Details of Disappearance
Julie accompanied her family's friend Lisa Renee Wilson and Lisa friend Mary "Rachel" Trlica for a day of Christmas shopping at the Seminary South Shopping Center (now known as the Fort Worth Town Center) on December 23, 1974. Julie and Trlica had never met before the shopping trip.
Julie lived across the street from Lisa's grandmother's house, where Lisa was spending the late morning hours of December 23. Lisa was dating Julie's older brother Terry at the time. The girls asked Terry to accompany them shopping, but he decided to visit a friend instead and they allowed Julie to tag along after she received permission from her mother.
The three girls departed before 12:00 p.m. and arrived at the Army/Navy Store to retrieve Christmas presents that were on layaway. They then headed to the Seminary South Shopping Center, parking the Trlicas' Oldsmobile on the upper parking level near Sears.
Witnesses informed authorities that they had seen the three girls inside the mall during the day. Authorities believe that they returned to the car at some point during the afternoon, but what happened to them afterwards remains a mystery.
The Oldsmobile was discovered locked in the lot with the presents still inside when the vehicle was located at approximately 6:00 p.m. that evening. There was no sign of the girls.
One witness claimed she observed the three girls being 'hustled' into a pickup truck by unidentified men the day they vanished. Another witness came forward in 1981 (seven years following their disappearances) and stated he saw an unidentified male forcing a girl into a van in the mall's lot. When the witness approached them, the man told him it was a "family dispute" and asked him to "stay out of it." Neither of these stories has been verified by authorities.
Police initially assumed that the girls had run away of their own volition. Their families, however, insisted otherwise.
A letter arrived at the Trlicas' residence on the morning of December 24, 1974 -- the day after the girls were last seen. It was addressed to Thomas, Rachel's husband, and the name "Rachel" was written in the upper left corner of the envelope.
The letter stated that the girls had gone to Houston, Texas and would return in about a week. It also gave directions to the Trlicas' car in the mall parking area. Authorities are still unsure of the letter writer's identity; handwriting tests have proved inconclusive.
Over the years, the families of the three missing girls have struggled to deal with claims that the girls' bodies were in different places throughout Texas. None of these claims have panned out.
The families hired Jon Swaim, a private investigator, in 1975 after frustrations with the police investigation. Swaim committed suicide in 1979 and his records were destroyed, but it is unclear if he uncovered any legitimate information concerning the case.
Rachel's brother Rusty Arnold located private investigator Dan James in 1999, a man who maintains he has never received any financial compensation for his work on the case.
James and Rusty believe witness reports that Rachel and Wilson were seen alive in the initial days following their 1974 disappearance at stores and a gas station. They now believe that both Lisa and Julie are deceased, but that Rachel is alive and being "kept" from visiting the Fort Worth area by person(s) unnamed.
James does claim that several "credible" witnesses reported seeing Rachel in the Fort Worth area during the Christmas holidays as recently as 1998, however. James and Rusty also believe that the unidentified person(s) are maintaining efforts to keep Rachel cloistered away. They refuse to detail their evidence (if any) supporting these claims.
It is worth noting that James began offering a $25,000 reward to any person whose information about the case leads to the arrest and conviction of the responsible party (or parties) in December 1999. James is also one of the sponsors of the Web site MissingTrio.com, a site that offers information and news updates on the missing girls' case.
In April 2001, KXAS NBC-5 in Texas reported that a witness came forward and told Fort Worth Police investigators that he saw the three girls inside a pickup truck with a young male security guard from Seminary South Shopping Center at approximately 11:30 p.m. on the evening of their disappearance.
The witness stated that the girls seemed relaxed and were in the vehicle "willingly." He said he contacted the authorities a few days following the girls' disappearance, but that investigators failed to follow through with his lead until April 2001.
Authorities told reporters that they located the security guard who was identified by the witness, but that the man denied the girls were in his truck on the evening of December 23, 1974. Detectives went on to state that they are actively looking at five suspects and also utilizing DNA testing in their investigation.
Police officials have said that they now believe the girls left the mall with an individual that they trusted and were harmed afterwards. Their cases remain unsolved.