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tv   Dateline Extra  MSNBC  December 15, 2019 7:00pm-8:00pm PST

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would come after a vote on conviction. it would require only a simple majority unlike the simple majority needed to remove a president from office. i want to thank you. i got through some of your questions. i will be monday at 6:00 p.m. eastern on "the beat." see you then. [ music playing ] > . >> i was with my sister. i had to grow up without one. and in an instant she was gone. it changed everything. >> she dreamed of solving crimes. crimes claimed her first. >> with the gut wrenching fame, my daughter, please, please, don't let this be true. >> home alone on a sunny
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afternoon. she vanished. >> we just said, oh my god, isn't the one of her earrings. >> earrings on the carpet, tire traction on the lawn. >> there was evidence of a violent struggle. >> what has happened and who was behind it? >> everything was mystery. was she still alive? you know, was she not? >> it tore us apart. >> for years they demanded answers. a struggle each day. then came the cold case squad with a new bag of tricks. >> i always felt that this was a case that could be solved. >> they wanted justice just as bad as we did. >> as a mother, she fought and fought shnd and fought. >> we just never gave up. >> don't mess with a mother bear. >> the knock at the door. hello, welcome to "dateline extra" i'm craig melvin. tara orr was the oldest daughter in a tight-knit family of five. the whole crew had recently
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moved to florida when a 19-year-old planned to attend college. then tara was snatched from her own home. it would take years and a team of tireless cold case detectives to uncover the clue and the story that would blow this case ride opened. here's chief morris. >>. >> it was a monday afternoon, a baking sun, a school bus made it's methodical way of punta gore dark, florida. stopped and started again, it was inland now. miles from the harbor, the beach river, the center of town. it was warmth had drawn them to the gulf coast. the bus stop in the middle of a quiet neighborhood. the driver opened the door it was 3:45 p.m. >> i got off the bus and walked home. >> we means veronica orr then
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almost 14-years-old and her younger brother paul. >> i remember halfway down the road remembering i forgot my key. the closer i got to the hour, i seen my sister's car. i said, oh, okay, cool, i don't need the key. you know, she's home. >> then she noticed the door wasn't quite closed. >> it was closed, it wasn't latched, like you could fall in and the door would open. i remember walking in and oprah was on the tv. >> what did you assume you saw the door opened and the tv on? >> i thought maybe she left in a hurry, went with a friend and didn't close the door all the way. >> she was tara. veronica's older, the not quite 20 then. veronica called out. noalser, called through the house, the bathroom light was on. >> i went into the bedroom and saw her purse and everything on top of her dresser. i thought where would she be without a purse. >> that wasn't usual.
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that's when i called keith. >> keith was keith philips her mum's fiancee. he was just leaving work, told veronica he was thinking of stopping for coffee with a friend on his way home. ven then ver ka told him about tara, her purse was home but she wasn't. what did you think when she told you that? >> well just something wasn't right. if tara was going to go somewhere, she wouldn't leave her keys there. that's how responsible she was. >> he kept it and drove straight home. >> as soon as i got home. there were tracks, i said, what are these marks on the road? >> tracks? >> muddy foot prints. >> muddy foot prints in the living room and master bedroom and something else. something only those who live there would know. >> in the bedroom, it would be turned the certain way. you lay in bed you want to see it. when i went in, it was straight.
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then i noticed like stuff missing off the dresser. jewelry was gone, money was gone. >> what was going on in your head as you saw this as you noticed things were missing. >> i knew something bad. >> oh and it was. what happened? to that grown up girl in this modest house in the city along the sea n on the 1st of october, 2001. a mystery for so many years? >> she was such a sweet, loving, kind, care, full of life. >> sharon or mcphilips is tara's mother. >> she had dreams and a vision. she was a cheerleader. a catcher for softball. she loved art. most of all, we were a family. >> yes. >> she loved her family. we loved her, right back. >> they were new to punta gorda
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moved recently from scranton, pennsylvania. tara almost grown up told them she'd make her own life. >> she wanted to come down. it's a change. especially when are you older. but we had a bet on how long she would be forced to get here because we are so close. so we had a bet going and i think she left in three weeks. >> stay here on my own? >> yeah. >> she got a job, made plans to start college. had already decided that she wanted to be a crime's scene investigator. >> she had her books and everything? >> yeah. >> though sharon's fiancee wasn't officially the stepdad. they had a daughter/father relationship. >> we were very close. we always hung out together she would make her peanut butter jelly triple decker sandwiches. she's my buddy.
