Sharon McCully had the day off from work on Monday, December 10, 1984 and planned to get an early start on her Christmas shopping. Sharon — who preferred to be called Sarah — left the Austin, Texas home she shared with her husband, John early that afternoon. She first drove to L.M. Volkswerks where John was employed as a mechanic. She picked him up and the two went to a local restaurant for lunch, then she drove him back to work. She dropped John off at 1:40 pm; he watched as she pulled her car out onto Howard Lane and headed in the direction of Interstate 35. He had no idea that he would never see his wife again.
When John got home from work around 6:30 pm that evening, he was surprised to find the apartment empty. Even on the days when she worked, Sarah always got home before him. Although he was concerned, he knew that she had planned to get some shopping done and thought she was just running late. As the hours dragged on with no sign of her, his concern grew. It was out of character for Sarah to be out so late without calling him, and he worried that she might have been in a car accident.
John spent the rest of the night calling Sarah’s friends and family to see if anyone had heard from her, but no one had. He was praying there was some kind of logical explanation for her absence, but when daybreak arrived with no sign of Sarah he was panic-stricken. He called the Austin Police Department and reported her missing.
John told investigators that he had gone out to lunch with Sarah the previous afternoon, and she planned to go shopping afterward. He noted that both Sarah and her car were missing; she had been driving her 1965 Volkswagen Beetle; it was white with an orange hood. Police immediately sent out an alert for all patrol units to be on the lookout for both Sarah and her Volkswagen, but there were no immediate results.
Sarah, who worked for the Internal Revenue Service office on Interstate 35, was notably absent from her desk Tuesday morning. This was unheard of; she was a dependable employee who had never missed a shift prior to this. John and several of Sarah’s friends spent their morning driving up and down the highway, searching in vain for any sign of her car. They traced all possible routes from L.M. Volkswerks to all the shopping centers in the area, then checked the parking lots of all the malls and shopping centers where Sarah might have stopped. They found no trace of the missing 25-year-old.
Although Sarah was an adult, the Austin Police Department took her case seriously from the start. The news media was also quick to pick up on her disappearance, running an article about it the day after she was reported missing. They noted that there was nothing in Sarah’s background that made her a likely candidate to run off voluntarily; she had a good marriage and a steady job. Although investigators had not found anything to indicate foul play had taken place, Sarah’s friends and family were convinced that something terrible had happened to her.
Police found Sarah’s car early Wednesday morning. It looked like it had been left behind at the Lanier Plaza Apartments, which is only five miles from John’s workplace. The keys were not left in the car and the door was unlocked. The police were able to start the car without any problems once they had a spare key. They found that the car was in good running condition. It looked like Sarah hadn’t had to stop driving because of a problem with the car.
There was no blood in or near the car, and there were no signs of a fight. Even though the police were able to get some partial fingerprints, they didn’t help the investigation much. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the car. The only things that were missing were Sharon’s purse and the keys. People thought she had about $170 in cash on her that day, which she planned to use to buy gifts for Christmas.
Detectives looked all over the apartment building in the hopes that someone had seen Sarah or someone else who might have parked the car there. A resident told the police that a woman who looked like Sarah got out of her car and went into one of the apartments in Lanier Plaza. The people who lived in the apartment that the witness pointed out were questioned by police. They had never heard of Sarah and there was no evidence that she had ever been there. It looked like someone had the wrong identity. Allison Ply, Sarah’s best friend, told the police that she didn’t think Sarah knew anyone who lived at that apartment complex and that she had no idea why she would have gone there.
After Sarah went missing, two people came forward and told police that they had seen her car near Bee Cave Road. This was more than 20 miles away from where her car was later found. John, some of Sarah’s friends, and the police searched the area where people said they saw her car, but they didn’t find anything that was relevant to the investigation.
John wasn’t able to go back to work because he was so upset. He took some time off to look for his wife. They first met five years ago when they were both working at the Austin State Hospital. When they found out that they both liked camping and other outdoor activities, they began dating. They got married on May 7, 1982, and their friends and family said they got along great and that they didn’t know of any problems in their marriage. They had just bought an empty lot in North Austin and planned to build a house on it. They also wanted to build a big garage on the land so John could start his own auto repair business.
Even though they seemed to be happily married, spouses are always a possible suspect in these kinds of cases, and John was no different. Investigators questioned him several times and got him to agree to a polygraph test. When the examiner asked John questions that made him feel like he might have hurt Sarah, John said that it made him really uncomfortable. His lie detector test went off without a hitch, so he wasn’t a suspect.
Detectives admitted that the case had them baffled, as they had no evidence at all to indicate what might have happened to Sarah. They were inclined to agree with Sarah’s loved ones that she wouldn’t have taken off voluntarily, but they were unable to find anything pointing to foul play. Sarah had dropped John off at work and then simply vanished.
The week after Sarah disappeared, 21-year-old Lauren McCarty also went missing in Austin. She was found dead a few days later; she had been sexually assaulted and mu*rdered, then left in the trunk of her own car behind a shopping mall. Detectives soon announced that they had a suspect in Lauren’s case; they were certain that Sarah’s disappearance was not connected. The fact that Lauren was found dead was still a cause of great distress for Sarah’s friends and family, and they feared that she had met a similar fate.
In desperation, John decided to consult with a psychic. He took some of Sarah’s clothing and jewelry to John Catchings, a noted Dallas psychic who had worked with police in the past and was credited with helping them find several bodies. The psychic agreed to meet with Austin police; he told them that he believed Sarah was dead and had been buried in a shallow grave somewhere to the south of Lake Austin in West Travis County. A large-scale search of that area was conducted, but nothing was found.
A year after Sarah’s disappearance, little progress had been made on the case. Her family feared that they might never learn what happened to her. Detectives had long since exhausted the few leads that they had, and were never able to develop any persons of interest or suspects in her case.
Believing that Sarah was dead but uncertain if her body would ever be found, her family held a memorial service for her after she had been missing for a year. Her parents, John, and about a dozen close friends gathered on Mount Bonnell, where John and Sarah had gotten married in a sunrise ceremony three years earlier. They held the memorial service at sunset.
Sharon McCully was 25 years old when she went missing in 1984. She has brown eyes and dark brown hair, and at the time of her disappearance she was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds. She was last seen wearing a dark purple shirt, dark blue pants with white stripes, and red high-top sneakers with white accents. She has a tattoo of a red and yellow butterfly on her abdomen, and normally wore clear contact lenses. If you have any information about Sarah, please contact the Austin Police Department at 512–974–5281.