Carrollton, Texas, was a big city with a small town feel. But then in 1988, this quaint city lost its innocence with the disappearance of two local teenage girls who were in their prime of life.
Susan Smalley, 18, and Stacie Madison, 17, were bright and bubbly best friends from Carrollton, Texas. It was the spring of 1988 and they were set to graduate from Carrollton Newman Smith High School in just two months’ time. Stacie was working for a prominent allergist and was hoping to go to college. She had blonde hair, blue eyes and a dazzling smile. Her mother, Ida, said that boys frequently called the house, begging to date her teenage daughter. “She was a wonderful daughter,” she recalled.1 Susan was an honour roll student who had dreams of moving to the sunshine state, Florida. She had brown-hair and enchanting green eyes. She was outgoing and loved meeting new people, something her job as a hostess enabled her to do on a daily basis. “She was there for her friends at all times,” said Susan’s only brother, Rich Smalley.
On the 19th of March, 1988, the two girls were determined to make their last night of spring break count and planned a sleepover at Stacie’s house. That evening, Susan and Stacie climbed into Stacie’s light yellow 1967 Mustang convertible and drove to the Prestonwood shopping center. Afterwards, they gave Susan’s mother, Carolyn Audett, a lift home from her shift at a department store inside the mall. At Susan’s house, the two girls changed their clothes before heading out again. Carolyn had a date that evening; she told the girls to be careful “not knowing I’d never see them again.” Stacie and Susan drove to a friend’s party in Arlington. They left the party at around 10PM and then went back to Stacie’s house where Stacie made a long-distance phone call to a friend in Arlington. Despite the fact that they had a 12AM curfew, the duo returned to the party shortly after midnight. Between 12:30 and 1AM, Susan and Stacie went to a Steak and Ale restaurant in Addison where Susan worked as a waitress. Susan chatted to a boy she worked with and then the two girls left in the Mustang. It was the last time they were ever seen.
When it was discovered that the girls hadn’t slept in their beds that night, they were reported missing by their worried parents. “I kept pacing and looking out the window, hoping to see her drive up,” recalled Ida.2 Shortly thereafter, police found Stacie’s abandoned Mustang on Forest Lane, then a popular northwest Dallas strip boasting of a movie theatre and drive-in burger restaurant. The doors were locked and the girls’ jackets were found inside. For reasons that remain unknown even today, neither Dallas nor Carrollton police forensically searched the car for fingerprints or any form of DNA. Detective Greg Ward, who took on the case four months later, said that they original investigative team had initially theorised that the girls were just runaways and looked at their disappearance with tunnel vision. “I’m not saying they screwed up,” he said. “But they probably could have handled it better.”
When the news of the discovery broke, the families of the girls immediately believed that something sinister had happened to them. It was out of character for them to just vanish without letting anybody know where they were going. Moreover, they were good students, ready to graduate and embark on a new adventure. There was no big event in their lives that would have forced them to flee and there was no secret life that anybody was aware of. Over time, the investigators on the case also came to the conclusion that they had most likely been abducted. “They met someone,” speculated Carrollton homicide Detective Greg Ward, “and got more party than they bargained for.”
The disappearances sent a chill down the spine of the residents of Carrollton and the girls’ absence taught their classmates a disturbing lesson. “Anything can happen to anybody,” said Rob Bader, a 17-year-old junior. It was a terrifying notion that this could have happened to any one of them. They were just two regular teenage girls, enjoying their last bit of freedom before buckling down for college. While the main theory was that they had been abducted, shortly after the disappearance was made public, two witnesses came forward to say that they had seen two girls matching the descriptions of Susan and Stacie on the night of their disappearance. According to the witnesses, they were hanging out at a popular drag-race strip in a warehouse district near LBJ Freeway and Interstate 35E. These claims could never be substantiated, however.
In pursuit of leads, Carrollton police contacted a local psychic, John Catchings. During a three hour consultation, Catchings claimed that the teenager had been abducted and murdered by a white man who was 28 to 34 years old with blonde hair and glasses. According to Catchings, the man then dumped their bodies near Lake Grapevine. A search of the area turned up nothing. Early on in the investigation, Carrollton police were deluged with tips from people across the country. One lead came when a behavioural psychologist reported he had a “feeling” that the teenagers crossed the Mexican border with two men. Carrollton police also received a phone call from a woman who claimed she saw the girls in a Houston supermarket while another caller said they saw the girls in a Madison, West Virginia saloon called Bob and Bea’s. One tip came from someone who said Madison was visiting an inmate at a state prison in Bushnell, Florida. Several weeks after the disappearance, Carrollton police received a phone call from an unidentified person who said “Susan and Stacie are all right,” before handing up. The call came from an unrecorded line meaning that the call couldn’t be traced. Each tip lead to a dead end.3
Following the disappearance, Stacie’s family hired a private detective but he was unable to produce any leads. They eventually fired him after spending more than $3,000. Over the ensuing years, Stacie’s father, Frank Madison, continued to drive her eye-catching yellow Mustang in the hopes that somebody somewhere may recognise the car, triggering a memory that could lead to the discovery of the girls. “It was like they were whisked off the earth,” said Frank.4 Sadly Frank passed away from cancer in 1996 without ever knowing what happened to his daughter.
The main suspect in the disappearance was Stacie’s boyfriend at the time, Kevin Elrod. One of Stacie’s friends, Janine White, claimed that Stacie once confided in her that Elrod was abnormally controlling and possessive. According to Ida, Stacie had been trying to end the relationship but couldn’t figure out a way to peacefully call it quits. Earlier on in the afternoon before the disappearance, Stacie had told Ida that if Elrod called the house looking for her, “tell him I’m out with Susan.”5 When he called, Ida followed her daughter’s instructions. Even more alarming, according to Elrod’s new girlfriend, he had confessed to killing Stacie and Susan with a shovel before burying them in a cemetery near State Highway 121. Elrod was questioned extensively and given a polygraph in 1988 which he passed. The cemetery was searched but turned up no evidence of the duo. He later said he said that he had killed the girls purely because he was fed up with people asking about the disappearance and implying he was involved. Elrod moved away from Texas and changed his name. His ex-wife later put out a restraining order on him after he threatened her with a knife. Over the years, suspicions still remain.
In 2011, Carrollton police released a number of photographs asking the public if they could identify anybody in the photographs. According to police, the photographs could be the missing puzzle piece.
Over 31 years have passed and what happened to Susan Smalley and Stacie Madison still remains a mystery. A grey granite memorial stone has served the best friends at the Newman Smith High School where they were students. While their families believe that it’s most likely that Stacie and Susan are dead, the not knowing has kept the memories alive, therefore making some form of closure impossible. “Even today, there’s still a little bitty glimmer of hope that she could walk back into my life,” said Carolyn Audett. But as time progresses, that hope dims down.
Anyone with information should call the Criminal Investigation Division at 972-466-3300.
- The Dallas Morning News, 16 March, 2013 – “25 Years Later, Mystery Still Resonates”
- ABC-8 WFAA, 19 March, 2017 – “Mother Hoping for Closure 29 Years After Daughter, Friend Vanished from Carrollton”
- Forth Worth Star-Telegram, 18 March, 1998 – “Little Revealed in Decade Since 2 Teens Vanished”
- The Dallas Morning News, 14 March, 1992 – “Still Without a Clue”
- The Dallas Morning News, 19 August, 2001 – “Vanished Without a Trace”