Details of Disappearance
Therese's father, Francis Walsh, had sole custody of her in 1990. Her mother, Merle Marie Vanderheiden, was not permitted to conduct unsupervised visits with Therese until she submitted to a psychological evaluation.
Francis and Merle met in Maryland in 1979 and married in 1980. They were both assigned to U.S. Army intelligence units at the time. The couple eventually relocated to Hawaii with their daughter. Francis said that the marriage was troubled and he moved out of the family's home in 1987.
Merle apparently accused Francis of sexually abusing Therese some time afterwards. Authorities investigated Merle's claims and found that there was no evidence to support the allegations.
Merle eventually moved back to the U.S. mainland while Francis and Therese remained in Hawaii. She made regular phone calls to Therese in 1990 while she was not permitted unsupervised visitations with the child.
Therese was enrolled at a day care center in Kailua, Hawaii on June 22, 1990. Her teacher noticed a woman wearing dark sunglasses and a hat near the grounds while the students filed back into the center after recess ended. The teacher realized that Therese had disappeared after her classmates took their seats in their room.
Authorities believe that Merle was the woman spotted on the center's property and that she abducted her daughter from the grounds. A felony interference with custody warrant for Merle's arrest was issued on July 26, 1990. She has yet to be captured and Therese's whereabouts remain unknown.
Photos of Merle are posted with this case summary. Her date of birth is August 5, 1950, making her 39 years old at the time of Therese's abduction. She's described as Caucasian, 5'5 to 5'7 and 120 to 145 pounds, with brown hair and green eyes.
Merle wears eyeglasses or contact lenses, and her ears are pierced.. She may wear wigs to disguise her identity. She may use the aliases Marie Walsh, Kara Vanderheiden, Jacqueline Smith, Vann Vanderheiden, Pat Doherty, Mary Jean Hamm, Kara Johnson and/or Kara Cochran.
Merle has access to firearms and is considered dangerous. She has the abilities to evade authorities due to her intelligence training. She has been sighted throughout the years in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Colorado and Texas. She may be employed in a hospital, as a social worker or as a forest ranger.
Some people believe that Merle was aided in Therese's abduction by Children of the Underground, a controversial organization founded by Faye Yager. The group assists parents and their children who want to disappear due to alleged abuse and otherwise. Yager claims to have assisted Emily Sawyer and her mother in their flight, also.
Francis helped found the Hawaii State Clearinghouse on Missing Children after his daughter's abduction. He died in 1998. Therese's case remains unsolved.