Brian Laundrie’s parents may have already spilled what they know about Gabby Petito’s murder to the FBI to avoid obstruction charges, law enforcement experts have told DailyMail.com.
Christopher and Roberta Laundrie joined the hunt for their fugitive son Wednesday and within hours cops had finally located his backpack, notepad and possible remains in Florida swampland.
Authorities said the breakthrough – five weeks into the manhunt – came after receding water levels allowed greater access to some of keen hiker Brian’s favorite trails and hangouts in the alligator-infested Carlton Nature Reserve.
But former FBI agent Stuart Kaplan thinks authorities issued the Laundries with a behind-the-scenes ultimatum: help us find Brian or face years behind bars yourselves.
Roberta Laundrie was last seen in exclusive DailyMail.com photos Wednesday after she and husband Chris returned from the Carlton Reserve where human remains were found
Law enforcement experts tell DailyMail.com it’s possible Chris and Roberta – who have remained tight-lipped on son and person of interest Brian Laundrie – are finally speaking up
The couple has come under scrutiny since their son went on the run after Gabby Petito’s body was found. Pictured: Chris Laundrie returns home Wednesday
‘There’s no doubt that Brian Laundrie’s parents are fully engaged with law enforcement,’ Kaplan told DailyMail.com.
‘I do believe that there was some sort of agreement where they accepted immunity in exchange for their full cooperation.’
Despite a rash of unconfirmed sightings across the US, police and FBI search teams had maintained a laser focus on the sprawling Carlton Reserve ever since Laundrie, 23, was reported missing by his parents on September 17.
Gabby’s remains were found two days later at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Ground in Grand Teton National Park.
The 22-year-old travel vlogger’s death was declared a homicide by strangling and Laundrie – who came home from a cross-country road trip without her on September 1 – remains the only confirmed person of interest.
‘I think from the very beginning that Brian Laundrie’s parents were torn between wanting to protect their son and not wanting to cross a line that would put them in the crosshairs of law enforcement,’ added Kaplan, now a criminal defense lawyer.
Human remains and a backpack were found near a bridge between Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park and the Carlton Reserve, just four miles north of Brian Laundrie’s home, just a mile or two into the park. The Laundrie parents say they told the police that it’s where Brian might have been, but the portion of the land was submerged in water when cops first searched it in September
Brian Laundrie, 23, is the sole suspect in the murder of his 22-year-old fiancee Gabby Petito. Her strangled body was found in September, weeks after she was last seen alive. The pair were on a cross-country camper van trip when she vanished and he went home in September
Christopher, 62, and Roberta, 55, initially told the North Port Police Department they last saw their son when he headed off to go hiking at the reserve on September 14
Former FBI agent Stuart Kaplan says he believes ‘there was some sort of agreement where they accepted immunity in exchange for their full cooperation’
‘If you lie to a federal agent, mislead them or give them false information that can lead to prosecution for obstruction of justice and you could be looking at five years in jail. And it’s an easy trap to fall into.’
Christopher, 62, and Roberta, 55, initially told the North Port Police Department they last saw their son when he headed off to go hiking at the reserve on September 14, leaving his Ford Mustang parked nearby and never returning to it.
The couple came under renewed scrutiny, however, when they suddenly ‘revised’ their timeline, saying through their attorney, Steven Bertolino, that they last saw him on the evening of September 13.
‘The probability is strong that it is Brian’s remains, but we’re going to wait for the forensic results to come in and verify that,’ Bertolino told CNN on Wednesday night.
He said Christopher and Roberta would wait until a final determination was made before making any comment.
To date the couple have not said a single word publicly about Brian and Gabby, who got engaged last year and lived under their roof before they headed off in July for a road trip in a converted van.
Chris and Roberta Laundrie (pictured) alerted investigators on Tuesday night that they intended to search Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park for their son on Wednesday morning. The FBI and North Port Police Department agreed to meet them at the park
A police officer is pictured walking in the Carlton Reserve with what appears to be the dry bag discovered by Laundrie’s father in the preserve. The discovery was made on Wednesday, five weeks after he went on the run following the disappearance of his fiancée Gabby Petito. She was found strangled to death in September in Wyoming
The Sarasota County Medical Examiner’s Office was at the scene Wednesday after human remains were found. It’s unclear how long it may take for the remains to be formally identified
Pictured: A map showing the location of where Laundrie’s belongings were found near a bridge connecting the the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park and the adjoining Carlton Reserve, in relation to the Laundrie family home in North Port, Florida (pictured bottom right). The home is located around four miles south of where the belongings were found
Retired FBI agent Jennifer Coffindaffer told DailyMail.com that if Laundrie’s parents knew his whereabouts, they could be vulnerable to aiding and abetting charges but cautioned that authorities would need compelling evidence in the event Brian was confirmed dead.
