Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ten Mysterious Disappearances and Murders

Leigh Marine Occhi vanished from her Tupelo, Mississippi home eighteen years ago

by Robert A. Waters

1. Tabitha Tuders, 13
Nashville, Tennessee
April 29, 2003

At about 7:30 a.m., Tabitha Danielle Tuders walked down the road toward her bus stop. Nashville investigators confirmed that Tabitha made it there before she vanished. Numerous theories have been floated in the seven years she’s been gone. Was she abducted and sold into the sex trade? Did she run away? Was she snatched by a sex predator? Did she go willingly with a friend who murdered her? Shortly after Tabitha’s disappearance, her social security card was used once in Las Vegas. The individual who used it was never found. Seven years later, no other clues have surfaced. The FBI has posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of Tabitha.

2. Leigh Marine Occhi, 13
Tupelo, Mississippi
August 27, 1992

As the remnants of Hurricane Andrew bore down on Mississippi, a young girl went missing from her home. Leigh’s mother left for work at about 7:50 a.m. She tried to call her daughter around 9:00, but received no answer. Worried, she drove back home and found blood in several parts of the home. Police and volunteers searched the surrounding area for days, but Leigh was never found. On September 9, her eye-glasses arrived at the Occhi residence. They were in a plain envelope and had been mailed from Booneville, a town about thirty miles away. It’s been eighteen years now, and the case has never been solved.

3. Tara Grinstead, 30
Ocilla, Georgia
October 22, 2005

On Saturday, at about 11:00 p.m., Tara arrived home after attending the Sweet Potato Festival and having dinner with friends. Two days later, when she didn’t show up for her job as an 11th grade teacher, police were called. Investigators found that the clothes Tara had worn on Saturday night were on the bed, and her cell phone was nearby. Her car was still in the driveway, but the front seat had been pushed back as far as it would go. To police, this indicated that a male had driven it. Most disturbing, a latex glove was found in the front yard. Two suspects emerged: a former boyfriend and one of Tara’s former high school students who was obsessed with her and had stalked her. DNA was found inside the glove but it didn’t match either of the suspects. After five years, the case remains a mystery. Family and friends have posted a $200,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts.

4. Michael, Mary, and Jennifer Short, 9
Bassett, Virginia
August 15, 2002

When an employee of Michael’s mobile home moving business stopped by his home, he found Michael dead of a gunshot wound in the carport. Mary was in her bed, also shot to death. Jennifer, the Short’s daughter, was missing. On September 25, 2002, the child’s skeletal body was found in North Carolina, about thirty miles from her home. She, too, had been shot in the head. One suspect emerged, but was never charged. Some investigators believe the murders were committed by a disgruntled customer from Michael’s business. But the question remains: why was a young, innocent girl carried away and killed someplace else? The FBI is offering a $67,000 reward.

5. Mikelle Biggs, 10
Mesa, Arizona
January 2, 1999

Late in the afternoon, Mikelle and her sister thought they heard an ice cream truck. Their mother gave them money and the girls rode their bicycles to the street corner where they usually met the truck. A few minutes later, Mikelle’s sister rode back to the house. Her mother sent her back to tell Mikelle to come home, but no one was there. Police were quickly notified. All they found was Mikelle’s bicycle and two quarters lying in the road. A massive search was launched, but Mikelle was never found. Interviews with neighbors, local sex offenders, and the usual suspects turned up nothing. There was no ice cream truck--the girls had been mistaken when they thought they heard it. Mikelle has never been seen again.

6. Zachary Bernhardt, 8
Clearwater, Florida
December 18, 2000

Shortly after 4:00 a.m., Zachary’s mother, Leah Hackett, reported her son missing. She told investigators that she left her Savannah Trace apartment and walked around the complex for fifteen minutes. When she returned, she said, Zachary was gone. Police checked and re-checked her story and eventually ruled Hackett out as a suspect. What happened to Zachary? Did he leave the house to find his mother, only to be abducted? Are family members involved? Did he run away, and, if so, why so early in the morning? Zachary has never been heard from since his disappearance.

