Sleuth Won't Give Up on Women Missing for 17 Years
What happened to these women, the "Springfield Three"?
Stacy McCall, left, Sherrill Levitt, center, and Suzie Streeter
Missing Person issues
EDITOR'S NOTE: Here at LA Community Policing we've presented numerous stories of "missing people," including this one ,which we covered extensively last year on our "Community Matters" radio talk show.
Episode 006 which aired on July 2, 2009, was hosted by Sandy Nazemi and featured her friend Alex as our special guest. He'd created a web site devoted to the case, which we're happy to re-post now: http://www.airalex.com/missing.html.
If you'd like to hear the archived radio show on demand CLICK HERE.
Visiting "missing persons" sites is a simple way community members can participate in helping to resolve these mysteries, which frustrate law enforcement and haunt the families of the missing. LACP will continue to post stories about missing adults and children, in the hopes our readers can lend a hand.
Sleuth Won't Give Up on Women Missing for 17 Years
Stacy McCall, left, Sherrill Levitt, center, and Suzie Streeter disappeared from Levitt's home on June 7, 1992. Levitt and Streeter are mother and daughter. "I had never worked a case like it before then and have not worked one like it since," former Springfield police Sgt. Mark Webb told AOL News.
by David Lohr
(April 10) -- Two teens and a mother disappeared in Springfield, Mo., almost 18 years ago. Their bodies have not been found, the case has not been solved. Police say there is no evidence to determine what happened to Sherrill Levitt, Suzie Streeter and Stacy McCall, the "Springfield Three," as the case has been called.
But the former lead investigator and a local journalist refuse to let it go. They believe that finding the answers has been hindered by a mismanaged investigation and the refusal to follow leads provided by new technologies that indicate where the remains of the women might be buried.
At the time of the women's disappearance, Webb worked as the lead investigator in the case. He is no longer with the Springfield Police Department but remains in law enforcement as the chief of police in nearby Marionville.
Local reporter and independent investigator Kathee Baird, who has been following the case since 2005, is also critical of the investigation.
"We have evidence suggesting where these women could be, and they are ignoring it," Baird told AOL News. "It makes no sense. I don't know what's wrong with this department."
Disappearance of the 'Springfield Three'
On June 6, 1992, McCall, 18, and Streeter, 19, attended a party after their graduation from Kickapoo High School, according to Webb. The women originally intended to stay at a hotel, but throughout the night their plans changed several times. They finally decided to spend the night at Streeter's house with her mother, 47-year-old Levitt. The teens arrived at Levitt's East Delmar Street home at about 2:15 a.m.
McCall and Streeter had planned a trip to an amusement park on the afternoon of June 7, Webb says, but when their friends arrived to meet them at Streeter's house, no one was home.
The women's vehicles were parked in the driveway. The friends also observed a broken porch light. They cleaned up the broken glass and went inside the unlocked house, thinking the women might have gone for a walk. When they still didn't show up, the friends called the police, Webb says.
He got the case the next day.
Webb says all of the women's personal belongings, including their purses and clothing, were discovered inside the house. Levitt's Yorkshire terrier, Cinnamon, was also there. Investigators found no sign of a struggle or evidence of foul play, other than the broken porch light.
One of the few leads investigators had was the sighting of a green Dodge van in the area at the time the women went missing, but they had no way of knowing who owned it.
"We interviewed friends, ex-boyfriends, relatives and people that were at the parties," Webb said.
The police conducted several searches in the area but found nothing of interest.
By September 1992, Fox's "America's Most Wanted," NBC's "Unsolved Mysteries" and CBS's "48 Hours" all had run feature stories on the case.
One of the tips authorities received as a result of the publicity indicated the women's bodies were on a farm in Webster County. A search warrant was obtained, but authorities found no evidence of value.
Leads continued to trickle in, but Webb says there were other things going on that hindered the investigation.
Investigator: Case Was an 'Emotional Ride'
Former Police Chief Terry Knowles micromanaged the case and questioned possible suspects himself. Information obtained was not properly shared among the investigators, Webb says.
