Michelle Parker dropped her 3-year-old twins off at their father’s home in Orlando, Florida around 3:20 pm on Thursday, November 17, 2011. The twins’ father, Dale Smith, lived at the Carter Glen condominium complex, and Michelle was seen on a security camera in the area at 3:17 pm as she drove to his home. The 32-year-old never made it back to her house and she failed to show up for her 7:30 pm bartending shift at a Sanford, Florida bar that evening.
Michelle’s brother, Dustin Erickson, sent her a text message around 4:30 pm Thursday and asked where she was; he got a text message back from her that simply said, “Waterford.” He assumed that meant she was in the Waterford Lakes area of Orlando, but he wasn’t convinced that Michelle was the one who had sent the message. She rarely sent one-word replies when she was texting someone.
Michelle had an 11-year-old son who grew concerned when his mother wasn’t home when he got home from school that afternoon. Around 6:50 pm, he called Michelle’s sister to see if she knew where Michelle was, but neither she nor Michelle’s mother had heard from her. When they learned that Michelle didn’t report to work as scheduled, they called the police and reported her missing.
Thursday had been a routine day for Michelle. A cosmetology student, she spent the morning working at her family’s salon. When she left around 2:00 pm, she planned to pick up the twins from daycare and then drive them to Dale’s house for a scheduled visitation. Once she dropped them off, she was going to go back home and take a nap before her bartending shift that evening.
As Michelle left the salon to pick up her children, her mother reminded her that not everything about that day was routine. A few months earlier, Michelle and Dale had decided to appear on “The People’s Court” due to a dispute over who should have to pay for Michelle’s engagement ring, which was lost after she threw it at Dale from a hotel balcony. The episode was scheduled to be on television that afternoon.
Michelle hadn’t been happy with the outcome of the case; the judge ruled that each couple was liable for half the price of the ring, meaning she would have to give Dale $2,500. She told her mother it had been the most humiliating experience of her life and she didn’t plan to watch herself on television. Going on the show had been Dale’s idea and Michelle regretted that she had agreed to do it.
“The People’s Court” episode highlighted the problems Michelle and Dale had prior to breaking up; Michelle told the court Dale cheated on her with at least seven different women and had been physically abusive to her. It was unclear if the episode had anything to do with Michelle’s disappearance or if the timing was just coincidental.
Orlando detectives confirmed that Michelle and Dale had a violent history but refrained from calling Dale a suspect in her disappearance. Her mother, Yvonne Stewart, said Dale was a good father to the twins but that he and Michelle just couldn’t get along. When asked if she thought he did something to Michelle, she told reporters that she didn’t know, but noted that he seemed very upset when he learned that Michelle was missing. Michelle’s sister, Lauren Erickson, said that Dale had been completely cooperative in the investigation. No one wanted to believe that Dale had done anything to Michelle because it would mean that she wasn’t going to be coming home alive.
At the time of her disappearance, Michelle had been looking forward to a brighter future. She had recently started dating someone and was about to graduate from cosmetology school. Once she had her cosmetology license, she planned to work alongside her sister and mother at their salon in Oviedo, Florida. Friends knew she never would have willingly walked away from the life she had worked so hard to build for herself.
When they learned that Michelle was missing, her friends and family members immediately launched a massive search effort. They created a Facebook page to keep people updated about the case, which amassed more than 3,500 followers in the first couple of days following Michelle’s disappearance. They organized search parties, passed out flyers with Michelle’s picture, and raised money to offer a reward for her safe return.
Michelle was driving her black Hummer when she vanished. Police found the vehicle Friday afternoon on the west side of Orlando, a part of the city where Michelle never went. Dustin said he couldn’t think of any reason why Michelle would have gone there; her friends and relatives feared that Michelle had been carjacked. The Hummer was found in the parking lot of the Walden Palms Apartments. Decals that Michelle had placed on the vehicle to advertise her tanning business had been removed.
Investigators said that Michelle’s phone last pinged at 8:00 pm Thursday near the former Jessie Black Saloon on Oak Ridge Road in south Orlando. After that, her phone was either turned off or the battery died. Friends started their search in that area, hoping to find some clue to Michelle’s whereabouts. Someone donated a camper to use as a temporary headquarters for the search; it was set up in the parking lot of the abandoned saloon. On Saturday more than 150 volunteers gathered there to search for any sign of Michelle or her missing iPhone. Police detectives and search dogs accompanied the volunteers as they combed through the area.
The search continued throughout the weekend. On Monday, Yvonne made another appeal to the public for help finding her missing daughter. “She shouldn’t be where she is right now. She is somewhere scared. Someone has her. We forgive you. Please turn her loose…I know for a fact that she’s not dead.” She refused to allow herself to think about the possibility that she would never see her daughter again.