7. Morgan Nick, 6
Alma, Arkansas
June 9, 1995

It was about 10:45 p.m. when Morgan disappeared. The youngster was chasing fireflies with other children at a Little League baseball park, only a few yards from her mother. A pickup truck was seen parked near the spot where the children were playing--a stranger stood beside the truck. By the time the baseball game ended, the truck, the stranger, and Morgan had disappeared. Police immediately recognized that an abduction had taken place. A days-long search turned up absolutely no clues. The Morgan Nick website states that "at the time of her disappearance, Morgan was approximately 4 feet tall, about 55 pounds, with blonde hair and blue eyes. Morgan had 5 visible silver caps on her molars. She was last seen wearing a green Girl Scout t-shirt, blue denim shorts and white tennis shoes.” There is a $60,000 reward leading to the recovery of Morgan and the conviction of her abductor.

8. Danny Freeman and Kathy Freeman murdered
Ashley Freeman, 16, and Lauria Bible, 16 missing
Welch, Oklahoma
December 30, 1999

Almost from the moment neighbors reported a fire at the mobile home owned by Danny and Kathy Freeman, the investigation was botched. Craig County sheriff’s investigators found Kathy shot dead in a front room but they couldn’t find Danny or the girls. Investigators reported that he’d probably murdered Kathy, attempted to burn the trailer to the ground to cover the crime, and went on the run with his daughter, Ashley, and her friend, Lauria. Cops never sealed the crime scene. The next day, as the Bible family searched the home for evidence about Lauria’s disappearance, they were horrified to find Danny’s body. Like his wife, he’d been shot. Ashley and Lauria, who had been spending the night with the Freemans, were both missing. (A sheriff's deputy had recently shot and killed Shane Freeman, the seventeen-year-old son of Danny and Kathy. He’d committed several minor crimes over the years, and this time had burglarized a home. The Freemans considered the killing a murder, and were contemplating a lawsuit against the sheriff’s department. Detectives had also accused Danny of growing marijuana behind his house, but never charged him with a crime.) Two serial killers, Tommie Lee Sells and Jeremy Jones, confessed to the murders, but investigators claim no evidence was ever presented to back up their confessions. For ten years now, the mystery of the missing girls has haunted the citizens of Welch. Residents have several theories. Did someone in the sheriff's department decide to get rid of the Freemans because their lawsuit would blow the lid off corruption and incompetence in the force? Did Danny’s alleged marijuana operation lead to rivals murdering him and kidnapping the girls? Did a serial killer or sex predator kill the husband and wife to get to the teenage girls? Whatever the case, the circumstances surrounding the murders and disappearances are unusual.

9. The Floating Feet
British Columbia and Washington State
2007 – 2008

What are the odds of a foot clad in sneakers floating up on shore anywhere in the world? How about seven feet? All in the Strait of Georgia between Washington State and British Columbia? It’s a mystery that’s stumped every investigator who’s had a crack at it. Is a serial killer stalking sneaker-clad people? Are the feet the remains of victims, all of whom wore sneakers, of some unknown airplane crash? Or are they drifters from across the sea--did the seven feet float across thousands of miles of ocean and land in one spot? Some of the theories seem ludicrous, but the fact is: no one knows. In all, there were five men’s feet and a pair of women’s feet. The women’s feet match, and one pair of men’s feet match. That makes a total of five bodies. Only one foot has been matched to a known missing person, a man whom authorities think committed suicide. Who are the other victims and why did their feet end up on isolated beaches across the northwest? One other question: are there other feet that were never found?

10. Sheryl Levitt, Stacy McCall, 18, and Suzanne Streeter, 18
Springfield, Missouri
June 7, 1992

How can three people disappear from a suburban home in the middle of the night and never be seen again? That’s what happened in this case. Stacy McCall and Suzanne Streeter had been partying with friends in celebration of their graduation from high school. At around 2:00 a.m., they arrived at Suzanne’s home. Sherrill Levitt, Suzanne’s mother, was also home. The girls planned to sleep in that night then go to White Water Amusement Park in Branson the next day. None of the three were ever seen again. For more than fifteen years, there has been no trace of the missing women. The only clue was a frightened dog and a broken light bulb on the front porch. Because of the high school graduation ceremonies that night, police initially thought the women were staying with friends. By the time they reacted, any clues that may have been in the house were destroyed. There are no suspects in this case and everyone seems baffled at their disappearance.

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