Unsolved Fort Worth Missing Trio Case : Part 2

Newspaper clipping (image Star-Telegram)

More than 47 years after the disappearance of Rachel, Renee and Julie Ann, Law Enforcement has never arrested or named anyone in the case. The press has not revealed any names of witnesses, nor even interviewed witnesses (even anonymously) and the public is not privy to much information.
It is not clear what time the girls were last seen and strangely enough, it is not easy to know precisely where in the parking lot the car was parked. The Fort Worth Trio still Missing was intended to remind the case, still unsolved since December 1974. After all these years, a sorting out may also be useful.

On Monday, December 23, 1974, at 4:00 pm, no Rachel, no Renee, no Julie Ann. At 5:00 pm neither. 6:00 pm came, then 7, 8 and 8:30 pm. Little by little, anger had given way to worry.

Location of Sears “Upper lot” (Google Street View 2007)

From the end of the day and the night that followed, few memories remained for the family members. They found the car parked and properly locked east of the Seminary South parking lot, but no further explaination. Some stayed at the mall all night, watching the abandoned Oldsmobile with a shotgun and waiting for the girls to return. Was it Rachel or someone else who parked the car? A wrapped gift for Rachel’s stepson Shawn was in the back of the Oldsmobile but had been there since the Gordon Road departure. Renee’s jeans, a pair of worn jeans, and another pair of new jeans, were later found in the Oldsmobile. Depending on the source, they were either in the trunk or in a military bag in the back seat of the car. Nothing in the contents of the Cutlass indicates that the girls returned to the car, even to put away any purchases they would have made at the mall.

“I know I am going to catch it” (the argument)

The next morning, a letter arrived at Rachel’s home. A letter signed Rachel for her husband Tommy. The envelope is addressed to Thomas A. Trlica, in administrative form, not to the familiar “Tommy” as Rachel always called her husband. “Rachel” is scribbled in the upper left corner of the envelope, and the postmark on a 10-cent stamp is dated that morning, Tuesday, December 24, 1974.

Many concerns about the envelope and the handwritten sheet of paper date back to that day. Most newspaper articles and blog posts have carried this odd letter and it can be found reproduced everywhere on the net (example here). There is no evidence that this “letter” was not written for some other reason and even long before the girls disappearance. In any case, the subject has been discussed since August 2004 on a well-known forum.
If related to the missing the question is not so much who wrote the letter as what it is for. Even if it was likely that the note was an implausibility, since the girls did not return after a week it was obvious that it was a decoy. But for what purpose? To smooth the event for the families? Who are the criminals who take care of the relatives of the missing persons? Relatives are usually considered suspects.
This letter presumed from Rachel is especially curious because of its speed of delivery.

While this circumstance may exist, it is unusual for a multiple abductor to write or send letters to the families claiming to be from the victims. On the other hand we detect the will of someone to attribute the decision to flee to the elder. Because she is the oldest? Not because she drives a car, in this case the car stayed in the parking lot. The goal was either to effectively spare the families because the kidnapper(s) had a reason to do so, or to maintain the confusion by providing a false lead to the investigators. Or both.

After the disappearance the police told the parents that the girls had run away, which they strongly denied. It wasn’t until early 1975 that a young man claiming to be an acquaintance of Rachel’s finally called Rachel’s father to tell him he had seen the girls that afternoon in the record department of a mall store. According to this young man, he and Rachel spoke briefly. Stranger still, he also claimed that another person appeared to be with the girls.
Frustrated with the police investigation, the families of the missing girls hired a flamboyant private investigator in the spring of 1975. He held press conferences, forced the police to let him examine the files, and made headlines. The man died in 1979 of what was said to be an overdose, without any results on the case. His death was classified as a suicide and all his files, including those related to this missing Trio, were destroyed, as he had requested. Families followed every possible trail, hundreds of back roads were explored by volunteers. Most of the Texas brush was raked, again with no results.

Twenty years and much more later

Rusty Arnold was 11 years old when his sister Rachel left home in December 1974. Twenty years later, in the mid-1990s, he met a new private investigator while doing a random search in the yellow pages. To his surprise, Rachel’s brother found that this private investigator already knew a lot about the missing persons case and seemed to be interested in solving the mystery. Never hired by the families, and although he announced at the time a $25,000 reward from his personal funds, he has so far mostly collected threats inviting him to stay away from the Missing Trio case. When reopened in January 2001 the case was assigned to a new homicide detective whose opinion was that the girls left the mall with someone they trusted, and that more than one person is involved in the story.

