Cortney Clayton desired a beverage due to her extreme thirst. The seven-year-old implored her father, Stan Clayton, for change so she could purchase a soft drink from a nearby convenience store. Stan appended fifty cents to his daughter’s remit and instructed her to commence her stroll towards the M System grocery store situated one block away from their residence in Stamford, Texas. However, he advised her against crossing the street until her older brother had caught up with her. At approximately 8:40 p.m. on Friday, September 2, 1988, Cortney emerged from the storefront door and commenced her approach.

Nick, age 11, was given money by Stan to purchase a soda, and he was instructed to go play with his younger sibling. Nick departed the home in order to go to the store, but he stopped to converse with a friend he encountered en route. Upon reaching the designated location where Cortney was expected to be waiting, he failed to observe her. Nick, presuming Cortney had grown weary of his presence, proceeded to the convenience store in an attempt to locate her. Nick was informed by the cashier, who knew the Clayton children as frequent customers, that Cortney had already purchased and departed with her soda.

Nick arrived at his residence to find his sister absent. As soon as he informed his parents that he had been unsuccessful in locating Cortney, they recognized that something was amiss. Cortney was afraid of the dark; when she departed for the store, it was still relatively light, but by 9:00 p.m., it was nearly completely dark. It is inconceivable that Cortney would have ventured home solitary after darkness had fallen.

After conducting a superficial search for Cortney without success, Stan and Candace became concerned that their daughter may have been abducted. They contacted the Stamford Police Department at 9:15 pm to file a missing person complaint for her. Deputies from the Jones County Sheriff’s Office and Stamford police officers initiated an immediate search for the missing girl.

Stan informed investigators that his daughter was a social butterfly capable of engaging in conversation with anyone. However, he was certain she would not have voluntarily entered a vehicle or left with an unknown individual. She and her brother frequently walked to the M System store; it…

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