‘That evidence could include text messages telling him to run or telling him they were going to destroy evidence,’ Coffindaffer speculated.
‘There’s no blood involved in a strangulation but there could be some cells on his clothing. I think the strongest possibility would be an obstruction charge on the cleaning of the Petito van.’
Without such evidence there is nothing, however, that prosecutors can do to force Christopher and Roberta Laundrie into revealing what Brian told them in the 12 days he spent at home before disappearing under the noses of police.
‘They can’t be compelled. But you would hope, especially since now that it appears their son is dead, that if they are decent people they will disclose what they know,’ Coffindaffer added.
DailyMail.com spotted Brian Laundrie’s parents on a five-hour shopping trip Tuesday morning
They also refused to answer DailyMail.com’s inquiries of ‘is he in the park, did you help him get there?’ in reference to the massive swampland search for survivalist Brian, 23, that started nearly five weeks ago at the alligator-infested Carlton Reserve near North Port
‘The guilt builds and I would not be surprised at all if one of them came forward, eventually, although it could take a long time.’
At a briefing Wednesday afternoon FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McPherson confirmed that human remains had been found in an area of the 24,000-acre Carlton Reserve that was previously submerged in water.
The reserve has been reopened to the public but Bertolino told NewsNation that he contacted police on Tuesday to tell them the Laundries wanted to resume the search personally now that the water level had receded.
Christopher had previously joined investigators to look for his son but this was the first time he was accompanied by his wife.
Bertolino said the parents spread out on either side of a trail. A short while later Christopher found a bag containing some of Brian’s items while a cop accompanying Roberta found the backpack.
McPherson did not discuss the condition of the human remains found nearby but the painstaking use of cadaver dogs over a wide section of swamp is telling, according to his former FBI colleagues.
North Port cops block the entrance to the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park Wednesday after items belong to Brian Laundrie and potential human remains were found in a Florida wilderness park during a search for clues
At a briefing at 4.30pm, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McPherson confirmed that human remains had been found, but he would not speculate on the identity of those remains, nor would he reveal how long they had been there
A crowd of spectators listen in on a press conference held by Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Tampa Field Office Michael McPherson at the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port Wednesday
‘The reality is very morbid but when you’re exposed to the natural elements, wildlife can be drawn to the body. You only have to live in Florida for a brief period of time and know we’re surrounded by coyotes, alligators, bobcats, even panthers,’ Kaplan told DailyMail.com.
‘So I think the fact that you saw the cadaver dogs gridding that area leads me to believe that there were parts that would not be intact and that may have been scattered about. They may have some difficulty in retrieving the entire body.’
The FBI in Denver revealed on September 23 that Laundrie was wanted on a federal arrest warrant over the unauthorized use of a credit card, however Bertolino insists the alleged criminality occurred after Gabby’s death and is ‘not related to her actual demise’.
Nonetheless the FBI referred to the case as a murder for the first time at Wednesday’s briefing, just days after a Wyoming coroner said the cause of death was strangulation and that domestic violence played a role.
‘I think Brian went there to kill himself,’ added Coffindaffer. ‘The fact that he left behind his wallet and his phone, leads me to believe that he planned this.
‘It’s terribly sad for the Petitos but there’s no way to get closure, honestly, if he doesn’t go to trial. And it looks increasingly like that’s going to be the case here.’
