we all suspected that (Golyar) did it,” Kava said. “Everywhere we looked, everything pointed back to her.”
Avis said he played dumb. He listened intently, hoping Golyar would give up incriminating information as she explained to him why she thought Flora was the real stalker.
Kroupa and Golyar had recently broken up, she said. Since then, she claimed she was being harassed by Flora online. Worse yet, one of Kroupa’s guns went missing. She feared Flora, the unhinged ex, had it in her possession, according to investigators.
The evening after she met with Avis, Golyar went alone to Big Lake Park. She wanted some time alone to process all Flora was putting her through.
Golyar then claimed Flora showed up at the park, forced her to the ground at gunpoint, then shot her through the thigh, presumably with Kroupa’s stolen firearm.
The consensus of Avis, Doty and Kava was that Golyar shot herself, Avis said.
Not too long after the shooting incident, Avis again played the role of the “naïve nice guy” as he interviewed Golyar. She recounted how she was ambushed and that Flora was the assailant. Avis suggested she talk to “another guy” who had been looking into Flora’s criminal activity.
“I went with, ‘I’m just dumb, I don’t know much about it’,” Avis said. “Then, I set up the introduction.”
Golyar and Doty spoke about the case he had been building against Flora. Doty even enlisted Golyar to help. In order to send her to prison for shooting her, stalking Dave and potentially hurting Farver, he would need more evidence. Golyar got to work.
Kava had been examining the contents of Golyar’s phone. Evidence was being collected and a case was being made. Golyar didn’t know it, but the damning information being harvested wasn’t against Flora, but Golyar. And it was piling up fast.
Despite the mounting digital evidence, the detectives needed more to conclusively tie Golyar to Farver. Convinced of foul play, Doty again met with Golyar.
“Her new target was Amy (Flora),” Doty said. “She was all on board with trying to get Amy thrown into prison. The shooting kind of gave us the chance to see if she would tell us something about what actually happened to Cari.”
Sitting in his office with her leg still wounded from the gunshot, Doty explained to Golyar that in order to put Flora away once and for all, he needed proof — even if it was digital — that Flora was guilty. Doty also dropped a bombshell on Golyar: that remains had been recovered, and crime technicians believed they belonged to Farver.
No remains were ever discovered. But the misdirection worked like a charm. Golyar knew that in order to pin the crime on Flora, she needed to share specific details. Doty was hoping that the information revealed would seal Golyar’s fate.
Soon after the two met, Golyar began forwarding messages from accounts with Flora’s name attached to them to the investigators. The messages painted a picture of how Flora stabbed Farver in the stomach and chest while in her own vehicle. She then burned the body, before likely disposing of it in the trash.
It was the confession that Avis, Doty and Kava had been waiting for. Except it wasn’t Flora. There was no doubt that she had been innocent the entire time. It was all Golyar: the stalking, the arson, the stolen gun, the Big Lake Park shooting, and most tragic of all, the apparent murder of Farver, whose only crime was dating a man that Golyar was fixated on. A real-life fatal attraction.
“It was huge because she was saying stuff that only the killer would know,” Doty said. “She thought we had a body, and those emails described it happening in Cari’s vehicle.”
The case against Golyar was purely circumstantial. Circumstantial cases can often be strong, but there was another challenge the investigators faced when bringing the case to prosecutors: there was no body. Historically, murder cases when no remains have been recovered are difficult to prosecute.
It was up to Kava to pore through tens of thousands of digital communications made by Golyar, sometimes acting as Farver, sometimes posing as Flora. Kava went as far as to write his own code, creating software that could help efficiently examine the terabytes of information he needed to examine in order to help build a solid case against Golyar.
“The hard part was proving it,” Kava said. “You want to talk about technology? (Golyar) was using VPNs (virtual private networks), proxies and different apps to try to hide where she was coming from. We would see a message and say ‘OK that’s Liz impersonating Cari’.”
“The good thing is,” Kava continued, “she gave us a ton of data points; she was doing this as a full-time job, sending these fake messages and everything all day long. Once we could make those connections through that analysis and we could put it on a chart for a judge to look at and say ‘We think it’s her, at the same time this account is being accessed, so is this one and so is this one and we can tie this one to her.’ A lot of it was correlation, just trying to get all that data together.”
It was a stroke of luck, but Kroupa, during another round of questioning by investigators, remembered a tablet that was possibly used during the time he was dating Golyar. Kroupa, cooperative since the start, willingly turned it over to investigators. That’s where Kava discovered what might have been the linchpin for the entire case.
Thousands of pictures — pictures Golyar thought she had deleted — were located on a memory card that Golyar had left in Kroupa’s tablet. It was a memory card from one of Golyar’s old phones, and the pictures she took with it were accessible. Among them were photos that appeared to be decomposing body parts.
Identified through tattoos, the remains in the pictures appeared to be those of Farver.
“The smoking gun was the picture of Cari’s foot,” Kava said.
