Ten years



2002 Flashback: Three Missing Women Case Turns 10

(Springfield, MO) -- The Three Missing Women case is turning 20 this week, so we're looking back on our previous coverage of the mystery.
After scouring the archives, we found Chris Herzog's 10-year anniversary report from 2002.
"Got ready that day with Stacy," recalled Janelle Kirby in 2002. "Then we rode together to graduation and met everybody there. It was a great day."
Kirby graduated with Stacy McCall and Suzie Streeter from Kickapoo High School. Click the video above to see some of the last known photos of McCall from that evening.
As well all know, the girls attended a late night party with Janelle and others.
"I wish I would have made them stay. If I could have kept them there, none of this would have happened."
Springfield police say sometime about 2 a.m., the two girls came back to this house at 1717 E. Delmar -- the home of Sherill (sp. Sherrill) Levitt, Suzie's mother. And that's where and when the mystery begins.
"From 2:30 in the morning, when they should have arrived home, until around 6 o'clock the next morning, something happened," recalls former Webster County Sheriff Ron Worsham. "We don't have a clue. Yeah, that's terribly frustrating."
In the summer of 1992, Worsham was the assistant police chief in Springfield.
"Quite frankly, it looked like they'd just been beamed up, because there was nothing out of place in the house.
"None of them can I imagine them going willingly," added Kirby. "Yet, there was no sign of a struggle. The house was perfect when we went in there."
Kirby says she and her boyfriend made their way to the house later on Sunday morning. The four had planned a trip to Branson.
"Sherill's (sp. Sherrill's) bed had been slept in. It looked like Suzie's bed, they'd gotten into it," added Kirby. "They washed their faces, they'd taken their jewelry off. Their purses were there."
But the three women were gone. Later that night, the McCalls and others gathered at the home on Delmar, and called police.
"When we reported them missing, I didn't even call 911," said Janice McCall, Stacy's mother. "I really thought they were going to walk in any time."
Janice McCall says it was the first time she considered the possibility that something ominous had happened. What followed in the next few weeks was a community effort to find out the truth. Police detectives canvassed the area, missing posters and billboards were put up around Springfield, even pleas for help to the public.
In helicopters and on foot, the search began.
"We waded creeks, climbed bluffs," recalled David Haun. "We went through fields of grass that were over our heads, we walked ditches."
But Haun and other Springfield police officers found nothing. Even with volunteers, and reserve officers, recruits and teams from other cities, the trail was cold. The only solid leads, one composite drawing of a bearded man, the only official suspect. And the sighting from multiple sources of a green van.
Files deep inside the Springfield Police Department contain every lead detectives ever had -- more than 5,000 altogether. But not one of them brought detectives any closer to finding out what happened.
"Every one we checked out turned out to be negative," added Worsham. "I mean, there was nothing there. Full of dead ends. It's been that way for ten years now." "It's still a case that bothers you," added Haun. "Because you feel like no matter what you did, you hit dead ends all along."
In the years since the abductions, many theories as to what happened that summer night have been pondered. From a stranger abduction, to involvement of a relative, to a serial killer stalking Sherill (sp. Sherrill) Levitt. But the only ones who know for sure haven't been seen since 1992.
"It seems like yesterday. Seems like yesterday," said McCall. "Except for, you realize what all has passed. But it, you know, time just, in one way, stands still."
Police detectives Herzog talked to for this story say they believe there is at least one person out there with information that could crack this case, and help find the missing women.


Written by
News-Leader staff

On the door of Bill Stokes' one-chair barbershop hangs a faded yellow poster with the faces of three Springfield women. "MISSING," the bold headline screams.


During the summer of 1992, when Stokes taped up the sign in his Marshfield shop, he made a vow to himself:
"I said I wasn't going to take that down until they solved the case," he said. "I was hoping they would solve it. Now I think it will probably just rot off the wall."

The barbershop poster hangs like dozens of others across the Ozarks. Yellowed and tattered, they remind us of the three women who vanished from a small south-central Springfield home on a clear June morning.

Gone were Sherrill Levitt, 47, her daughter Suzie Streeter, 19, and Suzie's friend Stacy McCall, 18. Just hours before, the three attended the Kickapoo High School graduation, where the girls smiled for ceremonial pictures and finalized plans for a night of partying.

First they hit a friend's party in Battlefield, then hopped to another one in Springfield. But by then their plans for the night changed: They wouldn't drive to Branson and stay in a hotel, or even spend the night at a friend's house.


Streeter had a new king-size waterbed, a graduation present from her mom. So in the early morning hours of June 7, they went to the tidy, modest home at 1717 E. Delmar St., which Levitt had purchased two months earlier.

And that's where the mystery begins.

Something happened inside the home between 2:30 a.m. - when police speculate the girls arrived at the Streeter home - and 8 a.m., when a friend of the girls, Janelle Kirby, called to determine what time they would meet to go to the Whitewater theme park in Branson.

To this day, police do not have a clear picture of what happened.

They've logged 5,200 tips, given countless polygraphs to potential suspects, friends and family members, searched woods and fields throughout the Ozarks and followed leads into 21 states.

The house told them little.

There were no signs of a struggle. No clues of a crime. Nothing that screamed something had gone terribly wrong.

"The only thing unusual about this house was that three women were missing from it," retired Springfield Police Capt. Tony Glenn says. "You had this feeling as you looked around that something was missing, that something had to be missing. But there wasn't. Just them."

Each woman had a car, and all three vehicles were left in the driveway. Levitt's blue Corsica was parked in the carport.

Streeter's red Ford Escort sat in the circle drive with McCall's Toyota Corolla right behind.

Keys to the vehicles were found inside the unlocked house. The three purses were piled together at the foot of the steps leading into Suzie's sunken bedroom. Though the mother and daughter were chain smokers, Levitt and Streeter left their cigarettes behind. An undisturbed graduation cake was waiting in the refrigerator.

It was apparent the women had gotten ready for bed. Each had washed off makeup and tossed a damp cloth in the hamper. Jewelry was left on the wash basin.

McCall had neatly folded her flowered shorts, tucking jewelry into the pockets, and placed them on her sandals beside Streeter's waterbed. Police believe she left the home wearing only a T-shirt and panties.

Yet, how she and the other women left is what baffles police, family and friends. Police cling to the idea that a single man could have used a ruse - something as simple as posing as a utility worker warning of a bogus gas leak in the neighborhood - to lure them out.

While Ozarkers long have theorized that this crime was the work of more than one person, authorities say it could have been carried out by one man. If other people were involved in what's believed to be a kidnapping and triple murder, police say, surely someone would have broken the silence of 10 years.

Their main suspect is a Texas inmate, 42-year-old Robert Craig Cox. He was convicted of killing a 19-year-old Florida woman who was somehow intercepted while driving home from work at Disney World one night in 1978. Cox - who lived in Springfield the summer of 1992 - walked away from death row in 1989 after the Florida Supreme Court said the jury didn't have enough evidence to convict him.

Through the years, Cox has toyed with Springfield police - saying he knows the women are dead and that they're buried near the city. Having discovered that Cox lied about his alibi on the morning of June 7, 1992, officials are skeptical about his claims.

Cox declined to be interviewed by the News-Leader, but in recent letters to the newspaper, he acknowledges police consider him a suspect and that 10 years ago he worked as a utility locator in south-central Springfield.

A SUMMER JOLT

In the summer of 1992, teen-agers were tiring of tall hair. Hoop earrings were hot. Metallica was racing up the charts and the Internet was just coming on strong.

The story shocked Springfield out of the comfort zone that normally accompanies slow summer days.

A massive search was launched. Police and volunteers rode horses and walked through fields of tall grass on the southwest side of town, where Chesterfield Village now stands.

Citizens began locking their doors without fail. Neighbors vowed to check on one another. In churches and homes throughout the Ozarks, people prayed that someone saw something, anything, that could help police solve the mystery on East Delmar.

Within days, more than 20,000 posters of the missing women were printed and then plastered on telephone poles, in storefront windows, restaurants and truck stops.