"The whole case was so unusual in the way it was conducted," he said. "It became a very politically charged environment, and people started taking sides. [It] was not only an emotional ride for the family but [also] for the investigators. It was also a career-ender for some of the officers, and I was one.
"I didn't quit or get fired, [but] I ended up getting reassigned because of disagreements over the way the case was going."
Webb is not the only person connected to the case who has spoken about problems in the investigation. In 2002, George Larbey, former president of the Springfield Police Officers Association, told the Springfield News-Leader that detectives did not think Knowles had confidence in them.
"If your highest command tells you how it's going to be, simply put, that's how it's going to be," Larbey said. "Detectives felt powerless. ... The newer guys wouldn't have any idea what was going on, that this wasn't normally the way we did business."
Knowles, who is retired, could not be reached for comment. But he gave an interview to the same reporter for a story about the 10th anniversary of the disappearance. He acknowledged being heavily involved in the case.
"I don't recall that being an issue back then," he said then about the criticism. "What anyone wants to say 10 years later -- I can't control that. It's certainly disappointing, and it's frustrating at the time to be doing everything you possibly can.''
Despite all the in-fighting, the case went to a federal grand jury in August 1994. At the time, authorities allegedly had three suspects on their radar. One of them was Robert Craig Cox .
Suspect Robert Cox
Cox had served time on death row in Florida for the 1978 beating death of 19-year-old Sharon Zellers. That conviction was later thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled that there was not enough evidence to tie him to the crime. After his release, he was taken into custody in California in connection with a 1985 kidnapping. He moved back to his hometown, Springfield, after serving that sentence.
"He was working outside Sherrill and Suzie's house at the time, doing underground cable work," Stacy McCall's mother, Janis McCall, told AOL News.
Cox was questioned about the women's disappearance, but police were unable to find enough evidence to link him to the case. In 1995, Texas police questioned Cox about an abduction in Plano. He was later arrested in Decatur for holding a gun on a child during a robbery. He is behind bars and is not eligible for parole until 2025. He has not been contacted.
Springfield police Lt. David Millsap has confirmed that Cox was questioned in regard to the case.
"He was interviewed several years ago," Millsap said, adding, "I would not classify that he has been ruled out. Nobody at this point has been ruled out as a suspect."
Tips Kept Coming In
Not long after the five-year anniversary of the women's disappearance, Streeter's and Levitt's relatives had them officially declared dead. McCall's parents refused to take the same action.
"We chose not to because my feeling is if Stacy ever comes back, she'll say, 'You didn't have any faith that I'd ever be back,'" said Janis McCall. "I want her to know that she's not declared dead."
In the wake of her daughter's disappearance, McCall founded One Missing Link, an organization that helps families of missing people.
"When a person goes missing, we will help them, and if they are in the immediate area, we will go out, at the request of law enforcement, and help them with a search," McCall said.
During the summer of 2002, authorities received another tip. The tipster told police that two men who worked for a local concrete company and drove a green van had placed the women's bodies on land in Webster County. A two-week search of the property again yielded nothing. The following year, a similar search, with the same results, was conducted south of Cassville.
Five years ago, reporter and independent investigator Baird took an interest in the case.
"I was visiting my mother, and my son looked at me and said, 'Mom, you have to help find out what happened to those ladies. You are supposed to be safe in your house.' Out of the mouth of a 10-year-old. That always stuck with me," Baird said.
From that point on, Baird immersed herself in the case, conducting her own investigation. As news of her work spread, she began receiving her own tips, many of which directed her to the same location.
"It kept leading me to a parking garage at Cox South Hospital," Baird said. "Some of the original suspects allegedly had connections to the location, and it was under construction at the time the girls went missing. Several tipsters felt the girls had been buried there prior to the cement being poured."
Parking Garage May Be Burial Site
Authorities were hesitant to look at the parking garage. They did not think that tips pointing to it were credible and told members of the media that they had come from psychics.
Webb says the Springfield Police Department had received several tips pointing to the location when he was the lead investigator on the case, but not all of them were from crackpots or psychics.
