Springfield MO police chief questions handling of investigation of 3 missing women in 1992

December 14, 2010|by Sara Forhetz, KY3 News |

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The city's biggest and most mysterious crime is receiving some new attention. It's the case of three women who disappeared after a high school graduation party 18 years ago.  On Tuesday, there was a meeting of the minds with Springfield's new police chief and others who were involved in the case in 1992.

Investigators are not releasing exactly what was discussed behind closed doors, only that law enforcement officers, the prosecutor, and others are reviewing the cold case and deciding what their next move is.

Meanwhile, some on the case detail the difficulties that lie ahead in solving the women's disappearance.

"We were working 12-hour days and everything.  They were pulling people out of patrol from regular assignments to address this because it became a beast of its own really," Mark Webb said recently.

Webb was a Springfield Police Department detective on the case in 1992.  He says he distinctly remembers the hectic days and weeks just after Sherill Levitt, Suzie Streeter, and Stacy McCall disappeared from 1717 E. Delmar St.

"We had stacks of 3 X 5 cards on a desk where callers were taking information.  We saw them at the Greasy Skillet in Fordland, or we saw them at wherever, getting on a plane to Mexico," Webb remembered.


There were thousands of tips, just more than 5,000, but still there was little good evidence to go on.

"The scene had basically already been corrupted by friends and people that had come to the house looking for them," Webb said.

Those friends, he said, had no idea with what they were dealing on that Sunday in June.  It would become Springfield's biggest crime scenes.

"I think it should be remembered that law enforcement was not called at first when the three women first went missing.  This delay resulted in significant changes to the crime scene by well meaning friends," said Terry Knowles, who was the police chief in 1992.

There have long been questions about how the police work was handled.  Getting a glimpse of that now is the new police chief, Paul Williams, who arrived here from Tulsa, Okla., last summer.

"For some reason, that was a top-down investigation; top-down driven as opposed to bottom-up investigating.  If we have a homicide or robbery, I don't go out and step in and tell the detectives what to do.  I monitor their progress and get updates; that's generally what happens," said Williams.

That was not the case here.  Dozens of hands were in the pot.

"From the moment SPD was notified of the case, it was worked aggressively.  We worked 24-7.  We brought in special teams, the FBI, criminal profilers, the Missouri State Highway Patrol,  and countless other law enforcement agencies," Knowles said in a telephone interview from Kansas, where he moved to take a job at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Perhaps it was too many investigators too soon, some thought.

"We had so many people we didn't normally work with, so now you had those relations to deal with.  Somebody is going to have to say, 'Hey, I'm responsible for this, I did this and I'm confessing.'  It's going to take a confession in my opinion, for what it's worth," said Webb, who left the Springfield Police Department for other law enforcement jobs.

Knowles said this was not an ordinary case.  He compared the situation to football head coach wjp wouldn't let all the assistant coaches make the call in a critical game. 

Knowles said, if memory serves him correctly, there were some 32 people known to have been at the house where the women disappeared before police were called.  They were all friends who simply didn't realize what had happened.  Some straightened and cleaned up the house, thinking that would help the women when they returned to the home.

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