The Last Podcast is co-hosted by Sheena Thornton and Bryan Renaud. Watch on Youtube or listen on your favorite podcast app.
Gabrielle Venora Petito was killed by her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, while traveling on a vanlife journey across the US. The trip began on July 2, 2021, and was planned to last four months; however, Petito disappeared in late August.
Laundrie raised suspicion when he drove Petito's van back to his parents' house in Florida, and refused to talk about her whereabouts. He was deemed a person of interest in the case, and an arrest warrant was issued. Laundrie himself was reported missing on September 17.
On September 19, Petito's remains were found at Bridger–Teton National Forest in Wyoming. An autopsy found she was killed by manual strangulation. After a month of speculation around Laundrie's whereabouts and an extended search of the area around his Florida home, his skeletal remains were discovered in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park on October 20. On November 23, it was announced that Laundrie died due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The FBI later announced that Laundrie admitted to killing Petito in his notebook, which was found near his remains.
The Petito case gained national attention due to the couple's social media activity, police body camera video footage, 9-1-1 call recordings, and several witness accounts.
In December 2020, Petito purchased a 2012 Ford Transit Connect van converted into a camper in which to take their next cross-country trip. Petito documented her life and travels on social media sites including YouTube and Instagram, where she described her interests as "art, yoga, and veggies".
On June 17, 2021, Petito and Laundrie visited Blue Point, New York, for her brother's graduation ceremony. From there, on July 2, 2021, they departed in the Ford Transit van for their trip. That month, they visited Monument Rocks, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Mystic Hot Springs, and Canyonlands National Park.
On August 12, 2021, a witness called 9-1-1 claiming that a couple was fighting in front of the Moonflower Community Cooperative in Moab, Utah. The caller told the dispatcher they saw a man slap a woman, and after the two ran up and down the sidewalk, the man hit the woman again and then drove off. Another witness described the incident to police, saying that Petito and Laundrie were talking "aggressively" and that Petito "was punching him in the arm." The witness said it looked like Laundrie was trying to leave Petito and take her phone with him before she eventually climbed into the driver's seat, moved over into the passenger's seat, and asked, "Why do you have to be so mean?" before they drove off.
Officers from the Moab Police Department identified the van near the entrance to Arches National Park and conducted a traffic stop. They found Petito crying heavily in the passenger seat where she told officers, captured on police body camera footage:
Yeah, I don't know if some days, I have really bad OCD. I was just cleaning and straightening up, back in the ... I was apologizing to him and saying, "I'm sorry, that I'm so mean," because sometimes I have OCD and sometimes I can get really frustrated. Not like mean towards him. I just like, I just, my vibe is, I'm in a bad mood. And, I was just saying I'm sorry if I'm in a bad mood. I just ... I had so much work I was doing on my computer this morning. ... And, I just now quit my job to travel across the country and I'm trying to start a blog. I have a blog. So I've been building my website. I've been really stressed and he doesn't really believe that I could do any of it, so, we just been fighting all morning and he wouldn't let me in the car before.
Neither Petito nor Laundrie wanted to press charges as a result of the incident, which the police did not characterize as domestic violence. The police arranged for Laundrie to spend a night at the Bowen Motel in Moab, and for Petito to stay in the van.
On August 17, Laundrie took a flight from Salt Lake City to Tampa, Florida, leaving Petito to herself at a Fairfield Inn and Suites near the Salt Lake City Airport. It was explained that he made the rip to empty and close a storage unit in order to save money, as they were hoping to extend their trip. Laundrie returned to Salt Lake City on August 24, and the couple checked out of the hotel the following day.
Petito's mother said that she last spoke to her daughter on August 25 and had been told that the couple were traveling from Utah to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The same day, the final post was made on Petito's Instagram, which consisted of photos of herself taken in front of a butterfly mural outside of a restaurant in Ogden, Utah.
Eyewitness accounts of the couple thereafter were as follows:
On August 27, a text from Petito's phone was sent to her mother which read, "Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls." The message raised concerns for Petito's mother, who said Stan was Petito's grandfather and that she never referred to him by his first name. The last message, sent on August 30, said, "No service in Yosemite." Her mother expressed uncertainty about who sent these messages.
On September 1, 2021, Laundrie returned alone to his parents' home in North Port, Florida, in the Ford Transit. On September 6 and 7, 2021, Laundrie and his parents went camping at Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County.
On September 11, after not hearing from her daughter since late August, Petito's mother filed a missing person report.Four days later, Laundrie was named a person of interest. Laundrie's parents hired a lawyer and remained silent, refusing to talk to anyone about the case.
Police surveilled the Laundrie home and saw him leave on September 13. On September 15, they saw his car return; police believed the person who exited the car and entered the home was Laundrie. The following day, North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison told reporters, "All I'm going to say is we know where Brian Laundrie is at". On September 17, Laundrie was reported missing by his parents, who claimed to have not seen him since September 13. It was at this time that police realized that they had mistook Laundrie's mother for Laundrie himself on September 15.
After obtaining search warrants, police seized the Ford Transit, an external hard drive, and the Laundrie family's Ford Mustang.
On September 19, human remains matching the description of Petito were found at the Spread Creek Camping area in Wyoming, not far from where the Ford Transit was previously observed. Her identity was confirmed and an autopsy determined that the manner of death was homicide by "blunt-force injuries to the head and neck, with manual strangulation", which occurred three to four weeks before the body was found.
On September 23, the United States District Court issued an arrest warrant for Laundrie due to his unauthorized use of Petito's debit card to obtain $1,000 or more between August 30 and September 1.
On October 5, in an interview with ABC News, Laundrie's sister encouraged him to turn himself in to authorities. Two days later, Laundrie's father joined investigators in searching for Laundrie at the T. Mabry Carlton Reserve, focusing on areas he used to frequent in the reserve and the adjacent Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park.
On October 20, Laundrie's skeletal remains and some of his belongings were found in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in an area that had recently been underwater due to flooding. His cause of death could not be determined by an autopsy, and his remains were given to an anthropologist for further examination. On November 23, it was announced that Laundrie died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
On January 21, 2022, the FBI revealed that after examining Laundrie's notebook, they found he admitted to killing Petito, then deceiving people through text message that she was still alive. The FBI closed out the investigation, stating that "The investigation did not identify any other individuals other than Brian Laundrie directly involved in the tragic death of Gabby Petito. The FBI’s primary focus throughout the investigation was to bring justice to Gabby and her family."