With nothing else to go on, law enforcement agencies dug up ant hills that callers thought could be fresh graves. They chased circling buzzards, hoping to find a clue.

The Springfield Police Department moved immediately to take the case national, believing that if the disappearance was a serial crime, someone in another state could hold the answer. By the end of the first week, faces of the missing women appeared on "America's Most Wanted," sparking 29 calls from across the nation.

Another national news program, "48 Hours," shadowed local police for weeks - shooting pictures of searches, polygraphs and officers sifting through leads.

None ever led to a conclusive piece of evidence.

A decade later, detectives who worked one of the largest investigations in Ozarks history are haunted by a case they couldn't crack.

"It's hard to be known for something you didn't do as opposed to something you did do," says retired Sgt. David Asher, who led the investigation in the early days. "I think of it; I think of it all the time. ... I want it to be solved. I want it for Janis and Stu (McCall), the Streeters, the police department, and I want it for the community.

"I think they need it."

Though the urgency to find these women has faded through the years, the pain for the families runs as deep as it did in 1992. Janis and Stu McCall created an organization to help families whose loved ones are missing. They hold out hope their daughter could one day be found, vowing not to declare her dead until investigators find her remains.

"I want them to find my daughter," Janis McCall says intently, pictures of Stacy scattered around the sofa in her suburban Springfield home. "You can go through so much, but you still want an answer. For them not to give us an answer, that was difficult."

Levitt and Streeter have already been declared dead in court. Their family took that step at the five-year mark. Still, the sadness has gotten stronger, says Debbie Schwartz, Levitt's sister.

"It doesn't feel like 10 years," Schwartz says. "The pain feels fresh and new. It's amazing it can feel so new after so long. I'm sure it will be that way until my dying day."

A FRESH SET OF EYES

The case - widely viewed as being mishandled during the first year by a micromanaging police chief - had gone cold in the mid-1990s. No leads looked promising.

At the five-year anniversary, the Springfield Police Department announced that it couldn't justify the money and manpower to continue working it even on a part-time basis. So the mystery of the missing women went unattended, except for incoming leads.

If the tips looked viable, they were checked. If not, they just went in the pile.

But last year, when Maj. Steve Ijames took over the detective division, the four-drawer filing cabinet that holds thousands of fizzled leads was reopened.

Ijames wanted to take a fresh look at cold cases, and he wanted the work to begin with the missing women, or 3MW.

A young detective - 28-year-old Cpl. Greg Higdon, a college freshman the year the women disappeared - accepted the assignment and immediately began rifling through the old reports and leads. The idea, says Ijames, was to bring in a fresh set of eyes.

"He can just look at the facts," says Janis McCall, who's encouraged that the case has been reopened. "He doesn't even ask the officers what happened back then. He only asks the questions he wants answers to; that may be just what we need."

Higdon's high energy level and determination is coupled with the investigative skills of Cpl. Allen Neal, considered one of the department's best investigators.

So hope, which this investigation hasn't had since the early days, is alive again.

"Maybe they'll see something we missed," Asher says. "Maybe they will."

One lead that surfaced two weeks into the investigation is keeping detectives busy today - Robert Craig Cox. Though family members of the three women say authorities have a list of 10 people they haven't ruled out, Cox jumps to the top.

Police first interviewed Cox back in June 1992, but when he produced what cops thought was a rock-solid alibi - attending church with his girlfriend on the morning the women disappeared - they focused on other people and leads.

Then Cox - who was still free after walking away from death row - was arrested in Texas for robbery. He already had a history of burglary, kidnapping and murder.
Springfield officers interviewed him, and the game began. Like Ted Bundy - the infamous rapist and murderer Cox met in a Starke, Fla., prison - Cox told police enough for them to think he knew something, but not enough to incriminate himself.
He told them he knew the women were dead and that they were buried near Springfield. Smirking, he refused to say more.
In front of a Greene County grand jury, Cox's former girlfriend admitted she lied to police about his alibi on the morning of June 7, 1992. Cox really wasn't at church with her, she said; he had called her and asked her to lie to police for him.
Learning that, Springfield police twice returned to Texas to interview Cox, but did not obtain enough for an indictment.


"We have to examine everything, try to corroborate statements," Sgt. Mike Owen says. "We have to weigh it on the scale and see what it means."

In a letter to the News-Leader last month, Cox says that in the summer of 1992 he worked as a locator at SM and P Conduit Inc., a Springfield company that locates and marks underground utilities.
"I have done locates all over Springfield," Cox wrote. "I have done work in the area of the house where the abduction occurred."
Years ago, Cox would say only that he did underground locating jobs everywhere; he couldn't remember if he did them in the neighborhood of East Delmar.
Owen says detectives can't ignore things about Cox's past or the comments he's made. But the sergeant also says there are other people and tips, especially a fresh one from a few months ago, that look promising.
"All our eggs are not in Cox's basket," Owen says. "We're still looking at lots of different people. ... If tomorrow we had a lead and solved this case and it wasn't Cox, I wouldn't be surprised."

Nonetheless, Cox has been a suspect since the early days - since police got a call from Florida, from a family that knew exactly what the McCalls and Streeters were going through.

ANOTHER GRIEVING FAMILY

Days after the women were reported missing, Dorothy Zellers was alone in her Dunnellon, Fla., home and decided to watch some television. She was captivated by pictures of three pretty women flashing on the screen, and she listened hard as commentators explained they had vanished from a home in Springfield, Mo.
Dorothy thought of her own daughter, Sharon, who at 19 was fun and full of life when she was raped and killed.
As she continued watching the program, all Dorothy Zellers could think about was the man who had been convicted of killing her daughter in late 1978. The Florida Supreme Court had released the man - Cox - from death row less than three years earlier, and after being paroled from a California prison for kidnapping, he had moved back home with his parents.
He lived in Missouri - Springfield, Mo.
"I just knew it was him. I just knew it," Zellers said more than a week ago, in a telephone interview from her Florida home. "I said to myself, `Cox did this.'"
As soon as her husband, Charles, and son, Steve, returned from a trip to Tallahassee, she told them about the missing women in Missouri.
"I remember her saying to me, `It's really coincidental Cox is there,'" son Steve recalls. "I called the Springfield Police Department and told them Cox is living there. They knew nothing about Cox."
What police didn't know, the Zellers did. That's why for 10 years they've often wondered if Sherrill and Suzie and Stacy were ever found.
"It's always been in the back of our minds, what happened to these women," Steve Zellers says.

"I feel so bad for the families. As bad as our situation is, at least Sharon was found. To not know where they are or where they were, I can't imagine."
Sharon was a happy 19-year-old who wasn't ready for college but loved working at Walt Disney World's Frontierland Trading Post gift shop. She wasn't supposed to work Dec. 30, 1978, but when someone called in sick, she agreed to go in.

She left the park at 10 p.m.
"She never came home," Dorothy Zellers says. "We called Disney World. My husband drove the road back and forth trying to find her along the path. We had everyone out looking."
Five days later, they found their daughter's badly beaten body stuffed in a sewer. The sewer was less than 350 feet from the motel where Cox, 19, was staying while on vacation with his parents.
Within days, Cox, a highly regarded Army Ranger, was interviewed.
It would be 10 years before the Zellers would see him in court. It took that long for prosecutors to get a solid case on the man who, a year after Sharon Zeller was killed, was named soldier of the year.
Testimony at his weeklong trial would show Cox returned to the motel room that night, bleeding from his mouth. An inch of his tongue was gone.
The Zellers believe Sharon bit it off.
"She fought for her life," Dorothy Zellers says.
Police also had a print in Sharon's car matching a military boot. Cox wore military boots. Blood and hair samples were consistent with Cox. And a nurse told jurors that Cox couldn't have bitten his own tongue off in a fight, as he claimed. Because of the way the teeth came down on the tongue, the bite had to have come from another person, she testified.
Prosecutors got a conviction - and a death penalty verdict. But while Cox was on death row, Florida's Supreme Court decided the jury of 12 didn't have enough evidence to convict him. He was freed.
The Zellers were devastated, angry at the justices who had freed the man they believe Sharon attempted to fight off that December night.
"We told them he would kill again," Steve Zellers says.
That's why he made it his personal duty to keep track of Cox, frequently calling the California prison, his Springfield parole officer and now jail officials in Texas. Wherever Cox goes or whatever happens to him, Steve will always know.
Like he knew that Cox was in Springfield on June 7, 1992.
"I want to keep tabs on him," Steve Zellers says. "I want him to know I'm watching."

A SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH

Springfield police have checked sewers across Springfield. They've also searched places known to Cox.
They can't ignore the story of Sharon Zellers, or that a jury of 12 believed Cox was the one who killed Sharon and stuffed her in a sewer. Suzie Streeter and Stacy McCall were driving home, just like Sharon. They were young, with long hair just like Sharon.
Levitt's dad, Jim Williams, died in 1997. He died believing Cox killed his daughter and granddaughter.
"He told me, `I'm sure that's the guy. I just don't know if they'll be able to prove it,'" says Cliff Williams, Levitt's uncle.
Cliff Williams says the way Cox smiles as he talks about the case - and how he plays with police - has convinced many family members that he holds the answers.
At the same time, they realize Cox may not have had anything to do with the disappearance, that playing coy with cops is just a game to him.

In mid-1997, Cox wrote the News-Leader a letter explaining that then-Sgt. Kevin Routh asked him during an interview in jail to tell him where the bodies were.

"I told them that I wanted closure, too. I'm tired of the harassment I have received because of my association to this case," Cox wrote. "Then I told Sgt. Routh if I could tell him where the bodies were, then he would come after me with an indictment and seek the death penalty."
Cox went on to write that he could tell the News-Leader reporter where the bodies were, but he wouldn't do so because the reporter would have to give him up to police.

"I would like him, if he knows something, to tell what he knows," Janis McCall says. "He's going to be in prison another 20-some years. His appeals are gone by the wayside. .... He's said they were dead and buried around Springfield. How does he know that? I don't know if he'll ever give up the right information. I want to know where my daughter is, that's what I would ask the man."



Cliff Williams thinks about the case that swallowed his life 10 years ago, about becoming executor of his niece's estate. He used to jump in his seat every time he heard on television that remains had been found in the Ozarks. Now he just waits to hear from police.
Every few weeks Williams goes for a trim at Bill Stokes' barbershop, where he's confronted by the poster of the missing women. He's never told the barber that he's Sherrill Levitt's uncle.
"I occasionally think about it and wonder if we'll know anything one day. I just hardly don't think we will," says Williams, 82. "I don't know if you call it hope. It's just a long, long shot. You can talk odds of a million to one. This is farther than that. I would like to know what happened. But is that going to happen? I doubt it."

News-Leader reporter Robert Keyes contributed information to this story.

 The mystery: Thousands of tips. But no evidence. No crime scene. No witnesses.



Timeline: 10 years of frustration

June 6 6 p.m. Graduation ends at Hammmons Student Center 7:30 p.m. A friend of Suzie's drops off a graduation cake for her. 8:30 p.m. suzie and Stacy show up at their first party of the night in Battlefield on Coach Drive 9:30 p.m. Sherrill's friend calls her at the house, where she's refinishing a chair 10:30 p.m. Stacy calls home and tells her mom that she won't be driving to Branson. They'll spend the night at Janelle's.

June 7 1:30 a.m. Suzie and Stacy appear at another party in the 1500 block of East Hanover Street in Springfield Just before 2 a.m. They go back to Janelle's house on their way to Suzie's, where they would sleep in her new king-size waterbed. 8 or 9 a.m. Janelle calls Suzie's house. No answer. She leaves a message. 12:30 p.m. Janelle and her boyfriend go to the house on East Delmar Street looking for Suzie and Stacy. 7 p.m. Janis shows up at the house prepared to take Stacy's belongings and her car home.

June 8 Police begin investigating the case. they go to the house and wait for a search warrant to go inside. By the end of the night, police know they have something serious on their hands. the media learn about the disappearance.

June 9 The FBI is called in to help. Every detective at the Springfield Police Department is working on the case.

June 13 The community is invited to help in the search. Dozens of people comb wooded areas.

June 14 Pictures of the three women air on "America's Most Wanted," starring John Walsh (left). Law officers' sweeping search of wooded areas and streams in the Springfield area begins. Officers also search the Bolivar road Apartments after someone leaves a letter in a News-Leader rack at Smitty's 218 S. Glenstone Ave. The letter contains a rough drawing of the apartment complex with the phrase: 'use Ruse of Gas Man checking for Leak."

June 15 Police go back to the house at 1717 E. Delmar St. Officers are working a fresh tip that neighbors saw a transient near the home the days prior to the disappearance. A picture of the man, with long hair and a full beard (right), is released. the Missouri Victim's Center schedules group counseling sessions for friends, family and community members struggling with the disappearance.

June 16 Police release a photo of a retouched dodge van, similar to one seen near Sherrill and Suzie's home early on June7.

June 18 Because of resources needed for the missing women case, the Springfield Police Department eliminates overtime in its traffic and DWI programs. the department has already logged 1,632 hours of overtime and has worked 3,147 hours on the case.

June 21 Police hammer out their theories. Deputy chief Ron Worsham says it appears to be an Abduction and it could go in two directions. 1. A drifting transient watched and waited, then kidnapped the women. 2. Or the answer was in Levitt's background. Police dig deeper into Levitt's past. The reward fund stands at $3,000.

June 24 Police work on a new tip: A waitress at George's Steakhouse, one of Levitt's favorite restaurant,says she saw the three women at the diner between 1 and 3 a.m.

June7. The women arrived and left together. The waitress said Suzie appeared giddy, perhaps intoxicated, and her mom tried to calm her down. the reward fund skyrockets to $40,000 after a secret gift.

June 28 Police end the 24-hour command post at Levitt's home. July 19 FBI Special Agent James Wright comes to Springfield, to gather information and perhaps develop a psychological profile of the abductor.

Sept. 15 Levitt's son, Bartt Streeter, considered an initial suspect, quits his job and leaves Springfield. He has not returned. It is the 100th day of the investigation. Janis McCall: "I'd hate to think of doing this another 100 days."

Jan. 2 An anonymous New Year's Eve caller to a switchboard operator of "America's Most Wanted" is cut off when the operator tries to link up with Springfield investigators.. Police still seek contact with the man, whom they consider to have prime knowledge of the abductions.

Feb. 14 For the first time, police announce that they are considering the possibility that the disappearances are the work of one or more serial killers March 9 Suzie Streeter's 20th birthday. Her grandparents offer several hundred dollars in additional reward money in a taped appeal played on local television.

April 22 McCall's 19th birthday. Aug. 28 Information from a police informant leads police to search farmland in Webster County looking for the bodies of the tree missing women. Police say they find items at the scene, but would not elaborate. The results of the search warrant were sealed.

1994: Another lead takes police nowhere as officers search a section of Bull Shoals Lake. Officers from the Missouri Highway Patrol, Springfield police and Ozark County find animal remains and pieces of clothing believed to be panties and T-shirts. the clothing did not match the description of what the women were wearing. Janis and Stu McCall, Stacy's parents, create One Missing Link, a not-for--profit organization, to help families with loved ones who are missing.

1995: A grand jury disbands in January without handing up indictments. Robert Craig Cox, whose name came up early in the investigation, is arrested in Texas for aggravated robbery. After information on Cox is presented to a grand jury, investigators interview him in a Texas prison. In the grand jury, Cox's ex-girlfriend tells jurors that she lied when she told police cox was with her at church the morning of June 7, 1992.

1996: News-Leader reporter Robert Keyes interviews Cox from prison. The inmate tells Keyes he knows the women were killed and buried somewhere in Springfield or close by. "And they'll never be found."

