Real Name: Marlena Danyelle Childress
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Union City, Tennessee
Date: April 16, 1987
Date of Birth: February 17, 1983
Weight: 38 pounds
Marital Status: Single
Characteristics: Caucasian female with Light brown hair and blue or hazel eyes. Marlena has pierced ears. Marlena had steel caps on her front teeth when she disappeared.
Details: On April 16, 1987, four-year-old Marlena Childress vanished while playing in front of her Union City, Tennessee home. Earlier that day, she was seen at a local store and in her front yard. However, by mid-afternoon, she had disappeared. Her distraught mother, Pam, contacted the police at 4:15pm. The day after the alleged abduction, she was interviewed by local news. She made a desperate plea for Marlena to come home.
When interviewed by the police, she told them that she had last seen Marlena outside of their home at 3:30pm. Shortly afterwards, she heard the squeal of skidding car tires. She watched from the kitchen window as a car drove away. At first, she thought the driver may have hit Marlena. However, when she went outside, Marlena was nowhere to be found. Police organized a search of the neighborhood, and then of the city. However, no trace of her was found.
The emotional pain was too much for Pam; she checked herself into a local hospital for several days, complaining of exhaustion. Nine days after she left the hospital and two months after Marlena vanished, she made the shocking announcement that Marlena was dead. She claimed that she accidentally killed her and thrown her body into the nearby Obion River. Hundreds of workers and volunteers searched it for five days. However, her body was never found.
Pam was charged with second-degree murder and bond was set at $10,000. The judge ordered that she be placed on observation at a state mental institution. She then changed her story again, claiming that her confession had been coerced by Stan Cavness, an investigator working on the case at her own request. At a press conference, he played a five-minute excerpt of her confession to show that it was not coerced. In the confession, she admitted to throwing Marlena's body into the river. She also was adamant that she was not making it up.
Pam claimed that she had just gotten out of the hospital when she made the confession. She claimed that medicine she was given caused her mood to change. She claimed that Stan told her that she would go to the electric chair if she didn't confess to him. He denied this, claiming that she expressed a lot of guilt and remorse when she made her confession. He claimed that she vividly described how she lost her temper and panicked after she hurt Marlena.
Pam claimed that Stan told her that there was physical evidence that Marlena was at the river and that a witness saw her do it. She claimed that she went along with what he said. She claimed that he told her to say it was an accident, so that she wouldn't be considered a "cold-blooded murderer". In the end, a grand jury decided not to indict her for Marlena's murder. Her body has never been found, and Pam continues to maintain her innocence. Since her disappearance, several sightings of her have been reported, giving her family hope that she is still alive.
One of the first sightings occurred in Memphis, Tennessee, just six days after Marlena disappeared. Memphis is 100 miles from Union City. On April 22, 1987, two women and two children walked into Jean's Hair Salon. One appeared to be in her twenties, while the other appeared to be in her sixties. The two children were a boy, about six years old, and a girl, around four. During the haircut, the girl continued to cry and say, "I want my mommy! I wanna go home!" Gail Reich, who was cutting her hair, did not understand why the two women were not consoling her. Janice Wells, whose station is next to Gail's, also noticed her crying and the women just standing there.
Finally, the older woman spoke up and told the child, "Be a good girl, Marlena, and we'll take you to the movies". They left soon after the haircut ended. That same morning, Gail stopped at a nearby convenience store during her break. She saw a newspaper with Marlena's picture on it. She then realized that the girl from earlier was her. After she called police, she showed Janice the newspaper. She was also certain that the girl was Marlena.
Marlena's grandfather, Wade Strickland, visited the hairstylists and believed that they had seen her. He launched his own investigation into her disappearance. He came to suspect that a waitress in the area was somehow involved. He learned that she left town the morning after the disappearance and returned several days later. He asked Gail and Janice to come to the restaurant where the waitress worked. Both of them identified her as the younger woman from the salon.
Wade also knew that a young boy had been seen in the salon as well. He brought photographs of six boys to the salon and showed them to Gail and Janice. They both picked out the same boy, who turned out to be the waitress' son. Investigators questioned her about the case and gave her a polygraph examination. She denied being in the salon or having Marlena. She passed the examination and police do not believe she was involved in the case.
After they reported the sighting, Gail and Janice began receiving threatening phone calls at the salon. Most of them came from the same woman. The caller claimed to know where they and their families lived and threatened them. They believe that they are being threatened because they helped with the case. Wade refused to give up hope and continued to investigate. He fielded dozens of phone calls from tipsters.