Over the past few years, Rusty Arnold and a team of professional divers have repeatedly searched Benbrook Lake, located about 12 km from where his sister was last seen, in the hope of finding evidence that might shed light on what happened to the three missing girls. Not only is the lake close to where the mall is located, but it is also close to the home of a suspect. Using sonar, Arnold located three cars at the bottom of Benbrook Lake.

In 2018, a team of four divers helped him recover the three cars located at the bottom of the lake. On September 22, 2018, the dive team pulled out the first car. On October 13, the second car was pulled out of the mud, after two days of effort. Unfortunately, a forensic team determined that none of the cars were connected to the missing trio. In September 2019, divers attempted to raise the third car, but the carcass, after many years underwater, proved too fragile to remove from Benbrook Lake. It was decided to postpone its exploration, and a new attempt was made on July 17, 2020, despite the opacity of the water. The carcass of the car was eventually searched, but nothing was found.

This disappointment did not affect the hopes of Rusty Arnold and the divers. They hope to explore another nearby lake and find a clue in another car that could be linked to the missing trio.

Multiple theories and ideas but no bodies

The dozens of theories about this case could write a dozen novels about why the girls went missing. And even, they mostly revolve around Rachel. If we took Renee or Julie Ann as primary target, we could probably multiply the scenarios by two. It was a planned trip for Rachel and Renee and they were able to talk about it around them long before that Monday, December 23. Rachel and Renee had an appointment to pick up some jeans on layaway and Renee may have talked about it at school, with friends, with family. It is not clear why Rachel had to go out, other than to be Renee’s chauffeur. It is not clear what Rachel was supposed to do at the mall.

Was she there to buy a record of Christmas songs for her first Christmas Eve with her husband and stepson? A family already composed. Unless the girls were lured into buying the latest musical hit. Let’s put life back in 1974. Record stores were places to buy records or listen to them, or even look at the covers in racks. What is the connection between girls and records? Did they buy one, did they listen to one? Did any of them have a date at this place? Or did they never go there?

La Gran Plaza – East entrance and Upper lot. Sears was in the background (Google)

Renee and Julie Ann were last seen in Gordon on the 23rd at 12:00 pm (it was said noon for Renee). Rachel’s sister reported her disappearance by phone on December 24, 1974 at 1:30 am. At that time she indicated that she had last seen her on the 23rd at 12:30 pm and stated that the car, she indicated the license plate, was found parked in the mall parking lot at 10:00 pm. It is possible that this was the time she found the car because Renee’s relatives reported finding it in the East parking lot at 8:30 pm. Was the car parked in a fairly remote lot called the “upper lot” of the mall or was it parked in the upper part of the Sears parking lot? In these busy Christmas days no one noticed who parked the car there.

In the second part of the Gone Cold Podcast series, there is mention of a witness who saw the three girls at Rachel’s home around 12:30. It is understood that this witness was Shawn’s mother who came to drop off (or pick up, according to a conflicting source) the little boy for Christmas. If this information is true, it would corroborate Rachel’s sister statement that she last saw Rachel at 12:30. It does, however, raise the question of Rachel’s proposal reported by Rachel’s sister to go shopping with her. Who was watching the child on the morning of December 23? Where was he in the afternoon? Who would have kept him if the sister had left with the girls?

Somewhere on a forum group, a woman says that she and another girl were supposed to meet Rachel and Renee at Murphy’s for lunch. She adds that the trio never showed up, but also admits that she and her friend didn’t wait very long and went shopping on their own. The woman even claims that they never saw the trio that day in the mall. If all of this is true, some believe that they probably disappeared from the mall shortly after they arrived.

Did the girls disappear because they were of real interest or a potential threat? Did they see something they shouldn’t have? Or was it because all three were an “attraction” to a person or group? Questions that remain after all these years. There is little information and much opinion. No remains, no evidence, no clues, no official suspect. Yet everyone who has studied this missing person case has their own theory (sometimes several), as does the author here.

Sources : Part of text based on the Author’s podcast in French (2021) – Regarding the first article in French (apr, 2019), the Podcast in French (nov, 2020-apr, 2021) the base sources today are to numerous. To these sources it is necessary to add https://www.fwweekly.com/2020/12/16/portrait-of-a-true-crime-character/, http://www.websleuths.com, and, while waiting for a possible continuation on this WordPress, this article from July 2021 https://storiesoftheunsolved.com/2021/07/06/fort-worth-missing-trio/ although not very readable, is full of details on the case. A mistake is always possible. Updated 04/10/22, 04/14/22 and 05/22/22.