The flirtatious waiter drops off the first round of Bloody Marys at the table of Mesquite High School alums, Class of '77, gathered at the Buffalo Wild Wings over by Town East Mall for a girls night out. The Cowboys game against the Miami Dolphins is about to begin, but so far the game crowd can't compete with the boisterous chatter emanating from the women.
There's Tina Wiley, a bright-eyed, divorced office manager; Joni Shannon, a blonde, married, newly minted motorcycle enthusiast; and Beverley Scaling, whose thick brown hair complements her youthful expression. As more friends arrive, chairs are pulled up and bar tables pushed together. They laugh about who's changed and who still looks like the drill team beauties they were back in the '70s.
"These are really good!" says Shannon after taking a wide-eyed sip of her tomatoey beverage. To her right, there's talk of grown kids and jokes about expanding waistlines. Typical reunion chatter, but it doesn't last long. They are there to celebrate the birthday of one of their own: drill team high-kicker Lisa Stone. Only problem is, Stone has gone missing. No one has heard from her since her mysterious disappearance three months ago.
At midnight this September 2, Stone will turn 52, or should have turned 52. With every mention of her name, her friends struggle with using the past or present tense. Shannon, Wiley and the others who have come to reminisce have no idea if their friend is dead or alive.
It's as if one day, Stone was rabidly posting as usual to Facebook, with her rambling musings on life and love, and the next, her page was silent. No more hopeful posts about new friends and fate and trusting in God. No more novel-length messages to the network of Mesquite alums who'd kept up with each other on and off over the years, but who came together stronger than ever last year, sharing their daily lives as Facebook friends. Suddenly, there was only silence from a woman who, by all accounts, was never at a loss for words.
"I have to know what happened," says Wiley, now stirring a vodka tonic. Gatherings like this give Wiley and friends a few hours to rehash everything they know about Stone's disappearance, looking for some connection, some clue that will help them figure out what happened on June 5, the last day any of them heard from Stone.
Over drinks, the women go over some of the timeline they've carefully assembled in hopes of getting police interested in the case:
June 20: Disabled neighbor and friend Juanita Burris' fears are heightened when Stone fails to pick up Burris' daughter from the airport, as scheduled. Burris files a missing persons report with the Dallas Police Department.
June 27: Tina Wiley learns about the missing persons report. She phones Stone at home, but Sherry Henry, her roommate and longtime partner, picks up. Henry says Stone isn't home. A call to Stone's cell phone reveals it is out of service.
June 29: Wiley calls the Dallas police asking for a welfare check on Stone's home, worried Stone might have fallen into a depression, unable to leave. The officer who visits Stone's home is greeted by Henry, who says Stone is attending a funeral. Police take no further action.
July 2: Joni Shannon observes Henry driving Stone's car; follows her to a dumpster where Henry throws out many of Stone's valued keepsakes, such as photos and journals.
July 5: Wiley, Shannon and friends go to DPD headquarters and demand to speak to investigators. The police agree to reopen the case.
No arrests have been made, which doesn't sit well with Stone's Mesquite High girlfriends. Even if Henry wasn't involved in anything sinister, they figure she certainly knows more about Stone's disappearance than she was willing to share. Undaunted, Stone's girlfriends continue their detective work, and draw attention to their cause through candlelight vigils and social media. Their Facebook group, "Looking for Lisa" currently hosts nearly 2,000 members. Were it not for their relentless dedication, their willingness to risk stalking, trespassing and burglary charges, Lisa Stone's story would have ended with a missing persons report.
"We want justice done," Wiley says. "The fact that someone could get away with an unspeakable crime" is what drives them to keep Stone's memory and their suspicions alive.
At the restaurant, Beverley Scaling pulls out the posterboard signs she bought at Party City so that the group can decorate them with colored marker messages to Stone, squeezing them on the table between appetizers, beers and Bloody Marys. Later that night, the women will stop by Stone's home on Truxillo Drive in Far East Dallas—the same home she inherited from her parents. Once there, they will place the signs in the yard of the vacant red brick house with the gray shutters. Henry appears to have moved from the home, which now stands dark and unoccupied.
Shannon grabs a blue marker and stands, taking a sip of her Bloody Mary before writing in a loopy, capital cursive: "Lisa, Happy Birthday, We Love You!" She dots her I's and the exclamation mark with stars, adding at the bottom: "We won't stop looking."