1997: The family of Sherrill Levitt and Suzie Streeter go through court proceedings to declare the two women dead. Stacy's parents vow that they will not declare their daughter dead until her body is found. On the fifth anniversary, families of the women dedicate a bench in their honor inside the Victim's Memorial Garden in Phelps Grove Park. Sherrill's father isn't at the dedication - he passed away a few months before.

2001: Police consider refocusing some effort on cold cases. The missing women case is high on that priority list. Cpl. Greg Higdon begins to read old reports and leads.

2002: Springfield police write Cox a letter, requesting an interview. The inmate declines, saying because of police influence he's been segregated from fellow inmates. Officers continue to work the case, rereading reports and searching areas.

Part 2

It was graduation day, and Stacy was tired of smiling. She had posed with Grandma, then she took her smile outside to the back yard, where her mother fired the flash over and over.

And when the teen tried to take off her dress shoes and panty hose, mom begged for more photos. Don't change just yet, mom pleaded. One more with the graduation cake.
"Mother, I'm just about smiled out," Stacy grumbled.
But she put up with it. The camera kept clicking and she kept the charm flowing.
Still, Stacy wondered, couldn't the family wait a day before cutting the white cake with the diploma and black cap and tassel?
Janis McCall remembers her daughter's smile as she walked out the door that night, eager to hang out with her friends. She had won. The rest of the celebration could wait - until tomorrow.
Tomorrow came, but Stacy wasn't in the picture.
The cake was never cut. Stacy never read her acceptance letter from Southwest Missouri State University. And she had no time to spend with her graduation puppy, a bouncy cocker spaniel named Bubba.

When Janis McCall closes her eyes and thinks about her daughter, the enduring image is of a smiling 18-year-old walking out the door one last time, a white puppy playfully snapping at her heels.
The frame was frozen on June 6, 1992.

A SPECIAL BOND

Suzie Streeter thought of her mother, Sherrill Levitt, as one of her best friends. Suzie would cancel plans with friends to spend time with her mom. They could talk about anything, and each made tapes of favorite songs for one another, with personal messages - "I just wanted to tell you I love you" - preceding the music.
That's why it wasn't a surprise that the two opted for a take-home pizza and some quiet time alone following Suzie's graduation, in the hours before Suzie would go out to party.
Sherrill was the only family member Suzie had inside Hammons Student Center when she got her diploma. After sharing a meal with her daughter, Sherrill would varnish a chair and hang wallpaper border in one room of the home she had purchased two months earlier.
Because Suzie intended to spend the night with friends at a Branson hotel, Sherrill had the house to herself. At least that was the idea when Suzie left home with the beginnings of a stomach ache. Probably from the pizza, she would later tell friends.
Minutes later Suzie would be at Janelle Kirby's house. Once Stacy showed up, the three friends would head to the party next door.
Sherrill began her chores in the home on East Delmar, accompanied by her little Yorkie, Cinnamon. In the refrigerator was a graduation cake to be shared later. "Congrats Suz!" was written in icing.


LIFELONG FRIENDS

Janelle and Stacy had been friends since they were toddlers. The McCall and Kirby families lived near each other in Battlefield. Janelle's mom had watched Stacy when she was three or four.
The two girls became best friends, playing in the neighborhood and preparing for kindergarten at the same time. Pictures in Janelle's photo album show the two at a birthday party, big grins etched across their faces.
In second grade, Stacy and Janelle met Suzie, a tall blonde who had a small tumor on her chin. Suzie had been held back in second grade and was a year older. But the three connected, sometimes spending the night together.
The McCalls moved out of state when Stacy was 11, and it was just Janelle and Suzie. When Stacy moved back a couple of years later, things were different.
"From then on, it wasn't the same," Janelle Kirby says. Instead of three, it was typically two. Sometimes Janelle and Stacy. Sometimes Janelle and Suzie.
And as high school approached, Stacy migrated toward the popular crowd and Suzie tilted toward a more rowdy bunch. Janelle was the glue for the three.
But a couple of months before graduation, the three rekindled the closeness of childhood. Janelle and Stacy remained close, like sisters. They took the ACT together, celebrated their 18th birthdays. Went to prom.
"It was a big month for us," Janelle says.
Suzie was back in the picture, too. Especially on graduation.
The girls were happy, headed for an uncertain but promising future.
Stacy and Janelle would go to Southwest Missouri State, and they were thinking about pledging a sorority.
Suzie was headed for cosmetology school, following in the footsteps of her mother Sherrill, who had more than 250 clients at New Attitudes Hair Salon.
But before all that, they would have a few days of fun. And it would start on graduation night.
Before the three left the graduation ceremony at SMS, they intended to meet at Janelle's around 8 p.m., go to a party next door, then to another across town and finally drive to a hotel in Branson and hit White Water the following morning.


LAST-MINUTE DECISION

Stacy knew her parents were worried about the girls driving to Branson late at night. All Janis and Stu McCall could think about was the night of their own graduation, when two friends were killed in a traffic accident.
Stacy called home about 10:30 p.m. with a change of plans. The girls had decided to play it safe.
"We're not going to leave tonight," Stacy told her mom over the phone. "We're going to White Water in the morning, and I'm going to stay here at Janelle's."
"Call me before you leave for White Water," Janis told her daughter.
"All right, I will," Stacy answered. "Good night."
Janis felt assured. She went to bed. A long, happy day had ended.

The girls loaded up and went to another party at friend Michelle Elder's house. Stacy and Michelle agreed that they should do more together.
But the party on East Hanover street got a little loud, and a neighbor called police. An officer showed up about 1:40 a.m., shooing partyers away.

Suzie and Stacy went to their cars parked at Janelle's. Her mom, Kathy Kirby, had a pallet laid out on her living room floor for Suzie and Stacy. Janelle would sleep on the couch because family members from out of town were sleeping in her bedroom.
Suzie and Stacy decided they would be more comfortable sleeping on Suzie's new waterbed, and told Janelle they'd see her in the morning.
Kathy Kirby woke up when her daughter came in the front door. She heard the girls outside.
"Follow me to my house," Suzie told her friend.
"OK," Stacy answered. "I will."

Part 3

Janelle Kirby was curious. She had been with Stacy McCall and Suzie Streeter at graduation parties the night before, and they had agreed to meet her the next day for some fun at a Branson water park.
It was nearly noon, and the girls hadn't called.
Janelle decided to drive over to Suzie's house at 1717 E. Delmar St. - where she figured Stacy and Suzie were sleeping in - to investigate. Hopping out of her car barefoot, the first thing Janelle noticed was broken glass shimmering on the front steps.
The porch globe was busted, yet the yellow bulb burned bright under the midday sun.
Someone - or some thing - must have bumped it, she thought. No big deal.
"As a favor" to Suzie's mom, Janelle's boyfriend Mike grabbed a broom, swept up the glass and dumped it in the garbage.
A decade later, authorities view that broken glass as a possible clue to the disappearance of McCall, Streeter and Sherrill Levitt on June 7, 1992. Back then it was an annoyance that could have cut Janelle's feet.
And as Janelle peered into the house through the living room window, Mike unknowingly discarded the only piece of evidence in what appears to be a kidnapping and triple murder - a case that still reverberates in the Ozarks.
Each of the missing women had a car parked in the driveway. Looking through the window, nothing seemed to be amiss inside. The living room was tidy.
Janelle walked around to the back yard, thinking her friends might be sunbathing on a cloudless day with temperatures near 80.

Nothing.

Better have a look inside, Janelle and Mike thought.
Maybe they were asleep. Maybe they had left a note.

