Details of Disappearance
Barton planned to go to the movies with a friend in Austin, Texas on May 16, 1976. She was short of cash and stopped at a bar in the vicinity of east 11th Street and Waller Street to see if she could get some money there. She met two African-American men inside the bar, and spent half an hour talking to them. One of them is described as 5'4 with a thin build, wearing a sailor's cap and a t-shirt. The other was 5'6 with a heavy build and a large Afro.
Barton told a friend the men offered her $25 for sex. She decided to go with them. One man left via the back door, and the other went out the front door and got into a large brown or tan van. It had a large whip antenna, teardrop-shaped side windows, a spare wheel on the back, and California license plates. The van turned the corner, and the second man got inside it.
One of Barton's friends was walking down the street at the time, and saw the van go around the block and come back up the street. She looked into the van, but didn't see Barton. Barton has never been heard from again.
Two other young African-American women, Brenda Moore and Debra Stewart, both disappeared from Austin in the spring of 1976, and it's possible the three cases are related.
Stewart wasn't a prostitute, but she was drawn to the nightlife in the 11th Street area and she and Barton did have friends and acquaintances in common. Moore was separated from her husband and worked as a nurse's aide; it's not clear whether she had any connection to Barton, Moore or the 11th Street area.
There is no hard evidence that Moore, Barton and Stewart's disappearances are connected, but police are looking into the possibility.
Barton was raised in an upper-middle-class family and was well-behaved as a child, but she dropped out of Reagan High School in her senior year and began dating a man who was a drug dealer and a pimp. After her boyfriend was imprisoned, she started using heroin and became a prostitute.
In February 1976, her pimp was murdered in a robbery gone bad at an Austin hotel. There were rumors that Barton had set him up, and she was afraid that his friends would come after her.
Shortly after the murder, Barton's apartment was broken into and vandalized; obscene pictures and words were painted in red on the wall and someone pinned her underwear to the wall and wrote "blood" nearby. It's unclear whether the murder of Barton's pimp and and the subsequent break-in at her apartment are connected to her later disappearance.
Barton had made comments about wanting to go to California, and police looked for her in the Los Angeles area, but their searches turned up nothing. She has a record for robbery, assault and prostitution, but she has not been arrested since her 1976 disappearance. She is considered endangered and foul play is suspected in her case.