Tabitha Tuders (Missing Person)

Date:
April 29, 2003 (Tuesday)

Location:
1312 Lillian Street, Nashville, TN

Situation:
Missing

Tabitha Danielle Tuders

Nickname: Boo
Alternative Name: Unknown

Disappearance

Missing from: 1312 Lillian St, Nashville, TN
Date Missing: April 29, 2003 (Tuesday)
Taken By: Unknown

Circumstances:

Tabitha Tuders

Tabitha Tuders was an excellent student in 7th grade, with straight A’s and perfect attendance at the Bailey Middle School she was attending. She had just brought home an excellent report card going into the end of the term and she was looking forward to a trip to Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in early May. Neighbors said she could sometimes be smart with adults and friends noted she complained about babysitting her sister’s children, but these were likely just part of growing up.

Tabitha was a cheerful and friendly child, active in her neighborhood and the local community. She often visited with her more elderly neighbors and had recently become an active member of her friend’s church, singing in the choir and eagerly participating in church activities. Tabitha is remembered fondly as a friendly girl with ‘limitless energy’ who enjoyed watching horror films with friends and hanging out with her family (Link 1, Link 2). Her family consisted of:

  • Tabitha
  • Jamie (older sister by 8 years)
    • Jaime was also dating a young man who had been living at the home previously. He will prove relevant later on.
  • Kevin (older brother by 12 years)
  • Debra (mother)
  • Irvin (aka ‘Bo’) (father)

The Preceding Events

On April 28, 2003, Tabitha met with her friends at school as usual and asked one of them (Roni Villescaz) to stop by Tuesday afternoon and help her babysit.

She then spent the evening with another friend’s family (Chelsea Crague) at a softball game, seemingly her happy and normal self.

That night she returned home, where she ended up sleeping in her parents’ room while Jamie slept in Tabitha’s room. Tabitha would apparently often end up in her parent’s room at night, sleeping on a pile of pillows and blankets arranged on the floor at the foot of their bed. Her parents said she felt safe there.

The Disappearance

The morning of April 29 dawned much like any other school day, as the family began to prepare for the day. Around 6:00am, Debra headed off to work while Tabitha slept in a while longer. Bo then woke her up around 7:00am to get ready for school. He headed out to work a few minutes later, expecting Tabitha to walk to the bus stop per usual to catch the 8:05am bus. Jamie claims she woke up after Tabitha left and the two did not speak that morning.

Tabitha left sometime after 7:30am, not taking a backpack but proudly carrying her most recent report card back to school.

Neighbors have confirmed seeing her walking down the block, towards the bus stop at 14th Street and Boscobel St. The path should have only taken her 10 minutes, and Tabitha was known to follow the same path daily.

Some of the witnesses noted she appeared to be casually meandering down the hill towards the bus stop looking at papers in her hands. It did not appear that she was in a hurry or looking for anyone. The last confirmed sighting was at 7:50am, fifteen minutes before her bus was expected to arrive (Link).

Map of the area from 1312 Lillian Street to the bus stop at 14th and Boscobel in Tabitha Tuders disappearance
Tabitha walked from 1312 Lillian Street to the bus stop at the corner of 14th St. and Boscobel St.

Tabitha’s parents didn’t suspect anything was wrong until they arrived home later that night and found Tabitha had never returned from school.

This was strange since she was supposed to babysit together earlier that afternoon (remember she asked Roni to stop by and help her) and usually Tabitha would arrive by 4:00pm (16:00). When she still wasn’t home 4:10, her mother walked towards the bus stop to see if she could spot her. Debra then drove to Bailey Middle School, but initially found it closed and returned home to wait anxiously. Bo arrived from work around 5:00pm (17:00) and drove with Debra back to the Middle School. Upon arrival, they were told Tabitha had never made it to school that morning and in fact never even got on the bus – she vanished somewhere along the way.

Police were quickly called by 6:00pm (18:00) and responded about 45min later. An investigation was launched, but ten crucial hours had already passed between Tabitha’s heading for school and when her parents’ learned she was missing.

The Runaway Theory

As with many cases involving children over 13 y/o, police originally assumed Tabitha might simply have been a runaway – an assumption that ended up costing them precious time in the investigation. They refused to file and Amber Alert and were on record suggesting she was yet another troubled child who left home.

The assumption appears to have been poorly founded in general; while nothing could be ruled out – neither should one leap to one theory over the others. Tabitha had complained about babysitting and was at an age where she may have been starting to spread her wings a bit more independently. However, she had perfect attendance at school; breaking that record in order to get out of babysitting seems over-the-top. More believable would have been if she vanished after school.