That Lisa Stone's life may have ended in tragedy is sadly in keeping with much of what came before. Belying a joyful personality, Stone's life was punctuated with pain and loss, and she was treated for depression and anxiety as an adult. Stone's friends loved her and supported her as best they could, but even as a teenager, there was something sad about their beautiful, talented blonde best friend—a sadness that grew deeper right until the day she disappeared.
At teenage slumber parties, Tammye Markle, a former drill teamer who has also turned detective, remembers their favorite prank to play on Stone—putting mayonnaise in her hair. "She hated it!" Markle says, because of how hard it was to get the goop out of her thick blonde tresses. When they weren't freezing each other's underwear or slopping on condiments, the friends would playfully lock each other in the Markle family cattle trailer.
But these get-togethers with her drill team friends were also when Stone would share her feelings about her sister, who died in a car accident when Lisa was in the eighth grade. "She talked about how hard it was," Tina Wiley recalls. But with the support of her family—a strict but loving Dallas police officer father, a mom who could "light up the room" and two brothers—Stone blossomed into a popular, athletic girl who made lifelong friends with ease.
"Lisa was one of those that would shout from the rooftops if she felt somebody she loved had been done wrong," says Markle, now a grandmother and owner of a recreational services business with her husband. Stone's dedication to her friends, which manifested itself even when she was a child, is part of what keeps the women searching for answers. "She defended her friends no matter what," Markle says, so "we're more determined to do it for her."
But after high school, many of the girls went their separate ways—Wiley to Austin, Markle to Houston. Most of them got married and began having children, though Stone's path was different. The women say they always knew Stone was gay, but none of them talked much about it, and Stone seemed more concerned about it than they did.
"She always worried that people would judge her," Wiley remembers. But "everybody's accepted Lisa for Lisa." Even though the years between high school and their online reunion found Stone involved in partying and drug use, she held long-tenured jobs with Texas Instruments and The Dallas Morning News.
"If you hadn't seen her for years, you could pick up from the last moment," Shannon says. And Stone always had so much to talk about. Wiley says that before returning Stone's missed phone calls, she often would wait until she knew she had a couple of hours to talk. She jokes about Stone even becoming "annoying" with her love of chatting and incessant calling. Though now, she says, she'd give anything to have those conversations again.
Stone's mother died in 1996. Then Lisa's brother, Dennis, died in 1997. She'd been especially close to him. "Dennis was everything to her," Markle says. "She never got over him being gone."
Then, in 2005, her father died. She and a brother, who lives out of state, were the only remaining members of her immediate family. She inherited her parents' house and her dad's truck. According to Stone's Mesquite high school friends, a fight over Stone's relationship with Sherry Henry left her estranged from her brother.
Also in 2005, Stone left the advertising sales job she'd held at the Morning News since 1991, thinking she would be able to live off her inheritance. Henry moved into the house in 2008 and Stone invested some of her inheritance in Henry's T-shirt company, Politeed.com, which prints shirts with conversation-starting phrases like "Are Gay Rights Civil Rights?"
But by the spring of 2010, the money was gone. Stone began calling Wiley, Shannon, Markle and others, asking for help. They would bring her sandwiches and loan her small amounts of money, often asking her, "Where did all that money go?" She'd tell them she "didn't realize" she was running so low. Or that she'd invested too much in Henry's business. Whatever the case, she needed a hundred or so dollars at a time—she said, to pay for utilities or food for the many cats that lived with her after she rescued them from kill shelters.
At first, Stone seemed embarrassed to ask her old friends for money, but they knew she had nowhere else to turn. "She kind of lost her pride in the end," says Shannon, whose loans came with the advice that she needed to work out a financial plan or get a job. Her friends suggested she sell the house or her father's old truck to get some cash flow going, but Stone was cowed by the prospect of searching for a new career at her age.
Because she was such a sentimental person, says Wiley, Stone refused to sell the things that reminded her so much of the family she missed.
On her Facebook page, Stone wrote about not having enough money for gas and composed messages about relationships gone awry. In late April, she wrote: "Some things are not as they appear, and some people just cannot be sincere and loyal." She gushed about meeting a man who claimed to be a former professional football player who had promised her a job and money. But nothing materialized, and Wiley asked Stone if she thought telling the online world about her personal issues might not be the best idea. "I have nothing to hide," Stone told her. She had always been an open book—and a long one, at that.
With funds running low, tensions ran high between Henry and Stone. During phone conversations, Wiley remembers Stone telling her she was afraid of Henry, confessing that she "couldn't tell [Henry] 'no.'" At the time, "I didn't have any reason to believe she was in any danger," Wiley recalls.