By Tuesday, the search effort had expanded to cover all of Orange County. Detectives said they were following up on each tip they received and urged people to call them if they had any information about Michelle. Since they hadn’t found any solid evidence of foul play, they were optimistic that they could find Michelle alive but said they weren’t ruling anything out as it was still early in the investigation.
Yvonne appeared on the “Today” show Tuesday morning, bringing some much-needed national publicity to the case. She said she believed Michelle was being held captive somewhere and was praying she would be home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family on Thursday.
Orlando Police Chief Paul Rooney met with members of Michelle’s family on Tuesday night and assured them that finding Michelle was the department’s top priority. He told them he wasn’t worried about using overtime hours; he was willing to do whatever he had to do to make sure Michelle was found safe. Agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were assisting the Orlando Police Department in the investigation.
Around 50 volunteers opted to skip spending a lazy Thanksgiving at home and spent the day searching for Michelle instead. Many of those in the search party wore T-shirts with the missing woman’s picture as they scoured the area surrounding where Michelle’s Hummer had been found. They didn’t find any clues to the missing mother’s location.
The day after Thanksgiving, Yvonne announced that a $50,000 reward was being offered for information leading to the safe return of her daughter. This was in addition to a $5,000 reward that was being offered by Crimeline. Yvonne was hopeful that the large amount of money being offered would bring in some new leads. “We’re not giving up. Somebody out there knows something.”
On November 28, 2011, Chief Rooney announced that Dale Smith was the only suspect in Michelle’s disappearance. The 40-year-old had been the last person to see Michelle and had refused to take a polygraph examination about the case. “We had to look at every aspect of the case before we could come out publicly and state that Mr. Smith is our primary focus. He is our primary suspect.”
The news, though devastating, wasn’t a complete surprise to Michelle’s friends and family members. At a press conference, Yvonne told reporters, “This is a sad day, really, but I think it was inevitable.” She, along with other relatives, said she hoped that Dale would come forward and tell police what he knew so they could find Michelle.
While detectives said that Dale was a suspect in the disappearance, they refrained from commenting on what they thought happened to Michelle. Instead, they urged anyone with information to contact investigators. They had searched Dale’s home when Michelle was first reported missing, and since then they had also searched his parents’ property and a retention pond near their home. It was unclear if they found any evidence.
Dale’s attorney, Mark NeJame, denied that his client had anything to do with Michelle’s disappearance. At a press conference on November 29, 2011, NeJame said that statistics suggested that Michelle, who had been missing for 12 days, was likely dead, but he insisted that Dale had nothing to do with it. He claimed after Michelle dropped the twins off at Dale’s home, she left immediately. Dale then took the children directly to his mother’s home, arriving there around 4:30 pm. NeJame said this didn’t leave enough time for Dale to kill Michelle and then get rid of her body and vehicle.
Despite the fact that Dale was named as a suspect in Michelle’s disappearance, a judge ruled that he could retain custody of the twins. Child welfare officials had attempted to remove the children from his care, citing his violent history, but the judge found the children weren’t in imminent danger with Dale and his family. Yvonne, who attended the emergency custody hearing, hugged Dale when it was over and said she would be in touch with him to set up a visit with her grandchildren.
Shortly after he was named the prime suspect in Michelle’s disappearance, Dale contacted Texas EquuSearch for help finding the missing woman. Volunteers with the search and rescue group searched Lake Ellenor and the surrounding area, which was near where Michelle’s phone last pinged.
On December 5, 2011, Michelle’s friends and family relocated the search headquarters to The Barn in Sanford, where the missing woman had worked as a bartender. Friends noted that they covered the city of Orlando in missing person posters; they felt it was time to expand the search to Sanford and beyond. They started distributing missing person flyers in Seminole and Volusia counties, hoping that by casting a wider net they would finally get the tip they needed to find Michelle.
Dale’s mother, Tamara Smith, was subpoenaed on December 6, 2011; she reported to the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office with her lawyer to answer questions under oath. Her lawyer said Tamara was fully cooperating with the investigation. “At the end of the day, she wants nothing more than for Michelle to be found. She’s a concerned mother and grandmother.”
Investigators got a potential break in the case on December 7, 2011, when they found Michelle’s missing iPhone. Yvonne was called down to the police station to identify the phone, which was still in the pink, white, and black case that was so familiar to Michelle’s family. At first, Yvonne was thrilled to learn that the phone had been found; she hoped that it would lead them to Michelle. Her heart sank, however, when she learned that the phone had been found at the bottom of a lake in Belle Isle, Florida — halfway between Dale’s condominium and his parents’ home.
