Middle Tennessee Mysteries

Williamson County: Nieko Lisi

Feb 25, 2019 at 12:00 pm by Michelle Willard

Nieko Lisi

In July 2016, Franklin Police investigators, along with New York State Police, found a stripped down GMC extended cab pick-up truck locked in a garage.

The truck was last seen nearly five years earlier on Sept. 30, 2011, when Nieko Lisi drove it out of Jasper, N.Y., in the Finger Lakes region.

The teenager told his family he was going to Buffalo with a friend. Instead, he reportedly drove his friend to Michigan and then made his way to Franklin, Tennessee.

Then he disappeared without a trace.

There are no suspects, no motive and few leads to follow in Nieko's disappearance.

"For him to disappear off the face off the earth is not in his character," Lisi's mother Monica Button told the Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette in 2012.

Anyone with information is asked to call New York State Police at 607-776-6866 or Franklin Crime Stoppers at 615-794-4000.

The Lisi family is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to Nieko's whereabouts. Franklin police and Crime Stoppers are offering an additional reward of up to $1,000 for information in this case.

The Missing Person

Born in 1993, Nieko Lisi was 18 years old when he disappeared Sept. 30, 2011, from his hometown of Addison, N.Y.

A caucasian male with brown hair and brown eyes, Nieko was described as standing 5'10"-5'11" and weighing 160 pounds to 170 pounds.

He was last seen wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, red shorts, sneakers and a silver crucifix necklace, according to his profile on The Charlie Project.

Nieko had several tattoos, including an unfinished guardian angel and a crescent moon on the left side of his ribs; four Chinese symbols on the back of his upper right arm; and a large kneeling woman with a devil's tail on his right side.

He also has a five-inch scar on his left shin and a strawberry birthmark between his shoulder blades.

His mother said Nieko had gotten into a bad crowd in the months before he disappeared. He had been arrested and charged with burglary and statutory rape for having sex with an underage girl.

"He was devastated over that," his mother said, adding he said he would rather kill himself than be known as a rapist.

The Disappearance

There are two different versions of where Nieko was headed the last time his family saw him, but one fact remains, he was last seen by his family on Sept. 30, 2011.

One version says Nieko told his family he and his friend Robert "Robby" Nicholas Neil Knight III were going to Buffalo, NY, in order to meet a couple girls they met on the internet.

The other version says Nieko stopped by his uncle's home around 2 p.m. Sept. 30, 2011, and said they were going to Buffalo to possibly go camping.

Nieko and Robby Knight were driving a 2004 GMC Canyon pickup truck with the New York plates.

Nieko told his uncle they had borrowed the truck from Robby's grandfather, but the grandfather didn't own a car.

On Oct. 1, 2011, Knight was dropped off at his father's house in Romulus, Michigan, some 420 miles from Addison, NY. No one at Knight's father's house saw Nieko.

That same day Nieko's grandmother spoke with him on his cellphone. He told her he couldn't talk but would call her back later.

He didn't.

The only lead they had pointed to Tennessee, where Nieko had attended his junior year at Franklin High School.

His cellphone had pinged off a cell tower around 4 p.m. Oct. 1, 2011, near Flintrock Drive. The phone has been silent since.

On Oct. 3, 2011, Nieko's mother got a surprise in the mail, her son's driver's license.

“Someone had found it on a street in Hornell, N.Y. They found it on Oct. 1 and mailed it to my sister’s house,” Nieko's aunt Rachael Davis said, adding the license was found about 15 minutes from his house.

Then Nieko's Facebook page was deactivated.

“We went to check it and it had been shut down,” Davis said.

His mother, who was worried that she hadn't heard from him in several days, reported him missing on Oct. 5.

The Franklin Connection

Nieko had lived with relatives for a year in Franklin in 2009, where he went to Franklin High School his junior year.

"He had fostered friendships with people in the Franklin/Nashville area," Button said in 2012.

So when she checked his call log on his cell phone bill and found Middle Tennessee's area code, she wasn't surprised. Then she got to work.

"There were names and phone numbers for 265 people and I called every one. I got a call back from a young man in Tennessee," Button said in 2012.

The young man, who had gone to high school with Nieko, told her that on Oct. 1, 2011, Nieko came to his Franklin house. They played soccer, he spent the night, and, when the man got up the next morning, Nieko and his gray 2004 GMC Canyon truck were gone.

The Investigation

New York State Police investigator Marcie Trimble said the agency followed hundreds of leads and rumors that could have led to Nieko's whereabouts but nothing came of them.

One was his friend Robby Knight.

After Nieko's family reported him missing, police in Michigan picking up Knight for questioning on Oct. 8, 2011. While in custody, Robby “suffered some sort of ailment,” according to WETM-TV, and was taken to a hospital. According to the Charley Project, it was for a psychiatric evaluation.

He was released from the hospital Oct. 9. On Oct. 10, he was found dead from an apparent drug overdose in his parents' home.

It was another four and a half years before investigators got a solid lead in the missing person case.

Investigators from New York State Violent Crime Investigation Team ended up traveling down to Franklin in July 2016. Following a lead, the New Yorkers with Franklin Police detectives found the same stolen truck Nieko was last seen in stripped down truck locked inside the garage of a Middle Tennessee home.

"Investigators are hopeful that forensic processing of the truck, underway today in Franklin, will help to provide answers in the case," Lt. Charles Warner said in a statement.

The discovery of the truck increased concern among the investigators about the chances of foul play, but didn't give any clues as to Nieko's whereabouts.

After the discovery of the truck, police said they has persons of interest.

"We've interviewed several people, and we have several people more that we want to interview," NYSP Detective Eric Hurd said at a press conference.

In February 2019, CUE Center for Missing Persons offered to search Williamson County but local police told Button declined the offer.

"The (Williamson County) DA's office won't so much as return an email to me, and THEY are in charge. New York State is NOT in charge of the investigation...it was handed to TN in September of 2017," Button said in a Facebook post on Feb. 23, 2019.

Over the years, Nieko's family hasn't given up hope.

Nieko's family was at a loss at where to start looking for him, so they hired a private investigator.

"Unfortunately, she's not really coming up with more than we do on a daily basis ourselves," Button said in an interview with the Star-Gazette in 2012.

A 10-year-old boy in Addison, NY, even started collecting refundable bottles to help raise money for posters and other expenses related to the family's search for Nieko.

They attended missing person conferences and kept Nieko's disappearance in the media. They also created a Facebook page to help keep others up-to-date on developments in the case and share downloadable flyers.

“We have distributed thousands of posters,” Davis said in a HuffPost interview. “We would like to search but the problem is we don’t know where to search. Do we search here, in Buffalo, Michigan or Tennessee? The U.S. is a big place. Where do we start looking?

“It’s like he just vanished off the face of the Earth,” she said.

Further resources

Facebook group
Websleuths
The Charley Project