Finally, in September 1989, a tip from across the state gave him renewed hope. Amy Spoon, a young mother in Lenore City, Tennessee claimed that she had seen Marlena in a local department store. The girl believed to be her had been playing in the store with Amy's children. She briefly spoke with her before her "mother" came and demanded her to come back with her. Amy felt that the girl was reluctant to go with her mother. Ten days later, Amy received a flyer about her. She and her son were both certain that the girl from the department store was her.
The latest reported sighting of Marlena was in Nevada in summer 1990. However, none of these sightings have been confirmed and she still remains missing. Although some investigators believe that Pam killed her, other people, including her family, are convinced that she's still alive.
Suspects: Pam Bailey is a suspect in Marlena's disappearance. Two months after she vanished, she confessed to killing her accidentally. She claimed that she lost her temper and struck her, causing her to hit her head off a table. She also confessed to dumping her body into nearby Obion River. However, no trace of her body was found in it. Pam was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, which was later reduced to voluntary manslaughter. However, she recanted her confession, claiming that it was coerced. She was never indicted for the murder and maintains her innocence.
According to police, Pam made several conflicting statements about Marlena's disappearance. At one point, she claimed that she sold her to pay off a drug debt. On another occasion, she claimed that she had been abducted by a family friend. She also claimed that the family friend had sexually abused her as a child. However, no evidence has been found to support these claims.
Six days after Marlena vanished, she was reportedly seen at a hair salon in Memphis. She was with two unidentified women and a young boy. One of the women was in her twenties, while the other was in her sixties. The girl believed to be Marlena repeatedly cried and asked for her mother. The older women called her by the name Marlena.
Marlena's grandfather investigated the case and came to suspect that a local waitress was involved. She had left town the day after Marlena vanished and returned a few days later. Two employees from the salon identified her as the younger woman with Marlena. They also identified her son as the boy with Marlena. However, investigators do not consider her a suspect. In fact, the girl was located and determined to not be Marlena.
In summer 1987, Marlena was reportedly seen in Anniston, Alabama, with a family that harbored other people's children. One of the children told a social worker that she was Marlena. When the worker returned two days later, they had vanished. Two weeks later, they were located in Florida, but she was not with them. Neighbors also reported seeing her with the family, but the sightings were never confirmed.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the September 5, 1990 episode.
Due to the controversy surrounding the case, Marlena's family asked that it not be shown again.
Results: Unsolved. Investigators received several tips as a result of the broadcast, but none of them produced any solid leads. Following Marlena's disappearance, Pam moved to Kentucky. In April 2002, she was arrested for stabbing her twelve-year-old son in a cemetery. She allegedly told him that she had a "surprise" for him. She then blindfolded him, put him in their car, and drove him to the cemetery. She then had him sit next to a cemetery marker inscribed "son" and stabbed him. Fortunately, he survived and was sent to live with his father.
Pam was charged with attempted murder. She pleaded no contest and was sentenced to ten years in prison. She served time in prison and has since been released. The case was reopened after her arrest. Police now believe that she was probably responsible for Marlena's disappearance. However, she has never been charged, and Marlena has never been located.
Sadly, Marlena's maternal grandparents, Catherine and LaWade Strickland, have since passed away.
- Marlena Childress on the Charley Project
- Marlena Childress on the Doe Network
- Marlena Childress on the NCMEC website
- Marlena Childress Facebook Page
- Long-haired man, old car objects in search - April 20, 1987
- Leads run out for 4-year-old - April 25, 1987
- Child in Memphis not missing girl - April 25, 1987
- Mom says she killed Marlena - June 9, 1987
- Mother arrested for murder - June 10, 1987
- Mother arrested, charged in murder of missing child - June 10, 1987
- Search For Tennessee Girl Continues - July 1, 1987
- Bailey's charges reduced - August 12, 1987
- Hope burns for Marlena - April 10, 1988
- To her grandfather, Marlena 'is as alive today as we are' - April 17, 1988
- Florida arrest renews hope for missing Marlena - May 7, 1989
- Union City child's 1987 disappearance still baffles police - April 22, 1990
- Girl's 1987 disappearance topic of television segment - September 7, 1990
- Case revives pain over missing area child - November 5, 1994
- Cops: Missing girl's mom stabbed son - April 24, 2002
- Mother sentenced to ten years in jail for boy's stabbing - March 4, 2003
- Girl Missing For Almost 25 Years, Police Still Searching - February 17, 2012
- Cold case investigation to focus on disappearance - April 12, 2012
- West Tenn. child missing 24 years, case open - April 16, 2012
- Pamela Bailey Offender Information
- SitcomsOnline Discussion of Marlena Childress (includes articles)
- Reddit Discussion of Marlena Childress
- Obituary for LaWade Strickland