Mary Rachel Trlica, Lisa Renee Wilson, and Julie Ann Moseley, aged 17, 14, and 9, lived in Fort Worth, Texas, a city near Dallas. Rachel and Renee were good friends at Southwest High School; Julie was the younger sister of Renee’s boyfriend and neighbour Terry, which made them friends. Rachel lived nearby Renee with her 6-month-old husband, Tommy Trlica, and her 19-year-old sister Debra. The missing all resided within a few blocks of one another.
Renee’s boyfriend had just given her a promise ring, and Rachel was eager to get Christmas gifts for her very young stepson, who would be spending Christmas Eve with her and Tommy. She initially invited her sister Debra to accompany her, but she declined, citing exhaustion from playing Canasta until 4 a.m. the night before.
Rachel contacted Renee, and the two decided to go to the mall since Debra had decided to sleep in. When Rachel arrived at Renee’s house, Julie requested if she may accompany her, and the girls consented as long as her mother allowed. Julie was overjoyed and called her mother, who originally said no, but Julie persuaded her that she would have no one to play with otherwise. Her mother ultimately agreed after considerable pleading, asking the girl to return home by 6 p.m. Renee didn’t mind because she had plans to attend a party at 4 p.m. that day.
The girls climbed into Rachel’s Oldsmobile and drove away, stopping first at an Army Surplus store to pick up some items Rachel had put on layaway. They then travelled to the Seminary South Shopping Centre, a Fort Worth mall with a variety of stores and plenty of shoppers. The girls parked in the upper-level parking lot of “Sears” and exited, never to see their relatives again.
The females walked inside to shop after getting out of the automobile. Rachel’s family went to the mall to hunt for the girls when they hadn’t returned home by 6 p.m. They searched every business and paged Rachel several times but couldn’t find her. All they discovered was her automobile, which was still parked in the Sears parking lot. It was packed of gifts, indicating that the females had left the mall at some point. The involved families turned to the police after they were unable to locate their children.
Initially, police thought the children were runaways rather than missing. This more hopeful view made sense as well: Rachel’s older sister, Debra, had previously fled. The day after the children vanished, Tommy received a letter, apparently written by Rachel, indicating that the girls had gone to Houston temporarily. The families of those concerned, however, did not believe the girls ran away because the circumstances, and even the letter itself, were hazy.
To begin with, the Arnolds (Rachel’s family) reasoned that even if she fled, she would not take 9-year-old Julie with her.
Furthermore, for a variety of reasons, they were sceptical that the letter came from Rachel. The signature at the bottom, for example, seems misspelt, as though she first wrote “Rachee” before changing the last “e” to a “l.” The letter was also addressed to “Thomas,” a name Rachel never used to refer to her husband. Finally, the zip number 76083 on the envelope was smudged, and the final 3 was reversed. The speed with which the letter arrived was likewise a mystery. For these reasons, the families assumed the letter was a forgery.
The letter’s authenticity was also questioned by police. The letter was forwarded to the FBI along with samples of Rachel’s handwriting to compare over the years, but the results were inconclusive. According to one view, Rachel did write the letter because she was compelled to.
The zip code on the letter may have been “76088” if the backwards 3 was interpreted as a faded 8; otherwise, it was “76083,” with the backwards 3 most likely from a hand-loaded stamp. Those zip codes were for Weatherford and Throckmorton, Texas, neither of which was on the road to Houston at the time.
With the girls missing and no help from the letter, the family waited for their return and did everything they could to find them.
On New Year’s Eve, a girl called the Wilson house and said she was Renee’s friend and that the girls would be returning to Fort Worth on a bus from Houston at 7:25 p.m. that day. The Wilsons soon informed the other families, and everyone raced down to the Greyhound bus station to meet their daughters. The bus from Houston arrived at 7:25, but the females were not on it. Most of the family had left by 8:30 p.m. Renee’s father, Richard, and Tommy stayed until midnight before departing home to celebrate the New Year without their daughters.
The girl who called the Wilson household claiming to be Renee’s friend was a forgery, since none of Renee’s friends recognised her name when Renee’s mother Judy questioned. Unfortunately, she would be just one of countless phoney and futile leads that the families of missing children have had to deal with over the years.
The Arnolds were dissatisfied with the police investigation into their daughter’s abduction, so they hired two private investigators, Jon Swaim and Dan James. Swaim himself travelled to Port Lavaca, Texas, with at least 100 volunteers to investigate after receiving information that the girls had been killed and brought there. This advise, however, was ineffective. Swaim would continue to investigate and pressure the police to do the same over the next few years. Unfortunately, Swaim died in 1979 from an apparent suicide, and before he died, he asked that all of his case files, including the Fort Worth Missing Trio, be destroyed. As a result, the world has lost all of his knowledge about the case.
Dan James, on the other hand, is still alive and well and working on the case. His research has revealed a few intriguing aspects about the family, some of which verge on rumour. Tommy, for example, was engaged to Debra before meeting and marrying her younger sister Rachel, and James believes the two were having an affair at the time Rachel went missing. He suspects Rachel is also cheating on her spouse. Furthermore, he believes Debra and Rachel had a fight at a bowling alley the night before Rachel went missing, and that Rachel knew criminals who were in town on the day the ladies went missing. Despite these strange circumstances, James emphasises that there is no proof Debra was involved in her younger sister’s disappearance.
Though James accepts her innocence, the families concerned frequently do not. Rusty, Rachel’s younger brother, frequently dislikes her and suspects she is involved. Debra has constantly defended herself against similar allegations. According to Debra, Rusty is zealous and has a false memory, projecting unpleasant sentiments on her and positive feelings on their sister, such as his assumption that Rachel taught him to play guitar when, in reality, Rachel was unable to play herself. Debra told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2000 that she “has nothing to hide.” After those statements were published, Rusty, Renee’s parents, and Julie’s mother all signed a letter requesting that she “cooperate with the FBI” and “take a polygraph test.” Clearly, not everyone believes her in this situation. Tommy is also frequently included in speculations about the girls’ disappearance.
Several witnesses claim to have seen the girls at the mall before they vanished, and most agree they got into a vehicle with someone else, though the facts aren’t entirely identical. One witness claims it was a vehicle, another thinks it was a truck; one says there was one man, another says there were several. According to one eyewitness, the man told him not to get involved because it was a “family matter.” According to another, the girls got into a car with a mall security guard and seemed joyful, not scared.
Theories surrounding the Fort Worth Missing Trio’s disappearance are as many as they are diverse. Some believe the girls were victims of sex trafficking, often known as “white slavery,” while others believe they were murdered or that only Rachel remains alive. One girl, suspicious of her own past, approached Rusty one day, stating she felt she was Julie Ann Moseley, and Julie’s mother agreed. However, a DNA test cut the connection off. As time passes, the girls’ families continue to hunt for them, expecting that they will reappear one day. However, they have yet to be discovered after over 50 years.
What are your opinions? Are the girls still alive? Was Rachel compelled to write the letter to Tommy? What was the significance of the gifts in the car?