Murder, Escape, Cover-Up? The Bizarre Mystery of Missing Mom Heidi Planck

A 39-year-old Westside mom at the center of a Wall Street scandal disappeared from her townhouse in October setting off a massive police hunt. Here’s what we know so far

The security footage couldn’t look more innocent.

A pretty, petite, blue-eyed blond woman in her late thirties is shown leaving her rented townhouse near the Culver City Arts District. She’s dressed casually but fashionably in jeans and a smiley face T-shirt with a gray sweater wrapped around her waist. There’s a cell phone and a coffee cup in her hands and a Labradoodle trailing behind. She and the dog can be seen climbing into a shiny silver Range Rover—its black-and-yellow California license plate reading U840X0—and driving away.

And that’s it. Not a single hint or clue as to what transpired later that day in mid-October that would turn Heidi Planck into one of the most mysterious disappearing acts in recent Los Angeles history, setting off a media frenzy of missing-mom headlines and triggering a Los Angeles Police Department investigation that had search crews sifting through local landfills and, at one point, detectives bursting into her townhouse with guns drawn in a SWAT-like raid that presumably turned up nothing.

Planck’s $1.7 million rented townhouse in Mid City

The only thing that’s become clear about Planck in the months since she vanished into thin air, leaving behind a bewildered ex-husband and a distraught 11-year-old son, is that nothing is remotely clear about the assumed victim. Indeed, the more you dig into the case, the more extraordinary—and in some ways nefarious—it becomes, with trails leading to places not usually associated with 39-year-old Westside moms.

Like, for instance, her part, if there was one, in a securities-and-exchange-commission investigation involving her boss, Jason Sugarman, husband to a Hollywood mogul’s daughter, and a bunch of other shady businessmen, including a onetime “porn king” as well as a huckster with ties to the president’s son, all mixed up in an alleged scheme to bilk $43 million from a Native American tribe with phony investments. There’s also Planck’s troubling history of drug abuse and mental instability, which may or may not have anything to do with her disappearance. And last but certainly not least, there’s the very real possibility that murder may be at the bottom of this head-scratching thicket of plot twists and turns.

“Detectives are not treating this as just another missing-person case,” understates an LAPD source with knowledge of the investigation. “Homicide is still asking for volunteers for the landfill searches.”

LET’S START at the beginning, the day of Planck’s disappearance. After leaving her townhouse and climbing into that silver Range Rover with her dog (named Seven), she drove to Downey, where she would join her ex-husband, Jim Wayne, a prominent Beverly Hills hairstylist, to watch their son, Bond Mason Wayne, play football. Although the couple had been divorced for nine years, they were, at least on Sunday, October 17, on good terms. A few days earlier, as they prepared to celebrate Bond’s 11th birthday, Planck had sent Wayne flowers and a tender text thanking him “for all you do for Bond . . . He adores you and you’re a very special person to him.”

But it was clear at the football game that something was bothering Planck. Witnesses say she was fidgety and distracted, and she abruptly left at halftime, which was the last time Wayne and Bond saw her.

For the next three days, Wayne and Bond became increasingly alarmed, then frantic, as they tried unsuccessfully to call and text Planck.

“Can you please call me back? I called you two days in a row and you haven’t picked up,” Bond wrote in a text on October 18 at 7:31 p.m.

Then, after school on October 19, he tried again. “Please call or just text me because I want to make sure your ok and I’m worried about you.” Later that same day: “Please call mom. I miss you and I’m worried about you.”

The next day, on October 20, Planck was supposed to pick up Bond at his private school in Westwood. When she didn’t show, concern turned to cold panic. After a flurry of more unanswered text messages, Wayne drove to the West Los Angeles police station to file a missing-person report, while one of Planck’s friends was dispatched to her townhouse. There was no sign of her or Seven or her Range Rover. Her work cell phone was in the house, along with a laptop, but nothing seemed out of place.

“There was no way—no way—Heidi wouldn’t show up for Bond,” Wayne says. “I knew something was really wrong. People don’t just disappear.”

Wayne tried calling Planck’s current boyfriend, Na’eem Salaam, who lives in the Bay Area where he’s the vice president of operations for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Facebook’s philanthropic organization. Salaam told Wayne he hadn’t seen Planck in a while because he’d been busy with work but noted that she’d sent him an alarming text telling him that “she was afraid” and asking him to come down to L.A. on the weekend she’d vanished. But Salaam—a “super nice guy,” according to Wayne—couldn’t make it. Beyond that, he had no more information.

Taking matters into his own hands, Wayne began his own amateur sleuthing. He tried using the location-tracking system in Planck’s SUV, but it’d been turned off. The location finder on her earbuds and Apple watch had also been shut off. “It was really odd,” Wayne says. “That had to be done deliberately, systematically.”

