The Unsolved Murder of Lacey Gaines

In the crazy world of life, you can be a good person but that doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable to the evil that lurks around the corner. Sometimes, the relationships you have, whether with friends or a significant other, can be toxic. Their bad habits can seep into your life and before you know it you’re inadvertently mixed up in unsavory things that you never even fathomed was possible. For Lacey Gaines, she understood what virulent she was involved with and was seeking help, but the assistance didn’t arrive soon enough.

Lacey GainesLacey Gaines was a 20-year-old mother of one living in Justice, Illinois. Most of her life was spent in Crete, Illinois — a small village in the south suburbs of Chicago known for its downtown views and Dixie Highway. For three years, she attended high school at Illinois Trinity Lutheran Day before transferring to Grant Park High during her senior year. People who knew her best described her as loyal and intelligent. She could speak fluent Spanish and always had an eagerness to expand her knowledge.

Things took an unexpected turn when at 16-years-old, she met Daniel Rogelio Sanchez,  who was in his twenties. They began dating, much to the disapproval of friends and family, and Lacey soon became pregnant. The relationship wasn’t that great, as Daniel would try to be possessive and control her — often becoming jealous of other male friends she would speak to at school. Not letting the circumstances dampen her future, she began inserting her independence by tackling two restaurant jobs at “Vic’s on Main” in Crete and “Maxwell’s in Beecher, Illinois, that overlapped one another between 2005-2008 in order to provide for the upcoming baby.

The entire 2008 year was emotional but eventful for Lacey, however. Despite theLacey and Son hardships of relocating to a new school and becoming pregnant, she graduated with ease and gave birth to a baby boy, Conor Alvardo. After graduation, Lacey’s parents, Jeffrey and Gilda Gaines, purchased a home in a safe community for her. While living there with Daniel, she was supporting the family by taking up a full-time position as a waitress at Kingsberry Waffle House in Flossmoor.

Lacey’s relationship with Daniel quickly began to deteriorating exponentially. He became very physically and mentally abusive, and co-workers noticed she would arrive to work with bruises all over her arms. After seeking guidance out of fear for her safety, and confining to her aunt, Cherry Simpson, Lacey terminated the relationship, though the troubles wouldn’t end there.

After the break-up, a custody battle ensued, which only made things more stressful for Lacey. Nonetheless, she tried to remain positive and took steps to improve her future. She eventually moved out of the home her family purchased and took up residence at Sunset Lake Apartments to start anew. Her parents weren’t fond of this decision because the area was riddled with crime and drugs, but she assured them everything would be okay.

Sunset Lakes Apartments Justice Illinois
While adjusting to her new living arrangments, she met Juan Valadez, whom her friends and family approved of. The two began living together, yet Daniel’s anger and jealousy seemed uncontrollable once he was aware of her lifestyle. Not wanting to let go of the past relationship, he continually began stalking her and would send harassment and death threats. His ever-increasing anger resulted in Lacey fearing for the safety of her and her son, and she sought more immediate help and options by contacting a social worker, but this didn’t little to prevent Daniel’s undaunting rage.

Everything changed six days after Lacey’s 20th birthday. On the bitterly cold evening of Monday, December 7, 2009, Lacey had a doctor’s appointment at 3:00 p.m. but had a peculiar feeling of foreboding. Thinking it would be less stressful and safer in general, she asked her grandmother if she could babysit Conor for a few hours, and she happily accepted the offer.

Lacey and Juan

A few hours later at 7:10 p.m. Lacey’s new boyfriend, Juan Valadez, arrived home accompanied by a female friend of the couple. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but as soon as the two walked inside the apartment they discovered a ghastly scene. Lacey was found lifeless, with blood all over the floor.

Juan immediately dialed 911, but he couldn’t speak English, so his female friend had to assist in the frantic conversation. The police, medical dispatcher, and ambulance soon arrived at the crime scene and Lacey was rushed to the Advocate Christ Memorial Hospital in Oak Lawn, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

An autopsy was soon performed and it was determined that Lacey had been strangled with an electrical cord, but a knife wound that caused a 4-inch gash on the left side of her neck was what ultimately killed her. According to the medical examiner, the murderer is right-handed and approximately the same height as Lacey. Moreover, it was also concluded that there were no signs of sexual assault or defensive wounds, which provided intriguing evidence for law enforcement.