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>> now he didn't know where she was. right away that afternoon, keith called cheshlgs just finishing her work day at her office. >> i'll never forget that call. >> i remember saying i have to leave now. it was a 40-minute ride. i ceo i'd that whole way home to please don't let nothing be wrong. please. please. >> i remember my mother pulling up. >> how did she look? >> panicked. >> keith called 911. an officer was there when she arrived. >> i said you need to do something. my daughter is not here. i just knew, i just knew. >> coming up, what had happened to tara, earrings in the carpet? stuff on the ground, tire tracks overall? >> it was obviously that we had a serious problem. >> when the knock at the door continues. continues.
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quellc welcome back. later their mom's fiancee noticed muddy foot prints tracked through house and cash and jewelry missing. the moment her mother got the call her intuition told her tara was in trouble. >> so there they were. frantic about tara. what happened? where was she? >> >> reporter: the policemen who came to help them only seemed concerned about the jewelry and cash that appeared to have been taken, not sharon's missing daughter. >> they were concentrated on the burglary. >> reporter: they didn't seem to hear what she was saying, didn't understand her panic. >> they just weren't getting us or --
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what was going on. saying maybe she was at a football game. >> there was a football game going on? >> yeah. >> and then they -- >> reporter: there was a football game that night? >> both: yeah. >> and then, they went through her friends. and then actually they called one friend. and this person was dating a tara. >> reporter: sharon almost shouted, it wasn't her tara. the officer tried a different tactic. >> we'll put a b.o.l.o. out. >> reporter: b.o.l.o? >> both: yes. >> "be on the look out." >> reporter: tara's family knew if she had gone to the football game, if she had gone anywhere, she would have told them. deputies said since tara was an adult, they would wait 24 hours before calling her a missing person. maybe she just left on her own. >> if my daughter was a runaway or a troubled child or whatever the case may have been, i would have told you that. i know my child. >> reporter: how frustrated were you? >> oh, so very frustrated. >> reporter: veronica, not quite 14, remember, was terrified.
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>> why wasn't anybody taking action and figuring out where she was? >> reporter: keith and sharon called everybody they knew in town. their best friends offered moral support, came to the house, and one of them noticed something on the floor. >> we just heard, "oh, my god!" and we walked in and she was bending over, pulling it out of the carpet like it was embedded in the carpet. >> yeah, it wasn't just laying there. >> she pulled it out and she said, "sharon, isn't this one of her earrings?" and she said, "yeah." >> reporter: so then? >> then eventually we found the -- >> we found -- >> -- another one. >> yeah. >> and -- >> and then the third one. >> reporter: like, ground into the carpet? >> yeah, right -- >> oh, yeah, just-- >> -- we had to pull them out. >> reporter: they also noticed a small palm tree in their front yard had been damaged along with the decorative bricks around it. >> and then there was tire tracks. >> reporter: what, across the lawn? >> across the lawn. >> reporter: how close do those tire tracks come to the house? >> it wasn't a big yard, but -- >> no, it wasn't a big yard.
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>> reporter: they went up to the door. and they found two ribbons, the kind tara wore in her hair, outside their front door, and scuff marks on their bedroom dresser. tell me about the -- what those scuff marks look like. like somebody moved it or rubbed something against it? >> if you took your shoe and you kicked something and you left a mark. >> reporter: okay. >> like, if, you know, if you walk on a floor and you drag your feet, it leaves a mark? >> reporter: yeah. >> well, that was on the dresser drawers in our bedroom. >> reporter: one of the missing pieces of jewelry was a ring tara had given to keith. >> my "dad" ring she -- she bought me. i didn't care about anything else but that. >> reporter: the officers left the house with nothing learned, nothing resolved. and still no tara. sharon and keith didn't sleep. not a wink that night. >> reporter: what goes on in here as you're sitting up all night -- >> gut-wrenching pain. >> big hole. >> praying that, "oh, please, please don't let this be true." >> reporter: before the sun came
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up, sharon called 911 again. and a new officer arrived. >> a woman deputy, i'll never forget that. and she came. and i remember saying to her, "please help me." and she did. she got the ball rolling. she listened to me. the deputy called in crime scene investigators. >> i remember my mother waking me and my brother up. and i remember seeing so many people there, and the crime scene van outside. >> reporter: now deputies were taking tara's disappearance seriously. mike gandy was a captain at the charlotte county sheriff's office back then. >> sometimes you'll respond to a scene or a call where someone's missing and you can tell from the family interaction that it's not a big deal. this was not the case with tara's mom. it was obvious that we had a serious problem. first thing, find out the last time anyone had seen or spoken with tara. they knew by the time veronica
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got home just before 4:00 p.m., tara was gone. they learned tara's last phone call began at 11:49 a.m. ended at 12:05. she'd talked to a colleague at the mall jewelry kiosk where she worked. she said she'd be by, pick up her paycheck, and go shopping. but first, their landlord had arranged for a septic repair company to drop by the house. so, did tara stay and wait? maybe the owner of the repair company knew something. >> one of our criminal investigation division sergeants on his way in to work stopped by this guy's house and asked had he been to tara's home. yes, he had. had he seen tara? yes, he had contact with a female there. and, he said, she was perfectly fine when he left the house early that afternoon. >> reporter: so, assuming that was true, who else came to that little house on the afternoon of october 1st and took away their tara?