Her parents and friends all agree Tabitha was an unlikely runaway. She had no history of running away and had not discussed such an idea with friends. She showed no signs of emotional or mental distress, and those familiar with the family said there were no signs of a troubled home life. An investigation of the home suggests Tabitha left behind all of her possessions, her money – she took nothing but the clothes she was wearing and her school papers.

Police eventually acknowledged she was not a runaway and the current theory is that she was kidnapped off the street at some point. The family (along with many others) have questioned the diligence and attention police dedicated to the case. Many believe the police did not take her disappearance seriously and have failed to look into key tips or suspects, simply saying there are too many suspects and nothing can be ruled out.

The family continues to express concerns that they are not kept up to date with how the investigation is proceeding, often left to hear news with the public through the media.

The Search

Police launched a rapid search of the neighborhood and surrounding areas in a five-mile radius; and they published a notice through the 10:00pm nightly news. Family, Friends, Volunteers, and Police would continue to comb the region for weeks afterwards, but to no avail.

No trace of Tabitha has been found but her family continues to pursue the case. A team of volunteers known as ‘Team Tabitha’ continue to search for answers in support of the family who deeply misses her.

Too Many Suspects; No Real Evidence

The case has dissolved into a constant battle between numerous potential suspects (even today there are at least 8 or more active persons of interest) in a war of no real evidence.

Key Events & Facts

1) Witnesses have confirmed that Tabitha made it to the intersection and crossed the road at the bottom of the hill onto Boscobel. She was virtually at the bus stop when she vanished.

2) Tabitha was sighted near the bus stop at 7:50am, fifteen minutes before the bus was due to arrive. There is no proof that she did not travel somewhere in those fifteen minutes, expecting to make it back before the bus arrived. Consequently, it cannot be proven that she disappeared from 14th and Boscobel.

3) An 11 y/o classmate of Tabitha’s was waiting at the bus stop and claimed to have seen Tabitha. According to him, Tabitha had walked down the hill when suddenly a red vehicle pulled up beside her. Tabitha got into the car (voluntarily or by force is unknown); the car reversed and went back up the hill in the direction of her school. Although police have not confirmed the boy’s story, K-9 units brought in to track Tabitha’s scent tracked her down the hill and then turned around and went back up just as the boy had said. The dogs eventually hit a dead end at an alleyway.

The family claims Tabitha would never have taken a ride from strangers; but it is not clear to what extent ‘acquaintances’ or ‘neighbors’ would have been considered strangers. Tabitha was 15 minutes early for the bus; it is possible someone offered her a ride that she trusted.

The description of the driver and car both matched Jamie’s boyfriend at the time. He had been living with the family previously and was familiar with Tabitha’s schedule (she always left at the same time and took the same route). He finished work at 7:00am and would have been available at the time; furthermore, he was a familiar person to Tabitha’s life. He also failed to participate in the search.

Police have never called the boyfriend a person of interest in the case, and some articles suggest they have cleared him of involvement (it is not clear how true this is – does he have an alibi?). Family and friends say the boy has never changed his story and many believe his story was valid.

Description Given:

  • African American
  • Male
  • 30-40 y/o
  • Wearing: Baseball Cap
  • Red Vehicle

In 2008, police ran a story in the news for the 5th anniversary to see if it would jog people’s memory. A man reportedly told Debra he had seen the car, but it was green instead. Police shared the information, and later received a tip that Tabitha was seen near a green mustang that had a scorpion decal attached. Unfortunately, these reports were years later and their reliability must be considered; it does not automatically meant the boy was wrong.

4) One of the witnesses who testified he saw Tabitha on her way is not necessarily considered reliable (Link). The witness also claimed to pick up a young boy who had missed his bus at the corner of 19th and Shelby. The Nashville Scene suggests this was too far for him to also have seen Tabitha. However, it should be remembered that Tabitha was 15 minutes early and the boy missed his bus (suggesting the man may have picked him up some time later). The distance is only 5 Blocks, so it’s not as unfeasible as some suggest. Nonetheless, police became suspicious due to the witness’ inability to explain why he was in the area and his vulgar descriptions of Tabitha when the family said he should not have known her at all. Police searched his home, but found nothing.

Map of key areas in the Tabitha Tuder disappearance
The distance from Tabitha’s home on Lillian Street v. the witnesses’ location at 19th & Shelby

5) April 30, 2003 ➜ Police find a strange note in Tabitha’s bedroom that read: ‘T.D.T – N – ‘M.T.L.’ If T.D.T. = Tabitha Danielle Tuders, police wanted to know who M.T.L. was. One article suggests M.T.L. might have been an older boy (18 y/o) that Tabitha knew, but police were able to authenticate his alibi (he was at school) (Link). Tabitha may have simply had a childhood crush in that case.