Back at the apartment building, the police sealed off the area to conduct an examination of the crime scene. Their investigation showed that there were no signs of forced entry and no property had been stolen, leading law enforcement to believe Lacey knew her killer personally. While scouring the rooms for evidence, they managed to retrieve several important items, including a kitchen knife with a 10-inch blade that was later confirmed to be the murder weapon.

Though the police considered Lacey’s case to be an isolated incident, residents were distraught and rumors began circulating. Compelling information started coming in from those in the building claiming several maintenance men working in the complex were known to be pedophilic and Peeping Tom’s. With the latest tragedy, those rumors blossomed into fear, and families were afraid to let their children roam outside and people began walking together in groups for safety precaution. The police did what they could to assure the residents that they had no reason to fear a mad killer was on the loose, but that did little to stop the worrying.

With the belief that Lacey’s murder was personal, Police Chief Robert Gedville and over 30 detectives from the Southwest Major Crimes Task began probing her history. They rounded up friends, family, and prior boyfriends to piece together information that may lead to a potential suspect. That’s when more pertinent information came to light regarding Lacey’s ex-boyfriend, Daniel. He was considered the prime suspect in the case, yet after hours of interviews and interrogations, he was ruled out as a suspect.

Nearly one year later, hardly any new pivotal information was trickling in despite the detectives working tirelessly. Lacey’s case soon turned relatively cold. Potential suspects were unearthed, including some of the rumored maintenance men from her apartment complex, but they and all people from her past that might have had some form of motivation to commit such an audacious crime were ruled out.

About two weeks before the first anniversary of Lacey’s tragic murder, friends andLacey Gaines family held a candlelight vigil on Saturday, December 4, 2010, where the passed out flyers and brochures to keep her unsolved case in the spotlight. Despite the blistering cold weather, many people showed up to pay their respects and show support, and Lacey’s brother closed off the evening by gathering everyone together and saying a prayer.

It has now been nearly ten years and as of 2018, the case remains unsolved with no progress being made aside from Lacey’s case being uploaded to the Unsolved Mysteries website on July 21, 2014. Tips and leads have run dry, and family members feel as if law enforcement has completely disregarded her case. Nevertheless, Lacey’s family still strives for justice and continues to make sure she’s not forgotten in the eyes of Justice, Illinois. They believe as long as they continue to keep her case burning bright amongst the public they have the optimism to see this case resolved. They haven’t given up hope despite all the difficulties the years have been since the unjust murder, but just as Lacey is so often described, they remain loyal to see through the darkness to the very end.

Side note: This particular case doesn’t have much information surrounding it, yet I felt it deserved coverage nonetheless. To be honest, it was much more difficult to write about than any long-form articles I’ve done in the past, primarily because of the lack of information. I’m sure there is more information that isn’t detailed online, and I’d be very interested to learn what kind of DNA evidence — if any — law enforcement has. However, covering more under-the-radar and obscure cases is something I want to continue doing more often, because they deserve limelight as well, and the more people know about a case, the more it could ramp up with potential new evidence. The more eyes and ears, the better.

Sources

Cold No More Blog

Project Cold Case

Lacey Gaines – Find a Grave

Cherry Simpson’s Heartfelt Message

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The Unsolved Disappearance of Morgan Nick

You hear it all the time; “Back then, people didn’t lock their doors at night.” That phrase often gets mentioned when devastating crimes occur in unexpected places that are deemed safe by the community. When those tragedies happen everything changes, but sometimes positives can blossom through the aftermath of the rubble. In the unsolved disappearance of Morgan Nick, her story has remained a beacon of hope that transcended across the nation. This is her story.

Morgan NickOn September 12, 1988, John and Colleen Nick gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby daughter they named Morgan Chauntel Nick. She was raised in the small populated town of Ozark, Arkansas, a community of fewer than 4,000 residents. By 1994, Morgan became the oldest of two other siblings, Logan Nick, who was almost four-years-old, and a younger sister, Taryn Nick, who was a vibrant 22-month-old baby.

