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Year after going missing, United Airlines exec found dead at Darien forest preserve

Jacob Cefolia, 50, of Elmhurst, was found hanging from an uprooted tree Friday at the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, authorities said. Officials said there were no signs of foul play.

Jake Cefolia, United Airlines’ senior vice president of worldwide sales
The body of Jake Cefolia, United Airlines’ senior vice president of worldwide sales, was found Friday at the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien.
United Airlines photo

An autopsy this weekend confirmed that remains found at a forest preserve in suburban Darien are those of Jacob Cefolia, a United Airlines executive who went missing last year and who had been the subject of an exhaustive search of the area.

On Friday, contractors working at the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve found Cefolia hanging by a belt from an uprooted tree in an area that had been repeatedly searched, DuPage County officials said in a statement.

Cefolia, 50, of Elmhurst, was identified through dental records, according to DuPage County Coroner Dr. Richard Jorgensen. The cause and manner of death haven’t been determined, but DuPage Forest Preserve Police Chief David Pederson noted there were no signs of foul play. A death investigation is underway.

The former senior vice president of worldwide sales for the Chicago-based airline, Cefolia had been reported missing on Aug. 8, 2020. The mystery surrounding his disappearance quickly garnered widespread media attention and prompted a sizable manhunt.

But while his vehicle was found parked near Waterfall Glen, he was never located during an “extensive search” of the forest preserve that included various police agencies, volunteers and trained dogs, officials said.

The area where Cefolia’s body was discovered — which has a dense tree canopy, thick shrubbery and dense vegetation — had been searched “multiple times,” Pederson noted. His vehicle, however, had not been found nearby.

When Cefolia’s body was found Friday, his wallet, driver’s license and a backpack with his personal effects were also located at the scene. Pederson said clothing that matched the description of what Cefolia was seen wearing the day before he was reported missing was also recovered there.

“On behalf of the Forest Preserve District, I would like to send our sincere condolences to his family and friends,” Pederson said. “We hope this at least [brings] closure to his family and friends.”

The Sun-Times previously reported that Cefolia had worked at United since 2007, according to the airline. As senior vice president, he oversaw “sales programs, services, relationships and revenue with corporations, travel management companies and distributors around the world.”

In a statement, a United spokesperson said the company was “sad to hear the news about our former colleague Jake.”

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time,” the spokesperson added. “And we remain grateful for the support and prayers that so many of our employees — including Jake’s co-workers — have shared with one another and on his behalf over the past year.”

Cefolia’s family couldn't immediately be reached.