It seems as though documentaries surrounding true crime have been on the watchlist of almost every streaming service, and as compelling as they are, it can be easy to forget that there are real people who are effected by the TV we consume. With a new four-part docuseries on discovery+ however, the curtain is pulled back on those who are tirelessly looking for one missing person: Louisville, Kentucky mom Andrea Knabel.
Knabel’s case is one with many twists and turns as retired detective sergeant Joe Fanciulli puts it, especially when you consider what Knabel did before going missing. The young mother, along with a slew of others, participated in the group, Missing in America where they helped assist in cases of missing people. It was through one of those cases where Knabel’s friend went missing that she met the group’s founder, Nancy Schaefer, and the two became friends as well as colleagues.
“Usually, people who work with me or have that experience and see what I’m doing end up wanting to be involved,” Schaefer explains. “She could morph into any role she needed to in order to get information for a case. She was extremely intelligent, dedicated, driven, and wanted to make a difference. I was very impressed with her ability.”
As you see early in the docuseries, ‘Finding Andrea’ — which already has its first two episodes out — Knabel was a bleeding heart and cared deeply about helping others. However, the tides turned and ironically the one looking for those who were missing went off the grid herself, and she has a variety of people with just as much passion trying to find answers.
“I’m not a private investigator, I just offer my services where they can help people. I became involved with folks who were missing people, particularly long-term and also with groups that are involved in unsolved homicides,” says Fanciulli. The retired detective held a 52-year career in crime working high profile cases spanning homicides and sophisticated fraud before transferring to the corporate world of crime. He retired in the early 2000’s and although he is not a PI, he was connected to Schaefer through Facebook groups at the end of 2019.
“I could see the toll it was taking on Nancy,” he explains. “The constant up and down…whenever someone would be sighted and it ended up not being her or whether it be remains found and it wasn’t her…it was an emotional rollercoaster.”
Schaefer’s group, which is completely self-funded, also began to dwindle with her friend missing. As we see in the series, some realizations of friends withholding truths or not speaking up at all regarding suspicious actions with Knabel have caused rifts in Missing in America and also with Schaefer herself. But, the documentary series has been a beacon of information, which may not have been possible to acquire without funding so very much needed.
“Considering my stance and where I was at that point, we were still basically struggling to get back on our feet. I think that if this doc didn’t happen, the investigation would not be where it is,” she explains. “Cases like this are astronomically expensive. Doing this not only gets her case out there, which is important in any missing case, it also allowed us to work the case. I’m not sure we would be here today [if not.]”
“Any case like this that gets great amount of exposure and publicity, crazy people will come forward but also people who were involved, people who have knowledge or people who are just waiting for a question to be asked come to a point where they cant live with holding something inside anymore will come forward with what we need,” adds Fanciulli. “This thing was done with no script, it was seat of the pants, go investigate this thing and we’ll follow you around. This was total reality. As time went on and we dug further, we found out things about Andrea and her life surrounding the time she went missing that just weren’t known before. The case blossomed into several scenarios into what could have happened to her.”
On the night of her disappearance, Knabel was staying at her mother’s house. After a fight, she went to her sister’s house for some time, then walked back in the middle of the night back to where she was staying. She never made it inside.
Schaefer is worried she may have reached out to the wrong person for help, but you see throughout the series that Knabel’s life was just as complicated as the case she now is at the center of.
Fanciulli’s role became a lot larger than he originally anticipated, and he approached the case like any other—from the beginning. What perhaps is most shocking to him is the fact that after doing a neighborhood canvas years after Knabel went missing in Louisville, is the fact that some people with key information had never been questioned.
This is why this series is so imperative to both Fanciulli and Schaefer.
“There’s always information out there, it’s a just a matter of finding that right person at the right time to get them to tell you what they know. They may know something they don’t even know is important,” Fanciulli says.
“Putting the facts of her out there will reach more people. There might be a neighbor or a person of interest that has a neighbor that didn’t know they were involved with this case…They may have seen something bizarre, one little piece of the puzzle that can connect all those dots,” Schaefer adds.
For now, anyone with any information can reach out to their hotline 855-746-0846, or also through a Facebook page called Justice for Andrea Knabel. Those working on the case are also urging those who have already tipped in to resend their tips to urge more follow-up from law enforcement—no matter how small of invalid the info might be (there’s a good chance it isn’t small at all.)
‘Finding Andrea’ will debut the last two episodes of the series on Oct. 22 on discovery+, but Fanciulli and Schaefer hope there will also be a follow-up episode as well.