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. >> a methodic cal police investigation was now under way. but could they bring tara home before it was too late? they stick by tara's anxious mother hatched her own plan to find the missing teenager. coming up -- >> something needed to happen. >> reporter: a frustrated family reaches out to someone new. >> if you met sharon, you wouln't tell her no. i looked her in the eye and i told them i would do everything i possibly could to try to help them. >> reporter: a turn in the case was coming. written the knock at the door continues. written the knock at the door continues. before nexium 24hr mark could only imagine...
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serious allergic reactions may occur. i just look and feel better. i got real relief with cosentyx. watch me! feel real relief. ask your rheumatologist about cosentyx. . >> welcome back. where was tara orr? police now believe she was a victim of foul play. investigators were questioning anyone who seen the teenager that afternoon. soon they would launch a massive search through the woods and open fields, but first, detectives planned to take a hard look closer to home at tara's pham little. here again is keith morrison. >> reporter: how to explain how a mother feels when her child
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has vanished and all signs point to something bad? >> reporter: keith, what did this do to her? >> tore her apart. it's just like watching everything crumble. >> reporter: though the family appeared to be very close and loving and sincerely distraught, investigators believed they still needed to be looked at as possible suspects. you know it's a cool reality though of the detective business that they start close and widen out, and they always start with members of the family to eliminate them -- >> yes. >> reporter: and it winds up tragically and horribly often being somebody very close to them. >> i actually asked them myself, "did you check us out?" >> reporter: what'd they say? >> they said they did. >> they said, "oh, don't worry. we did." >> reporter: meanwhile sharon and keith pushed through their fear and anxiety and did what they could. >> you look through garbage bags -- >> and you go everywhere and anywhere and in the woods, dumpsters. >> reporter: really. >> i would do it every day. >> we would go in the woods so far, we didn't even know where we came out half the time. we didn't even know where we were. >> reporter: captain gandy's
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investigators searched for tara as well. >> the investigation shifted this morning with deputies searching 500 acres of pasture. >> if someone called and said, "hey, we saw a suspicious vehicle in this wooded area," or "there's buzzards and vultures over here," and we would always go and search. we did have a couple of different times where we used cadaver dogs in certain areas. >> reporter: four weeks after tara vanished she turned 20, and they tried to stay positive, as they told the local nbc station, wbbh. >> we're gonna have a cake and, >> reporter: you had a birthday party? >> of course. >> had to. [ crying ] and we had the presents. and -- i'll never forget this. i went to open one, and my son said, "you're not opening that." he said, "she's coming back." [ crying ] and i didn't open it. >> reporter: months went by, they couldn't accept what their heads kept telling them, that tara had been snatched away and murdered. but nobody was telling them
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anything. the investigation seemed to them to have stalled, wasn't going anywhere. >> something needed to happen. >> reporter: and it didn't feel like it was happening. >> exactly. >> reporter: not at all, right? >> not at all. >> reporter: and so out of sheer desperation, about six months after tara vanished they hired a civil attorney, a woman named amanda downing. >> reporter: what did they want you to do? >> they wanted anyone's help, a lawyer's help, the media's help, civilian's help, neighbor's help, anybody's help in finding their daughter. and i think by hiring a lawyer, they believed that i could somehow assist them in fact, finding their daughter, searching for -- anything. they were -- they were grasping -- >> reporter: what did you tell them? >> i looked her in the eye. i looked keith in the eye, and i told them i would do everything i possibly could to try to help them. >> reporter: you know, you would've been perfectly within your rights to look at them and say, "look, i'm sorry, but that's not what i do." >> if you met sharon, you
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wouldn't tell her no. >> reporter: wow. did they want you to sue somebody or just get information or what? >> i don't think that their goal was to sue anyone. i think their goal was to find tara. >> reporter: and then nine months after tara disappeared -- a man traveling on a desolate road on the outskirts of punta gorda, pulled over for a pit stop, walked into the woods and saw, not a girl, bones. >> we actually sat on the steps of the crime scene van while they were out there -- >> reporter: out there at the scene. >> yes, we did. >> you want to find her. >> but not like this. >> you don't want it to be like this, you know? you just hope and pray everyday that she's alive. but it was her. it was tara. >> enough of the teeth were there to -- to make a positive identification that it was tara.
