Tammy Sue Rothganger

Tammy, circa 1984; Age-progression to age 42 (circa 2010); Martin Priest in the 1980s; Priest in 2010

  • Missing Since 05/16/1984
  • Missing From Eldon, Missouri
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Female
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 08/10/1968 (51)
  • Age 15 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'7, 140 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description A sweatshirt, Nike shoes, a chain necklace with an arrowhead pendant and a leather wristband.
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Sandy blonde/brown hair, brown eyes. Tammy has a tattoo of the letter "R" on her left arm, and also a scar on her left arm. She has several moles on her cheeks and chin.

Details of Disappearance

Tammy was last seen at Eldon High School at approximately 7:45 a.m. on May 16, 1984. The school is just across the street from her home in Eldon, Missouri.

Her mother's live-in boyfriend, Martin Dean "Marty" Priest, said she didn't go inside the building and he pulled up on the curb to find out where she was going. Tammy supposedly told him she was going to skip school and meet friends at Rock Island Park, and Priest said he offered to take her there. She was last seen getting into a blue Plymouth outside the school. Tammy never attended classes that day and has never been heard from again. Her family reported her missing that afternoon.

Photographs of Priest are posted with this case summary. In 1980, four years before Tammy disappeared, he had been sentenced to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder in the death of a 13-year-old girl whose mother he'd been dating. He was released after three years when the verdict was overturned on appeal.

Tammy's mother, Sandra Kuchan, stated that initially after Tammy's disappearance, Priest suggested she had run away and offered to help put up missing persons posters for her. Later, however, he told her he had Tammy and that she would only ever see her daughter again through him. Kuchan went to the police and told them this, and they told her to start keeping a diary of what Priest said, in case he revealed information that could lead her to her daughter. Kuchan maintained her relationship with Priest for a time, in hopes of finding Tammy, but eventually cut off contact with him.

After Tammy's disappearance, Priest was implicated in a Christmas 1984 double homicide in Kansas. The victims were William Mayhugh and Freida Bayliff. He was acquitted in Bayliff's death but convicted of Mayhugh's murder and sentenced to life in prison. In 1987, while he was in custody, he was charged with murder and aggravated robbery in connection with the shooting death of 15-year-old girl, Katrina Cheely, in 1984. Her body wasn't found for four months. A jury acquitted Priest at his trial in that case.

In January 2016, while still incarcerated in Kansas, Priest was charged with Tammy's murder. Authorities stated he had knocked her unconscious, raped her and strangled her in the backseat of his car. A witness, Priest's thirteen-year-old nephew David Nicholas, was present in the car at the time; he was friends with Tammy and had a crush on her. He kept secret what he had seen for decades because he wanted to protect his mother and older brother, who also knew about the crime. He came forward with his story after his mother died.

David testified against his uncle at Priest's trial in 2018. He said he was riding in the car with Priest when they saw Tammy smoking outside the school. Priest pulled over and had his nephew convince Tammy to get into the car. She seemed nervous and David didn't understand why. When they stopped to use the bathroom, Tammy tried to run away, but Nicholas convinced her to come back to the car.

At some point, Priest said he knew Tammy and David were boyfriend and girlfriend. He told Tammy to get into the backseat of the car and told said she and David should have sex. There was sexual abuse within the family, and David had previously had sex in front of family members. He and Tammy did what Priest told them to do, and afterwards Tammy got back into the front seat of the car.

Priest dropped something on the floorboard on Tammy's side and asked her to pick it up, and when she bent over to do so, he struck her on the head with a wrench, knocking her unconscious, and began to rape her. David tried to stop his uncle, but Priest hit him. At some point, Tammy woke up and said "no", but Priest wouldn't stop and ultimately strangled her to death.

With Tammy's body in the car, Priest drove along a back road from the Bagnell Dam area, getting lost a few times, before arriving at David's mother's house. He and David didn't speak to each other. They took Tammy's body into a back bedroom, but other family members discovered her. David's older brother, Michael Nicholas, testified about this, describing how their mother screamed and yelled at Priest when she found out what had happened. No one called the police, however, and there was a decision to hide Tammy's body.

Martin returned that night in a truck with a barrel and tools, and made David come with him. They put Tammy's body in the barrel, dumped it into a depression and covered it with dirt. David later tried to lead the police to the spot, but a search turned up nothing.

Priest maintained his innocence, and his defense argued that his nephews were liars and pointed to their extensive criminal records as adults. He was, nevertheless, convicted of Tammy's murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was already serving a life sentence in Kansas at the time he was charged in Tammy's case, and he will not be eligible for parole in Kansas for 25 years. He will have to complete the Kansas sentence before he can start serving the life sentence in Missouri for Tammy's murder.

Foul play is suspected in Tammy's disappearance due to the circumstances involved.

Updated 9 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated July 10, 2020; details of disappearance updated.