By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
The fiancé of a missing Gillette woman used her debit card to purchase items including boots and a shovel, according to documents filed in state district court.
Nathan J. Hightman was arrested May 4 and charged with multiple felony theft counts for accessing the bank accounts of Irene Gawka in the wake of her disappearance in late February. He was released on a $10,000 cash or surety bond on Wednesday.
Gawka was last seen alive during a video call with her parents on Feb. 24. The 32-year-old native of Kenya as reported missing by her brother on March 20.
Hightman has been identified as a “person of interest” in Gawka’s disappearance and has refused to cooperate with investigators.
According to court documents, Hightman is accused of transferring more than $3,666 out of Gawka’s bank account and charging more than $600 on her debit card after he told authorities she packed her bags and left their home in Gillette in late February.
Among the purchases he made was a shovel and a pair of boots and pants from Walmart totaling $36.19, according to court documents filed in the Circuit Court of the 6th Judicial District. Hightman is seen on video surveillance with the items, which were later located at his house.
Hightman also allegedly maxed out Gawka’s Capital One Visa card, hitting the $3,100 credit limit in 80 separate transactions.
He’s also been charged with two additional felonies for changing the password to Gawka’s banking account and deleting her Google email account.
Gawka was attending nursing school and had moved to Gillette last July with Hightman, who she met in Idaho.
Hightman told the Gillette Police detective that Gawka came home from eating in a restaurant one night in late February and said she was leaving Gillette. He said she packed her clothing into two plastic bags and was picked up by someone in a dark SUV.
He admitted to police that he had accessed Gawka’s bank accounts and removed the money, saying he did so to force her to contact him. Hightman said he has not heard from Gakwa since she left.
Gawka moved to the U.S. in her late 20s to be near her brothers in Idaho and broaden her experiences, her older brother, Kennedy Wainaina, told Cowboy State Daily last week.
She met Hightman on an online dating website and the couple lived together in Idaho for about one and one-half years before moving to Gillette, which was Hightman’s idea, Wainaina said.
He described Hightman “controlling” and said his sister was having a hard time acclimating to Gillette given its small size, colder weather and the fact that she missed her family.
GPD has asked for the public’s help in its search for a gray or silver Subaru Crosstrek with Idaho license plates that may have been seen trespassing on private property or in rural areas of Campbell County between Feb. 24 and March 20. The department is also seeking information regarding possible sightings of a 55-gallon metal drum, which may have been burned and/or abandoned within the county.
Irene is described as a Black woman who is 5 feet, 1 inch tall and weighing about 100 pounds.
Anyone with information is asked to contact GPD at (307) 682-5155.