A teenager vanished while walking along a rural road, leaving police baffled and her family under intense scrutiny.

Bianca Piper could be a handful. The 13-year-old had problems with anger management and was being treated for several mental disorders, including ADHD and bipolar disorder. She had the mental capacity of a second grader. Although she was on several prescription medications to control her symptoms, there were times when she couldn’t control her anger and would lash out at people. March 10, 2005 was one of those days. Bianca didn’t want to do the dishes after dinner, and a small argument escalated until she had a complete meltdown. A therapist had suggested the best thing to do in these situations was have Bianca take a long walk to calm down; this technique had worked the night before, so Bianca’s mother, Shannon Tanner, decided to try it again.

Shannon had dropped her daughter off a half mile from their home in Foley, Missouri, the night before. Bianca returned home in a much better mood, telling her mother that the walk had been relatively easy. Shannon thought Bianca would benefit from a longer walk on this night, so she doubled the distance, dropping her off about a mile from their house. It was getting dark, so she handed Bianca a torch before turning the car around and watching her walk towards their house. Shannon drove past her, reminding her not to get in a car with anyone and to return home immediately.

Shannon became concerned after sitting at home for nearly an hour with no sign of Bianca. She got back into her car and drove back to where she had let Bianca out. She fully expected to see the adolescent wandering down the street, but the road was deserted. Shannon and her boyfriend then went door-to-door in the neighbourhood, asking if anyone had seen Bianca. Nobody had. Shannon returned home, terrified, and dialled 911. Responding officers assumed Bianca had simply decided not to go straight home, but as the night progressed and the temperature dropped well below freezing, they became increasingly concerned. Bianca was dressed in only jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, and they knew she wouldn’t last long in the bitter cold.

Shannon led police to the location where she last saw her daughter. They couldn’t find any hints as to what had happened to her. There was no evidence of a roadside brawl, nor was there any evidence of a hit-and-run accident. Shannon remembered seeing only one other car on the road when she drove along it earlier, and they found no witnesses who had seen the teenager walking that night.

There was still no sign of the missing teen the next morning, so police conducted a thorough search of the area. The search involved over 100 officers on foot, horseback, and in helicopters. A series of checkpoints were set up along Foley’s streets, and all motorists who passed through were stopped and questioned. Volunteer firefighters went door-to-door, speaking with residents and obtaining permission to search their sheds and other structures for Bianca. The police searched the rugged terrain surrounding Bianca’s neighbourhood. They discovered nothing.

Shannon and her live-in boyfriend, Jim Pelt, were both interviewed numerous times by police. Shannon faced the most scrutiny because she was the last person to see Bianca. Many people in the community questioned Shannon’s decision to let Bianca walk home alone in the dark, but Shannon insisted that she did so only because it had been recommended to her by Bianca’s therapist, and she admitted she wished she hadn’t. Shannon and Jim eventually passed polygraph tests and were ruled out as suspects.

Shannon and Bianca’s father, David Piper, held a press conference on Tuesday to inform the public that Bianca was still missing. She had been in therapy since she was four years old, and she was taking medication to control her mood swings and aggressive tendencies. Despite her appearance — at 5 feet 6 inches and 185 pounds, no one would mistake her for a child — she was in desperate need of these medications. She took them twice a day; without them, she would likely become confused and possibly hallucinate.

Over the next few days, over 200 people assisted in the search for Bianca, covering nearly 150 miles of difficult terrain. They combed caves and trudged through swamps in vain. They discovered no evidence that Bianca was still in the area. Police did discover two different methamphetamine labs, but no evidence linked them to Bianca’s disappearance. Although police said they found no evidence of a kidnapping, Shannon believed her daughter might have been foolish enough to get into a car with someone who then harmed her.

When no sightings of Bianca were reported for several days, investigators began to fear the worst. They were certain she wasn’t simply lost in the woods; if she was, they would have found her by now. A reward was offered in the hopes of generating some new leads. They followed up on all 130 tips they received, but they all led nowhere.

Shannon Tanner, Bianca’s mother, was arrested for domestic assault on her 17-year-old daughter three months after she went missing. Shannon hit the girl in the head with a curling iron, punched her repeatedly in the face, and threatened to tie her up and lock her in a bedroom, according to the girl. Shannon was on top of her daughter when officers arrived and had to be physically removed by police. Shannon shoved a constable and reached for a piece of broken glass when she was told she was being arrested. She was tased by one of the officers. She was subdued, arrested, and released after posting bond. Although police told the media Shannon had already been cleared as a suspect in Bianca’s disappearance, her arrest harmed her reputation and called into question her parenting abilities.

Bianca had been missing for six months by September, and the case was becoming cold. Her disappearance had been featured on a national television show, and thousands of postcards with her information had been mailed out across the country, but no confirmed sightings of Bianca had occurred. Shannon had even consulted several psychics out of desperation but received no useful information from them.

A year into the investigation, police noted they had followed up on 338 leads from as far away as Oregon. They had investigated numerous potential sightings of Bianca, but none of them turned out to be the missing teenager. Some detectives believed that Bianca met with foul play at the hands of a local, and was possibly still being held somewhere. The road she went missing from was rarely used by anyone from outside the town of Foley; the chance of a stranger passing by at the exact time Bianca was walking seemed exceedingly remote. Although they would continue to conduct sporadic searches, Bianca’s case eventually ended up in the cold case file, where it remains today.

Bianca Piper was 13 years old when she went missing in 2005. She has brown hair and brown eyes. At the time of her disappearance, she was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 185 pounds. She was last seen wearing blue jeans, a gray Adidas hooded sweatshirt, and white sneakers. Her ears are pierced and she has scars on her arms, leg, and abdomen. If you have any information about Bianca, please call the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office at 636–528–6100.

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