As a young kid with a wild imagination, Morgan’s aspirations ranged from being a medical doctor to a circus performer. In school, she had signed up for the track team but quickly regretted that decision because she didn’t enjoy sweating. In turn, she decided to start participating in Girls Scouts where they often did indoor activities.

Even at such a young age, Morgan possessed character traits that would undoubtedly lead to a successful future, no matter which avenue she pursued. Not only did she have the uncanny ability to make others laugh, she also never limited herself to experiencing new things. When she was five-years-old, she adopted a kitten she named Emily, and a motherly bond was immediately formed. From then on, the two were thick as thieves and Emily would always be found sleeping next to her at night.

Morgan Nick Cat

The potential Morgan had was very bright. She enjoyed being around others and people loved being around her, but on a summer day in 1995, everything that should have been for Morgan’s future was snuffed out, and the young girl with a heartwarming smile that could make anyone laugh suddenly had an entire community in shambles.

On the warm summer day of Friday, June 9, 1995, Colleen Nick wanted to share an afternoon with her oldest daughter, Morgan, because they hadn’t had a day for themselves in a long while. They planned to visit Alma, Arkansas — a quaint town thirty minutes west where everyone knew each other — to attend a Little League Baseball game with some friends living in the area while Morgan’s grandmother happily babysits her grandchildren.

Later that afternoon, Colleen and Morgan dined on grilled cheese sandwiches they made together before leaving town in their Nissan Stanza a little early, as this was their first time visiting Alma. They arrived at the local park where the baseball game was being held without a hitch and met up with their friends. By the time the game had started, there was a total of 300 people in attendance.

Throughout the entire evening, everyone was having a wonderful time — people could be heard roaring with cheers and laughter on the bleachers, and Morgan would sneakily untie her mother’s tennis shoes when she wasn’t looking for a funny joke. As time carried on, Morgan became restless. At 10:30 p.m. two of Morgan’s friends, 8-year-old Jessica and 10-year-old Tye [last names are omitted] invited her to play in the nearby field 75-yards away to catch lightning bugs. Morgan asked her mother for permission but Colleen was hesitant due to the late hour and being unfamiliar with the area, but her friends assured her everything would be okay because kids often played in the field next to the parking lot without any hiccups.

Colleen ultimately gave her consent but told her to stay in view. Morgan was hard to miss, as her green Girl Scouts t-shirt and white tennis shoes could easily be seen from a distance. Colleen would periodically glance over to check on Morgan and nothing seemed amiss as she and her two friends pranced across the field, where the parking lot light poles loomed over illuminating the area.

Fifteen minutes had quickly passed by and at 10:45 p.m. the baseball game concluded and people were beginning to gather their belongings and walk to their vehicles. Morgan’s two friends, Jessica and Tye, ran back to the bleachers to meet up with their families but Morgan wasn’t present.

Colleen, confused by the situation, asked where Morgan was, but they said she was in the parking lot near her car emptying out sand that filled her shoes from running amok in the field. She frantically ran to her car expecting her daughter to be there, but she wasn’t in sight. Growing more concerned by the second, she alerted one of the baseball coaches and they began asking Jessica and Tye more questions, and alarming new information came to light.

The two said that while they had been playing, a man they characterized as “creepy” approached and spoke to them as they were dumping sand from their shoes. He had been standing beside a faded red colored Ford pickup truck that had a white camper shell. Not too long after, the baseball game had ended and that’s when they ran back to their parents. An immediate search began but Morgan and the eerie man next to the red truck was gone.

The police were called to the scene and they arrived within six minutes. They performed an additional search thoroughly of the parking lot and fields, but the 4-foot-tall, 55-pound girl with blonde hair and blue eyes was nowhere to be found. Interviews were soon conducted with those still at the park. Several eyewitnesses corroborated the children’s testimony and provided additional details on the suspicious male. He was described as a Caucasian male between the ages of 23-38-years-old and spoke with a “hillbilly” accent. He had a medium build at approximately 180 pounds and was estimated to be 6’0 tall, and he had salt and pepper colored hair that was slicked back, with a mustache and a one-inch thick beard. The truck he was driving was a low wheelbase, red Ford pickup with dulled paint and a white camper shell that had curtains on the inside covering the windows. Witnesses noted the camper shell was too short for the bed and there was rear damage on the passenger side.