Timeline of missing Gabby Petito’s case
July 1: Gabby Petito and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie left Blue Point, New York for a cross-country road trip
August 12: Police in Moab, Utah respond to a domestic incident involving the couple
Aug. 17: Laundrie allegedly flies back to Florida to ‘clear out a storage unit’
Aug. 21: Petito’s father, Joseph Petito, has his last FaceTime video call with his daughter who was in Salt Lake City, Utah
Aug. 23: Laundrie flies back to Utah to ‘rejoin Gabby’ on their trip
Aug. 24: Petito is last seen at a hotel in Salt Lake City with Laundrie
Aug. 25: Petito makes final call to her mother, Nichole Schmidt, saying she was in Grand Teton National Park
Aug. 25 or 26: The couple chats with the owner of a shop called ‘Rustic Row’ in Victor, Utah for about 20 minutes
Aug. 27: Video of Petito’s van was taken by blogger Jenn Bethune around 6.30 pm at the Spread Creek Campground; Witnesses say they saw a ‘commotion’ with the couple at Merry Piglets Tex-mex restaurant in Jackson, Wyoming
Aug. 29: The day that Wisconsin TikToker Miranda Baker claimed that she and her boyfriend were approached by Laundrie at Grand Teton National Park and asked them for a ride at 5.30pm
Aug. 30: Schmidt receives the last text from Petito’s phone: ‘No service in Yosemite’
Sept. 1: Laundrie returns to his parents’ home in North Port, Florida in a van without Petito
Sept. 6-7: Laundrie and his parents visit Fort De Soto campsite in Florida
Sept. 11: Schmidt reports Petito missing to authorities in New York; Petito and Laundrie’s van was impounded by police in Florida that same day
Sept. 12: Grand Teton National Park rangers search for Petito
Sept. 13: Laundrie’s lawyer says on October 5 that his parents now ‘believe’ this was the day they last saw him heading for a hike
Sept. 14: Laundrie issues a statement about Petito’s disappearance through his lawyer; Laundrie’s parents claim on September 17 that Laundrie left his parents’ home for a hike this day and they hadn’t seen from him since
Sept. 15: Laundrie is officially named a person of interest in Petito’s case
Sept. 17: Laundrie family attorney confirms his whereabouts are unknown
Sept. 18: North Port police and the FBI start searching the Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County for missing Brian Laundrie
Sept. 19: Bethune realizes she has video of Petito’s van around 12am and submits the FBI with the footage 10 minutes later; Officials announce a body was found near Grand Teton National Park that matched Petito’s description in the afternoon
Sept. 21: Coroner confirms remains found in Grand Tetons belong to Petito. Her death is ruled a homicide but her cause of death is still under invesetigation
Sept. 20 – 22: FBI and North Port police continue search for Laundrie in Carton Reserve
Sept. 22: Neighbors say they saw the Laudrie family pack up their detached camper on the day Gabby was reported missing. DailyMail.com photos show the camper was back in the driveway two days later, on September 13
Sept. 23: FBI issues an arrest warrant for Laundrie for ‘use of unauthorized access device’ for fraudulently using a Capitol One Bank debit card that was not his between August 30 and September 1 to spend $1,000; A probe is launched into the police handling of the Utah police incident on Aug. 12; Laundrie’s parents visit their attorney in Orlando
Sept. 25: Dog the Bounty Hunter joins the search for Laundrie
Sept. 26: A funeral is held for Petito in Holbrook, New York, and her family launch a charity to help parents find missing children
Sept. 27: Manhunt for Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve is scaled back after 10 day search doesn’t find him. Dog the Bounty Hunter says Laundrie and his parents stayed at Fort De Soto Park from September 1-3 and September 6-8 – and that on the latter visit only the parents left
Sept. 28: Laundrie’s mom is accused of using a burner phone to contact her son Sept. 29: Documents reveal Laundrie’s mom canceled a reservation for the Fort De Soto Park campsite for two from September 1 to 3 and booked for three from September 6 to 8; FBI seizes surveillance footage from site; FBI investigates lead Laundrie bought a burner phone on September 14;
Sept. 30: Bodycam footage from a second officer at the August 12 incident is released showing a distressed Petito admitting Laundrie hit her; FBI agents collect more evidence from the Laundrie home
Oct. 1: It emerges Laundrie’s sister had contact with him after she said she did
Oct. 2: A hiker along the Appalachian Trail claims to have seen Laundrie near the border of Tennessee and North Carolina
Oct. 3: Investigators searched the area on the Appalachian trail for any signs that Laundrie had been there
Oct. 4: Laundrie’s sister told protestors outside her home that her family has been ignoring her after they rebuked her story and that she does not know where her brother is
Oct 5: Laundrie’s sister appeared on Good Morning America to say she would turn her brother in if she knew where he is;
Oct. 7: Laundrie’s father Christopher joins FBI agents on the search for his son at the Carlton Reserve but the search brings up no clues
Oct. 12: Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue announces autopsy findings which show Petito died by strangulation; No specific date of death was given – only that she was dead 3-4 weeks before her body was found
Oct. 16: Petito’s parents are seen collecting her ashes from the Valley Mortuary in Jackson, Wyoming
October 20: Human remains found in Carlton Reserve