It was around 11:00 am on Saturday, September 27, 1975, when Teresa Rhodes left her Greensburg, Pennsylvania home for the last time. The 13-year-old, known as Teri to her family and friends, told her mother that she was going to spend the day with one of her female friends. Her mom, Nellie, told her to have a good time and waved as Teri walked out of the front door. She left the house without taking anything with her; even her purse was left behind in her bedroom. She would never make it home.
Nellie had to work that Saturday night; once her shift was over, she went home and fell into bed. It wasn’t until the following morning that she realized her youngest daughter hadn’t come home the previous night. At first, Nellie wasn’t too worried. She thought Teri might have spent the night at her older sister’s house, so she called to see if Teri was there. Cathi Rhodes told her mother that she hadn’t seen Teri that weekend and had no idea where she might be.
Fighting panic, Nellie called several of Teri’s friends, but none of them had seen her daughter. Nellie was certain that something terrible must have happened, so she called the chief of the Greensburg Police Department at his home. He assured Nellie that Teri had likely just run off with some of her friends and would return when she was ready. Nellie insisted that Teri wasn’t the sort of teenager to run away, but the police chief didn’t want to hear it. It was his daughter’s birthday; he was having a barbeque to celebrate and he didn’t want to be interrupted. He told Nellie to call the police station if Teri still hadn’t returned home by the following morning.
Nellie called her ex-husband, William, and told him that their youngest daughter was missing. She and William had been divorced since 1969, but they had an amicable relationship and were both completely devoted to their children. Frustrated at the lack of concern shown by law enforcement, William and Nellie started searching for Teri on their own.
By the following morning, there had still been no word from Teri and her family was getting increasingly worried. Nellie drove to the Greensburg Police Department; she was successful in getting them to accept a missing person report, but unsuccessful in getting them to believe that Teri hadn’t run away from home. Police listed her as a juvenile runaway and made no attempts at locating her.
Teri’s family knew that she wouldn’t have run away from home, and they launched their own investigation into her disappearance. Teri had been an eighth-grade student at St. Paul’s Middle School in Greensburg; she was known as a vivacious and fun-loving teenager with a ready smile. The youngest of six children, Teri had a close relationship with her parents and siblings and had never given any indication that she had been unhappy at home.
Although Teri wasn’t allowed to date — her parents thought she was still too young — she had a large circle of friends and would often go shopping or to the movies with them. She earned pocket money by babysitting for her sister’s children as well as other kids in the neighborhood; she was good with children and they loved having her as their babysitter.
Nellie told police that Teri never went anywhere without telling one of her parents first, and she had never stayed out late without permission. Although she would sometimes spend the night at a friend’s house, she always made sure to tell her mother beforehand. She would also always take her purse and a change of clothing with her; she hadn’t done this on the day she disappeared.
The fact that Teri had left all her makeup, clothing, and other belongings behind told her family that she had not meant to stay out overnight. Like many teenagers, she spent hours making sure her hair and makeup looked perfect; she never would have gone anywhere for an extended period of time without taking her purse and makeup bag.
Weeks turned into months and there was still no sign of Teri. Her family continued to actively search for her, and they made sure to call detectives with any tips they received. Unfortunately, investigators never bothered to follow up on any of these potential leads.
The holiday season arrived, but no one in Teri’s family felt like celebrating. Christmas had always been Teri’s favorite holiday; she loved to help out in the kitchen as her mother baked cookies and prepared for the large holiday dinner. Her place at the table remained empty that year; it was another sign to her family that she hadn’t disappeared voluntarily. They knew she would have come home for Christmas if she were still alive.
Three years after Teri went missing, Nellie was watching television when she saw news coverage about the mass suicide that had taken place in Jonestown. Although she didn’t really believe that Teri had run off with a cult, she couldn’t help but wonder if her daughter was one of the suicide victims in Guyana. She voiced her concern to investigators; they looked into the possibility that Teri had died in Jonestown, but eventually ruled it out.
By 1982, Teri had been gone for seven long years. Her family had never stopped looking for her, but they were tired of doing all the investigating on their own. Nellie went to the Greensburg Police Department and pleaded with them to help her find her daughter, and they finally agreed to take another look at her case.
When detectives were assigned to the case in 1982, they admitted that the department had dropped the ball by not taking Teri’s disappearance seriously when she was first reported missing. The initial investigation resulted in nothing more than a few sketchy written reports, none of which had any real information for detectives to use. If they wanted to have any chance of finding Teri, investigators were going to have to start over from scratch.
As detectives began talking to people who had been associated with Teri at the time of her disappearance, they realized that the teenager had been living a double life. Her family was stunned to learn that all the times she had said she was going shopping or to a friend’s house, she had actually been going to various house parties where alcohol and drugs were freely available. It was clear that the 13-year-old had been in a hurry to grow up, and she hadn’t been mature enough to make the best decisions.
When Teri left her home for the last time, she had gone to meet her friend, Linda Parri. Linda was 16 years old at the time; it seems that all of Teri’s friends were at least a few years older than her. Detectives interviewed her in 1982, and she finally admitted that she and Teri had gone to a party at a home located on Bell Way in Greensburg. Linda had left the party with a male around 6:00 pm; Teri had still been at the home when Linda left. It was the last time she ever saw her friend.
It seemed clear that something had happened to Teri after Linda left her that night, but detectives were unable to find any potential witnesses who were willing to speak with them. They would eventually come up with a theory about what they believe happened to Teri that night, but they have never been able to find any solid evidence indicating that a crime was committed.
Police believe that Teri had most likely been drinking that day; it’s also possible she was using drugs, whether willingly or not. The house where the party was held was a local hangout for a group of unsavory characters, including a former Greensburg police officer who was later convicted in a mur*der-for-hire scheme and a drug dealer who was also a known pedophile. Investigators believe that there were at least three men there who took advantage of Teri that day, and they do not believe she ever left the house alive.
It’s possible that Teri was mur*dered by someone at the house; it’s also possible that they were giving her drugs and she died of an accidental overdose. Without any witnesses, all detectives can do is speculate. Although they have received several tips over the years from people claiming to know where Teri is buried, to date none of their searches have been successful.
Both of Teri’s parents died without ever knowing what happened to their youngest daughter, but her siblings have continued to search for her. Although they have come to terms with the fact that Teri is no longer alive, they still hope that her body will one day be found so they can give her a proper burial.
Teresa Rhodes was 13 years old when she went missing in 1975. She has hazel eyes and brown hair, and at the time of her disappearance she was 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing red pants and a red & white jacket. Foul play is extremely likely in her case; police believe that she was probably mur*dered. If you have any information about the disappearance of Teri, please contact the Westmoreland County Detective Bureau at 724–830–3286.