The unidentified male was the prime suspect in Morgan’s disappearance and was immediately classified as an abduction. It was soon discovered that her vanishing wasn’t the only terrifying event that transpired that day. Earlier that evening in the same town, an unknown male driving a red truck attempted to lure a 4-year-old girl to his vehicle. The abduction was thwarted when the child’s mother intervened and alerted those around her. It’s unclear whether or not the same man presumably responsible for Morgan’s disappearance was behind this attempted abduction, but the coincidences were notable.

Interestingly, the following day after Morgan vanished, another report came through to the police when an unnamed man matching Morgan’s alleged abductor’s description unsuccessfully tried enticing a 9-year-old girl into a men’s restroom inside of a convenience store fifteen miles away from Alma in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

As for Colleen, she refused to return back home to Ozark, Arkansas without her daughter in hand. For the next six weeks, she remained steadfast and took up residence at a volunteer fire station located next door to the police building — doing anything she could fathom to help spread awareness to bring Morgan home. Flyers were made and distributed to locals, placed on the windows of stationary vehicles, and stapled across light poles all throughout the town. Colleen even faxed over urgent letters to President Clinton hoping to get the federal government to react quicker with nationwide bulletins when children go missing.

During this interval of time, a composite sketch was created of Morgan’s possible Morgan Nick Composite 1kidnapper and media coverage quickly swept the state. This resulted in over 4,000 tips and leads, and the police had to purchase a storage shed to file the uncanny amount of information in extra filing cabinets, but none of the leads panned out.

When Colleen returned home she had to break the devastating news to her children. None of them couldn’t fully comprehend the extent of the situation. Logan, the oldest sibling, only knew that Morgan wasn’t home and would frequently ask, “Why did you lose my sister?” as he broke down into tears repeatedly telling his mother to “Go get her,” because he missed playing with her around the house.

One year later in 1996, Colleen commenced the Morgan Nick Foundation in Alma, Arkansas; a non-profit organization that tries to help prevent children from going missing and offers a support system to families who are facing the hardships of a child disappearing. Likewise, the state of Arkansas honored Morgan by renaming their Amber Alert system after her — The Morgan Nick Amber Alert — that connected the police and over 250 radio stations in a statewide emergency broadcast.

In the subsequent years, Colleen relocated to Alma to make things easier for handling the Morgan Nick Foundation. Meanwhile, the police were still acquiring innumerable tips stemming from reported sightings and false confessions to the abduction, but all of them were ruled out or considered unreliable.

Morgan Nick CompositeIn 2001, Morgan’s case garnished a lot of traction. A new composite sketch was unveiled of her believed kidnapper, as well as an age-progression sketch showing what Morgan may look like at her current age of twelve-years-old. On August 28, 2001, the television program Unsolved Mysteries broadcasted her case which created a massive resurgence that resulted in an ample amount of new tips.

One particular tip suggested that Morgan’s body could be located on a private property in Booneville, Arkansas. The information was deemed so specific and credible that the police initiated an immediate examination on January 15, 2002. After a full day of digging with a backhoe, nothing was unearthed and the investigation was concluded at 9:30 p.m.

Morgan Nick Newspaper Wednesday Jan 16 2002.png

In the following years, the police were still receiving regular tips but they were either dead ends or exhausted to their fullest without any positive results, but on the bitterly cold morning of November 16, 2010, a narcotics officer thirty-five miles away in Spiro, Oklahoma, alerted investigators in Crawford County to an abandoned trailer home belonging to a convicted child molester who was serving time in prison. The information supplied wasn’t directly focused on Morgan’s case specifically, but the individual had been considered a viable person of interest since the very beginning of Morgan’s case and hadn’t been ruled out. Detectives in Crawford County assisted with the investigation at the property hoping to locate any DNA evidence pertaining to Morgan but none was uncovered.

