Details of Disappearance
Barbara was walking to mass at St. Raymond de Penafort Church in Mount Prospect, Illinois at 5:00 p.m. on August 21, 1976. A man identifying himself as "Tom Edwards" stopped her and asked if she wanted to go to a party.
She went to church instead, but gave Edwards her phone number, and afterwards she and a girlfriend met him at a pizza parlor and caught a ride with him in his brown Buick Electra 225. They went to a rock concert at a farm in Huntley, Illinois. They originally planned to go to a party in Des Plaines, Illinois, but Edwards suggested the concert instead.
Approximately 500 people attended the event, which was scheduled to end at 12:30 a.m. but actually lasted much longer. Barbara and her friend became separated between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. When the event broke up, Barbara's friend went home with another individual and it is believed Barbara left with Edwards. She never arrived home and has never been heard from again.
"Edwards" turned out to be Thomas G. Urlacher, who was then in his mid-twenties. He moved to San Francisco, California just days after Barbara's disappearance and lived there under another alias until the police found him. A photograph of Urlacher is posted with this case summary. He had a long criminal record for arson, rape, and other crimes, and a history of violence against women.
He is the prime suspect in Barbara's disappearance; investigators believe he murdered her the night she went missing and buried her body near the concert site in Huntley.
In December 1976, Urlacher wrote a 33-page letter to a friend saying he had "put a girl in the ground" because he had raped her and was afraid she would tell the police. He never mailed the letter; he left it in his apartment's closet instead. Later, Urlacher asked another friend to retrieve the letter and destroy it. Instead, his friend read it, and took it to the San Francisco police, who arrested him on an outstanding warrant out of Illinois for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The charge was based on statements from witnesses who saw Urlacher give marijuana and alcohol to Barbara, her friend and other underage youths the night she disappeared. In March 1977, the prosecution dropped the charge; they were afraid that if they convicted him, this might make it more difficult to prosecute him for Barbara's murder later on.
A grand jury convened to investigate Barbara's disappearance that same year. Prosecutors hoped to indict Urlacher for her murder, but they were unsuccessful; no indictments have been issued against anyone in connection with her disappearance. Urlacher subsequently sued Barbara's family for defaming his character, but the lawsuit was dismissed.
Investigators never found enough evidence against Urlacher to charge him in Barbara's presumed murder, but he was found liable for her wrongful death in a civil suit in 1978 and was ordered to pay $5.15 million in damages to her parents. He was shot to death during a drug deal in Pueblo, Colorado in 2004.
Urlacher had always maintained his innocence in Barbara's disappearance; he said he left the concert alone at 11:00 p.m. He admitted writing the incriminating letter to his friend but said he had been under the influence of drugs at the time and what he wrote was not true.
Barbara was declared legally dead in 1984, eight years after her disappearance. She is a graduate of St. Raymond Catholic Grade School and had registered to attend Prospect High School in the fall of 1976.
She resided with her parents in the 600 block of Russell Street in Mount Prospect when she vanished; that city's police are investigating her case. Her disappearance remains unsolved and foul play is suspected.