THE HOUSE WAS STILL

Janelle knew Suzie's little Yorkie well, but had never seen the him yap and carry on as he did when she cracked open the front door. Cinnamon jumped up into her arms, comfortable being with someone he knew.
"I started yelling for them, for Stacy, Suzie and Sherrill," Janelle says.
The house was still.
She walked through the living room and kitchen, then the bathroom and Suzie's room.
Little things caught her attention. Suzie's bed covers were pulled back. The room was a little messy, but nothing unusual for a teen-ager.
The women's purses were still in the house, piled up on the steps of Suzie's sunken bedroom.
Suzie and her mother, Sherrill, had left behind their cigarettes. That was odd, Janelle thought. The two were constantly smoking, and rarely went anywhere without smokes.
Puzzled, Janelle and Mike went to a friend's house, wondering if Suzie and Stacy had gone there before meeting for the trip to Branson. But their friend Shane hadn't seen the girls. In fact, he was still in bed.
Janelle and Mike returned to 1717 E. Delmar St. one more time. Nothing.
It suddenly occurred to them that the women might have walked to a neighborhood sub shop for lunch, so they hurried over there but, again, found nothing.
They scanned sidewalks of every street they passed, hoping to find the women taking a leisurely walk.
By this time Janelle and Mike were worried, but they still didn't think the women had disappeared. They just didn't know where they'd gone.
Maybe Janis knew.

`LET ME TALK TO STACY'

When Janis McCall hadn't heard from her daughter by midday that Sunday, she called Janelle's house.
Janelle's sister answered the phone.
"Have they gotten up yet?" Janis asked.
The sister explained that Janelle wasn't home, she left with Mike.
"Let me talk to Stacy," Janis asked.
"She didn't stay here," the sister answered.
Janis told the sister that Stacy did stay there last night, explaining that Stacy had called her about 10:30 p.m. with the news.
No, Janelle's sister insisted. Stacy went to Suzie's house. The Kirby house was crowded with relatives and Stacy and Suzie had decided to Suzie's so they could sleep in her new king-size waterbed.
Janis was a little upset that her daughter didn't stay where she had planned to sleep. But she would talk with Stacy about that later.
For the time being, she called Suzie's and left instructions on the answering machine for Stacy to call her when she returned.
Like Janelle and Mike, Janis was worried but not alarmed. The McCall family went to Lake Springfield to watch miniature boats race, as planned. Janis' mother from Oklahoma was in town, and the family enjoyed a hot day in the sun together.
Janis had talked to Janelle, who explained that she and Mike couldn't find Stacy and Suzie.
As the day wore on, Janis' voice on Suzie's answer machine was getting more frantic, her concern evident. Her worry grew when she got a call from a friend, the mother of one of Stacy's close friends.
"Are you aware Stacy's purse and her car and Suzie's car is still at Sherrill's house but the girls aren't?" the woman said.
The sun was starting to set. Janis and one of her two older daughters jumped in the car and drove toward the tiny house on Delmar. The plan was that the sister would drive Stacy's car home.
"I was going to let her look for her car and clothes," Janis says. "I thought, `That serves you right. You didn't let me know anything and I won't let you know.'"

`WHERE COULD SHE BE?'

Light was fading from the evening sky and mature trees around Levitt's home made the entryway dark. Janis searched for a light, and finally found the switch on a table lamp. She looked around the small, dimly lit living room and made her way through the house.
Suddenly, the house on Delmar was filling with people. Family and friends and parents of friends began pouring into the little house, wondering where the women could be.
Janis paced in the kitchen, still upset that Stacy hadn't told her where she was. That wasn't like Stacy, the youngest of three daughters. She was the type of girl who let her parents know where she was at all times.
Stacy had earlier snuck out of the house - only to find her mom waiting outside the apartment building she had gone into. Stacy knew her mom. She knew that Janis worried and that a phone call was always required.
Janis couldn't understand why her daughter had been gone so long. Things weren't adding up.
Not only were the purses of all three women inside - with car keys and a large sum of money in Sherrill's bag - but so were some of Stacy's clothes. And her migraine medication, something she never left behind, was in her purse. Stacy relied on that medication when her headaches were too much to bear.
"I thought, why would she leave all of this here?" Janis recalls.
She kept asking Janelle, back at East Delmar for the third time that day, "Where could she be? Where could she be?"
The mother of one of Stacy's friends was with Janis in the kitchen. They planned to look through Sherrill's personal phone book and call friends to see if they had any idea where the women might have gone.
Let's make a pot of coffee, the friend suggested.
Janis thought, "I don't want to do that. What's Sherrill going to say when we're sitting in her kitchen drinking coffee?"
Janis started calling people, including a former stepdaughter. No one had heard from Sherrill. Janis called her husband, Stu.
"There's something not right, something is really wrong."
He agreed.
It was time to call police. But not 911, Janis thought. That's only for emergencies. And that's not what this was. Not yet.
"I was still waiting for them to come in," Janis says.
She called the department number, and the dispatcher asked if she wanted to call 911.
No. Just take down the information and send an officer, Janis asked.
Within minutes, Officer Rick Bookout got the call.

THE OVERNIGHT SHIFT

The overnight shift is typically a cop's favorite. The calls are exciting. Officers don't have to bother with the traffic. And requests for service aren't as heavy; they can work proactive cases.
Bookout had just clocked in when he heard the police radio crackle. Dispatchers needed the three-year veteran to go to 1717 E. Delmar St. to take a missing- persons report.
"You get a lot of those," Bookout says. "They're pretty typical."
When he got to the house, the door was open. The lights were on. The smell of varnish hit him hard; he figured someone must be doing a remodeling project.
Several people were already inside, milling around the house a block west of Glenstone Avenue. Janelle was there; so was boyfriend Mike. They hadn't gone to White Water, settling instead for a water slide in Springfield known as Hydra-Slide. Janelle still had her swimsuit on underneath her clothes, her shorts soaking wet from the suit.
Bookout first talked to Stu and Janis McCall.
The officer began jotting down the McCalls' story in his tiny flip notebook.
Their youngest daughter, Stacy, 18, had come to the house to spend the night with Suzie Streeter, a childhood friend. Stacy and Suzie weren't supposed to spend the night there, but when plans changed they decided to sleep at the house and go to White Water that morning with some friends. They never called friends to rendezvous for the trip to Branson and they never answered phone calls, which began about 8 a.m.
Bookout took a walk through the home, Janis at his side. They went into Suzie's room, where pictures of famous blondes hung on the wall and seven oversized stuffed animals were scattered across the floor. Two slats in the window blinds had been separated, as if someone was looking out.
The three women's purses were all together, Stacy's sitting on Suzie's overnight bag.
The officer made some notes in his notebook.
The television was left on. The bed wasn't made. It looked as if the two girls had gotten ready for bed.
Bookout looked at Janis, "They could have just gone out having fun," he speculated.
"If she is, she's in her underwear," Janis answered. On the floor were Stacy's flowered shorts, her rings and her watch in the pocket.
Could she have worn some of Suzie's clothes to go out? Bookout asked.
No, Janis answered. Stacy wouldn't fit into Suzie's clothes.
Bookout sat at the dining room table with the McCalls and others. The little Yorkie jumped up on his lap. Cinnamon was shaking like crazy, scared with all the strangers in his house, Bookout said.
"I was thinking, `I wish this little dog could talk.'"

PANIC RISES, HOPE FADES

Officer Brian Gault was the second officer called to the scene. He and Bookout took inventory of the sparse facts they had:

· The three women were gone.

· Their purses had been left behind, along with the keys to their cars, all parked in the driveway.

· The porch globe had been broken, the glass swept up and discarded.

· The missing mother and daughter were smokers, and they had left their cigarettes.

"She'd leave her house without a lot of things, but a smoker wouldn't leave without her cigarettes and lighter," Bookout says today. "I'm thinking, `Yeah, this probably isn't a good situation."
The officers determined this was a missing-persons report, and that foul play was suspected.
As Janelle watched Bookout jot down notes and interview people in the home, her panic level rose. Sitting on the porch steps facing Delmar Street, she watched every set of headlights approach, praying that a car would stop and the women would get out with an explanation for their absence.
But hope was beginning to fade. She sat on the steps and cried. Hard.
The next question hit Janis like a brick.
"Can you obtain dental records for Stacy?" Bookout inquired.
Her heart sank. She knew then that everything in the house, the clothes and cigarettes and keys left behind, spelled trouble.
"I thought, if they want dental records, they want to identify my daughter," says Janis, a dental hygienist. "They thought my daughter could be dead."
Finally, the group of people paraded out of the house and Bookout locked the front door.
Janis was startled, her voice frantic.
"How are they going to get in when they come home?"
Bookout tried to reassure her.
"If they want to get in, they can come to the department and identify themselves."

