Sunday, March 17, 2013
25 years after Carrollton teens went missing, vigil aims to draw out clues
By DIANNE SOLÍSThe Dallas Morning News
CARROLLTON — The gray granite memorial stone to Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley has served to honor them for the last 25 years at Newman Smith High School. The stone was provided by a funeral home, though the two high school seniors never had a burial.
The two girls were never heard from after they disappeared in March 1988, during spring break. Now, a community wants to prove they were never forgotten.
A candlelight vigil will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at their high school. Former classmates, family, neighbors and old friends are expected to reunite to remember — and maybe stir the memories of others who might have clues to the mystery of the girls’ disappearance.
“She was a wonderful daughter,” 68-year-old Ida Madison said of her firstborn. “I miss her every day.”
After Stacie’s disappearance, Madison became a full-time teacher at Newman Smith for a year and would pass by the stone regularly. It gave her some comfort, she said, even when students asked if she was related to Stacie.
Rich Smalley, Susan’s only sibling, praised his little sister, who disappeared when he was a junior at Texas Tech in Lubbock.
“She was there for her friends at all times,” he said.
In 2012, the FBI took entries for about 661,600 people reported as missing. Four out of five of them were under the age of 21 — like Stacie and Susan.
Stacie was 17 and Susan was 18 when they were last seen at the Addison restaurant where Susan worked. Stacie’s family car, a light yellow Mustang convertible, was found on Forest Lane, then a popular northwest Dallas strip with a movie theater and a drive-in burger joint that seemed lifted from sets in the coming-of-age movie American Graffiti.
Their disappearance was a loss with many universal threads. What parent couldn’t relate to the dangers their teenagers face? The possibility the teens were cruising on Forest Lane reminded many of their own youth — and its fragility.
‘Could have been us’
Lisa Sutter lived around the corner from the Smalley family. In 1988, she was raising two daughters herself. For the W.T. White High School graduate, nearby Forest Lane was memory lane.
“That could have been us,” said Sutter, who is now a Carrollton City Council member and plans to attend the vigil. “It hit home.”
It continues to do so. There are so many excursions that parents can’t allow their children to take these days, Sutter said. Yet there is a time when they must leave the nest.
Joe Pouncy was a teacher at Newman Smith when the two girls disappeared. Today, he is the principal.
“They were in my classes. I used to tell all the girls, ‘It is spring break now: Be careful.’ I would call roll …” he said, his voice drifting off.
Pouncy plans to attend the vigil, too.
Shawn Sutherland attended Newman Smith but graduated six years before the Class of ’88. He had come home for spring break and heard the news of the disappearance. “Probably partying at Padre Island,” he thought.
For years, he wondered what happened to the two students. Three years ago, he became so obsessed with the cold case that he decided to write a book. He self-published it under the title This Night Wounds Time: The Mysterious Disappearances of Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley.
Now a 48-year-old paralegal well-schooled in research methods, Sutherland remains obsessed with the case. He plans to update his book.
He never met Stacie. But Sutherland believes he once met Susan at the Addison restaurant where she worked, and her sunny personality made an impression.
His sympathy for the two families runs deep.
“That is their loved one, and for 25 years they don’t know what became of them?” he says, pausing for effect. “I can’t imagine living one day like that.”
Case remains open
Janie White wondered as well. She had worked with Stacie at a McDonald’s. One day, soon after Sutherland’s book was published, she searched the Web, found the book and decided to step forward with potential clues.
“She was just a really smart and sweet girl … a baton twirler,” White said.
Stacie had tearfully confided in Janie, her older co-worker, about problems with her boyfriend.
Janie also knew him. “Controlling” is her description.
“Possessive” is the description Stacie’s mother uses.
The man took a polygraph test back in 1988 and passed. He allegedly told another young woman that he killed the pair and gave a location where the girls were buried. That area, in Lewisville near State Highway 121, has been searched. The man, now living in another state, later denied he made such statements.
But through the years, suspicions remain.
Carrollton police never closed the case, a police spokesman confirmed.
“We are happy to try as much as we can,” said police spokesman Jon Stovall.
A Facebook page — “Never Forget Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley” — asks anyone with information to call Carrollton police.
Though the Madisons’ Mustang was found on Forest Lane in Dallas, the car wasn’t searched for fingerprints by either Dallas or Carrollton police, Sutherland said.
“That has been a sore point ever since,” Sutherland said, though he defends the job investigators are doing now.
White, now 47, said, “I didn’t go to the police then because I didn’t think it was pertinent.”
But now she has, guarding details. She encourages others to come forward and hopes the vigil she is planning for Tuesday will draw out some clues.
“Someone knows something,” White said.
Madison echoed White.
“I firmly believe there are people who know more.”