Morgan Nick Tonya Smith

Two years later on June 23, 2012 — a little more than 17-years after Morgan disappeared — a brief glimmer of hope emerged and then diminished just as quickly in a despicable turn of events. Tonya Renee Smith, a 24-year-old Hollister, Missouri native who had served time in Louisiana State Prison, tried assuming Morgan Nick’s identity by purchasing vital documents and a birth certificate via the website VitalCheck. Due to the extreme nature of Morgan’s case the police were alerted and on August 2, 2012, Tonya was apprehended in Branson, Missouri. She was soon extradited to Arkansas and spent 120 days in Pulaski County Jail. On February 28, 2013, she was charged with computer fraud and sentenced to six years of probation and ordered to pay a $2,500.00 fine.

Once again, Morgan’s case turned into a standstill, but five years later on December 18, 2017, another seemingly crucial tip regarding a water-well led investigators back to the abandoned trailer home in Spiro, Oklahoma they had searched seven years prior. The LeFlore County Sheriff, Rob Seale, along with the FBI and numerous Cadaver dogs, spent the entire afternoon combing for evidence, but regrettably, their efforts proved fruitless.

It’s now 2018 and Morgan Nick has been missing for nearly 22-years. For the town of Alma, Arkansas, many things have changed since the unfateful day of Morgan’s disappearance, including the baseball field she vanished from, which has since been remodeled into a parking lot, but her spirit still lives on in the community.

Colleen Nick.jpg

At the public library, a bulletin board can be found that features flyers for missing children. There’s also a 5K/1 Mile Walk fundraiser hosted annually that helps provide extra resources for The Morgan Nick Foundation to further help prevent children going missing — an organization that has successfully solved over 40 missing person’s cases –many of whom had gone missing for over twenty years — and returned home safely.

As for Colleen Nick, she remains undaunted that her daughter will be found alive, saying “No one else has to believe it because I believe it enough for everyone. I think there will be people who will be amazed when Morgan comes home.” Though a considerable amount of time has gone by, she continues to fight and pursue closure. While others may not share the same sentiment, Colleen does, and her relentless faith is a testament for anyone struggling with something in their life. Never give up hope.

The Unsolved Murder of Janett Christman

Urban legends have been around for centuries. Typically, there’s always partial truth to the stories, but they tend to become hyperbole as the tales get passed on to other people. In this narrative, the tragic elements became an anecdote that managed to seep into Hollywood and inspire countless of horror films that have since formed into cult classics such as “Halloween” by John Carpenter and “When a Stranger Calls” by Fred Walton. As you will soon see, the reality is much scarier than fiction.

Janett Christmann

Janett Christman was born on March 21, 1936. She was the oldest daughter of Charles and Lula Christman, with a younger sister by 18-months, Reta Christman Smith and a newborn baby, Cheryl Christman Bottorff. The young family of five had been living in Boonville, Missouri before relocating to the small, college-oriented town of Columbia, Missouri, known for its football team, Missouri (Mizzou) Tigers, and were living on the upper floor of the business they owned, Ernie’s Cafe and Steakhouse, where they made an honest and reputable living.

Janett was 13-years-old and an 8th-grade student at Jefferson Junior High School. She was described as a loving churchgoing teenager who had a knack for playing the piano in the choir, intelligent, and independent for her age — working fervently for the things she desired.

On the brisk Saturday of March 18, 1950, there was a dance party being held that evening for students. Janett had been invited to go by several of her friends but declined because he had plans to babysit. She would often babysit for two families that were well acquainted with one another; the Romacks and the Muellers. On this evening, she was going to be tending to Ed and Anne Romack’s 3-year-old son, Gregory, hoping the job would provide enough money for a burgundy colored suit she had been saving up for the upcoming Easter holiday.

Dusk began to settle in and around 7:30 p.m. Janett arrived at the Romacks’ residence. The couple had recently moved to a rural and isolated home on 1015 Stewart Road directly on the outskirts of Columbia. At the time, Anne was pregnant, and due to the recent and exhausting relocation they hadn’t been able to have a night out just for themselves in a long while, so when the chance arose to spend time with friends and play cards, they capitalized on the opportunity.

When Janett arrived, Anne assured her that Gregory enjoyed sleeping with the radio on and he shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. Prior to leaving, Ed quickly taught Janett how to load, unload, and fire the shotgun in case anything transpired. As they were leaving, Ed placed the gun near the front door and said they would be back soon and advised her to lock the door and turn the front porch light on if anyone came knocking. With that, they departed in good spirits and went about their night.

