Dorothy Scofield and her mother left their Citra, Florida home on the morning of Thursday, July 22, 1976, and headed to the J. M. Fields Plaza in Ocala, Florida. While Dorothy’s mother went into the Florida Highway Patrol office to renew her driver’s license, the 12-year-old went into the J. M. Fields department store to exchange a pair of sandals. Dorothy — known as Deedee to family and friends — was seen browsing in a couple of the stores in the shopping mall, but she failed to meet her mother at the designated time and she was never seen again.
Deedee’s mother, Lena Scofield, called the Ocala Police Department and reported her daughter missing that afternoon; she told investigators that Deedee had no history of running away and wasn’t having any problems at home. She stated that Deedee had wanted to buy her older brother a birthday present at the shopping mall, and Lena had allowed her to go by herself because she was going to be right next door. “It was the first time I had ever let her go anywhere on her own.”
Ocala Police Detective Gordon Welch questioned employees who worked in the shopping mall but none of them were able to provide any clues to Deedee’s location. The last sighting of her had been around 2:00 pm, when she was seen buying a watch band for her brother in J.M. Fields department store. Detective Welch noted, “After that point, we have nothing. There was no commotion in the parking lot, no one even saw her leave the store. She’s just gone.”
Police searched the area surrounding the shopping mall on foot and by helicopter, but they didn’t find anything related to Deedee’s disappearance. Officials with the Ocala Police Department asked for the assistance of the FBI due to the possibility that Deedee had been kidnapped.
Detective Welch stated that investigators were considering the possibility that Deedee’s disappearance was linked to the robbery that had taken place in Ocala National Forest the previous month, but admitted, “We have no firm evidence connecting the two incidents…it’s a pretty slim hope.”
A week after Deedee was last seen, her family announced that they were offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to her safe return. They had also consulted with a psychic after learning that police had run out of leads to follow. Ocala Police Chief Lee McGehee stated that investigators had no idea what had happened to the missing girl. “We’re trying to determine now why she’s gone.” Although detectives were open to the possibility that Deedee had run away, they admitted that it would be out of character for her to do so and they were leaning towards foul play.
A motel in Ocala offered to let Deedee’s family stay there for free while they were taking part in the search for the little girl. Ocala residents who had never met the family showed up at the motel to provide meals for the Scofields and assist them in the search. A local print shop made 5,000 copies of Deedee’s missing flyer and reward posters so volunteers could distribute them throughout the area.
On Saturday, July 31, 1976, Deedee’s family received a phone call from someone who claimed to have the little girl. Deedee’s brother-in-law, Ron Scott, answered the phone and heard a low voice say, “If you want your daughter back, go to the following address…” Scott quickly wrote the address down, but the caller hung up before he could ask any questions. His wife, Tori, immediately called the phone company, hoping they could trace the call, but they were unable to provide any help.
Tori called the Ocala Police Department and asked to speak to one of the detectives assigned to Deedee’s case, but none of them were available at the time. Frustrated, Deedee’s father, Joseph Scofield, decided to drive to the address himself. Ron offered to accompany him, and the two men took off, hoping to return with Deedee.
When the men got to the address, they discovered the call had been nothing more than a cruel hoax. “It was just two families arguing. One wanted to get the other in trouble.” It was a huge disappointment for Deedee’s family members, and Lena broke into tears when she found out. “God, I can’t believe the stuff some people pull.”
Joseph vowed that he was going to keep searching for his daughter despite the setback. “I’m going to keep plugging. I’ll go until the money runs out. I won’t quit…I’ll spend all I have to get her back.”
Deedee and her family had moved to Florida from Hilliard, Ohio the previous autumn. Deedee was enrolled in North Marion Elementary School, where she had no problems making friends. She was an honor student and always brought home excellent grades, and her sister described her as “exceptional, really a sweet person.”
Although Deedee’s parents told detectives that the 12-year-old hadn’t had any problems adjusting to life in Florida, some of her friends at school said that Deedee had mentioned missing Ohio and wanted to move back to her old home town. Investigators considered the possibility that Deedee had decided to run away to Ohio, but none of her friends there had spoken to her and were unaware of her desire to move back.
Deedee’s sisters, Toni and Shelly, were adamant that Deedee was not a runaway. Toni insisted, “She is not the type.” She was too close with her parents and siblings to even consider running away from home.
As news of Deedee’s disappearance spread, detectives heard from a convenience store clerk who worked at a store 15 miles away from the shopping mall where Deedee was last seen. The clerk told investigators that a young girl matching Deedee’s description had come into the store around 2:30 pm the day she was reported missing. The girl, who looked like she had been crying, bought some soft drinks and then got into a car driven by an unidentified male. It was the last reported sighting of Deedee, though police admitted that they couldn’t confirm that it had been Deedee who had been at the convenience store.
On August 3, 1976, Deedee’s family announced that the reward for information was being raised to $2,000. Her father told reporters that he hoped the increased reward would bring in some new tips, as detectives had exhausted all leads and still had no idea what had happened to Deedee.
Joe and Lena stated that they had put much of what they owned up for sale to finance the search for their daughter. They hired a private investigator, spoke with psychics from as far away as Europe, and asked every police agency in the area for help. Joe noted, “All I want to do is get her back. I don’t care what it costs. Whatever I have is for sale. And I will continue until I exhaust what we have.”
