Tarasha Benjamin loved going to the Selma Flea Market in her hometown of Selma, Alabama. The 17-year-old would normally go to the flea market every Saturday, and June 26, 2010, was no exception. Tarasha told her mother, Regina Benjamin, that she and a family friend, Telish Givhan, were going to go to the flea market together that morning; they left the house around 9:00 am. It was the last time Regina would see her daughter.
Telish returned to the Benjamin home around 1:00 pm without Tarasha; she told Regina that something had come up and she had decided not to go to the flea market; she said she had let Tarasha borrow her truck so she could drive herself there. She assumed she would be back by then and had come to retrieve her vehicle.
Regina immediately tried calling Tarasha’s cell phone but it went straight to voicemail. Concerned, she started calling friends and other relatives who lived in the area to see if any of them had seen her daughter. Theresa Pugh, a family friend, told Regina that she had seen Tarasha driving in the neighborhood around 10:30 am. “I saw her go around the corner. She was driving [Telish’s] truck…she was by herself.”
One of Regina’s cousins told her that she had seen the gray Mazda truck Tarasha had been driving parked on Cecil Jackson Boulevard near an American Apparel store. Regina and other family members went looking for the truck and found it parked exactly where the witness had seen it. Ominously, two of the windows on the driver’s side had been broken, as had the handles on the driver’s side doors. There was no sign of Tarasha.
Regina called the Selma Police Department and reported her daughter missing. She told them that Tarasha was the type of teenager who would check in several times a day when she was out; it was completely out of character for her to go anywhere without letting her mother know where she was going to be. Regina was convinced that something terrible had happened to her.
By Sunday, Tarasha’s family members and friends had launched an extensive search for the missing teenager. They canvassed the city of Selma, distributing missing person fliers and interviewing residents looking for anyone who might have seen Tarasha after she left to go to the flea market.
One witness claimed he saw Tarasha and two other girls walking along Union Street near the Bosco Center late Saturday night; the two girls kept walking down an alley but Tarasha stopped when she saw a black Dodge Charger pull up to the curb. It’s unclear if the man saw Tarasha or just someone who looked like her. According to Regina, “He said she got into that black Charger…I don’t know, I just don’t know.” Tarasha wasn’t the type of person who would get into a car with a stranger.
On Monday, Tarasha’s loved ones met at the Selma Police Department and spoke with detectives about the teenager’s disappearance. After the meeting, they spread out across the city to search for Tarasha. Angela Benjamin, Tarasha’s cousin, was a Selma city councilwoman. She took the lead in the search effort, sending volunteers to different sections of the city to look for Tarasha. She also started a Facebook page dedicated to finding Tarasha and pleaded with people to contact them if they knew anything about what had happened to Tarasha. “We just need information. Every lead is being followed up, every last one.”
As loved ones started canvassing the city, they were interrupted by the sound of sirens. A call had come in about a potential altercation involving Tarasha, and several police cars sped across the Edward Pettus Bridge to follow up on the report. The call had come in from a man named Wesley Bell, who had been driving home from work when he spotted a man he knew as Charles walking along the side of the road. Thinking he might need a ride, Wesley pulled over alongside Charles.
Wesley’s sudden appearance seemed to spook Charles. “Before I could talk to him, he said, ‘I ain’t done nothing’ and ran away.” Confused, Wesley chased after him as he ran off into a wooded area next to the road. He asked why he was running if he hadn’t done anything but got no response from Charles. He lost sight of Charles but saw that he had dropped a bloody towel. He picked it up, telling police that “it looked like evidence.” It’s unclear why Wesley assumed that Charles and the bloody towel had anything to do with Tarasha’s disappearance; investigators and volunteers spent the rest of the day searching the area for Charles but were unable to locate him and he was never linked to Tarasha.
In another twist, Telish Givhan was arrested that Monday on an outstanding warrant and was being held in Dallas County Jail. Although Selma Police Detective Sgt. Tory Neely stated that her arrest had nothing to do with Tarasha’s missing person case, the timing was suspicious and some wondered if she knew more than she was saying about the disappearance.
By Wednesday, Tarasha’s loved ones were growing increasingly desperate to locate her. That afternoon, a group of family, friends, and volunteers met at a performing arts center in Selma to discuss the search effort. Selma Mayor George Evans addressed the group, admitting, “This is a real sad occasion. People come up and get lost, that’s what I hope this is.” Those who knew Tarasha, however, were certain that she wasn’t simply lost. They believed she had most likely been abducted and they were determined to find her.