Throughout the evening the weather began to worsen. The temperature dwindled down to the mid-twenties with a storm bringing in the rain and sleet. The robust winds swayed the nearby trees and echoed against the home. Despite the unexpected weather, there was no apparent cause for concern until 10:35 p.m. when Boone County Sheriff’s Department received a frantic phone call.

With the treacherous weather pouring in, the night for local police had been going relatively slow. When the phone suddenly began ringing, officer Ray McCowan picked up the receiver and asked what the emergency was. He was immediately met with the howls of a woman screaming in sheer panic, uttering the words “Come quick!” He tried intervening but the phone line was cut short and a dial tone was all that could be heard.

McCowan knew straightaway the horror emanating from the female caller’s voice was genuine and not a prank by doltish teenagers, but all he could do was anticipate the phone ringing again because the call was too short to provide a trace and the woman didn’t mention any additional information as to what was unfolding or her whereabouts.

Shortly thereafter, Anne Romack called home from the Moon Valley Villa — where she, her husband, the Muellers, and other friends were — to check on Janett and see how the night with Gregory was going, but nobody answered the phone. Considering it was quite late, Anne wasn’t too concerned, presuming Janett had fallen asleep. The Romacks continued to spend a few extra hours away before heading home at approximately 1:15 a.m.

It was 1:35 a.m. when the Romacks pulled into their driveway that was filled with rain and seeping mud. They noticed the porch light was on and the front window blinds were open wide. As Ed began to fiddle with his keys to unlock the front door, he realized it had already been unlocked. He was perplexed because of his instructions to Janett before leaving and as he and Anne walked through the front door they were met with a ghastly discovery.

Three days shy of her 14th birthday, Janett Christman was found sprawled out on the living room floor in a pool of blood soaking through the shagged carpet. She had been violently raped and murdered. Her legs were spread out with her right slipper barely hanging off her foot. There was a head wound from a blunt instrument, multiple puncture wounds from a mechanical pencil, and a cord from an electric iron that had been snipped with a pair of scissors was bound tightly around her neck.

Janett Christman Murder 1

A few feet away was the landline phone dangling off the hook — the reason why Anne was unable to get a response when she called earlier that evening. The sight of this horrifying scene sent Anne into a hectic state as she darted up the stairs to check on her 3-year-old son, Greg, who had been unharmed and shockingly still asleep, oblivious to the horror awaiting downstairs.

Ed Romack hastily dialed the police and they he were dispatched immediately. Sheriff Glen Powell from Boone County’s Sheriff’s Department arrived with numerous detectives and bloodhounds. Unfortunate complications soon arose, however, when Lt. Joe Douglas from the city police — a different jurisdiction that hadn’t any authority since the Romacks lived 100-yards out of city limits — arrived at the scene and attempted to take reign of the investigation. The battle of leadership had the separate agencies being uncooperative with one another, and though answers unraveled quickly, there were many disagreements amongst the two groups.

Inside of the home were clear indications Janett had resisted her attacker. Blood smears and fingerprints were found in the living room and kitchen, where the back door had been unlocked and left ajar. As the police followed the trail outside, the search dogs managed to track the assailant’s scent one mile up from Stewart Rd. to West Boulevard and across West Ash St. before losing the trail. Back at the crime scene, an adult male’s footprints were found near a side window of the residence that had been shattered with a garden hoe, where several authorities believed the perpetrator had gained entry, primarily due to muddy papers found on the piano that was situated nearby.

The method of entry is where the two jurisdictions collided. Due to Ed’s instructions he gave Janett, many detectives suspected the perpetrator knew Janett and tried appearing friendly to get inside. This theory was substantiated by the front porch light being turned on, as he told Janett to do if someone came to the door, the loaded shotgun nearby untouched, and the apparent knowledge as to where to locate the electric iron to use the cord for a murder weapon.

With this prevailing theory, law enforcement worked twelve-hour shifts tirelessly performing stakeouts and canvassing surrounding areas under the suspicion the killer may return to the scene to relish in what he had accomplished. Likewise, the police sought assistance from the public, asking for locals to call in if they see anything peculiar or anyone they know acting differently than normal.