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>> reporter: by then, sharon and keith were at home, waiting for the results. detective gandy went to tell them. that's never easy, huh? >> hardest thing you ever have to do. >> and then when they come to your door with clergy -- >> reporter: you see them coming? >> yeah. [ crying ] then the reality is -- that's it, you're never gonna see her again. it's so devastating. it's the worst pain ever. [ crying ] she didn't belong out there. >> reporter: 284 days after tara vanished, they knew, finally, she was never coming back. but they were no closer to knowing how she wound up out there in the woods. >> reporter: coming up -- >> now what? find the killers and make them pay for the crime. >> reporter: new leads, at last!
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isn't that your connection? >> it was a great connection >> . >> when the knock at the door continues. . n the knock at the door continues. . ( ♪ )
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our top stories, senate democrats senate impeachment trial that continues testimony from bolton and mick mulvaney and others and at least six people are dead from dangerous weather creating icy roads, poor visibility and heavy snow. it is expected to continue into rush hour tomorrow morning as it moves deep and south. now back to "dateline." w back t. . >> welcome back to" dateline extra" i'm craig melvin.
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it was not the news they wanted at all. a grim discovery that could lead to tara's killer. than an intriguing clue. a previously overlooked witness statement about a stolen bracelet and ring. could it point to texas to a suspect? here again is keith morrison. >> >> reporter: in the end, bones and a few teeth were all they found. there was every reason to think tara was murdered, and then dumped in the woods. but murdered how? by whom? sharon's attorney called her as soon as she heard the news. >> she was obviously distraught, devastated, hysterical, crying. now what? find out the killers and make them pay for the crime. >> reporter: prosecutor dan feinberg got the autopsy results. they were not helpful. >> only half of the bones in her body were recovered. and some of the more important
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bones like the hyoid bone which would show whether or not there might been a choking or strangulation was not recovered. >> reporter: the medical examiner, though, found evidence that four of tara's ribs were fractured. >> a perimortem fracture, a fracture that occurred at the time of death. >> so there's a big, big slam into her ribs somehow. >> the medical examiner clearly found that there was evidence of a violent struggle. there was evidence of blunt force trauma and that would contribute to her death. >> reporter: detectives scoured the woods, looking for anything that might tell them something. they found a belly button ring near the bones. the kind tara wore, sharon confirmed. and the remnants of only one piece of clothing that belonged to her, a pair of panties. but no hair, no fiber, no dna of any kind at the scene that would help them i.d. a killer. >> it was frustrating for the family, it was frustrating for the detectives and it was frustrating for the prosecutors that worked on the case, including myself. >> reporter: so detectives went back to the beginning.
