Marlena Danyele Childress was a four-year-old girl living in Union City, Tennessee. Her parents, Pamela Lynn Bailey (22) and Kevin Childress (24), were divorced. Marlena lived with her mother and step-father, Johnny Bailey.
On April 16, 1987, Marlena was seen playing in her yard around 3:30 PM. Pam was in the kitchen when she heard a car skidding. She looked out the window and caught a glimpse of the car speeding away. At first, she thought her daughter had been hit but when she went outside Marlena was nowhere to be found.
By 4:15 PM she had reported her daughter missing.
Authorities conducted a search while Pam reached out to the media for help in finding the four-year-old girl.
Unfortunately, neither effort provided any clues as to where Marlena had gone.
Understandably, Pam did not deal well with the whole ordeal. She ended up checking herself into a hospital where she remained for nine days. Meanwhile, hundreds of people searched for Marlena and left flowers under the tree in her yard where she was last seen.
On June 8, nearly two months after Marlena’s disappearance, Pam revealed that her daughter had been dead the whole time. She claimed to have slapped Marlena too hard, resulting in the child hitting her head on the table. Pam then disposed of the body in the Obion River.
She told authorities that a local man had helped her, but after he was brought in for questioning he was cleared of any involvement. Apparently, he had an alibi and despite knowing Pam, they had not spoken in years.
The river was dragged but no evidence that Marlena’s body had been there was found. Nevertheless, Pam was charged with second-degree mur*der and placed under observation in a Nashville mental institute.
She was deemed fit to stand trial but to everyone’s shock, Pam reversed her statement, claiming she had been manipulated into confessing to the crime.
According to authorities, Pam was very inconsistent when asked what truly had happened to her daughter. Once she said Marlena had been sold in order to pay a drug debt. Another time, Pam claimed her childhood abuser (a family friend) had pressured her for intercourse and when she denied, he kidnapped Marlena.
Despite there being no evidence for either of these scenarios, Pam maintains her innocence.
Steve Cavness was a private detective hired by Marlena’s family to find her. Pam accused Cavness of taking advantage of her poor mental health state after being institutionalized and medicated to manipulate her for a declaration of guilt.
According to Pam, Cavness told her she’d go to the electric chair if she didn’t admit to k*illing her daughter. Moreover, she was told that authorities had found physical evidence in the Obion River and that someone had witnessed her disposing of the body. During a conference, Cavness played a recording of Pam’s confession, which he believes clearly demonstrated he did not force an admission and that Pam sounded guilty and remorseful.
In the end, the jury did not charge Pam for the crime.
Though authorities have never confirmed any of them, there have been a few reported sightings of Marlena since her disappearance.
Six days after Marlena was last seen outside her home, two women and two children walked into Jean’s Hair Salon in Memphis, Tennessee. According to one of the hairdressers, Gail Reich, one woman was in her twenties and the other in her sixties. Furthermore, one of the children was a boy, around six years old, and the other a girl, around four years old.
While Reich was cutting the young girl’s hair, she was calling out for her mother and saying she wanted to go home. The two adults paid no attention.
Reich and another hairdresser, Janice Wells, thought it was weird that they were ignoring the girl. When the older woman finally spoke to the kid she said, “Be a good girl Marlena, and we’ll take you to the movies”.
Afterward, Reich took a break and went to a nearby convenience store. She picked up a newspaper and realized that Marlena’s face was on it. She contacted the authorities and both Reich and Wells are certain the girl in the newspaper is the same one who was in the salon that morning.
Marlena’s grandfather, Lewade Strickland, conducted his own investigation. He traveled to Memphis to talk to Reich and Wells and believes they did, in fact, see Marlena.
After some digging, Strickland became suspicious of a local waitress who had left town on the morning of the disappearance and returned a few days later. He brought Reich and Wells to the restaurant and the women identified the waitress as having been the younger woman at the salon.
Next, Strickland gathered six images of young boys and showed them to the women. They both picked out the same boy they believed was with Marlena. The boy in the picture was the waitress’ son.
Even though Strickland believes the waitress is involved in his granddaughter’s disappearance, after authorities investigated the lead they cleared the woman of any involvement.
Meanwhile, Reich and Wells received numerous threatening calls at the salon from someone claiming to know where they and their families live. They believe it was because they accused the waitress.
During the summer of 1987, it was believed that Marlena was with a family known to foster children in Aniston, Alabama. A young girl with the family had told a social worker she was the missing Marlena. When the social worker returned two days later, the girl was gone.
The family was located again in Florida after the father was arrested on charges of sexual abuse toward his wife and a few of his ten children. The girl claiming to be Marlena was not with them and has never been found. Neighbors from Aniston were questioned and believe Marlena was at one point living with this family.
In September of 1989, Amy Spoon reported seeing Marlena in a local department store in Lenore City, Tennessee, after being handed a flyer with the girl’s information.
A few days earlier she had briefly spoken to the young girl while she played with her son. Her supposed mother soon demanded that the girl go with her, but according to Spoon, she seemed reluctant. Both Spoon and her son are certain that the girl was Marlena.
Pam eventually moved to Kentucky and had more children. On April 22, 2002, she was arrested after trying to ki*ll her 12-year-old son. She had blindfolded the boy, taken him to a cemetery in Graves County and sat him next to a marker. She then inscribed the word son on it and stabbed him.
The boy survived and moved in with his father. Pam was charged with attempted m*urder and spent the following ten years in prison.
The incident resulted in Marlena’s case being reopened. After further investigation, authorities concluded that it is most likely that she did k*ill her daughter, but do not have enough evidence to charge her.
Pamela Beiley, now 47, is believed to have moved to Marshall County, Kentucky, after her release from jail.
Marlena Childress has never been found. If she is alive, she is 40 years old.