Missing Illinois Woman Who Prompted Costly Search Believed to Be Alive

A married woman from Illinois whose disappearance on Christmas Eve prompted a costly search may be alive and with a male friend from California, authorities said Friday.

Cell phone records indicate Anu Solanki, 24, left the Chicago area voluntarily with the 23-year-old friend, Karan C. Jani, a Cook County sheriff's office statement said. The pair hasn't been located.

Solanki's husband, who lived with his wife near suburban Des Plaines, wasn't aware of her friendship with Jani, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart told reporters.

Anu Solanki's car was found Monday in a forest preserve parking lot, triggering the search by police and relatives, who distributed flyers with her picture. A sheriff's department helicopter was also used in the search.

Authorities spent about $250,000 on the search and in investigating Solanki's disappearance, Dart said.

Her husband, Dignesh Solanki, had said his wife may have been placing a religious statue in the Des Plaines River on the day she went missing. The statue of the deity Ganesh, revered as the Hindu god of good fortune and wisdom, had broken and a religious leader told them that placing it in the water would ward off bad luck.

Authorities said earlier this week that they feared Solanki might have slipped underwater and drowned while placing the statue in the current and divers also searched the river for signs of a body.

The Solankis were born in India's Gujarat state, and were married Oct. 6, 2006. During a second Hindu wedding on May 6 in New Jersey, the Ganesh statue played a role in the ceremony, Dignesh Solanki has said.

Anu Solanki called a friend Monday afternoon and said four men were following her, then called back saying they weren't following her anymore, relatives have said.

Jani placed several cell phone calls to Anu Solanki while she was at work at a Wheeling hotel Monday morning, the sheriff's office said in a statement. Solanki may have met Jani a short time later that day, then fled the area with him, officials said.