On Saturday, volunteers went to the Selma Flea Market and passed out missing person fliers. They spoke with vendors and customers at the market, hoping to find someone who might have seen Tarasha the previous week. According to Angela, “The family feels she did make it to the flea market. A couple of vendors said they saw her.” Exactly what happened to her after she left remained a mystery.
That evening, a group of around 75 people gathered at Selma’s Bloch Park to hold a candlelight vigil and prayer service for Tarasha. Regina was grateful to see how many people came out to show their support for her daughter. “Everybody has been sticking with me. That’s what keeps me going.”
As the investigation stretched into its second week, Detective Michael Ames admitted that they were running out of leads. “We need to hear from anybody who saw that gray Mazda between noon and 8:00 pm Saturday.” Investigators were still trying to piece together exactly where Tarasha had gone when she left the flea market; they had received a few tips but “as far as locating her, we aren’t any closer.”
On July 6th, two search experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children arrived in Selma to offer their assistance to the Selma detectives. They also met with members of Tarasha’s family. Angela told reporters, “They have the expertise, so we are putting the search in their hands and in the hands of the Selma Police Department. We will continue to take information door-to-door.”
Three weeks after Tarasha was last seen, there had been little progress in locating her. Selma Police Chief William Riley noted, “We’re following up on any lead or idea that might be able to lead us to either a safe return of [Tarasha] or, if this turns into a recovery situation, to that.” Bob Lowry, a spokesperson for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reminded the public that the case was time-sensitive. “We think of time as the enemy. Someone out there knows what happened to this child and we need them to call.”
The search effort was soon expanded to include much of Dallas County. Divers were sent into creeks and rivers, cadaver dogs combed through woods and fields, and helicopters searched from the air. Agencies from several surrounding counties assisted in the search, all of them hoping to be able to bring Tarasha home. Sadly, they found no clues as to what had happened to her.
Tarasha should have been celebrating her 18th birthday on September 16, 2010. Her loved ones marked the occasion with a small gathering at Bloch Park. Those in attendance wore T-shirts with Tarasha’s picture to remind the public that the teenager was still missing. Her aunt, Tosha Benjamin, admitted, “We don’t know if she’s alive or dead.” Regina, however, was trying to remain positive. “I believe she is going to come home.”
Tarasha’s loved ones did everything they could to make sure that the public didn’t forget that the teenager was still missing, but the case soon faded from the headlines. Tips dried up, and months went by without any updates from law enforcement. A year after Tarasha was last seen, Lt. Mike Harris admitted that investigators were no closer to determining what had happened to her than they had been on the day she went missing. “Of course it’s discouraging, because we want to know where this child is at and what happened to her.” He made another appeal for anyone with information to contact the Selma Police Department, but no new leads were developed.
Tarasha’s case remained cold until September 2016, when police received a tip that her body was buried behind an abandoned building that had once housed the Top Class Lounge. Investigators with the Alabama State Bureau of Investigations used ground penetrating radar to search the area and identified a couple of anomalies they believed could possibly be graves; they spent several days digging up the backyard with a backhoe but found nothing. The case went cold once more.
It’s been nearly 13 years since Tarasha left to go to the flea market and never returned, and her disappearance continues to baffle the Selma Police Department. Regina believes that Tarasha could be a victim of sex trafficking and was likely taken out of the Selma area shortly after she went missing. There have been a few reported sightings of her in Florida; family members have traveled to Florida several times to follow up on these potential sightings but have never been able to confirm them. Regina feels that Tarasha is still alive and continues to search for her. “I never felt death with her…I can feel things with my kids. I tell people that all the time. I will never give up.”
Tarasha Benjamin was 17 years old when she went missing from Selma, Alabama in June 2010. A friendly teenager with a ready smile, Tarasha loved going to the Selma Flea Market to search for bargains. Tarasha has black hair and brown eyes, and at the time of her disappearance, she was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 125 pounds. She was last seen wearing blue shorts, a yellow, white, and turquoise striped shirt, silver sandals, and a silver necklace. Her ears are pierced and she has a tattoo of her nickname “Pooh” on her upper right arm. If you have any information about Tarasha, please contact the Selma Police Department at 334–874–2134.