Markle last saw Stone in late May, buying her dinner at Red Lobster and giving her more money. Stone seemed depressed, remembers Markle. They talked about her finances, and she dropped Stone off at her home as distraught as she'd ever seen her. By June 5, with Facebook friend requests pending, birthdays unacknowledged and daily wall posts left untended, Stone's compulsive online overshare abruptly ended.
At first, when Stone stopped posting on Facebook, her friends thought perhaps her Internet had been cut off because of lack of payment. Tina Wiley half-hoped it would be the wake-up call Stone would need to get her life back on track. She and the other women decided to let things go for a few days and see what Stone might do. On June 8 and 9, a couple of them received strange, out-of-character messages from Stone's Facebook account.
Much shorter than Stone's typical long ramblings and without her trademark ellipses and spelling mistakes, the messages made references to car trouble and God. Joni Shannon grew especially troubled by what she found in her inbox. Typically, Stone would open messages by greeting both Joni and her husband Steve, but this message simply said, "Hope you and family are doing well." Whoever composed the message—Shannon is sure it was not Stone—wrote that there had been "challenges with the car" but that she had "faith it would work out."
Another message from Stone's account thanked a friend for checking in on her; said that she was struggling but fine. There were simple, short messages with vague assurances that everything was OK. Still, Stone's friends had no reason to believe anything was truly wrong until June 19, when Stone had agreed to pick up Juanita Burris' daughter at the airport. She never showed, and the neighbor filed a missing persons report with the Dallas Police Department.
Burris told police that she had tried to contact Stone by phone and at her home, but that Henry always told her she was unavailable. In the missing persons report, police note that Burris found "this [lack of availability] unusual" for Stone. In their subsequent investigation, which included repeated attempts to contact Henry, police allege in a search warrant affidavit that Henry refused "to make herself available" to them.
Unaware of Burris' missing persons report, Wiley got a call from Henry on June 24, asking for money. Henry told Wiley to "keep it quiet," because Stone would be angry if she knew Henry was calling around asking for cash. Wiley was confused—Stone had asked for money before, so why would this time be any different? Then, on June 27, she received a call from a friend telling her about Burris' concerns and the missing persons report. A call to Stone's cell phone revealed it was out of service, and Wiley began to worry.
Throughout this time, neighbors observed Henry driving Stone's Cadillac, but there was no sign of Stone at the house. Wiley, Shannon and Tammye Markle repeatedly phoned Stone at home, and Henry would always answer with the same canned responses: "No, Lisa is fine," or she's out running errands or she's working odd jobs for friends.
Wiley decided to phone Stone early on the morning of June 28; certainly her friend would be at home early. But Henry answered and said Stone was helping plant flowers at the home of her former Morning News boss, Pat Westrich-James. Stone would be home that evening, assured Henry, who then asked Wiley if she would post a message on Facebook, telling everyone that Stone was OK. But Wiley refused, saying she would only do so after she spoke with Stone.
The next day, Wiley began to panic and called DPD asking for a welfare check on Stone at home. In her timeline, she writes that she "was afraid [Stone]...might be in a compromised mental state." Wiley knew how Stone depended on her medication, but when police visited, there was no sign of Stone at her house, which was filthy and filled with uncared-for animals that had urinated all over the floors and furniture. Animal Control would have to be notified. Henry told the welfare-check officers that Stone had gone to a funeral. The officers later admitted that the circumstances seemed suspicious, Wiley says, but told her "there's nothing more we can do."
Later that same evening, Wiley and Shannon decided they'd had enough: It was time to confront Henry in person. Toting a bag of cat food, they arrived at Stone's house at 8 p.m., hoping to catch her off-guard. Henry let in the women, told them a pizza was on the way and Stone would be home soon. They could all sit and chat.
Wiley and Shannon noticed some of Stone's furniture was missing, along with photos she'd once displayed. The house smelled overwhelmingly of ammonia. Henry told the women a cleaning crew was hired to help get out some of the cat urine stench, and that she had disposed of some of Stone's furniture that the animals ruined. They tried to keep the atmosphere light, hoping Stone really would walk through the door. Henry told them Stone's laptop and caller ID were broken, and that's why she hadn't been in touch. Henry again asked Wiley to advise everyone of Stone's wellbeing on Facebook, but she refused again, saying she needed to talk to Stone before she would do that. After an hour and a half, it became clear that Stone wasn't coming home. Henry offered no reason for Stone's absence.
Wiley and Shannon left, confused and angry. Stone would never leave her animals untended, not after the great lengths to which she went to rescue them.