6) Police also found a business card with Tabitha’s name, address, and phone number printed on it. Someone had written ‘Call Me’ and ‘Sexy Girl’ on it, but then scribbled out ‘Sexy Girl’ and wrote ‘Ghetto Girl’. While a friend later claimed the card was a joke, it seems to have been a rather mature joke for children their age to be making. Especially when considering later theories the police had regarding prostitution and possible drug involvement. Furthermore, Tabitha had been visiting chat rooms online at the school library, but the chat history could not be recovered.

7) May 16, 2003 ➜ The Oldham couple were living across the street from the Tuders when Tabitha disappeared. In May 2003, they were arrested on charges related to the sexual assault of a minor girl. The wife (Kimberly Oldham) had forced the child to strip; whereupon the husband (Timothy Oldham) attempted to rape the girl. They were interrupted by their son, and the girl escaped. Police have never declared a link to the disappearance of Tabitha (Link).

8) Other suspicious persons living in the neighborhood ➜ Millard Earl Smith (registered sex offender) who was charged in 2003 with attempting to assault a boy from Tabitha’s school and raping a woman he kidnapped from a bus stop. Leslie Paul Duke (registered sex offender) who was imprisoned for sexually assaulting his own four daughters.

9) October 30, 2003 ➜ A truck driver and a hotel worker in Linton, Indiana both reported seeing a girl who resembled Tabitha. She appeared upset and frightened, accompanied by a man and another teenage girl. These claims were never formally substantiated, but Linton, IN is in a direct line on the highways with Nashville and could easily have been a stop in a trafficking operation. Nearby are roads into Bloomington or I-70.

10) 2005 ➜ Police raise questions about Jamie (Tabitha’s sister) regarding ‘issues’ with her story when three out of four lie detector tests she was given came back inconclusive (Link). Jamie and her parents deny she was involved, and those acquainted with the situation said Jamie was always cooperative in the investigation. Still others note she protected her boyfriend (the guy with the red car) from being questioned and has firmly defended him, which some find questionable.

‘One day I will be able to give you a big hug and tell you that I love you. (I really do!) The words have not come out of my mouth a lot, but I really do.’

Jamie (sister) – Link

11) February 2016 ➜ A Hispanic man was brought in for questioning in relation to the case. He was later released and has been cleared of involvement. (Link)

12) February 2020 ➜ Detectives for the first time not that there were tips suggesting the possibility that Tabitha had been pressured into drugs &/or prostitution. She might even still be alive today.

Police confirmed tips continue to be reported that claim Tabitha was trafficked into the sex trade, possibly in Nashville itself. (Link) Some suggest she was involved in prostitution along Dickerson Road and Trinity Lane (a well-known ‘red-light’ area in Nashville). This area is near large intersections with I24 and I65, both major highways. I24 easily connects with I69 that brings the driver up by Linton, IN as well (remember the possible sighting there).

The thought is heart-wrenching simply in how close the area is to Tabitha’s home. A reddit user says rumors place the girl thought to be Tabitha as trafficked between Memphis and Nashville, but it is not clear where this information comes from (Link).

13) August 2020 ➜ Police search a forested farm in Bon Aqua including an old abandoned home and approximately six acres of land (Link).

The Bon Aqua farm and a trailer park near the Tuder’s home both belonged to the primary suspect in Tabitha’s disappearance, Albert Franklin, Jr. Franklin’s trailer park was a known site for criminal activities (Link), and was a place of interest in the investigation. Tips both at the time and more recently received suggested Tabitha may have been seen around the trailer park when she disappeared.

The search ended after two days without providing evidence that Tabitha was in the area. However, the police have not ruled out the theory.

14) Link to Other Missing Girls

Police have acknowledged that there may be a connection between the disappearance of a collection of other girls of similar age across the Southern US. Specifically the disappearance of Shannon Nichole Paulk (Georgia – 2001), Teresa Melissa Dean (Georgia – 1999) and Heaven LaShae Ross (Alabama – 2003). Some believe Tabitha Danielle Tuders (Tennessee – 2003) should also be added to the list.

Similarities

  • Age: 11-13
    • Teresa, Shannon, and Heaven were 11
    • Tabitha was 13
  • Gender: Female
  • Demographics: Caucasian, Fair-Skinned, Light Hair, Light Eyes, Similar Build
    • Exact hair & eye colors varied:
      • Tabitha (Blonde, Blue-Eyed)
      • Teresa (Brunette, Brown-Eyed)
      • Heaven (Red, Hazel-Eyed)
      • Shannon (Brunette, Green or Hazel-Eyed)
    • Tabitha and Heaven were similar enough in appearance that some missing persons sites have mixed up their photos
  • Taken From: Trailer Parks
    • Teresa, Shannon, and Heaven were taken from the Trailer Parks where they lived
    • Tabitha did not live in a Trailer Park (tips suggest she may have been seen at a nearby trailer park around the time of her disappearance); however, her neighborhood was an older, poor, and run-down community.
  • Time: August, 2 Years Apart
    • Teresa, Shannon, and Heaven were all taken in Mid-August almost exactly two years apart
      • Teresa (8/15/1999)
      • Shannon (8/16/2001)
      • Heaven (8/19/2003)
    • Tabitha does not fit the timeline – (4/29/2003)
  • Circumstances: Walking Alone
    • Teresa, Heaven, Shannon, and Tabitha were all walking alone around or near their homes.
    • Teresa, Shannon, and Heaven all had commercial construction going on near the path they walked.
    • Tabitha and Heaven were headed towards the bus stop for school.
  • On Major Highways
    • Major highways connect all four hometowns involved in Teresa, Heaven, Shannon, and Tabitha’s disappearance.
    • Tabitha was possibly sighted in Linton, IN which is also on a major highway connected with the others.

