Traci Kegley had her 2-year-old daughter, Peyton, in the car with her when she stopped at a gas station around 6:30 pm on Sunday, April 26, 1998. The 30-year-old had driven her white Geo Storm to the BP Station at the intersection of US Highway 231 North and Redland Road in Elmore County, Alabama so she could fill its gas tank. Witnesses recalled seeing her at the gas station, but she never returned home and she was never seen again.
Traci and Peyton had been staying with her parents, Steve and Linda Pittman; they were immediately concerned when Traci failed to return to their home that night. Linda called around to some of Traci’s friends, but no one had heard from her. Traci’s best friend, Tammy Foster, spent the rest of the night searching the dark streets for any sign of Traci, Peyton, or their car. “I was hanging out a car window shining a spotlight in those deep ditches along the road…I thought she had a wreck and was in one of those ditches.”
The following morning, a resident of Wetumpka, Alabama was driving on Old Georgia Road when she noticed Traci’s car parked on the side of the secluded road. The witness didn’t notice anything unusual about the car at first, but as she drove past it she realized that there was a young child in the vehicle. Peyton was alone but appeared to be unharmed; there was no sign of her mother. The witness called the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office and reported her troubling discovery.
When they learned that Traci’s daughter had been found alone in her car, Traci’s loved ones immediately feared the worst. Traci was a protective mother who would never have willingly left her daughter unattended for any length of time.
At the time of her disappearance, Traci had only been living in Elmore County for about a month. She had lived in Montgomery, Alabama prior to this, but moved in with her parents in Elmore County after she and her husband, Gregory Kegley, separated. Their divorce had been finalized just 15 days before Traci went missing. Detectives interviewed Gregory; apparently satisfied with his answers, they allowed him to take his daughter home with him.
Traci’s car was discovered about 10 minutes away from the gas station where she was last seen. The street where it had been abandoned was under construction at the time and there were signs warning that it was closed up ahead. Detectives noted that these signs were clearly visible and they didn’t believe that Traci would have voluntarily driven down this road.
The vehicle was unlocked and the key was still in the ignition, turned halfway so that the radio remained on. The car had a full tank of gas and there was nothing mechanically wrong with it. There was no sign of a struggle inside or around the vehicle, but investigators didn’t believe that Traci had voluntarily left her young daughter alone. Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin told reporters, “Right now, we are treating this as an abduction or kidnapping.” The county immediately launched a large-scale search for the missing mother.
Search teams scoured the area surrounding where the Geo Storm had been abandoned but found no clues to Traci’s whereabouts. There were several flooded gravel pits about two miles away from where the car had been abandoned, and the search moved there on Wednesday. Search teams spent two days dragging the gravel pits, while divers from Montgomery and Lee counties combed through a nearby private lake.
Traci’s father, Steve Pittman, watched as the search team scoured the area for his daughter. He noted, “We’re trying to keep a positive outlook. Our granddaughter is doing well. Everybody has been so helpful, people have worked very hard in this search. There’s no real way we can ever show our appreciation to them.”
Hoping to bring in some tips about what had happened to Traci, her family announced that they were offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to her recovery. As the search entered its second week, however, detectives said that they had no real leads and there were no new developments in the case.
More than 250 volunteers assisted in the search for Traci, scanning ditches and combing through heavily wooded areas of Elmore County. Sheriff Franklin publicly thanked everyone who came out to help in the search but told reporters that they still didn’t have any concrete evidence in the case. “We have had a lot of good leads given to us by the public. We have checked out all those leads…some have led us to neighboring counties.”
Two weeks into the investigation, authorities admitted that they were no closer to finding Traci. Although they had followed up on dozens of tips, they had been unable to develop any substantial leads and the case was already starting to go cold.
Months went by without any movement on the case. As the first anniversary of Traci’s disappearance approached, her parents said that they were trying to hold out hope that she was still alive but admitted that they feared the worst. Her mother, Linda Pittman, thought that Traci had likely been attacked at the gas station; it was possible someone had forced their way into her car and Traci had complied with their demands so her daughter wouldn’t be harmed. Detectives said that this was certainly a possibility, but without any solid evidence, they were unable to say for sure.
In April 1999, Steve and Linda Pittman purchased a billboard and had it placed on the side of US Highway 231 near where Traci was last seen. The billboard included a picture of Traci, information about the $10,000 reward that was being offered, and a phone number people could call with tips. Steve and Linda hoped that the sign would raise public awareness about the fact that their daughter was still missing and bring in some new leads for detectives.
Linda’s biggest fear was that someone had abducted and mur*dered Traci, then thrown her body into one of the quarries in the area. Although search teams had combed through several of the quarries, there was one that was too deep for divers to search properly and Linda worried that Traci was hidden in the murky depths.
