Details of Disappearance
Marlena was last seen playing in the front yard of her family's residence in Union City, Tennessee at approximately 3:00 p.m. on April 16, 1987. Her mother, Pamela Lynn Bailey, stated she heard car brakes and when she went to check on Marlena, the child was gone.
The vehicle is described as an older model two-door red car. Bailey said she didn't get a good look at the driver, but Marlena's seven-year-old stepbrother and the owner of a store two blocks away both told police they'd seen Marlena talking to him shortly before she vanished. Their descriptions of the car matched what Bailey said she'd seen, but no one recognized the driver. It reportedly had McCracken County, Kentucky license plates. Marlena has never been heard from again.
Two months after Marlena's disappearance, her mother told investigators that she had hit her while trying to discipline her and had unintentionally killed her. She said she disposed of the body in the north fork of the Obion River.
Bailey said a local man had helped her dispose of the body, and he was questioned by police, but he denied any involvement, saying he knew Bailey but he hadn't even seen her in two years. He also had an alibi for the day Marlena disappeared. The man was never charged in connection with her disappearance.
Marlena's body was never located and Bailey recanted her confession shortly afterwards, stating she had made up the story because she was emotionally distressed, taking medication for depression, and being pressured by the police.
Bailey made several conflicting statements about her daughter's disappearance: at one point she said she had sold Marlena to pay off a drug debt, and another time she said Marlena had been abducted by a family friend who had sexually abused Bailey when she was a child.
Bailey moved to Kentucky after Marlena disappeared. She had initially been charged with second-degree murder in connection with her daughter's alleged death
The charge was later reduced to voluntary manslaughter, then dropped altogether for lack of evidence. Prior to Marlena's disappearance, no one had filed any complaints of child abuse or neglect in the family.
There were reports that Marlena had been seen in Anniston, Alabama in the months following her disappearance. She was supposedly staying with a family there in the late summer of 1987. Their surname was also Childress, but they aren't related to Marlena.
The family had a history of harboring other people's children. They traveled to Florida, where the father was arrested on sex charges relating to his wife and two of his ten children. Neighbors from Anniston identified photos of Marlena as the child they had seen at the residence, but these sightings were never confirmed.
Bailey was arrested in Kentucky in late April 2002 after she stabbed her twelve-year-old son in a rural cemetery in Graves County. The child survived the attack, stayed overnight in the hospital, and was released to his father. Bailey pleaded no contest to attempted murder, served time in prison and has since been released.
Marlena's disappearance continues to be classified as a non-family abduction. Her case was re-opened by the police after Bailey's 2002 arrest, but it remains unsolved.