Meanwhile, local officers had gone around questioning Janett’s friends, family, and students from her school. During this process, along with local residents phoning in possible leads, potential suspects were formed. However, it quickly became evident that a racial bias was present because the majority of the men brought in for questioning were black men in the community who were unwarrantedly deemed suspicious. Nevertheless, this tactic was fruitless and the police were no closer to resolving Janett’s murder.

This wasn’t the first rape and murder to befall Columbia, Missouri. Four years earlier on Marylou Jenkinsthe bitterly cold night of February 5, 1946, 20-year-old Marylou Jenkins had been brutally murdered in a similar manner to Janett.

Marylou was at home alone — coincidentally less than a mile away two blocks over from the Romack Residence — while her mother spent the evening a few houses away tending to an elderly couple, while her father was out of town conducting business. When Marylou’s mother had to spend the night away down the street, they conjured up a plan to alert one another if something was amiss. Their scheme was to turn on a light, lift up the shades, and place a phone call.

Late into the night, Marylou’s mother noticed a light on in her house with the shades up, but since she never received a phone call she didn’t believe anything was wrong. The following morning when she returned home, she stumbled upon the gut-wrenching scene of her daughter deceased on the living room floor. She had been raped and strangled with an extension cord.

Marylou Jenkins Newspaper

Two weeks later, Floyd Cochran, a 35-year-old disabled trash hauler, was arrested for savagely murdering his wife. Afterward, he attempted to commit suicide but was unsuccessful. Once the police were aware of what transpired, they took him into custody. Floyd willingly admitted without any remorse that he murdered his wife.

Considering the timeline of events and the desperate need to solve Marylou’s murder, Boone County investigators interrogated Floyd for ten hours, where he supposedly made incriminating statements that led to his guilt, and he later confessed to the crime, despite no evidence connecting him to the murder.

Floyd was subsequently sentenced to die on September 26, 1947, via the gas chamber. A few hours before being executed, he recanted his alleged confession. It was later discovered he was coerced to give a false confession, but the deed had already been done and Marylou’s death is considered solved.

A series of prowlers and peeping Toms would emerge in the following years, and in the late months of 1949, the activity increased with a string of sexual assaults.

The first rape occurred several days before Halloween. A 16-year-old teenager was babysitting on East Sunset Lane, when an unidentified male wearing a white homemade mask with holes cut out for eyes, broke into the residence and violated the young woman in the living room.

The following month on November 29, 1949, 18-year-old Stephens College student, Sally Johnson, became the next target. She lived one block away from where the prior victim was attacked and was home alone falling asleep on the sofa while watching television when an unknown male gained entry and attempted to violate her. Thankfully, she resisted her attacker and was left unharmed, as the perpetrator panicked and fled from the home.

On the very next day, another more brazen incident occurred. A college student enrolled at the University of Missouri was on a date with her boyfriend. They were at Hinkson Creek — a lover’s lane — and in their vehicle when a man draped in a white hood and brandishing a firearm appeared and ordered them out of the car. They did as he instructed and he forced the couple several yards away. He proceeded to rob and bind the male, then ordered the female to walk. When they were a considerable distance away, he sexually assaulted the female and sprinted away from the crime scene.

Days later on December 4, 1949, a 26-year-old black male named Jake Bradford had been arrested after the police caught him in the act of peeping inside a young woman’s window. Bradford spent a week in jail and after intense questioning, he confessed to assaulting the 16-year-old in October and the attempted rape of 18-year-old Sally Johnson, even though she was brought in to ask if he was the perpetrator and was unable to provide an adequate answer.

Nevertheless, the reports of peculiar prowlers and rapes in the area diminished. The police believed they apprehended the right man, and locals began to feel a sense of relief, then all of a sudden the nightmare resurfaced when the tragedy fell upon Janett Christman, with shocking parallels to Marylou Jenkins, causing many people to cast doubt on law enforcement’s original affirmation.

As the police continued on with their investigation into Janett Christman’s murder, one prime suspect named Robert Mueller materialized, and the circumstantial evidence against him began piling up heavily.