Linda noted that Traci would frequently go to a self-service car wash on the outskirts of Wetumpka, and her gut feeling was that Traci had gone there that evening and ended up getting abducted. “I think it was the car wash because my granddaughter seemed to be frightened of that place.” Unfortunately, although Peyton had likely witnessed what had happened to her mother, she was too young at the time to be able to verbalize what she saw.
Traci’s loved ones were certain that she had been a victim of foul play. She was a devoted mother who never would have willingly abandoned her daughter, and she had been looking forward to starting a new job at a dental office the day after she went missing. Those who knew her were certain she never would have voluntarily walked away from her life.
Detectives looked into the possibility that Traci had voluntarily disappeared but found no evidence to support this theory. Although they had received a few tips regarding potential sightings of the missing woman, they were never able to confirm any of them and they found nothing to suggest that Traci was still alive.
In March 2002, Traci’s parents announced that they were increasing the reward for information leading to Traci’s recovery to $100,000. They also purchased several more billboards and had them placed around Elmore County. Linda was certain that someone in the area knew exactly what had happened to her daughter and she wasn’t going to stop until Traci was found.
Although she missed her daughter desperately, Linda was grateful that Peyton had been left unharmed. “She reminds me of Traci. She likes her toys in a certain place. She doesn’t like anyone on her bed. Peyton is just like Traci.” Peyton, who was 6 years old in 2002, continued to live with her father and appeared to be thriving despite the loss of her mother.
Sheriff Franklin admitted that the case appeared to have stalled but insisted that the department still thought about Traci frequently. “It’s sort of a bizarre case…I can’t go a week without someone asking me about this case. She is missing, but definitely not forgotten.”
Although the Alabama Bureau of Investigation had taken over as the lead agency on the case, the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office continued to assist them in following up on leads. Sheriff Franklin noted, “Any time we have a lead, we follow up and forward all information to the ABI. I hope for her mother and father’s sake we find her one day. The parents have done everything they can with rewards, banners, and billboards.”
Years went by and it seemed like Traci’s case was forgotten, but it made headlines again in 2018 when officials announced that they were searching a heavily wooded area in Tallassee, Alabama for potential evidence. Traci’s parents were thrilled to learn about the search. Linda noted, “I knew they have been working on this every day since Traci disappeared…I was really surprised that they might have come up with something that might lead us to her.”
Officials stated that they had a search warrant covering more than 300 acres of land and they were hopeful that they might be close to getting some answers about what had happened to Traci. Elmore County District Attorney Randall Houston stated, “We believe this is as close as we have come to a break in the case for several years…this is a massive search…probably the largest search area I have dealt with in any case.”
Investigators were tight-lipped about what had led them to this particular property, saying only that it was the result of some information received by Crime Stoppers the previous year. They stressed that the property owner was not a suspect in Traci’s disappearance and presumed mur*der. D.A. Houston noted, “Our investigation shows that the owner of the property is in no way involved in this case.” The property was located about 20 miles away from where Traci’s car had been abandoned.
Search teams used dogs to comb through the vast area, and detectives said they were confident that they would find Traci if she was on the property. There were 17 cadaver dog teams from all over the country assisting in the search; drones and helicopters were also used to scan the property.
On March 1, 2018, officials announced that they had found “potential evidence” during their search of the property; they also noted that they had some suspects in the case but declined to name them. D.A. Houston stated, “There are three suspects that we feel are involved in this case that are still in Elmore County.” He had a message for them. “We know who you are, and if you don’t come see us very soon, we’ll be coming to see you.”
A year after the massive search, there was nothing new to report. Although officials had been hopeful that a forensic review of potential evidence would lead to a break in the case, it appeared their optimism had faded. They admitted that a number of bones and bone fragments had been recovered from the property, but analysis indicated that they had all come from deer. The search had failed to yield any clues as to what had happened to Traci. Still, investigators remained committed to solving the case.
D.A. Houston told reporters that they were still looking at the same three suspects. “[They] need to know that justice doesn’t sleep. We’re going to continue to work this case, for Traci and for her parents. They deserve it.”
Randall Houston retired in October 2022. He admitted that not being able to solve Traci’s case weighed heavily on him. “Those are the types of cases that keep you up at night.” Sheriff Franklin said that investigators would continue to follow up on any leads they received and they remained hopeful that someone would call with the information they needed to finally bring Traci home.
Traci Leigh Pittman Kegley was 30 years old when she vanished from Elmore County, Alabama in April 1998. She had recently gone through a divorce but was looking forward to a bright future and was scheduled to start a new job the day after she went missing. Traci’s toddler daughter, Peyton, was in the car with her when she vanished but was thankfully unharmed. Detectives believe that Traci met with foul play but they have been unable to locate her body. Traci had green eyes and brown hair, and at the time of her disappearance, she was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds. If you have any information about what happened to Traci, please contact the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office at 334–567–5441 or Crime Stoppers at 344–215–7867. There is a $25,000 reward available for information leading to Traci’s recovery and the arrest and conviction of those responsible for her disappearance.