The Mysterious Disappearance of the Fort Worth Three

How can someone vanish without a trace? That’s a question that’s difficult to fathom. On the week of Christmas in Fort Worth, Texas, three young women disappeared while shopping at the local mall. What should have been a joyous time to relax and spend the winter break with friends and family, three families spent their holiday desperately searching for their loved ones and praying for a miracle, yet with every passing day, their hope diminished. The whereabouts of the three women are still unknown. This is the enthralling unsolved disappearance of Rachel Trlica, Lisa Wilson, and Julie Moseley.

FortWorthTrio

Mary Rachel Trlica was a 17-year-old senior in high school. She was a middle child and had an 11-year-old brother, Rusty Arnold and an older sister, 19-year-old, Debra Arnold. Though she was young, Rachel was married to 21-year-old Thomas Trlica and was living with him and his two-year-old son from a prior relationship.

Bizarrely, Thomas had been previously engaged to Rachel’s older sister, of whom was living with the couple due to a strained relationship with her then current boyfriend she had been residing with. Though the oddity of the personal relationships between them seemed uncomfortable from an outsider’s perspective, there was reportedly no awkward tension amongst them and they all got along well.

On the cold Monday morning on December 23, 1974, Rachel was planning on finishing up some last minute Christmas shopping. Not wanting to spend the afternoon alone, she asked Debra if she would like to come with her, but she declined. Rachel decided to contact her friend, 14-year-old Lisa Wilson and asked if she would like to join her. Lisa happily accepted the offer but inclined that she needed to be home by 4:00 p.m. because she had plans to attend a dinner party with her new boyfriend, Terry Moseley.

Terry Moseley was 15-years-old and had a younger sister, 9-year-old Julie Moseley. He lived adjacent to Lisa’s grandmother’s home, where she often visited when her mother was working at the dry cleaner’s. Moments before Rachel’s phone call to Lisa, Terry gained the courage to ask Lisa to be his girlfriend — whom she had a crush on for a long time — and was ecstatic when he offered a promise ring to promote his commitment.

Lisa asked if he would like to accompany them for the afternoon. He declined because he had prearranged plans, but he was excited to spend time with her at the party later that evening. Terry’s sister, Julie Moseley, asked if she could go with Rachel and Lisa because she didn’t want to spend all day alone at home. At the time, Rachel and Julie hadn’t known one another and due to this, Rayanne Moseley — Julie’s mother — was hesitant but since she trusted Lisa, she gave her consent after persistent nagging.

Rachel set out in her Oldsmobile 95 to pick Lisa and Julie up and the trio left the neighborhood at midday. Their first stop was to the local Army/Navy Surplus store so Rachel could pay off a few layaway items. Afterward, they visited Seminary South Shopping Center, where Rachel parked her vehicle on the upper-level near the Sears department. Unknowingly to them, this would be their final stop and their whereabouts are unknown.

When the three girls didn’t arrive home at the designated time, family members grew worried. Two hours later panic seeped in further and they decided to go to the mall themselves to search for them. They managed to find Rachel’s vehicle, but the girls were nowhere in sight despite extensive scouring throughout the mall’s interior and exterior layout.

The evidence suggested they had done quite a bit of shopping and made it back to the vehicle safe because Rachel’s car was locked numerous Christmas presents in shopping bags with receipts inside. Several family members continued searching for their loved ones at other varying locations while others remained at the shopping center with the hope of the girls returning, but they never arrived.

At approximately 11:00 p.m. they contacted Fort Worth Police Department to file a missing person(s) report. Law enforcement originally presumed two scenarios — either the girls had met up with acquaintances and would soon turn up or their disappearance was a purposeful runaway case despite no viable motive and the unfamiliarity between Rachel and Julie. With this determination, the investigation wasn’t properly handled, and they released Rachel’s car to her husband–neglecting to examine it for evidence and made no attempts to dust for fingerprints.

The following morning Rachel’s husband discovered a peculiar envelope with a letter in his mailbox that provided a glimmer of hope and sheer confusion. The return address couldn’t be determined because the zip code was smeared. From what was evident, the numbers seemed to spell out “76083,” but the number “3” was written backward. Family members assumed the “3” was actually an “8” which would lead to Weatherford, Texas, thirty-five minutes away. The other possibility was the zip code “76483” that would pinpoint Throckmorton, Texas — a small town two-hours away with a population of less than a thousand people.

Thomas Trlica letter
Image Source: Websleuths

As for the contents of the letter, the message was written in childish handwriting and stated, “I know I’m going to catch it, but we just had to get away. We’re going to Houston. See you in about a week. The car is in Sear’s upper lot. Love Rachel.” Rachel’s family members adamantly believe[d] the author was not Rachel for numerous reasons. First of all, her name had been misspelled and the writer seemingly tried fixing the error. Secondly, the family suggested the letter was too formal. It had been addressed to “Thomas A. Trlica,” but anyone acquainted with him always referred to him as “Tommy.” Lastly, handwriting experts inspected the letter and other writings produced by Rachel and the results were inconclusive. Years later when forensic science became more advanced, DNA was uncovered from the letter that did not belong to Rachel, Lisa, or Julie, and it’s unknown who’s it belongs to.

Once the disappearances were made known from local media outlets, eyewitnesses spoke with law enforcement claiming to have seen the girls in the mall throughout the afternoon. Multiple store clerks stated they appeared to be in a joyous mood. Other testimonies provided conflicting reports, however. In one particular account, a woman mentioned seeing several adult men luring the girls into a pickup truck on the upper-level parking lot. An additional witness asserted spotting the girls in a security patrol car that was making the rounds on the exterior of the shopping center near the Sears department. Other reports began trickling in from all over Texas; with people phoning in tips saying they witnessed the girls at various convenient and grocery shopping stores.

