The Disappearance of Leigh Marine Occhi

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2nd March 2023  •  5 min read

On 27 August, 1992, Hurricane Andrew was blowing through Tupelo, Mississippi. That morning, 13-year-old Leigh Occhi was home alone. When her mother returned home, she found the home unlocked and Leigh missing...

The Disappearance of Leigh Marine Occhi

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Leigh Marine Occhi was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to parents Donald Occhi and Vicki Felton, on 21 August, 1979. Her parents were both serving members of the United States Army, and had met while serving in California. Donald said of his daughter: “She was a smart, sweet little girl. She was a daddy’s kid like all little girls are. She liked to be hugged. She liked pizza. She liked dogs.”

Despite the immense love they both had for their daughter, the marriage wasn’t to last, and they divorced in 1981. Leigh and Vicki moved to Tupelo, Mississippi, where Leigh was enrolled at Tupelo Middle School.

On the morning of 27 August, 1992, 13-year-old Leigh was left home alone while Vicki went to work. Leigh was scheduled to attend an open day at Tupelo Middle School later that morning with her grandmother. Shortly after Vicki arrived at work, she heard that Hurricane Andrew was going to be blowing through Tupelo, and she wanted to make Leigh aware.

At around 8:30AM, Vicki called up Leigh, but the phone just rang and rang. Leigh never answered. Vicki was concerned for her daughter, and around twenty minutes later, she left work to check on her. Around five minutes before Vicki arrived, the automatic garage door opener was activated.

When she arrived, she found that the front door to the red brick house unlocked. She then observed that there were blood stains to the door frame. Vicki entered the home and called out Leigh’s name, only to be met by silence. She proceeded through the home, only to uncover more ominous findings. In the bathroom, she found blood on the counter top and on a towel. There was evidence that somebody had attempted to clean blood up.

In Leigh’s bedroom, Vicki found some blood on her nightgown and a bra. Based on the blood on the nightgown, it looked as though blood had dripped down onto it, possibly from some kind of neck injury. She also noticed that a few items were missing, including reading glasses, shoes, and underclothes owned by Leigh. There was also a pair of scissors that appeared to be stained with blood.1

It was approximately 9AM when Vicki reported Leigh missing. A search party was immediately assembled, and missing person posters were distributed throughout the area. They described Leigh as standing around 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighing around 100 pounds. She had blonde hair.2 During the search, a helicopter scanned overhead while sniffer dogs descended on Tupelo. There was absolutely no sign of Leigh.3

Leigh’s father, Donald, immediately flew from Washington to partake in the search for his daughter. He had since re-married and had two children, and they all flew down to assist. He was given emergency leave from his duty station. He stated: “I just want to find my daughter.” He shared his belief that Leigh hadn’t simply run away, that something sinister had taken place. He solemnly said: “I don’t think she’s alive – I’m just getting prepared for the worst.”4

As the search continued, the blood found inside the home was sent off to the state crime lab for analysis. Meanwhile, Vicki and her estranged second husband, Barney Yarborough, were given polygraph examinations, as investigators publicly stated nobody had been ruled out as  a suspect just yet.5

Meanwhile, investigators were trying to figure out when the last time Leigh was seen. According to one neighbour, Leigh had arrived at his doorstep at around 8PM the night before. She asked if she could wait inside until her mother got home because she was locked out of the house. Then at around 8:45Pm, Leigh went to another neighbour’s home and said that she was locked out. Around 15 minutes later, she looked out of the window and said, “There’s my mom,” and left.

The investigation into Leigh’s whereabouts was already in full swing by the 9th of September, when Vickie received a package in the mail which contained Leigh’s reading glasses. The package was handed over to investigators, who in turn sent it off to a crime laboratory in Jackson. They were hoping to get a saliva sample from the stamps on the package, and they were also analysing the handwriting on the front of the package.6

The analysis of the blood was hampered by the fact that Leigh’s blood had never been typed. The results from the package were useless as well when it was discovered that the stamp had been adhered with water as opposed to saliva. Investigators working on the case speculated that the eyeglasses had been sent as a red herring.

The clues were few and far between, and in December, Vicki began running newspaper adverts asking for information regarding her daughter. She also hired a private detective. Early the next year, she put forward a $5,000 reward for information about Leigh’s disappearance.7 Vicki shared her belief that her daughter was still alive. She stated: “I’m completely convinced she’s alive. At the very beginning, a week at the longest, I believed she was dead.”

Then in November of 1993, there was a tragic update announced in the case. Ray Jantz, a Chickasaw County farm worker, was harvesting soybeans in a field east of Pine Grove Road, just off U.S. 45 when he came across a skull. The medical examiner announced that dental records proved that the skull belonged to Leigh.8 However, just two days later, it was reported that this was not the case, that there had been an error and the skull was not Leigh. The skull was later determined to belong to 27-year-old Pollyanna Sue Keith.

The search for Leigh only continued, but by now, rumours were circulating throughout the area that either Vicki or Barney were somehow involved in Leigh’s disappearance. Barney was eventually ruled out as a suspect after he passed a polygraph examination, and after he provided an airtight alibi that was checked out extensively. He passed away in 1996.

It was later revealed that Vicki was given three polygraph examinations, and all showed deception. However, it should be noted that polygraph examinations are not admissible in court. Donald commented that when he came to Toledo, people told him to look at Vickie. He stated: “I already was doing that. I don’t know if her mother was involved.”

In 2017, investigators announced that Vicki was still considered a person of interest. Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguierre stated: “You still can’t eliminate her. There are still too many unanswered questions for Vickie, and I don’t know if that is unusual for somebody to go off to work and say, well I just left Leigh but I’m going to call and check on her. Why check on her that soon after she just left her?”

Vickie had always remained adamant that she played no role in her daughter’s disappearance. She said that she spoke with investigators whenever they asked. She has her own theory as to what happened. According to Vickie, a man they went to church with was responsible. His name was Oscar McKinley “Mike” Kearns, and he was currently serving incarcerated after kidnapping a couple in 1999 and sexually assaulting the wife.

According to court reports, nine months after Leigh vanished, Kearns travelled to Memphis where he abducted a ninth-grade girl he had met through the church in Tupelo. She was at home alone when he showed up on the pretence of driving her to school. Instead, he drove her to an isolated area where he sexually assaulted her and drove her to school. In 2021, Kearns passed away at 63-years-old.

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  1. The Clarksdale Press Register, 3 September, 1992 – “Everybody a Suspect”
  2. The Clarksdale Press Register, 1 September, 1992 – “Police Search for Missing 13-Year-Old Girl”
  3. The Advocate, 2 September, 1992 – “Blood Samples
  4. The Commercial Appeal, 26 September, 1992 – “Hopes Fading as Father, Lawmen Seek Tupelo Girl”
  5. Clarion-Ledger, 2 September, 1992 – “Lab Analyzes Blood in Search for Girl”
  6. The Advocate, 18 September, 1992 – “Police Hope Tetes will Help Locate Teen”
  7. Clarion-Ledger, 13 February, 1993 – “Reward Increased for Missing Teen”
  8. The Commercial Appeal, 10 November, 1993 – “Occhi”


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1 year ago

This write-up is missing a lot of the finer details that make Vickie such a compelling suspect. This just makes it seem like some random witch-hunt of a grieving mother.

1 year ago
Reply to  Ash

Finer details like what? Do you have a source/link with more info perhaps?

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