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they reviewed all the witness statements they'd taken over the course of the nine months tara had been missing. and there was a note about a man who'd turned in some jewelry three days after tara went missing. a ring and bracelet, which turned out to belong to tara's family. >> it would had been in the possession of glen saint john. took a couple of pieces of jewelry to his probation officer. >> reporter: glen st. john, who went by peewee, was on probation for felony burglary. so, did peewee kill tara? he insisted, no, and he didn't take the jewelry, either, he said. somebody gave it to him. >> told him that he received that jewelry from phil barr, and phil barr told him it came from the missing girl's home. >> reporter: phil barr? he was the owner of the septic repair business that had been at tara's house the day she went missing. but, was pee wee telling the
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truth? would he ever tell the truth? >> he told multiple different stories. >> what did he say? >> he said a little more each time he was interviewed and he would change his story to where -- to the point where it made him an uncredible witness. he admitted that he had seen the body at some point. it was a little interesting in that -- that particular area, tara's bones were recovered was within a couple hundred yards of one of peewee's favorite fishing spots. >> isn't that your connection? >> that it was a great connection, but mr. saint john was a very incredible witness. >> reporter: that story about getting stolen jewelry from phil barr? >> no jewelry from tara's home was found in the possession of phil barr. >> reporter: and anyway, barr told investigators, tara was fine when he and his helper left her house that afternoon. but questions went on and on. and phil barr, who had a business to run, didn't appreciate that kind of attention. barr complained to a local nbc
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reporter about it. >> it's been very stressful. i realize the police are doing their job and they're looking into things, but nonetheless i feel like, you know, i've been harassed. >> reporter: and several times, he himself confronted the detectives. insisted he was innocent, all the talk was unfair. >> i am telling you the truth. >> i have nothing to do with this girl's disappearance. i'm getting the [ bleep ] shaft here. >> reporter: it was a problem. detectives certainly had their suspicions. but evidence? there was none. and most everyone they questioned who knew barr was, well, a bit shady. hard to believe. prosecutor feinberg concluded he simply didn't have enough to make a charge stick. >> the dna evidence in this case that was collected from the residence either came back to the family or -- was not relevant to this case. there was no indication that the
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perpetrators had left blood or body fluid at the home. >> reporter: and so -- >> cases typically go cold when you run out of leads and when you run out of information and you run out of ideas. >> reporter: tara's mother, sharon, again and again, demanded to know what, if anything, was going on. prosecutor feinberg had no choice, he said. he couldn't tell her. >> the frustration was clear. you could see it on her face. you could hear it in her voice. the family was devastated and they wanted answers. and i can understand that. you can't as a prosecutor and you can't as a detective give all those answers. you can't put that information out there. >> reporter: still, sharon continued to ferret out what she could. >> we just never gave up. there was no stopping. >> reporter: as did her attorney. >> she would hear a piece of information from a neighbor or a news source or a detective that wasn't supposed to tell her. and then she would confirm it,
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run with it, call me. she fought and fought and fought for justice. justice for tara. and as sharon would say, "my tara." she's always said, "my tara." >> reporter: but none of these efforts turned up anything useful. and the sheriff's case wasn't going anywhere either. there was no getting around it. justice for tara just was not happening. in fact, the case was growing cold. stone cold. eventually mike gandy retired, as did these two cops, way up north. retired and moved to sunny florida. and -- >> i got very bored. >> reporter: oh oh. >> it turns out the three cops were not ready to hand in their badges. with extraordinary attention to detail, they were about to reignite the investigation and give a heart broken family new hope. >> coming up. >> i always felt this was a case that could be solved.
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>> the cold case plot unearths an intriguing clue. >> how important was that? >> extremely important. >> when the knock at the door continues. important. >> when the knock at the door continues. shipping or ...1 hour in-store pick up. shopping season solved at office depot officemax ...or same time next week. yes! you wanna see something thatamazing?ing. go to hilton instead of a travel site and you'll experience a whole new range of emotions like... the relaxing feeling of knowing you're getting the best price. these'll work. the utter delight of free wi-fi... . oh man this is the best part. isn't that you? yeah. and the magic power of unlocking your room with your phone. i can read minds too. really? book at if you find a lower rate, we match it and give you 25% off that stay. expect better. expect hilton. my skin hurt, i felt gross. but then i started cosentyx and i haven't really had to think about it. real people with psoriasis... look and feel better with cosentyx. don't use if you're allergic to cosentyx.
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wroer now just days a way from impeachment. it's why the learn11th hour is every night. >> reporter: tara's family struggled as time went on without answers and without their tara. >> it was hard. i was robbed of my sister. i had to grow up without one. >> reporter: in 2003, after six years together, sharon and keith finally got married. >> when i was getting ready to walk down the aisle, that was very sad because my baby girl wasn't gonna be in that wedding party. but she was there. [ sniffs] we made sure she was there. >> we had a big, big picture
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made up of her. >> reporter: but the anger remained and intense frustration as, year after year, sharon demanded answers and didn't get them. in 2008, almost seven years after tara's murder, sharon appeared in a crime stoppers video, and spoke directly to the killers, whoever they were. >> i want to know how they wake up in the morning. how do they go on with their life knowing that they did this to a person? don't think for a minute that you got away with this. 'cuz one day, and i truly truly believe this, that one day, there's going to be a knock at that door, and they're going to be in cuffs. and that's what i, that's what i want. >> reporter: nothing came of it. the whole world had moved on, forgotten, apparently. but then, a year later, 2009, punta gorda got a new sheriff. and he thought some of the unsolved cases in town needed a new look and called upon the retired detective mike gandy. and these two, who had been detectives up north before they,
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too, retired and moved to punta gorda, mike vogel and kurt mehl. >> i moved to florida and came down here to hunt and fish and play golf and go boating and go to the beach and just relax. and that lasted a couple months. i got very bored. >> reporter: and so three bored ex-detectives put on badges again to form the sheriff's very first official cold case unit and decided early on they'd work on tara's case. prosecutor feinberg was finally optimistic, sort of. >> i always felt that this was a case that could be solved. if it had a new set of eyes, it had somebody that could put the case together, connect all of the dots. >> what requests did you make of them? >> we wanted to know more about every piece of evidence, every -- we have to rule out every piece of dna in that house.