"[The parking garage] was under construction in that area at the time," Webb said. "We heard early on that they were buried under concrete in new construction or they were buried under a parking lot."
Baird asked a man who operates a micropower impulse radar system to examine the cement floor in the parking garage. She was hoping that his experimental equipment might be able to detect dental mercury or precious metals or stones, suggesting the presence of jewelry.
The results of the scan proved to be interesting; however, Baird realized she would need a more reliable way to examine the area. In June 2006, she asked Rick Norland, a ground-penetrating radar specialist, to conduct a scan of the area.
Norland has experience in locating bodies beneath the earth and has successfully found graves in the past. He was also one of the experts selected to help at ground zero in New York City following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"[Baird] did not give me any details or indication of how many bodies might be there," Norland told AOL news.
Soon after beginning the scan, Norland says he discovered three anomalies roughly 3 feet below the surface of the cement. Two were side by side; the third was by itself. The anomalies were about 2 feet wide, and the soil changes were between 5 and 7 feet long. The equipment cannot show bones but is capable of showing voids one would expect to see if something is buried underground.
"These anomalies are very consistent with what a gravesite would look like," Norland said. "The next thing would be to come back in and do positive identification by a core sample -- drill down through there and poke a camera or some sort of device in there and examine what is there. That way you can determine what that anomaly is."
Both Baird and Norland took their findings to police.
"We talked to the police a couple times, and they are very skeptical of the equipment and what I did," Norland said. "The detectives said, 'I don't know what it is.' They were very adamant about not proceeding forward."
Baird took her findings to the media but Sgt. Mike Owen initially responded that the information was not worth spending "the thousands of dollars" it would take to verify it. After Baird agreed to cover the cost of a core, which was quoted at between $200 and $400, Owen said his department had spoken with its own expert, who discounted Norland's findings.
"It would be impossible to see what this man [Norland] claims he has seen," Owen said in an October 2007 interview with KY3.com.
AOL News provided copies of images that were taken of Norland's scan to two independent experts.
"Even had I not known what the story was about, there is definitely a break in the normal soil layers. This does not mean that there are buried bodies there, but there seem to be anomalies in this screen shot," Bryan Bacheller, manager of Digital Concrete Imaging Inc. in Florida, said in an e-mail.
Sean Henady, founder of the missing-person search and recovery group 3View Search Services, agrees.
"Myself and some experts I work with looked at the images, and we feel the location should be looked at closer and possibly cored," Henady said. "We would only need to do a 2-inch core to qualify the location."
Lt. Millsap said he could not comment on any of the details of the ground-penetrating radar search without reviewing the entire case file.
"That was discussed, but I don't have any knowledge about anything," he said. "I would tell you that all credible leads have been followed up on. I know the incident you're talking about, and I don't know how much involvement the department had."
On Tuesday, Stacy Fender, media relations coordinator at CoxHealth, told AOL News she would check to see if officials at the hospital would allow an independent team, such as 3View Search Services, to re-examine the spot and possibly take a core sample. Fender responded via e-mail Wednesday.
"We consider this to be a matter for the Springfield Police Department and the Greene County Prosecutor's Office and remain willing to cooperate with any investigation they would like to pursue," she wrote.
It's still unclear why the Springfield Police Department won't take the time to examine the parking garage. Even students at Missouri Southern State University are baffled.
"I don't understand why they won't dig," said Nikki Rush, whose criminal justice group examined the case as part of a class project. "They went to several places on hunches and dug, so what would be wrong with checking this one? That's the big question for everybody right now. Prove them wrong that there are no bodies there or prove there are."
Janis McCall does not believe her daughter is buried beneath the parking garage and says she is not even convinced her daughter is dead.
"I have no reason not to believe she is alive because they have found no sign that she is dead," McCall said. "Realistically, I have to admit there is a good possibility, probably 99 percent, that she is dead, but if there is a possibility, even 1 percent or a half a percent, as her mother, I am going to keep it at the forefront and say she's still alive." Meanwhile, Baird says she is willing to be proved wrong.
"If I am wrong, they are more than welcome to go on any TV show and say, 'See, we told you so,' " she said.