Then Wayne remembered Seven. The dog had been chipped, so Wayne headed to the family vet to see if there was any way to track his location. But no sooner had he arrived than Planck’s work phone received a text message from the occupant of a high-rise luxury apartment complex—the new Hope + Flower building in downtown L.A. Seven had been found several days earlier, on October 17, just hours after the football game, wandering around the 28th floor.

Wayne and the LAPD say that Planck had no known connections to the area or to the building, which, being new, had plenty of surveillance equipment. For unknown reasons, the building’s management was initially reluctant to cooperate with the police but ultimately, after a warrant was issued, handed over a video that showed Planck walking Seven in an alley behind the structure. She was now wearing what appears to be the sweater that had earlier been tied around her waist. It was Planck’s last known location.

The police, meanwhile, performed several more checks of Planck’s townhouse, including the one on October 29, in which they entered with guns drawn. Exactly why they unholstered their weapons is unclear—perhaps they suspected she was being held there against her will?—but they found nothing suspicious. Or at least nothing overtly suspicious. They did leave the townhouse wondering how a woman who made $145,000 a year working as financial controller at Camden Capital Partners could afford the rent on a 2,000-square-foot home with 28-foot-high ceilings, a floating staircase with glass railings, and walls filled with expensive modern art. (The townhouse had last been listed for sale in 2019, for $1.7 million.) For that matter, how could she afford her top-of-the-line $90,000 Range Rover?

Alimony certainly didn’t explain her income; when the couple divorced in 2012, Wayne paid a lump sum. He’s paid no other money since.

“You’re going to have to ask Heidi,” Wayne says with a resigned sigh when the subject of her finances is broached. “or her boss. All I know is that she always had piles of cash and took a lot of vacations. She told me that her boss floats her money when they close a deal.”

The trouble with asking her boss, though, is that she doesn’t appear to have one—at least not one who isn’t currently on trial for massive financial malfeasance. That company she works for, Camden Capital Partners? Its registered address is Planck’s townhouse in Mid City. And at present, a public-records search shows Planck listed as its only employee.

IF PAST IS PROLOGUE, then Heidi Planck’s history might shed at least a little light on the mystery of her disappearance. Or maybe just throw a red herring into the enigma. In any case, family-court documents reveal that her life—which began in suburban Buffalo before she made her way to L.A.—was wracked with turmoil and psychological issues as well as substance abuse, including an addiction to benzos and Adderall.

Planck’s mental health and drug problems were apparently a key component of her and Wayne’s custody battle over Bond in the years after their divorce. “I have learned to be aware of her conduct and try to be aware of when and if she is using,” Wayne wrote in his request for full custody (they ended up sharing custody).

Not that it was difficult for him to spot. In October 2015, for instance, Planck suffered what Wayne described as a “full psychotic break.” That harrowing episode began when Planck showed up late to pick up then-five-year-old Bond from Wayne’s salon. While driving with Planck and Bond back to her former home in the Fairfax District, Wayne noticed that Planck had suddenly become pale and disoriented.

“I can’t be in here,” she complained. “It’s too intense.”

Wayne managed to get them to Planck’s place, but as soon as he’d turned around to drive himself home, Planck called in distress and asked him to come back and take them to his house.

When Wayne returned, Planck was sitting outside inexplicably holding a plate of bacon, which she tried to get him to eat. Wayne thought she might be intoxicated, but by the time they all arrived back at Wayne’s house, Planck seemed to have calmed down. Until Wayne heard his son shouting for him: “Dad, you have to come see my room . . . mom made a mess!”

Planck had ransacked the boy’s bedroom, then squeezed herself out his window and hopped a neighbor’s fence. Minutes later, another neighbor called the police after spotting Planck “climbing on roofs and over fences.” When the police arrived, they found Planck “partially clothed” and switching an electrical circuit breaker on the street on and off.

Planck voluntarily checked herself into a psychiatric hospital, according to court records, but a day later, she called Wayne again, begging him to take her home, claiming she was being molested. Wayne told her she needed to stay. “Why do I have a C-section scar?” she asked him, apparently forgetting about Bond’s birth. “We don’t have children.” Then she hung up the phone.

Whatever inner demons she was battling back then, Planck seemed to have made peace with them by 2017, when she started a job as an assistant at Camden Capital Partners, which at the time existed as more than Planck’s address in Mid City. But Camden Capital could hardly be described as a safe or even sane place; her new boss was Jason Sugarman, the now-indicted financier and son-in-law to Hollywood mogul Peter Guber. In 2019, Sugarman would be investigated and charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission for a highly complex tribal bonds scheme that allegedly defrauded Native Americans from the Sioux Nation of some $43 million dollars.

