Real Name: Marlena Danyele 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. Light brown hair, blue/hazel eyes
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, Pamela "Pam" Bailey, contacted police at 4:15PM. The day after the alleged abduction, Pam was interviewed by local news. She made a desperate plea for her daughter to come home.
When interviewed by 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, Pam made the shocking announcement that her daughter was dead. She claimed that she accidentally killed Marlena and thrown her body into the nearby Obion River. Hundreds of workers and volunteers searched the river 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 Pam's own request. At a press conference, Stan played a five-minute excerpt of Pam's confession to show that it was not coerced. In the confession, she admitted to throwing Marlena's body in 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 Pam 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 her hometown of Union City. On April 22, 1987, two women and two children walked into Jean's Hair Salon. One woman 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 the girl's hair, did not understand why the two women were not consoling the child. Janice Wells, whose station is next to Gail's, also noticed the girl 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". The four 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 Marlena. 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 hair stylists and believed that they had seen Marlena. 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 son of the waitress. Investigators questioned the waitress about the case and gave her a polygraph examination. The woman 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 the calls came from the same woman. The caller claimed to know where they and their families lived and threatened them. The women 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 of 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 Marlena had been playing in the store with Amy's children. She briefly spoke with the girl before the girl's "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 Marlena. 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 the summer of 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: Pamela Bailey is a suspect in her daughter Marlena's disappearance. Two months after she vanished, Pam confessed to killing her daughter accidentally. She claimed that she lost her temper and struck Marlena, causing her to hit her head off of a table. She also confessed to dumping the body in nearby Obion River. However, no trace of her body was found in the river. 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, she 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 the woman's son as the boy with Marlena. However, investigators do not consider the waitress a suspect.
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 Marlena 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 aired again.
Results: Unresolved. Investigators received several tips as a result of the broadcast, but none of them produced any solid leads. Following Marlena's disappearance, Pam Bailey moved to Kentucky. In April of 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 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.
She 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. Marlena's case was reopened after Pam's arrest. Police now believe that she was probably responsible for her daughter's disappearance. However, she has never been charged, and Marlena has never been located.
- Marlena Childress on the Charley Project
- Marlena Childress on the Doe Network
- Marlena Childress Facebook Page
- Mother arrested for murder
- Mother arrested, charged in murder of missing child
- Bailey's charges reduced
- Search For Tennessee Girl Continues
- Union City child's 1987 disappearance still baffles police
- Girl's 1987 disappearance topic of television segment
- Cops: Missing girl's mom stabbed son
- Mother sentenced to ten years in jail for boy's stabbing
- Marlena Childress: Missing in Tennessee
- Cold case investigation to focus on disappearance
- Girl Missing For Almost 25 Years, Police Still Searching
- Pamela Bailey Offender Information
- SitcomsOnline Discussion of Marlena Childress (includes articles)
- Marlena Childress at Find a Grave