Mueller was 27-years-old and friends with Ed Romack since high school. After graduation, Mueller served in World War II as an Army Air Corps Captain and had a distinguishable record. He later returned to Columbia, Missouri, overlooking his father’s restaurant, Mueller’s Virginia Cafe, and working as a tailor. Many people remember him for dressing well and always carrying around a mechanical pencil in his front shirt or jacket pocket.

When Mueller and Ed Romack reacquainted, they shared mutual friends and would frequently spend time together. According to Ed, he had a lustful eye for virgin women and spoke about having a desire to defile someone young. Moreover, he knew Janett since she babysat for him on numerous occasions, and Ed recalled him making lecherous comments about her well-developed hips and breasts.

Additionally, Mueller’s lewd behavior stemmed over to Ed’s wife, Anne, who felt uncomfortable around him because of his uninvited sexual advancements. Much to her dismay, one day before Janett’s murder Mueller had been visiting the home helping Anne hemp a dress and reportedly tried groping her breasts. In a formal statement given to police, Anne described Mueller as a man who “doesn’t use words, he uses his hands.”

The oddities didn’t end there, however. The morning of Janett’s death, Robert contacted Janett to ask if she would babysit his children for the night, but she declined because she already had prearrangements to look after the Romacks’ son. Furthermore, Mueller attended the gathering with the Romacks and their mutual friends but hours into the party he excused himself claiming he had to meet a doctor who was meant to tend to his son. Mueller disappeared for two hours before returning to the party. The police questioned Mueller’s doctor and discovered he never went to the Mueller residence that evening.

To implicate Robert even further, Ed Romack got a phone call from Mueller at his father’s home on the morning after the murder. Supposedly, he had asked if he needed any assistance with cleaning up the blood throughout the house. However, he shouldn’t have known about the tragedy that took place because the crime hadn’t been printed in the local newspaper yet.

Additionally, Ed claimed Mueller would later speak to him regarding the crime and began expounding on how he believed the crime unfolded, claiming that breaking a window to climb into the home would be too loud and noticeable. Instead, it would be much easier to knock on the door and say, “Ed sent me here to get poker chips.”

The circumstantial evidence against Mueller was staggering and overwhelming. In May 1950, law enforcement compiled all the evidence against him and went to his residence to speak with him. Rather than following the basic guidelines of an arrest warrant and interview procedure, the officers didn’t take him into custody — rather, they transported him to a farmhouse outside of city limits and interrogated him at length throughout the course of the night. Mueller was subsequently taken to the state capital, Jefferson City, where he was given a polygraph test and passed.

With the unfortunate results of the lie detector test, the detectives had to let Mueller go free. However, all of the evidence pointed in his direction and the court judge, W.M. Dinwiddle, felt compelled to arrange a grand jury to investigate Mueller’s case further.

Over time and legal issues, Robert Mueller was never charged because of the profound level of incompetence police conducted during their investigation into him. These intertwined factors led Mueller to not be apprehended and he later sued the police department but lost the lawsuit. Afterward, he relocated with his family to Tuscon, Arizona, and in 2006 he passed away at 83-years-old.

After everything that had transpired in the small town of Columbia, it seemed as if all families involved in some form or another needed to uproot their lives from the haunting memories and start anew. The Romacks moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho, and lived with sincere regret that conclusive answers were never given. In the 1980s, Anne passed away. Ed eventually remarried and in 2016 he passed away at 93-years-old. As for his son, Gregory, he grew up successful and settled down in Alaska.

The Christman family remained in Columbia and continued running their business until Janett’s father, Charles Christman, passed away on September 24, 1974, at 60-years-old. After his death, his wife Lula Christman moved to Kansas City, where she would remain until her passing in 2009. Her oldest daughter, Reta, would settle down with a wonderful man and start a family of her own, while the youngest daughter Cheryl — who was only a baby at the time of Janet’s murder — moved to Florida.

It’s now been 68 years, and the once loving, hard-working, and independent 13-year-old who was saving up for a burgundy dress for Easter, would have been 82-years-old on March 21, 2018. While the Romacks and the Christman family believed Robert Mueller is responsible for Janett’s murder, they were painfully stricken with the unsatisfaction for receiving legal justice and closure, and the case officially remains unsolved.

 

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.