Lena said she knew in her heart that Deedee was not a runaway. “A child who comes up and kisses mommy and daddy on the cheek and tells them she loves them is not going to run away.” She described her daughter as someone who loved going to church and was the kind of person who liked to plan everything out ahead of time. She was far too sensible to run away without taking any clothing or money with her.
Jane Kershner, one of Deedee’s teachers, also thought it was unlikely she was a runaway. “She is the kind of child who thinks things out before she does it. I doubt seriously she would have left without money or clothes. She is a very bright, careful child, an excellent student with above average intelligence. She had top grades, was interested in everything, and spent her time helping other students.”
Sgt. Welch admitted that investigators had been unable to find any trace of Deedee. “Despite the man hours put into this case, we still have nothing to indicate whether she was abducted or she ran away. We have one fact: she’s missing.”
Lena couldn’t bring herself to leave the house. Instead, she spent each day sitting by the telephone, praying that she would hear from her daughter. “When the phone rings, you get your hopes up before you even answer it. That’s why I stay here. I feel Deedee will call if she can.”
By the end of August, Deedee was still missing and police were still at a loss to explain what had happened to her. Her family told reporters that they had been touched by the number of strangers who reached out to them to offer their support; they had received cards and letters from people from as far away as Wisconsin and California. Many of the letter-writers just wanted the family to know they were praying for them, but one was from a Florida detective agency that offered to work on the case free of charge.
Weeks turned into months, and Deedee’s fate remained a mystery. By the end of the year, it was clear the case was starting to go cold. Sgt. Welch stated that investigators had followed up on every tip they received, but nothing brought them any closer to finding Deedee. “It’s just going to take patience, that’s all.” He told reporters that despite the lack of evidence, detectives had ruled out the possibility that Deedee was a runaway. “She’s not that type of girl. I just don’t believe she would do anything like that.”
Sgt. Welch traveled to Daytona Beach after a man reported seeing a young woman he believed was Deedee at a home there. When he knocked on the door of the house in question, Sgt. Welch thought for a minute that his search was over. “I almost had a heart attack…it was Dee, right down to the wire-rimmed glasses.” The young woman could have been Deedee’s twin, but it wasn’t Deedee. Sgt. Welch returned to Ocala empty-handed.
Deedee should have been celebrating her 13th birthday on January 8, 1977. Lena spent the day at home, crying whenever she thought of her missing daughter. She told reporters that she was still optimistic that Deedee would be found safely. “I can see no reason why we can’t continue hoping as long as there’s been nothing found or any other kind of news.”
In July 1977, the Scofield family marked the grim first anniversary of Deedee’s disappearance. They were convinced that Deedee was still alive, and they were desperate to find her. Joe said he knew that Deedee hadn’t run away, but he almost wished that she had. “I’d get down on my knees and kiss the ground if I really thought that’s what happened.” The alternatives were too horrible to think about.
Joe had done everything possible over the past year to find his daughter, but he admitted that he hadn’t had any luck chasing down leads. “Everything we tried came to a de*ad end. We’ve never even had a confirmed sighting.”
Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Robert Howard had been at the Highway Patrol office when Lena went in to renew her license. He had taken part in the initial search for Deedee, and told reporters that he often thought about the missing child. “Since it happened right here under our noses, I think about it a lot. It makes you afraid to let a child out of a car at a shopping center.”
Like the other investigators, Sgt. Howard said he didn’t believe that Deedee left voluntarily. “There is always the possibility when you’re dealing with a 12-year-old child that it’s a runaway, but I think the chances are greater that she was abducted.”
Deedee’s disappearance took a huge toll on her parents. They sold the small barbeque restaurant they owned to finance the search; when the money from that sale ran out, they sold their property. When they ran out of funds, they borrowed money. Despite everything they tried, however, Deedee’s location remained a mystery.
By 1982, Deedee had been missing for six years and Joe and Lena’s marriage had disintegrated. Lena remained in Florida and told reporters she would never stop looking for her youngest child. “I don’t know if you ever adjust. It has torn everybody up. We always had a happy family life. We always had a good time. You cry a lot and you pray a lot. After that, there’s nothing left.”
In October 1983, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released an age-progression photo of Deedee, showing what she might look like as a 19-year-old. They based the composite off of photographs of Deedee, her mother, and her older sisters. A spokesperson for the department hoped that the photo would bring in some new tips that might finally lead investigators to Deedee. “There’s no worse agony in the world than not knowing where your children are.”
The Ocala Police Department has never stopped searching for Deedee, but they haven’t had any new leads in years. In July 2022, they released a new age-progression photograph of Deedee and asked for anyone with any information to contact detectives. Unfortunately, Deedee’s parents died without ever learning what had happened to their youngest child, but Deedee’s siblings continue to look for her.
Dorothy Delilah Scofield was just 12 years old when she went missing from Ocala, Florida in July 1976. Deedee was an excellent student and made friends easily, and she was very close with her parents and siblings. Detectives believe that Deedee was abducted and likely murd*ered, but her body has never been found. Deedee has blue eyes and brown hair, and at the time of her disappearance, she was 4 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 90 pounds. She was last seen wearing blue jeans, a red body suit with a blue flower design, a button-up shirt, a brown leather belt, and lime-green high-top Keds sneakers. She had a mole on her knee and needed eyeglasses to see. If you have any information about Deedee, please contact the Ocala Police Department at 352–629–8508.