Key Descriptors

  • Date of Birth: February 15, 1990
  • Age at Disappearance: 13
  • Ethnicity: Caucasian
  • Nationality: American
  • Gender at Birth: Female
  • Hair: Blonde
  • Eye Color: Blue
  • Height: 5’1” (155 cm)
  • Weight: 100 lbs (45.3 kg)

Distinguishing Marks or Factors

  • Pierced Ears
  • Scar on her Finger
  • Birthmark on her Stomach
  • Freckles

Clothing

  • Light Blue Shirt
  • Mudd Jeans
  • Reebok Shoes
  • Blue Jacket

If You or Anyone You Know Has Information About The Disappearances, Please Contact the Nashville Cold Case Team (615-862-7329) or Crime Stoppers at 1 (800) 222-TIPS

Missing Person poster for Tabitha Tuders

References

  • Hillier, B. (2019) ‘Family still heartbroken 16 years after daughter Tabitha Tuders vanished from Nashville home’, NBC News, 26 April. Link
  • Gadd, C. & Alund, N. (2020) ‘Evidence search underway in case of Tabitha Tuders, Nashville girl who went missing 17 years ago’, Tennessean, 12 August. Link.
  • Cardenas, R. & Cole, J. (2020) ‘New developments in 17-year-old case regarding Tabitha Tuders’, WSMV, 14 February. Link
  • Langston, S. (2020) ‘Tabitha Tuders’ family devastated to be left in the dark on daughter’s search’, WKRN, 14 August. Link
  • Unsolved Mysteries Wiki () ‘Tabitha Tuders’ Link
  • TabithaTuders.net (Link)
  • Pulle, M. (2005) ‘Never-Ending Grief’, Nashville Scene, 3 March. Link
  • Pulle, M. and Spragens, J. (2003) ‘Criminals Down the Street’, Nashville Scene, 7 August. Link
  • Missing: Please Find Us (2016) ‘TABITHA DANIELLE TUDERS MISSING FROM NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE SINCE 2003’, Facebook, 27 March. Link
  • Willard, M. (2017) ‘Davidson County: Tabitha Tuders’, Middle Tennessee Mysteries, 18 December. Link
  • Kelley, S. (2008) ‘Tabitha Tuders’, Nashville Scene, 24 April. Link
  • Caloway, N. (2018) ‘Tabitha Tuders’ family still hopeful after 15 years’, WKRN, 4 June. Link
  • Apple, A. (2019) ‘New leads in Tabitha Tuders case point detectives back to Nashville’, Fox News 17, 19 February. Link
  • u/AmyJane1203 (2020) ‘RECENT UPDATE on Tabitha Tuders’ Reddit. Link
  • Breslow, J. (2020) ‘Detective: Tabitha Tuders may have been abducted, drugged and forced into prostitution’, WKRN, 14 February. Link
  • Pulle, M. (2003) ‘A New Suspect Emerges’, Nashville Scene, 13 November. Link.
  • Hunter, B. (2020) ‘CRIME HUNTER: Fresh lead in case of missing Tennessee girl, 13’, Toronto Sun, 19 September. Link
  • Brown, J. (2020) ‘Teenagers Tabitha Tuders and Shemika Cosey both vanished without a trace: The Missing investigates’, Monsters & Critics, 12 October. Link
  • Disappeared. ‘Tabitha Tuders’. Link
  • Missing and Unidentified People. ‘Tabitha Tuders Disappeared Nine Years Ago After Leaving Her Nashville Home To Walk To Her Bus Stop’, Link.
  • Stories of the Unsolved (2018) ‘The Disappearance of Tabitha Tuders,’ 13 August. Link
  • Mojica, A. (2016) ‘Metro Police Seeking Man in Relation to Tabitha Tuders Case’, Fox News 17, 10 February. Link
  • Tamburin, A. (2014) ‘Wait for answers in Tabitha Tuders case wears on’, Tennessean, 5 October. Link.

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