On July 1 at 5 a.m., Henry phoned Wiley, and for the first time admitted she did not know where Stone might be. She sounded scared, frantic, telling Wiley, "Lisa did not come home last night." Still, she refused to call the police, so Wiley phoned them herself, speaking with Detective Roy Jackson in the Missing Persons Unit.
"The case is closed," he told her. There was nothing more they could do without evidence that Lisa was missing. Jackson encouraged her to bait Henry with more money to see if she'd reveal more details about Stone's whereabouts, but that already had failed to work. Wiley was miffed—wasn't it obvious something had happened to her friend?
Uncertain what to do next, Wiley searched Stone's Facebook friends list to find her former boss, Pat Westrich-James, who might verify that Stone had been doing odd jobs for her, as Henry claimed. But Westrich-James said she had been away vacationing in Florida; she hadn't spoken to Stone in weeks.
Hours later, Henry called Wiley back and told her she had found Stone, strung out at the apartment of another woman whom she had met at a bar. Wiley gave Henry an ultimatum: Go get Stone and put her on the phone, or she would go to the police. Henry said she was going to let her sleep off her hangover and would pick her up the next day.
Early the next morning, July 2, Wiley phoned Henry, who assured her she was in the car, driving to pick up Stone from the woman's apartment. While on the call, Wiley was also on Facebook, chatting with Shannon, telling her what was transpiring with Henry. Shannon, who lived near Stone, decided to drive to Stone's house fast, to make certain Henry had actually left.
At the intersection of Northwest Highway and Shiloh Road, Shannon, with Wiley on the phone, was shocked at what she saw—Henry, driving Stone's Cadillac.
"Whoa, crap!"Shannon exclaimed to Wiley. "Did she recognize me?" Wiley said she probably wouldn't recognize her car, and she should keep following her. Weaving in traffic, Shannon tailed the Cadillac to a nearby 7-Eleven and parked behind a gas pump, hoping to use it for cover.
To her horror, Shannon watched Henry throw trashbags of clothes into the dumpster along with a suitcase full of keepsakes—Stone's brother's death certificate, her memory albums from high school and heirloom jewelry. Shannon recognized some of the items immediately, because Stone had carried them to their many get-togethers. Stone then pulled away from the convenience store and back into traffic.
"What should I do?" Shannon whispered wildly to Wiley. "Follow her!" Wiley told her—stuff in the dumpster can wait. Trying to remain undercover, Shannon followed the Cadillac to Wal-Mart, where she saw Henry exit the car, a cup of coffee in hand, and head into the store. A few minutes later, she walked out with a few groceries and drove away again. Henry had never gone to any woman's apartment, says Shannon, and had never picked up Stone.
After digging Stone's belongings out of the dumpster, thanks to a helpful store manager, Wiley and Shannon were convinced they had enough evidence to persuade the police to reopen the case. Over the July Fourth weekend, Markle met the women in Dallas, and they devised a timeline of the events of the past month—the phone calls, the Facebook posts and, most important, the morning Shannon had tailed Henry to the 7-Eleven.
On July 5, five of Stone's girlfriends—among them Wiley, Shannon and Markle—walked into Jack Evans Police Headquarters and refused to leave until they could speak with an investigator. Finally, they met with missing persons and special investigations detectives. They showed the police their timeline and convinced Detective Jackson to seek a search warrant for Stone's home. In the affidavit supporting the issuance of the warrant, he swore before a judge that he believed "Lisa Lynn Stone was met with foul play."
Three days later, police executed the search warrant, seizing sheets from both women's beds and taking DNA swabs from several locations inside the home, which were sent to the forensic lab for analysis. Henry was also taken into custody for questioning but police found her reluctant to cooperate.
"It was yes/no answers," Special Investigations Unit Supervisor Eugene Reyes says. Almost immediately, Henry asked for a lawyer, and the police were stymied. "There is a thing called the Constitution," Reyes says, and there's little the police can do without hard evidence to convince anyone to speak with them.
Police thought they might have found hard evidence in mid-July when cell phone records led officers accompanied by dogs to search a rural area in Hunt County for Stone's body. Their efforts, however, proved unsuccessful. "That was probably nothing," Reyes admits now. But they were hoping for any lead at all.
Henry didn't exactly take kindly to the heightened level of investigative scrutiny she was receiving from Stone's girlfriends and neighbors.
On July 14, Henry called the police to report a burglary. She had just arrived home and noticed two screens had been removed from the back windows. Crime scene investigators dusted the house for fingerprints and Henry, according to the police report, claimed that "her neighbors had been trying to gain entry into her house."