All of the latest testimonies presented contrary deductions law enforcement initially thought and valuable time evaporated. In turn, all of these potential leads were fully investigated but nothing tangible was able to be obtained.

Family members were progressively becoming infuriated with what they felt was inadequate police work, so in 1975 they hired a private investigator named Jon Swaim. With Swaim’s tenacity, he received many anonymous tips — one of which was in March of 1976 that took him five hours away to a bayou in Port Lavaca, Texas, where he was told he would locate the girls’ remains. An extensive search was conducted for multiple days but the effort proved fruitless and nothing of substantial worth was gleaned.

A few months later, Fort Worth Police Department received a phone call from a female psychic living in Hawaii. She told them they could find the girls’ remains at an oil well. Sadly, she didn’t specify where and for five years authorities were chasing their own tails until 1981 when an employee working at an oil company in Houston, Texas, unearthed three sets of skeletal remains. Hoping for a big break in the case, medical examiners performed rigorous testing and they concluded the remains did not belong to the missing women.

In 1979, hired investigator Jon Swaim passed away. The cause of death was ruled a suicide by a drug overdose, believed to be initiated by an awful divorce he was dealing with. Upon request via Swaim’s will, all of his research, discoveries, sources, and contacts were discarded. It’s unknown what kind of information he was able to procure during his three-year investigation.

Seven years after the girls disappeared, a new male witness came forward. He told law enforcement he observed an adult male pushing a [lone] girl into a van on the upper-level parking lot of the shopping center. Out of concern, he confronted the unidentified male and was promptly told to mind his own business because it was merely a family dispute. Law enforcement was unable to corroborate the validity of the story, but they did note the similarities from initial eyewitnesses.

Time continued to flow on, as well as the years, and throughout this time the Fort Worth Police Department received a fluctuation of tips and leads from locals, anonymous callers, and even psychics, but they were either unreliable or investigated exhaustively with no pivotal outcome. As a result, the case began to turn cold and remained stagnant for a long time.

Twenty years later in 1995, Rachel’s younger brother, Rusty Arnold — who was only 11-years-old at the time of his sister’s disappearance — communicated with private investigator Dan James to hire him for his service. This would be a decision that created turmoil amongst family members because it separated an already broken family further.

Interestingly, Dan had known about the case for a long time beforehand and had been conducting independent research prior to being contacted. James declined to accept any payment for any additional work because he was investigating purely out of kindheartedness; even offering a $25,000.00 reward of his own money to anyone who could provide pertinent information that would bring resolution to the case.

Throughout the years Rusty and James worked together they managed to unearth shocking information from sources they deemed credible. According to what they were told, Rachel was astonishingly alive and well; and has been purposefully kept away from Fort Worth, but manages to visit every Christmas since her mysterious disappearance, with the latest visit occurring in 1998. Additionally, the source(s) also shared the sentiment that Lisa Wilson and Julie Moseley had been murdered, though they didn’t how and who was involved.

Rusty and James pursued this appalling lead but they were unable to substantiate the claims, but this avenue led to family issues unraveling. According to Rusty, he believes his older sister Debra wrote the strange letter Thomas received the following morning when the girls disappeared and have more answers than she seems to suggest because she was uncooperative throughout the investigation and refused to take a polygraph test. This allegation was shared by some law enforcement officials and private investigator Dan James, of whom Rusty’s mother, Fran Langston, believes is tampering with Rusty’s mind.

Nevertheless, Debra maintained her innocence and in January of 2000, she spoke with Fort Worth’s newspaper, the Star-Telegram, and proclaimed she had nothing to hide. Debra’s public statement caused Rusty, Rayanne Moseley — Julie’s mother — and Lisa’s parents, Judy and Richard Wilson, to respond with a formal letter saying:

Dear Debra,

We read your statement in the Fort Worth’s Star Telegram on January 9, 2000. You indicated that you ‘had nothing to hide.’ If your statement is true, we beg and plead with you to fully cooperate with the Fort Worth Police Department and the FBI. Please complete the polygraph testing and answer all questions.

Debra, please keep in mind you also have a sister missing.

Respectfully,

Rayanne Moseley
Rusty Arnold
Judy Wilson
Richard Wilson

A resurgence in the case occurred in 2001 when detective Tom Boetcher took over the case. After holding a press conference, another witness named Bill Hutchins came forward detailing an interesting encounter he had with a security guard in a pickup truck as he was leaving the mall at 11:30 p.m. He and the guard conversed briefly, and while doing so he noticed three girls occupying the front seat of his vehicle. From his perspective, they were in good spirits — laughing and joking around with one another.

Law enforcement was skeptical of his testimony and asked why he didn’t report this sooner. Bill told the authorities he did notify them about the incident days after they disappeared but they didn’t follow up with him. Likewise, officers managed to locate the security guard, who denied all allegations pertaining to Bill’s story, though it was consistent with other witnesses at the time.

Subsequently, not an entire lot of substantial information has been released publically. It’s now been over forty years and though the case has seen its gloomy days, new progress is being made that allows hope for optimism. The main consensus amongst law enforcement is that whoever abducted Rachel Trlica, Lisa Wilson, and Julie Moseley — if that indeed is the case — were more than likely acquainted with one of them.

Over time, Rusty has mended the broken relationship he had with Debra, concluding she hadn’t any involvement in her sister’s disappearance. He continues to reside in the town he grew up in and works as a local roofing contractor, all the while admirably seeking answers, closure, and ultimately justice on a daily basis. Only time can tell, but Rusty believes the case will be solved.

 

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