Later that year, after a dispute with Brown allegedly over financial irregularities, Van Patter went missing on December 13, 1974. Some weeks later, her severely beaten corpse was found on a San Francisco Bay beach.
Though the case remains officially unsolved, former Panther supporter David Horowitz has maintained for years that Elaine Brown was directly responsible for the murder. He has said Brown believed Van Patter was about to "blow the whistle" on the misappropriation of funds by certain party members  and according to Mother Jones magazine, the Black Panther Party is “almost universally believed to be responsible”.
Huey Newton confessed to Ken Kelley, his PR agent, that he had ordered Van Patter's murder, and that Van Patter had been tortured and raped before being killed.