Sugarman’s partner at Camden Capital Partners (not to be confused with Camden Capital in El Segundo) was a huckster named Jason Galanis, an Angeleno whom Forbes once dubbed “Porn’s New King,” thanks to his billing service for pornographic  websites. Along with a coterie of other shady characters—including Hunter Biden’s former business partner Devon Archer—Sugarman and Galanis were accused of using investments from their Native American clients to line their own pockets with goodies like apartments in Tribeca. Galanis pleaded guilty to securities fraud and is serving 15 years in a minimum-security prison in San Pedro, while Archer is awaiting sentencing for his part in the affair. Sugarman’s trial is still unwinding in New York. Planck  was never implicated in the scandal, but nevertheless scaled the ranks of the company, rising from Sugarman’s assistant to financial controller overseeing all employees involved in the accounting process.

What does any of this have to do with her disappearance? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

“Stealing from Native Americans is a whole new level of dirtbaggery,” notes Wayne. “Dirtbags associate themselves with other dirtbags. And there are a lot of dirtbags around my wife’s job. Good stays with good. Bad stays with bad. There are a lot of bad people around Jason.”

Even if Sugarman had nothing to do with Planck’s vanishing, he certainly didn’t seem all that helpful—or even concerned—when Wayne contacted him to ask if he had any information about her whereabouts. According to Wayne, Sugarman wouldn’t even get on the phone and instead had his assistant deal with the matter. All that assistant would say was that Sugarman wanted Planck’s work laptop back. When Wayne balked, he could hear Sugarman in the background barking to the assistant. “Tell him I want the laptop!”

“If you had a loyal employee for five years, and unlimited resources, wouldn’t you offer to help in the search?” ponders Wayne. “Jason didn’t.”

What Sugarman did do, weirdly, was drive to Planck’s townhouse the day after Wayne called him. The same security camera that had filmed Planck getting into her car with Seven now captured Sugarman outside her front door, ringing the bell and leaving a box of pastries on the stoop before getting into his own luxury SUV and driving away. Why he was delivering snacks to a woman he knew to be missing is not known. Numerous calls and emails to Sugarman’s attorneys for comment on this story were not returned.

The same day Sugarman was making a pastry run to Planck’s townhouse, Wayne received a follow-up call from Sugarman’s assistant, again asking for the laptop, claiming that Sugarman believed that there was “sensitive information on it.” By then, Wayne had already turned the computer over to the FBI, but what really infuriated him was when Sugarman’s assistant told him that her boss believed Planck had absconded with some of the company’s money.

“That is the most disparaging thing you can say about another person, especially when you are under investigation for stealing millions of dollars,” he fumes. “She’s my ex-wife, I could say a lot of things. If there is one thing I would stand by, she wouldn’t steal. For them to say that is such a bunch of hogwash.”

THERE ARE, OBVIOUSLY, a ton of unanswered questions here, well beyond the mysterious pastries her indicted boss left on her doorstep. So many questions, in fact, it’s difficult to form any coherent theories of the case without tripping up on one contradiction or inconsistency after another.

It’s possible, for instance, that Planck is still very much alive. It’s not inconceivable that Sugarman is correct and that she absconded with company money—after all, she was clearly living a lavish lifestyle that couldn’t be funded by her $145,000- a-year salary. Planck seemingly had a taste for the dangerous and exotic—she presumably named her kid after a secret agent (and her dog, too, minus a couple of zeros). But if that were true, she’d have bolted from her life without so much as a goodbye to her only child, not to mention her ex, whom she was clearly still attached to. And what about Seven? Would she really abandon the dog on the 28th floor of a random downtown building and hope for the best? (Seven, by the way, is now living with Wayne, who also has full emergency custody of Bond).

It’s also possible, given her psychological history, that Planck suffered some sort of psychotic relapse and, like so many other lost souls, has simply disappeared into the labyrinth of Los Angeles’s dark and little-explored alleyways. But, again, if that were the case, one would assume, given all the media attention and police activity, at least some morsel of a clue would have been uncovered by now. With so many people looking for her, it’s hard to believe some shred of evidence about her whereabouts couldn’t be found.

Although the LAPD isn’t officially disclosing its theories about the case, it’s pretty obvious what direction their suspicions are heading. Just after Thanksgiving, reports of “undisclosed forensic evidence” found in that downtown apartment complex where Seven was picked up and where Planck’s Range Rover was ultimately recovered, have led to renewed landfill excavations. For some reason, they’re looking at a landfill in Chiquita Canyon, miles from both Planck’s Mid City townhouse, and at another one in downtown L.A. The police obviously think she’s dead.

Wayne isn’t quite ready to go there himself, but he is convinced, like everybody else, that this remains no ordinary missing-person case.

“Right now, everything is speculative. Is it a drug deal gone bad? Was she in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people? Or is it connected to her job?” he wonders. “There is foul play here. I just don’t know how foul it is.”

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