He taped a small blue note on the door. It was a standard missing-persons letter, with a handwritten message on back: "When you get in, please call, 864-1810 and cancel the missing persons report."

Part 4

Before television cameras or newspaper reporters showed up at their south Springfield home 10 years ago today, Janis and Stu McCall made a pact: They would not show emotion publicly.
When the cameras were rolling, when the reporters were taking notes, the McCalls would fight back tears. They would hold in the fear.
And when making public - often national - pleas for the return of their daughter Stacy, they would read from a prepared statement. Sticking to a speech would keep them strong. Ad-libbing could result in a breakdown.
"If somebody was holding her against her will and they showed her a video or newspaper of us all upset, it would be difficult for her," Janis says of the strategy a decade past. "Even though we were crying all the time, we didn't want people to portray us that way. We didn't want that. We only thought of Stacy."
Stu and Janis McCall made that pact on June 8, 1992. By then they had not seen their daughter in more than 36 hours, and a missing-persons report had been filed with the Police Department.
The final image they held of Stacy was a regal, happy young woman walking out the door hours after her high school graduation ceremony, headed for a Saturday night of partying with friends.
Now it was Monday morning, and they were earnestly showing Stacy's picture to hospital workers, hoping that they may have admitted a young woman without an identification card. Janis kept going back to the fact that Stacy suffered horribly from migraine headaches, and that she had to have her medication with her at all times. Without it, she might have checked herself into a hospital, Janis reasoned.
Stacy's purse - with her medicine inside - was found inside friend Suzie Streeter's house on East Delmar - along with Suzie's purse and the purse of Suzie's mother, Sherrill Levitt. The three women had mysteriously vanished from the home during the early morning hours of Sunday, June 7.
Reality was beginning to set in with the McCalls, a tight family of five who always shared evening meals. Still, Janis knew what she had to do next.
Days earlier, she and her three daughters had watched the "Adam Walsh Story" on television. It was a true story about a little boy who vanished from a department store while shopping with his mother.
Facing the disappearance of her own child, Janis leaned on the images from the show. They needed posters, thousands of them, with pictures of Stacy, Suzie and Sherrill. They needed to call the media to have pictures of the women telegraphed nationwide. And she would have to develop a strong rapport with police to ensure that the search was deep, wide and thorough.

`FULL-COURT PRESS'

Sitting at his desk that Monday morning, Sgt. Mark Webb reread the report of the three missing women and immediately thought about his two young daughters.
Report No. 920169 was mixed in with a large stack of reports on robberies, assaults and rapes from the weekend. Someone had told him to look out for this particular missing-persons report.
Officer Rick Bookout's words leaped off the white lined report: Two Kickapoo girls, and one of their moms, were missing. They had just graduated from high school and had spent Saturday night partying with friends. Then they vanished from a house on East Delmar.
"I thought how horrible it would be to be the parents," Webb says now.



Each woman's car was still in the driveway. Their purses and keys and cigarettes were still inside the home, Webb read. The girls had planned to meet a friend for a trip to Branson on Sunday morning, but they hadn't shown up.
Webb was a 15-year veteran of the Springfield Police Department. He knew it didn't look good. Three people don't just disappear at the same time.
This looked like the real deal, not a prank the department had invested enormous resources in several weeks earlier when officers feared a young woman had been abducted. An abandoned car was found on the Southwest Missouri State University campus, a woman's purse was inside and there were signs of a struggle. The department hit it with what then-Police Chief Terry Knowles called a "full-court press."


In the end, though, officers discovered the scene was staged by the woman - who ran off to California to be with her boyfriend.
This one was different, Webb concluded after reading about Sherrill and Suzie and Stacy. He took the report to Capt. Tony Glenn.
"Glenn, I think we're going to have another full-court press," Webb says.
"I think you're right," Glenn answers.
Detectives were called in; meetings were held; a search warrant was written.
The first few hours of Day One had begun, and the officers had no clue what lay ahead of them.

IN THE BEGINNING: HOPE

Janis McCall never had reason to go to the police station before. But now she was desperate to find it.
What had they learned? What was their strategy? How wide a net had been cast?
Her face was red from tears, her eyes droopy from lying awake all night, sick with worry.
Now she was lost. Then she spotted the row of police cars off Chestnut Expressway, and pulled into the station.
She stood before Sgt. Webb.
"You could tell she was upset," Webb recalls. "Who wouldn't be? She was there to do whatever she could to help us to find her daughter."
Janis knew that police initially believed the women were out celebrating and they would return when the party ended.
She knew in her heart that wasn't correct. Her daughter was in trouble.
Webb told her that the department already had things in motion. Detective Richard Weter was working the case, and other veteran detectives were coming in. The department was waiting on a search warrant to get inside the house.
"In the beginning I had every hope we would solve this in a few days," Webb says. "That we'd find them, know what happened. I thought we'd get to the bottom of it."
Because there was no sign of struggle inside the home - and only a busted globe on the outside light, which had been swept up and tossed aside - there was essentially no crime scene. And the fact that 18 friends and family members had been in the house throughout Sunday didn't help either, authorities say.
Officers knew they were racing against the clock. With each passing hour, authorities were less likely to find the women alive - provided they found them at all.

"There was nothing that indicated anything happened to them," says Weter, who's now retired. "Outside the house, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary."
Weter stood outside as commanders waited for the search warrant. The small home was surrounded by police tape and secured. Neighbors began to gather, wondering what had happened to the mother and daughter who had just moved to the neighborhood two months before.

`I STARTED TO BE AFRAID'
Cliff Williams was at his home near Strafford when his brother Jim, Levitt's father, called from Seattle.
His brother was upset.
"In essence, he said they had been taken," Cliff Williams says today. "I think he said they had been kidnapped. They were missing. The cops had been out there and there was very little evidence. It just knocked him down."
Jim told Cliff he would be coming to Springfield soon, and that he would call again when he knew more.
One of the next calls Jim Williams made was to his daughter Debbie Schwartz, who also lived on the West Coast. She didn't get the message for a while, but when she did, it was hard to believe what she was hearing about her sister Sherrill and niece Suzie.
Their purses were in their house - the same house Debbie had visited the month before - and cars parked in the driveway. But the women, and a friend of Suzie's, were gone. The police were involved.
"I started to be afraid," Schwartz says now. "I didn't believe something like that would happen to her (Sherrill) - she's very careful. She'd never be one to pick up a hitchhiker. She's not the kind of person to be caught up in a scam. She'd ask questions."
Sherrill wouldn't let someone in her house. She wouldn't let someone hurt Suzie.

`THIS WAS THE CASE'

Late Monday afternoon, Capt. Glenn found Police Chief Terry Knowles and his assistant Ron Worsham on the front steps of the Police Department, returning from a meeting at City Hall.
Glenn had another briefing on the three missing women.
"I told them it looked like we could be in trouble on this one," Glenn says today. "Things weren't adding up."
Sherrill hadn't shown up at work, which was totally out of character for the hairstylist with 250 loyal clients. Stacy, the responsible teen who always let her family know where she was, hadn't checked in. And Stacy would have needed her migraine medication by now.
Though police had gotten one report of a sighting - that the three women may have jumped on a plane - investigators knew they were dealing with a serious crime.
Lights of the second-floor detective offices burned bright Monday night, as detectives made calls and created a timeline that would soon be on display in the chief's conference room.
The long, sleepless nights for Springfield detectives began June 8, 1992. Nearly every other case was set aside.
"Everything went on hold. This was the case," Webb says. "There were people whose lives would change before them. A lot of cops won't sit around and talk about it, and admit that they were upset, that they were hurting. But that's what this case would do."
Days earlier, she and her three daughters had watched the "Adam Walsh Story" on television. It was a true story about a little boy who vanished from a department store while shopping with his mother.
Facing the disappearance of her own child, Janis leaned on the images from the show. They needed posters, thousands of them, with pictures of Stacy, Suzie and Sherrill. They needed to call the media to have pictures of the women telegraphed nationwide. And she would have to develop a strong rapport with police to ensure that the search was deep, wide and thorough.