For the first time, Yvonne was forced to confront the fact that Michelle was likely no longer alive. Fighting back tears, she admitted, “It’s become a lot more real to me that someone has done something terrible to my child…I hate whoever did this to her. She didn’t deserve this.”
Although the phone had been underwater, detectives noted that it was in “remarkably good condition” and said that they were able to retrieve several photographs during a preliminary forensic examination of the phone. They hoped that further testing would yield more evidence that might help them determine what happened to Michelle.
As the investigation into Michelle’s disappearance entered its fourth week, police divers searched a small canal behind the Sky Lake subdivision, where Dale’s father owned property. They also continued to search Lake Conway, where Michelle’s phone had been found.
Michelle’s loved ones had little reason to celebrate as Christmas approached, although they did work out a visitation schedule with Dale so they could see Michelle’s twins on a regular basis. They tried to maintain a sense of normalcy for the children, who were too young to fully comprehend the situation.
On February 1, 2012, police divers were sent into Lake Bumby in Orlando’s Holden Heights neighborhood after receiving a tip that Michelle’s body had been dumped there. Several members of Michelle’s family gathered near the lake to watch as the search took place, but nothing was found. Yvonne fought back tears as she told reporters that she was living a nightmare. “It’s the worst thing a person can do — take your child away and not tell you where they are.”
As the investigation hit the six-month mark, detectives admitted that they had exhausted all leads and still weren’t sure what had happened to Michelle. They had followed up on more than 700 tips and conducted dozens of searches, but with the exception of Michelle’s vehicle and phone, no evidence had been found. Hoping to reinvigorate the investigation, several dozen detectives who weren’t familiar with the case gathered in Orlando to review the case file. The group planned to meet on a regular basis to discuss the case and see if they could find anything that was missed during the initial investigation.
Months went by and there were no new developments in the case. As the first anniversary of Michelle’s disappearance approached, her family organized another search for the missing mother. Yvonne admitted that she wasn’t expecting to find her daughter alive. “Right now, we all believe that Michelle is in heaven. We believe she was mur*dered, and we believe that someday the truth will come out.”
In January 2013, Michelle’s family, acting on behalf of the missing woman’s estate, decided to file a wrongful d*eath lawsuit against Dale. Attorney John Morgan said he believed there was enough evidence to prove that Dale “was negligent or otherwise committed a wrongful act” that resulted in Michelle’s de*ath. Yvonne told reporters, “Michelle is still missing and I want answers.” She didn’t feel Dale had been completely honest with detectives and she hoped by suing him she could learn what happened to her daughter.
On the second anniversary of Michelle’s disappearance, police released a short video that showed her Hummer stopping at a red light less than a mile from the Walden Palms Apartments where the vehicle was later found. It was impossible to tell who was driving the Hummer in the video, which was taken the evening Michelle was reported missing.
Detectives told reporters that they were looking for a second suspect as they didn’t believe the person responsible for Michelle’s disappearance acted alone. Orlando Detective Mike Moreschi noted, “This was a two-person situation.” He hoped that releasing the video would remind people that Michelle was still missing and lead to renewed interest in the case.
In September 2014, a Florida judge ruled that the wrongful de*ath suit against Dale would be allowed to proceed. Yvonne said she was hopeful this was the first step in getting some answers about what happened to Michelle. During his deposition, however, Dale refused to answer questions about the case. Instead, he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He feared anything he said in the civil trial might later be used against him in a criminal trial.
Michelle’s family appealed to the judge, and in November 2016 the court ruled that Dale would have to answer some of the questions. The case soon stalled, however, and two years later Dale’s lawyers moved to have the case dismissed due to the delay. The prosecution argued that there was a good reason for the delay, however; they wanted to depose the lead investigator but some of the information contained in his files was still considered confidential because the missing person case was still active.
In November 2018, the judge moved that the wrongful de*ath suit could proceed, but as of August 2023, there has been little movement on the case. While Michelle’s family is certain that she is no longer alive, her case is still classified as a missing person case and this is unlikely to change unless her body is found.
Michelle Loree Parker was 32 years old when she went missing from Orlando, Florida in November 2011. She was a devoted mother to three children and none of her loved ones believe that she voluntarily abandoned them. Her ex-fiancé, Dale Smith, is considered a suspect in her disappearance but no criminal charges have been filed against him in connection with her case. Michelle has brown eyes and brown hair, and at the time of her disappearance, she was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds. She was last seen wearing blue jeans, a white T-shirt, a blue Florida Gators hoodie, and flip-flops. If you have any information about Michelle, please contact the Orlando Police Department at 407–246–3975.