A tattoo, the Chinese symbol for mother, was visible in the photo. Farver had that exact tattoo, in the same place.
Also recovered from Golyar’s phone was a picture of Farver’s vehicle, taken weeks before authorities located the missing SUV.
In the SUV, was a package of mints. A partial fingerprint recovered was traced back to Golyar.
The SUV was processed once more by crime lab analysts, and this time — the third time — blood was found under the cover on the passenger seat. The blood was Farver’s.
And of course, there was the digital forensics aspect. Kava had connected the myriad of dots. Golyar had been posing as Farver since the day she went missing.
“We found the pictures of the car pretty quickly after we took over the case,” Doty said. “We didn’t find the blood in the car until later on. Golyar had already been charged and Kava was doing trial prep when he found the actual picture of the body parts.”
Given the insurmountable circumstantial evidence, and without a body, murder weapon or eyewitness, Shanna ‘Liz’ Golyar was convicted in August 2017 of first-degree murder and second-degree arson. She received a sentence of life in a Nebraska prison without the possibility of parole for Farver’s homicide, plus 18 to 20 years for the arson charge.
“We had to work this case until we could prove what happened to Cari,” Doty said, “before Omaha (prosecutors) were going to touch it because it was (Pottawattamie County’s) missing persons case. Once we were able to prove that we believed it was a homicide that happened in Douglas County, that’s when we had a big meeting with the Omaha Police Department and Douglas County Attorney’s Office and basically presented them with everything we had.”
With Golyar behind bars, Farver’s family had some sense of closure. At last, they knew for sure that Farver never abandoned them. Their suspicions that something was dreadfully wrong were tragically vindicated.
As for Avis, Doty and Kava, they have been celebrated for playing the role they did in clearing Farver’s name and investigating Golyar. The case has been explored on “Dateline NBC,” and was the subject of an episode of Investigation Discovery’s docuseries “True Conviction.”
Leslie Rule, daughter of prolific true crime author Ann Rule tackles the case in the soon-to-be-released book “A Tangled Web.” The three investigators have given seminars about the Farver case study, traveling as far away as England to recount their experiences.
Despite all the attention, Avis, Doty and Kava expressed that they believed the spotlight should be on the life of Farver.
The three started a modest scholarship fund in Farver’s name through the Pottawattamie County Community Foundation, to be awarded to qualifying Iowa Western Community College students pursuing degrees related to computers. The sum of the scholarship is $1,000 per year. They hope that through donations, they can make the fund solvent for decades to come. For now, they are funding it themselves.
“Cari worked in technology. She was a computer programmer and she benefited from classes at Iowa Western,” Kava said. “There are a lot of students out there like her. We’d like to keep her memory alive and keep her name alive. One of the things that really upsets me about this case, is if you look up Cari Farver you’re going to find her murderer’s name, over and over. You won’t find a lot about Cari. I think that is an additional injustice.”
The investigators who spent thousands of hours on solving the case have had time to reflect on how technology is altering the landscape for both cops and criminals. And how the Farver case left an imprint on their collective psyche.
“This case was our lives for two years and then some,” Kava said. “It took a lot of work by a lot of people. It really was a team effort in bringing it to conclusion. We did it for the family. There are living victims to this crime.
“The survivors — Cari’s family and friends and people who have had to deal with the uncertainty and had to watch as someone else pretended to be her and tried to give her a bad name for a number of years. Bringing closure to them — we couldn’t bring Cari back — but bringing closure to them really meant a lot to us. I think that’s what kept us working late into the night for years on end to get this done.”
Kava had spent years working in information technology, but the case garnered him a promotion within the sheriff’s office. It made Doty and Avis acutely aware of how important digital forensics are today.
“Every case now has a digital forensic aspect,” Doty said. “Everyone carries a cell phone with them. They’re using social media to communicate with people. Even a simple burglary, you may need someone who can do some digital forensics for you, and possibly solve it. Even some of the typical cases you see in a day have the ability to be solved through digital forensics.
“Because of this case,” Doty continued, “it opened the eyes of our administration here to how beneficial it is to have an expert on board. Because of this case, we’re able to have Kava on board now.”
“(Doty) and I always leaned toward the electronic, digital side, he said. “Back then, we were two of the younger detectives. We were always open with Tony because we knew his level of expertise was phenomenal. We weren’t on this case to become rock stars. We wanted everyone to be rock stars. Because we knew everyone had to do their part.”
All three men still work for the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office.
Doty is now the Sergeant of Investigations, Avis transferred to the court security division where he is a deputy. Kava, who may have provided the most integral pieces of the puzzle through his high-tech analysis, is now employed full-time with the sheriff’s office. Though still a special deputy, he is the go-to guy when it comes to the field of digital forensics, works as the technology administrator and also serves as head of all special deputies.
To donate to the Cari Farver Memorial Scholarship Fund, or to learn more about it, contact PCCF at 712-265-7007, or go to ourpccf.org.