`FULL-COURT PRESS'


Sitting at his desk that Monday morning, Sgt. Mark Webb reread the report of the three missing women and immediately thought about his two young daughters.
Report No. 920169 was mixed in with a large stack of reports on robberies, assaults and rapes from the weekend. Someone had told him to look out for this particular missing-persons report.
Officer Rick Bookout's words leaped off the white lined report: Two Kickapoo girls, and one of their moms, were missing. They had just graduated from high school and had spent Saturday night partying with friends. Then they vanished from a house on East Delmar.
"I thought how horrible it would be to be the parents," Webb says now.
Each woman's car was still in the driveway. Their purses and keys and cigarettes were still inside the home, Webb read. The girls had planned to meet a friend for a trip to Branson on Sunday morning, but they hadn't shown up.
Webb was a 15-year veteran of the Springfield Police Department. He knew it didn't look good. Three people don't just disappear at the same time.
This looked like the real deal, not a prank the department had invested enormous resources in several weeks earlier when officers feared a young woman had been abducted. An abandoned car was found on the Southwest Missouri State University campus, a woman's purse was inside and there were signs of a struggle. The department hit it with what then-Police Chief Terry Knowles called a "full-court press."
In the end, though, officers discovered the scene was staged by the woman - who ran off to California to be with her boyfriend.
This one was different, Webb concluded after reading about Sherrill and Suzie and Stacy. He took the report to Capt. Tony Glenn.
"Glenn, I think we're going to have another full-court press," Webb says.
"I think you're right," Glenn answers.
Detectives were called in; meetings were held; a search warrant was written.
The first few hours of Day One had begun, and the officers had no clue what lay ahead of them.

IN THE BEGINNING: HOPE
Janis McCall never had reason to go to the police station before. But now she was desperate to find it.
What had they learned? What was their strategy? How wide a net had been cast?
Her face was red from tears, her eyes droopy from lying awake all night, sick with worry.
Now she was lost. Then she spotted the row of police cars off Chestnut Expressway, and pulled into the station.
She stood before Sgt. Webb.
"You could tell she was upset," Webb recalls. "Who wouldn't be? She was there to do whatever she could to help us to find her daughter."
Janis knew that police initially believed the women were out celebrating and they would return when the party ended.
She knew in her heart that wasn't correct. Her daughter was in trouble.
Webb told her that the department already had things in motion. Detective Richard Weter was working the case, and other veteran detectives were coming in. The department was waiting on a search warrant to get inside the house.
"In the beginning I had every hope we would solve this in a few days," Webb says. "That we'd find them, know what happened. I thought we'd get to the bottom of it."
Because there was no sign of struggle inside the home - and only a busted globe on the outside light, which had been swept up and tossed aside - there was essentially no crime scene. And the fact that 18 friends and family members had been in the house throughout Sunday didn't help either, authorities say.
Officers knew they were racing against the clock. With each passing hour, authorities were less likely to find the women alive - provided they found them at all.
"There was nothing that indicated anything happened to them," says Weter, who's now retired. "Outside the house, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary."
Weter stood outside as commanders waited for the search warrant. The small home was surrounded by police tape and secured. Neighbors began to gather, wondering what had happened to the mother and daughter who had just moved to the neighborhood two months before.

`I STARTED TO BE AFRAID'

Cliff Williams was at his home near Strafford when his brother Jim, Levitt's father, called from Seattle.
His brother was upset.
"In essence, he said they had been taken," Cliff Williams says today. "I think he said they had been kidnapped. They were missing. The cops had been out there and there was very little evidence. It just knocked him down."
Jim told Cliff he would be coming to Springfield soon, and that he would call again when he knew more.
One of the next calls Jim Williams made was to his daughter Debbie Schwartz, who also lived on the West Coast. She didn't get the message for a while, but when she did, it was hard to believe what she was hearing about her sister Sherrill and niece Suzie.
Their purses were in their house - the same house Debbie had visited the month before - and cars parked in the driveway. But the women, and a friend of Suzie's, were gone. The police were involved.
"I started to be afraid," Schwartz says now. "I didn't believe something like that would happen to her (Sherrill) - she's very careful. She'd never be one to pick up a hitchhiker. She's not the kind of person to be caught up in a scam. She'd ask questions."
Sherrill wouldn't let someone in her house. She wouldn't let someone hurt Suzie.

`THIS WAS THE CASE'

Late Monday afternoon, Capt. Glenn found Police Chief Terry Knowles and his assistant Ron Worsham on the front steps of the Police Department, returning from a meeting at City Hall.
Glenn had another briefing on the three missing women.
"I told them it looked like we could be in trouble on this one," Glenn says today. "Things weren't adding up."
Sherrill hadn't shown up at work, which was totally out of character for the hairstylist with 250 loyal clients. Stacy, the responsible teen who always let her family know where she was, hadn't checked in. And Stacy would have needed her migraine medication by now.
Though police had gotten one report of a sighting - that the three women may have jumped on a plane - investigators knew they were dealing with a serious crime.
Lights of the second-floor detective offices burned bright Monday night, as detectives made calls and created a timeline that would soon be on display in the chief's conference room.
The long, sleepless nights for Springfield detectives began June 8, 1992. Nearly every other case was set aside.
"Everything went on hold. This was the case," Webb says. "There were people whose lives would change before them. A lot of cops won't sit around and talk about it, and admit that they were upset, that they were hurting. But that's what this case would do."
It looked like a grave. The earth moist and dark on top, as if soil had been freshly turned.
Officers Dana Carrington and Ron Hutcheson stood gripping shovels on a patch of rocky, wooded terrain near Lake Springfield.
The call had come in like hundreds of others offering help with the three women who had vanished days earlier. It seemed promising - the break police needed.
"This is a place where someone could bury someone," Hutcheson thought as he glanced around at the secluded area covered with brush and towering trees.
But this "lead" played out like all the rest in the 10-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of Sherrill Levitt, Suzie Streeter and Stacy McCall. Optimism soon faded to disappointment.
"It was a large anthill. An anthill," emphasizes Hutcheson, now a lieutenant in the traffic division who was a major-crimes investigator in 1992. "That's just one story. I went on many leads like that. It showed us we were really grasping for evidence."
Officers followed buzzard sightings, even flying an investigator to Arkansas to check a field where hovering birds had been spotted two days earlier. Visions from psychics were pursued, and officials had tarot cards read at least once in hopes that it would generate a lead.
When it came to possible evidence, everything - regardless of relevance - was collected, tagged and stored. Among the items were dingy, soiled jeans from a trash can that prompted a citizen's tip of a "suspicious odor," and a large pair of women's underwear floating in Lake Springfield - shorts so big, all three women could have fit inside.
Unlike in any case before - or after - the disappearance of the three women, detectives chased tips that came from the community, not from officers on the street. Some blamed that on former Police Chief Terry Knowles, whom they described as a micromanager who didn't let detectives do their jobs. Officers says key suspects who investigators believed had a motive to abduct the women were ruled out by the police chief himself.
George Larbey was president of the Springfield Police Officers Association in 1992. He says officers felt Knowles did not have confidence in them, and that generated a lot of in-fighting within the department during the biggest investigation of detectives' careers.
"If your highest command tells you how it's going to be, simply put, that's how it's going to be," says Larbey, who now serves as a captain in the Greene County Sheriff's Department. "Detectives felt powerless. ... The newer guys wouldn't have any idea what was going on; that this wasn't normally the way we did business."
Adds Greene County Prosecutor Darrell Moore, who was assistant prosecutor when the women disappeared: "This was clearly the most micromanaged case I've ever seen. Seasoned detectives were not allowed to use their experience and judgment in this investigation. ... This is the only case where that happened and I don't understand that. Other chiefs and sheriffs have let the guys run with the investigation."
Knowles doesn't deny he has a hands-on approach as a leader. He says he wants more than a briefing; he wants to know what's going on.
But Knowles disagrees with detectives who claim his dictatorial ways undermined the case.
Contacted recently at his office at the Kansas Bureau of Investigations in Topeka, where he's the deputy director, Knowles says he has not heard accusations of micromanaging.
"I don't recall that being an issue back then," he says today. "What anyone wants to say 10 years later - I can't control that. It's certainly disappointing, and it's frustrating at the time to be doing everything you possibly can.
"Cases don't always work out the way you want them to," says Knowles, who didn't elaborate on whether he, like the detectives, is haunted by the mystery.
"How you feel 10 years later is immaterial - how I feel now will not help solve this case."

