Friday, July 16, 2010

‎"Reconnecting can lead to connection in case"

‎"Reconnecting can lead to connection in case"
By James Roth
The Carrollton Leader
July 16, 2010

A 1988 missing persons’ case involving two popular Carrollton girls is drawing new attention because of modern technology.

On March 19, 1988, Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley were two normal girls who attended Newman Smith High School just months away from graduation. However, after that night, the city of Carrollton was changed forever.

That evening, Madison and Smalley traveled to many locations across the Metroplex. According to police, the girls went to the mall, then to a friends party in Arlington and then to a Steak and Ale restaurant in Addison where Smalley worked.

"It is hard to know exactly every spot they stopped at that night. If this were to happen today we would have been able to pin locations using cells phones and other technology," said Sgt. Joel Payne, lead detective on the case. "We talked to people at the party that took place in Arlington and found nothing there."

Payne said that once the girls left the restaurant their whereabouts and location are unknown. He said the next day phone calls were made by both Madison and Smalley’s parents but the police were not notified.

"This was Carrollton in 1988, bad things did not happen in this city," Payne said. "Both girls were very responsible, so the red flags of something horribly wrong did not go off in either household."

The following Monday, Madison’s father went to Newman Smith High School to see if the girls were in school. After talking to a security guard, Madison’s father found out that the girls were not at school and notified the police.

Madison’s car, a 1967 Ford Mustang, was found in the parking lot of the El Fenix restaurant at the intersection of Webb Chapel and Forrest Lane.

According to Payne, in 1988 Forrest Lane was a very popular place for people to drive around and hang out. He said once people became aware of the situation, leads began to come in from everywhere.

"We had all sorts of leads, from psychics calling in to people saying they saw them on a bus in New Mexico," Payne said. "Unfortunately nothing solid came in until that summer."

That summer, an ex-boyfriend of one of the girls admitted to his new girlfriend that he was involved in the disappearance of the girls. According to Payne, that lead was looked into but nothing conclusive was found.

As time went on, the months and years passed and the case became cold. Payne said while leads are continually worked, there is not enough evidence to figure out what actually took place.

Interest in the case was renewed when Carrollton resident Shawn Sutherland wrote the book "This Night Wounds Time: The Mysterious Disappearance of Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley," telling the girls story.

Payne said that the book did not provide any new evidence on that night but it did make him think differently about how the night progressed.

"In talking to the author and looking back over everything I began to make different connections that were not there before," Payne said. "I began to start the whole investigation from scratch. I pulled in some of the original witnesses and began to verify things."

According to Payne, he was amazed at the memory that many people still had of that night.

"The disappearance of these girls is a benchmark for an entire generation of Carrollton residents," Payne said. "People know where they were and what they were doing. They are connected to that moment in time."

Payne said because so many people from Carrollton are connected to that moment in time, the conversation about the girls disappearance has never gone away. He said new forms of communication such as social networking has helped police bring in new witnesses to gather information about the girls.

"Facebook groups are huge," Payne said. "There is a Facebook group about these girls and people post information about them all the time. We are able to contact them and make connections."

Payne said that individuals who were friends with Madison and Smalley are now adults with children who are 17 or 18 years old, and they do not want another incident like this to occur.

"People are coming forward now and talking more openly about details that night," Payne said. "Back in 1988, someone we questioned might not have said something because they did not want there friend to get in trouble with their parents, or get themselves in trouble."

Payne said the culmination of technology and friends of Madison and Smalley now having children of their own are sparking interest in this case once again.

"We have been able to get a better feel for what took place that night because of things like people talking on Facebook," Payne said. "The better the description we get and the more people we talk to only help us."

Anyone with information about the disappearance of Madison and Smalley can contact the Carrollton Police Department at 972-466-3335.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"'88 case of missing teens gets jump-start"

"'88 case of missing teens gets jump-start: Book spurs investigators to re-examine episode that shook Carrollton"
By Jon Nielsen
The Dallas Morning News
July 6, 2010

The poster is from another generation.

A dozen tiny pinpricks above the words "MISSING PERSONS" mark where the flier has been tacked and retacked onto a bulletin board in the Carrollton Police Department lobby.

Below the block text pounded out on an old typewriter are pictures of the two teens missing since 1988.