On July 16, Henry went to the Northeast substation to report she was being stalked. According to police reports, she met with Officer Amanda Renteria and told her she was being followed from "her home to several stores" and that one "suspect" had even "gone as far as climbing over [Henry's] fence to take [pictures] of the [complainant] and track her move[s]...The comp finds this offensive and stated it has been going on for over two weeks."
Wiley says detectives told her that Henry suspected her and the other women of stalking and burglary. Although no police action was taken, detectives warned the women to be careful in their dealings with Henry and in their public statements about her. Although Stone's friends felt reassured that the police were finally taking them seriously, they refused to back down, hiring a private investigator and keeping up the public pressure by turning their attention online—to Facebook, where they would rally friends and strangers to attend vigils for Stone and donate money to aid in her search.
"Getting the word out and keeping it out and keeping it fresh would have been almost impossible without Facebook," Markle says. "I think that's huge."
At an August 6 sunset vigil, the "Looking for Lisa" Facebook group was relegated to memorializing Stone from the cul de sac next to her home. Because of Henry's complaints of stalking and burglary, police had warned friends and mourners not to trespass on Stone's yard, knock on her door, peek over fences or otherwise disturb the peace of Sherry Henry, who never attended any of the vigils.
That didn't stop Stone's girlfriends from setting up tables to sell T-shirts emblazoned with "MISSING" flyers and maroon and white wristbands, the Mesquite High School colors. Many in the crowd of about 70 people were hugging each other—hugs were Stone's trademark, or so said Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes, a high school classmate of Stone's, as he joked with those gathered on the hot summer evening. "Lisa was not a hand-shaker," he said as the crowd laughed. There was a sing-along to the James Taylor classic "You've Got A Friend." There was praying and reminiscing about Stone as a child. And there were those who remained focused on her disappearance and needed to talk about it.
"It's a daily struggle to keep things in the proper perspective," explains Markle in a later interview. "It's easy to get consumed by it."
On September 3, Stone's birthday, a billboard went up on the corner of Northwest Highway and LBJ Freeway, advertising a $10,000 Crime Stoppers reward for information leading to a felony arrest in Stone's disappearance. The "Looking for Lisa" group raised $2,500 for the billboard, which bore the words "Have you seen Lisa Stone" next to the now ubiquitous photo of her smiling face framed by thick blonde hair, the same one that appears on flyers, shirts and countless missing persons websites.
In mid-September, the area beneath the billboard served as the gathering site for another candlelight vigil. Some of the frustration of the past three months was beginning to show. After the group sang "Amazing Grace," Mark Anthony Gray, a friend of Stone's deceased brother, spoke forcefully into a microphone, telling the crowd how angry he was someone may have gotten away with murder. "I hope they don't sleep at night." But then candles were lit and prayers said, and tempers quieted for a few minutes while the group of 30 people posed beneath the billboard, for more shots to place online.
Stone's girlfriends have launched a second website, ForTheLoveOfLisa.com, where Wiley posts news clippings, video links and a copy of the missing persons flyer, which visitors can print out and distribute. Posts to the "Looking for Lisa" Facebook page have become increasingly more hostile and accusatory, musing that Henry "had to slip up somewhere" and that "there is no perfect criminal and definitely no perfect crime."
Henry has moved from Stone's house, but Wiley, Shannon and friends don't seem to know her whereabouts. She has family in Missouri, but an online dating profile indicates she may be involved with a woman living in New York City. Henry's T-shirt business appears to be revamping its website and tweets appear on the related Twitter account nearly every day.
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Wiley believes that the police "are working on things behind the scenes," and she is eagerly awaiting the results from the lab analysis of items seized during the search—results which have yet to be made public. Though Sergeant Reyes too says, "Things are happening," he is unwilling to say what. He does admit that Henry's behavior is "suspicious."
"How are you with someone for 17 years, and you just don't say anything at all?" Reyes wonders. "If you were interested in solving your partner's disappearance, would you not cooperate?"
Stone's friends have vowed never to let the case go cold, and they intend to continue holding vigils and promoting their search online, updating the "Looking for Lisa" Facebook page. Their social networking, which began when Stone's perpetual postings drew them closer together, now seems like divine providence to Tammye Markle: "That was God's way of preparing us for something that was coming down the road."
Markle says her Mesquite High School class is like a family, and "we feel blindsided." Some classes are known for partying or athletic prowess, she says, but her classmates were always close, supportive friends. "If I was missing, I know Lisa would move heaven and earth to find me."