`IT COULD BE BAD'

It was Sunday, June 9, 1992. Lt. Mike Brazeal was out of town. He was fairly new in the detective division and was on a five-day, five-city tour of police departments to learn how other cities ran a detective division, how they did investigations. His thoughts often drifted back home to Springfield, where three women had vanished two days before.
"We got a situation going on now with three missing people," now-retired Capt. Tony Glenn told Brazeal on June 8, 1992, when he called to check in. "It could be bad."
"I asked several times, `Maybe I should come back,'" says Brazeal, who is now retired and running an investigations business.
"There's nothing you can do at this point other than stand here with me and worry," Glenn recalls telling his colleague a decade ago.
This case was difficult because nothing - except the busted globe of an outside light - was amiss at Sherrill Levitt's south-central home on 1717 E. Delmar Street, where the women disappeared the day after Streeter and McCall graduated from Kickapoo High School. A vehicle belonging to each woman sat in Sherrill Levitt's driveway, and the women's car keys and purses were inside the small, tidy home. There was no sign of a struggle.

On Tuesday, June 11, the worry at police headquarters had increased.
"We're in a full-court press and I don't know where this is going to go," Glenn told Brazeal in a telephone conversation.
Brazeal was familiar with a full-court press, Knowles' term for throwing extensive resources at a case, pulling officers from other cases to give priority to just one.
Each day, Brazeal called Glenn. He was torn and so was Glenn. Brazeal wanted badly to be in Springfield.
But as this case grew bigger and more mysterious, police also knew what Brazeal was learning on the road was more important than ever. He stayed on the trip. And when he got home on Friday, June 12, the day before officers took off on ATVs and horses and power boats to randomly search for clues throughout Greene County, things had changed.

`THE LINE WAS BLURRED'

Investigation briefings now were being held in the chief's conference room. Daily news conferences were scheduled to update the media. The Federal Bureau of Investigations had joined the case. Detectives were discouraged from sharing with one another tips they had run down.
Instead of coming into the department and working the phones, letting one lead prompt another as they would on any normal major investigation, detectives were mostly getting tip cards - everything from sightings to suspicious activity - to run down. Some sat answering the phones and listening to callers' concerns. Veteran detectives were baffled by this new game plan.
"It was no longer a CIS (Criminal Investigations Section) case. It was a case run out of the administration," says Cpl. Doug Thomas, who was a major-crimes investigator in 1992 and carried the missing-women case longer than any detective. "Investigative decisions were made out of the chief's conference room. The line was blurred because we hadn't done that before."
Thomas doesn't criticize when he talks about the change in protocol. His comments reflect only a confusion detectives felt 10 years ago when they showed up for work and everything they'd known and done for years had changed.
What's so puzzling is that the detectives who felt handcuffed were talented, says Glenn, who was division commander.
On all other cases, they were given latitude to do their jobs. Good detectives need to be supervised, Glenn says - not micromanaged.
Webster County Sheriff Ron Worsham, who was Knowles' assistant chief in 1992, believes the case was managed well. Knowles had come from the FBI, and Worsham had attended the FBI academy. They were trained for major investigations.
"Who else would you want doing the investigation?" Worsham asks today. "The best people at the department ran the investigation. ... We didn't let investigators just run and do whatever they wanted. I don't know how anybody can criticize. For those who do that - they have psychological problems."

CASE TAKES ON LIFE OF OWN

Darrell Moore was at a prosecutor's conference in September 1992 when the television news magazine "48 Hours" jumped to life on the screen.
He found a television at a Lake of the Ozarks hotel because he knew Springfield's case of the three missing women would be featured for sweeps week.
Moore saw clips from across the city. The hair salon where Levitt worked. The house on Delmar where the three women vanished. The McCalls passing out posters with the women's photos and descriptions.
What he saw next, he'll never forget: footage of two suspects being given a polygraph test.
"That's a total violation of the disciplinary rules," Moore says today. "We can't even say whether or not polygraphs have been done. ... Much less allow the media to film it."
Reporters were given unprecedented access 10 years ago, prosecutors say. They were allowed to air and print tips that came in. Nearly every detail from the house - from what was inside to how rooms looked that June morning when the women disappeared - was released.
If police had developed a suspect, and that person was charged, prosecutors feared they would have trouble in court.
"If the defense was alleging police misconduct, it would have been true," Moore says today. "But that was done by one person - the chief."
Knowles disagrees. He needed to get information out, and the media helped do that, he says. If this was a serial crime, other communities across the nation might be able to help.
At one point then-Prosecutor Tom Mountjoy wrote Knowles a letter, saying the lid had to be closed on information being released. If things didn't change, people could be held legally responsible.
Mountjoy, now a Greene County judge, won't talk about the turmoil from a decade ago, explaining that dredging up the past won't help the ongoing investigation. He adds only that prosecutors are supposed to be kept apprised of a case, to make sure it's clean when it goes to trial.
"I don't think I had a handle on what was going on," Mountjoy says today. "There was not a case lead detective, not one person you could go to.
"With a high-profile case, those cases can take on a life of their own. If left on their own, something other than the law enforcement can become in charge."

A MOSS-GREEN VAN

The woman was sure of what she saw on June 7, the day the women vanished. She was on her porch in east Springfield, enjoying the morning sunrise. She saw an older-model Dodge van, of moss-green color, pull into the driveway next door.
A young blonde was driving - she looked just like Suzie Streeter, whose picture had been in the newspaper and on television - and she looked scared. The woman on her porch could hear a man's voice say, "Don't do anything stupid."
She didn't report it for several days because she was too scared to come forward. And by the time she had, police were working other sightings of an older-model dodge van. Sometimes the color was dark blue or a dirty brown, depending on the time of day.
One man told police he was sitting in the parking lot of a grocery store, near Levitt's East Delmar home, and saw a van with a young blonde in the driver's seat. She was waiting on someone in the store. He jotted down the license plate on a newspaper because he thought there was something strange about the van. But he had thrown the newspaper away and when police had him hypnotized he could remember only the first three digits.
"We ran every registered van in the United States that matched that description," Worsham recalls.
A moss-green van, similar to the one the woman said she saw at sunrise, was parked in front of the police station for weeks with the hope someone else would remember seeing one like it around the time of the disappearance.
To this day, opinions differ on the van. Some officers believe a van was involved in the disappearance; others are doubtful. And yet others say police never had enough information to say either way.

FOR THE FAMILIES

The pain doesn't fade. Neither does the idea that maybe something could have been done differently. Maybes and what-ifs fill the minds of detectives.
"Could we have done something differently? Probably," says Asher. "You could point fingers ... but that won't help find these three women."
And beyond the infighting of 1992, detectives say they knew who they were working for.
It was the family of Suzie and Sherrill. It was Janis and Stu McCall.
Within the first few weeks of the investigation, the McCalls sat across the desk from then Sgt. Mark Webb and played for him a tape of a public service announcement they made, pleading for their daughter's return. When the tape ended, Webb struggled to retain his composure.
"I remember thinking, this wasn't someone who had their microwave stolen," Webb says. "They had their baby girl stolen and they wanted her back. We were responsible for getting her back. ... I'll never forget Janis looking at me in the eyes and saying, `You have to promise me you'll bring my baby girl home.'"