Stacie Madison and Susan Renee Smalley stare back from their senior class photos. Their smiles, frozen in time, express youthful optimism.

Thousands of Carrollton residents remember the days and weeks after the teens vanished. They remember the posters scattered about the city and in the windows of businesses up and down Forest Lane, a popular teen hangout where the girls disappeared.

Time passed. The headlines subsided. As Carrollton grew, the memory faded until a full-time paralegal decided to write a book that reignited the investigation.

'Tell their story'

The case invaded Shawn Sutherland's sleep.

Sutherland, who was 24 in 1988 and had grown up in Carrollton, was haunted for years by the girls' disappearance.

Then, one night last year, Sutherland awakened with this phrase racing through his mind: "Tell their story."

Sutherland, now 46, spent much of his free time studying and writing articles about cults. After his epiphany last spring, he put a project about a California cult leader on hold so that he could write the tale of the missing teens. He called the book he self-published last fall This Night Wounds Time: The Mysterious Disappearances of Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley.

Carrollton police had never closed the case. It sat inactive, like a jigsaw puzzle missing pieces, until Sutherland wrote his book.

"I was thinking I was going to write a book that maybe stirred citizens up. ... Maybe that would force police to do something," Sutherland said.

2 months from graduation

Stacie, 17, and Susan, 18, set to graduate in two months from Carrollton Newman Smith High School, were determined to make the last night of spring break count. They planned a sleepover at Susan's place and were determined to find a good party. It was March 19, 1988.

Stacie had endured the SAT earlier that Saturday and was waiting at home for Susan to drop by. Ida Madison, Stacie's mother, permed her daughter's shoulder-length blond hair as they waited.

After Susan arrived, the teens pranced out the front door to Stacie's pristine yellow 1967 Mustang convertible. As they headed to the car, Ida reminded them about her midnight curfew.

"How will you know we'll be in?" Susan joked.

"You never know when I'll call," Ida said.

The girls planned nothing that night. In typical teenage fashion, they wandered around town. They went to the mall, dropped by Susan's house, and then went to a friend's party in Arlington. They didn't stay at the apartment long, left about 10 p.m. and returned to Susan's house in Carrollton. They called the Arlington apartment again at 12:01 a.m.

Between 12:30 and 1 a.m., they went to a Steak and Ale restaurant in Addison where Susan worked. Susan talked to a boy whom she wanted to date, and then the girls left in the Mustang, the convertible top down.

It was the last time they were seen alive.

Police discovered Stacie's car at Webb Chapel Road and Forest Lane the following Tuesday. The doors were locked, the convertible top fastened shut. It was about 45 degrees the morning of their disappearance, but the girls' jackets were found on the car's floorboard on top of Stacie's boombox.

The girls' families never thought that the teens would have run away. Susan's mother is sure something sinister happened that morning.

"There's a chance they might walk through the door. In your mind you think that might happen," said Carol Audett, Susan's mother. "But I know my daughter. She wouldn't have just left."

A fresh start

Sutherland began working on the book in April 2009. After his daylong shifts as a patent law paralegal in a downtown Dallas high-rise, he stayed up as late as 2 a.m. pecking the pages out on his keyboard in his Richardson home.

Sutherland, who has a stubbly salt-and-pepper beard and an arch of baldness across his head, binged on sandwiches and Pop-Tarts. The diet added about 20 pounds to his already husky frame.

For nearly eight months he wrote, researched and interviewed everyone from the original case detectives to the girls' high school teachers.

The book didn't reveal new details about that night in 1988, but it came at a time when Carrollton police were re-examining cold cases. His efforts prompted investigators to take a closer look.

"What this book did was push the full reset button," said Carrollton police Sgt. Joel Payne. "We threw out all the assumptions, and we started from scratch."

The department and Payne, the lead detective, are throwing new resources into the case. The Denton County district attorney's office also assigned an investigator after learning of a connection in its county.

With the case revived, investigators are re-examining theories dismissed long ago. There's a heightened urgency to get anyone with information about the case to come forward.

"Somebody knows something out there. Good, bad, rumor, we don't care. We just need to put some pieces together," said Denton County investigator Jerry Pomposelli.

Some who have remained silent for 22 years are providing information about the night the girls disappeared. Detectives won't reveal what that information is, but they say it's credible.

Payne said they need more.

"What I need is something somebody's been holding on to for 22 years," Payne said.