A missing case until now unsolved. In December 1974, three young girls, Rachel Trlica, Renee Wilson and Julie Ann Moseley, vanished from a shopping mall the day before Christmas Eve.
It is Monday, December 23, 1974. In Fort Worth, near Dallas, in the state of Texas. In a few moments, it will be noon. The action takes place at Gordon Avenue, in front of Renee Wilson’s grandmother’s house. Renee is 14-year-old and her mother works for a dry cleaning company. That morning, as she usually does, the mother drops Renee off at the grandmother’s house*. The girl is joyful and excited as she received an engagement ring early this morning from her boyfriend, 15-year-old Terry, who lives across the street.
Then, the two young people wait in front of the house. They wait for a friend of Renee, Rachel, to arrive. The two girls have an appointment to go shopping at the nearby shopping mall, the Seminary South. They know each other for a long time because their parents used to go camping together when they had the opportunity. On December 23 it is time for them to go shopping. This was not possible earlier for Renee. At 14 years old she doesn’t have a car, and then she has to pick up some clothes the Army and Navy store has put aside for her, two pairs of jeans. For Renee Wilson, there is no question of shopping lasting too long. That evening she has a Christmas party to go to with her boyfriend Terry and she wants time to prepare. So the girls had decided to be home by 4 p.m.
Rachel Arnold arrives a few minutes later, driving a gold maroon Oldsmobile, a 1972 Cutlass four doors. It was a large American car of the time with a huge trunk in the back. The young driver, Rachel, is 17 years old and has been married for 6 months to Thomas (Tommy) Trlica, a 21 year old man who is already divorced and has a 2 year old son. Life was different back then and after getting divorced Tommy got engaged to Rachel’s older sister Debra. Debra is two years older than Rachel. Some time later the couple separated and Tommy got closer to Rachel and they got married. Debra, on the other hand, fell in love with another boy, and then it broke up. Rachel invited her sister to come stay with her, Tommy, and Tommy’s little boy, Shawn.
At 17, Rachel Trlica is a student at Southwest High School in Fort Worth and at the same time she is looking for a job in a store. It is possible that this search led her earlier to the stores of the Seminary South shopping center, which is not so far from her home. This Monday December 23 in the morning, before leaving to join Renee Wilson and go to the mall, Rachel proposed to her sister to come with her, but Debra preferred to stay in bed. How Rachel was dressed on Monday, December 23, 1974, is unknown. We only know that the young woman has brown hair, green eyes, a chipped upper front tooth and a small scar on her chin. She wears a wedding ring. She is 1.68m tall, and weighs 49 kg.
On her side Renee has red wavy hair, light skin, brown eyes. She is 1.57m tall and weighs 50kg. She is 14 years old and was dressed in blue purple pants that fit tightly around her hips, a white or pale yellow t-shirt or sweet shirt, with the words “Sweet Honesty” written in green letters. She wore red and white Oxford shoes and an engagement ring.
Living in the house across the street from Renee’s grandmother, the house Renee is in most of the time, Julie Ann Moseley is 9 years old, sandy hair, blue eyes. The little girl is 1.30m tall and weighs 39 kg. She has a small scar under her left eye and another one in the middle of her forehead. The clothes she was wearing on the morning of December 23 are a red blouse, dark denim pants and red tennis shoes. The girl is also the sister of Terry, Renee’s fiancé. Knowing about Renee’s engagement ring and seeing Rachel’s car arrive, she takes the opportunity to cross the street to join the conversation.
On this Monday, December 23, 1974, in the late morning, in front of Renee’s grandmother’s house in Fort Worth, on Gordon Avenue, there is also Janet, 11 years old, the oldest of Terry’s sisters. In this neighborhood, in the middle of the holiday season, the slightest event is immediately known to everyone. Before leaving for the Seminary South Mall, Rachel and Renee ask Janet if she wants to accompany them but the young girl declines the invitation.
Julie Ann takes the opportunity to ask if she could come instead of Janet. The two young girls are a little taken by surprise at the idea of watching a 9 year old girl they don’t know very well, and they are not very happy about the idea. They try to dodge by answering “Oh yes, but only if your mother accepts”, certain that the mother will refuse.
Julie Ann only has to cross the street to call her mother. She goes home, and manages to reach her at work. After several refusals, the mother doesn’t know Rachel and Renee any better, her mother says “you doesn’t have any money”. She finally agreed to the argument “I’m going to be alone at home without anyone to play with”. A decision she will regret for the rest of her life. The two girls also invited Terry, but the boy, who had promised to spend the afternoon with a friend who was having a hernia operation the next day, Christmas Eve, also declined.
So it was as a trio that Rachel, Renee and Julie Ann left before noon this quiet Fort Worth neighborhood.
We are in Fort Worth, Texas. It is worth mentioning that the town is immediately west of the Dallas urban area, that the Trlica couple’s home is a little southwest of the mall, and that Renee’s grandmother’s house and Julie Ann’s parents’ house are not that far away. Leaving from this street and before going to the Seminary South Mall, the trio first headed to the Army and Navy store to pick up gifts that had been set aside.
Surplus stores can be found more in the city than on the outskirts. According to some sources, the Army and Navy Store where the girls went was located 601 West Berry. Renee reportedly traded in the jeans she was wearing to come out dressed in one of the two new ones. In the official story the girls then drove to the mall and parked the Oldsmobile on the upper level near the Sears store. In Fort Worth, people remember this open-air mall whose architectural design, landscaping, stores lined with wide aisles with shaded areas and fountains combined to make this place one of the popular attractions of the great American Southwest.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, for Fort Worth residents, and especially local residents, Seminary South was THE and mostly the only shopping center in town. A lake had been drained for its construction and in fact most of the surrounding parking lots were located further up.
This holiday season, Sears had the Christmas theme in lights on its facades, but shoppers didn’t linger outside due to the cold weather, preferring to rush into the stores offering low-priced items.
Rachel knows the Mall well, she lives some blocks from it and is looking for a job in a store. Renee and Julie Ann probably know it too. Families from Fort Worth come to Seminary South regularly and the Christmas Toy show at Sears is a big draw for the kids every year. And then that store, as well as its competitor Murphys, has a record department popular with teenagers. In fact, it was in the record department of one of these stores that the three girls were allegedly last seen, just before their disappearance, by a young clerk claiming to be an acquaintance of Rachel.
What happened to them afterwards is a mystery. Shortly after the disappearance became public, several witnesses reported to Fort Worth police that they had observed the three girls inside the mall, but most others saw nothing but the usual. A few people did notice Renee’s Sweet Honesty t-shirt, without providing any further details. Later, much later, it will finally be about twenty witnesses who will remember, that afternoon, to have seen the three missing girls. But was it really them?
To be continued
Text based on the Author’s podcast in French (2021) – *Terry Moseley told NBCNews in Dec, 2018, Renee “had spent the night at her grandma’s” – Updated March, 23 and April, 7, 2022. A mistake is always possible.