Details of Disappearance
Sally was last seen in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on May 26, 1982. She has never been heard from again. Her ex-husband, Gary Lee Rawlings, a commercial airline pilot, was convicted of first-degree murder in her case in 1987.
Gary and Sally met in 1976, married a year later, and had a daughter, Kimberly, in 1980. They moved to Oklahoma City in 1981. Gary had a bad temper and occasionally beat Sally. In January 1982, she filed for divorce, took their daughter and moved into a shelter for battered women.
The divorce was granted a month later, and Sally was given custody of Kimberly, and Robert promised not to visit the child for at least six months. She moved to the Kirkpatrick Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City, and enrolled Kimberly in daycare.
Sally took a secretarial job with the Kerr-McGee Corporation in late March 1982. Although she was a good employee, her coworkers and supervisors noticed she avoided other people and sometimes talked to herself.
On the day of her disappearance, Sally had breakfast with Kimberly at the Kirkpatrick Hotel, then dropped the child off at daycare, as per her usual routine. She never came to pick her up, however, and never returned to the hotel. She has never been heard from again.
Gary, who was living with his parents in Colorado, is known to have stayed at an Oklahoma City hotel on May 24 and 25. He rented a Plymouth Fury while he was there. On one of those days, a man identifying himself Kimberly's father called her daycare facility to ask what would happen if Sally didn't pick her up that evening. The daycare told him that in that case, Kimberly would go home with the facility's director.
Gary is known to have purchased a .44 Magnum handgun and nine rounds of ammunition during the week of May 24; he told the seller that he wanted to go squirrel hunting.
Six times during that month, Gary made arrangements to rent a plane from Charter Air in Oklahoma City. The first five times, he canceled the rental, but the last time, at 10:00 a.m. on May 26, he did take the plane, a Cessna 150, out and didn't return it until early the next morning. When he returned the plane, the gas cap and some of the inside carpeting was missing.
Authorities were later able to establish Gary's itinerary while he was flying. On the afternoon of May 26, he stopped for fuel in Dallas, Texas. During his refueling stop, he purchased velour cleaner and called Kimberly's daycare to say Sally would not be able to pick her up that evening.
Later that same afternoon, he refueled again in Houston, Texas. An attendant in Houston noticed a large cloth bundle in the baggage compartment of the plane. In the evening, he refueled at an airport near Houston.
On the morning of May 27, Gary returned the Plymouth Fury he had rented, complaining he had had trouble starting it, and requesting another car. The agency rented him a Ford LTD. Some agency employees drove the Plymouth and didn't notice anything wrong with it, but noted the mat in the bed of the trunk was missing.
Gary then went to a moving company and got an order to move Sally's furniture to Denver, Colorado; he claimed she had moved there. Around lunchtime, he went to Kimberly's daycare center and gave them a letter, supposedly from Sally, which said she was moving to Florida and that their daughter would be in Gary's care from now on. The daycare gave Kimberly to Gary.
On June 3, the Kerr-McGee Corporation got a typewritten resignation letter supposedly from Sally. Experts were later unable to match the letter to any typewriters Sally had access to, but matched it to a typewriter from Gary's workplace. One of Gary's coworkers reported having seen him use that particular typewriter on May 30.
Gary and Kimberly flew out of Oklahoma City to Denver, Colorado. Gary had called his mother from the airport in Oklahoma City to ask her to meet him at the airport and bring a uniform, as he had to return to work.
When his mother, Loretta, met him, he was carrying a blue suitcase and a plastic bag full of Kimberly's belongings. He didn't have the sleeping bag he'd taken when he left his parents' home several days earlier. Gary told Loretta that Sally had gone to Florida with a boyfriend and had given him permission to keep Kimberly for a month.
When Loretta opened her son's suitcase, she found the following items: a .44 Magnum handgun, typewritten letters to the movers and the Kirkpatrick Hotel with Sally's signature, the can of velour cleaner, the set of keys Sally used for work, a car rental receipt, Sally's savings deposit book, Kimberly's birth certificate, and a photo of Sally and Kimberly. Loretta later said the signature on the letters wasn't Sally's and she thought it was her son's.
She was frightened by what she found in the suitcase, so she took it to her daughter's house, then called the police. When they arrived, Loretta showed them the items and said she thought Gary had killed Sally. He was ultimately arrested and charged with her murder.
Investigators later found blood inside the driver's side and the trunk of the Plymouth Fury Gary had rented, and in the cargo area of the rented airplane. There was also blood on the gun. DNA testing was not available at the time, but they were able to determine the blood was not Gary's and that it could have been Sally's. Genetic markers found in the blood showed it could have come from just .46 percent of the population.
A firearm expert said the gun in the suitcase, which had four live rounds in it, had been fired five times since it was last cleaned. Fingerprint analysis on the envelope addressed to the moving company showed Gary's fingerprints, and his palm print was on one of the money orders inside.
At his trial, Gary's defense argued Sally had disappeared of her own accord, perhaps after having a nervous breakdown. Her loved ones, however, didn't believe she would have ever willingly turned her daughter over to Robert's care. The prosecution argued that Gary had killed his wife, put her body in his sleeping bag, flown out over the Gulf of Mexico and dumped it in the ocean. Gary was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Sally's body has never been found.