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so it was closing doors, it was excluding other people. >> reporter: so, that's what these three did, as a large photo of tara kept watch. but, again, there was no dna to help them. all they had really were lingering suspicions about the workmen who went to tara's house the day she vanished. phil barr, the guy who owned the septic tank business, his helper that day, dave mcmannis, and their buddy "peewee" st. john, but nothing in this huge trove of investigative material proved anything. >> kurt, we call him "the scribe." he organized it in -- in such a way that it was easier to understand. >> what had been difficult to understand? >> it was confusing to the point where you didn't know what we were gonna be able to get into court. >> the context was in there. you couldn't figure it out because it was a mess. >> the majority of it was in there, yes. we had to try to do the analysis on it, and that's what took so long. >> reporter: an awful lot of detective work amounts to reading. thousands of pages of reports and witness statements, and this
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and that all were followed up, everyone of them. detective mehl chased down a 2001 walmart receipt, a minor, forgettable purchase, except that the time stamp on the receipt cast doubt on philip barr's alibi didn't exactly wreck it, but it caught him in a significant lie. >> that's how detailed we were getting. >> reporter: but then they just happened to run into a guy who said he knew barr and mcmannis and peewee. >> and he overheard them talking about killing this girl. he heard david mcmannis say, "we shouldn't have done that girl that way. if i don't get out of town, i'm gonna spend the rest of my life in jail." phillip barr said something similar because peewee is talking about, "well, i've only seen a body. it's not against the law to see -- see a body." and barr tells him, "hey, shut up. we're all gonna end up in prison." >> and it was somebody with credibility. >> be -- better than what we had before, yeah. >> reporter: but overall, a key problem remained. >> terrible witnesses.
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>> reporter: meaning detectives spoke with other people who'd also heard the men talk about the murder, but they were not the type a jury would likely believe. much of what they'd say sounded like drug and booze soaked gossip. there wasn't enough certainly to support charging peewee. but, thought the prosecutor, maybe he could find a way to go after barr and mcmannis. and he had an idea. bring some of the key witnesses before a grand jury just to see who passed the credibility test and who didn't. >> i've prosecuted over 100 homicide cases and the complexity, and the amount of information that we had to review to determine if we could prosecute this case was the most i'd ever seen. >> reporter: the idea worked. the grand jury indicted both phil barr and dave mcmannis for tara's murder. they were arrested in late 2012, 11 years after tara vanished from her home. dave mcmannis was arrested in maryland, where he grew up, while u.s. marshals mounted a
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manhunt for phil barr. >> kinda lost track of him. we were actually then able to -- to locate phil in the vermont area, very close to the canadian border, where we think he had fled with the intent possibly of -- of leaving the country. >> reporter: but the case against the men needed more, and so the cold case team kept investigating. and in 2014, one of them came across a name buried deep in an old file. right after tara disappeared, a next door neighbor told investigators she saw barr and another man at tara's house that day, but she couldn't see much because her view was blocked by a fence. so that went nowhere then, except the neighbor happened to mention that her sister-in-law had been visiting that day. but, no one had ever interviewed her. >> kurt, i think, had found her name and said, "hey, do you -- who is this person?" and mike said, "oh, i know someone by that name." so mike then went out and-- and
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located her and spoke to her. >> what'd she have to say? >> she floored me. >> reporter: why? that visitor was not blocked by the fence like her relatives were. she'd been sitting in full view not more than 15 yards from tara's front door, and she saw a lot. >> she did see a vehicle pull in a couple different times. and then the second time she saw the vehicle there, it was backed up to the front door. and the two guys got out, opened the tailgate, and we were walking back and forth inside the front door. >> wow. >> yeah. >> and that was, kind of -- how important was that in the -- >> extremely important. she -- she identified david mcmannis as being at the house with barr. she identified him there at a time when the pickup truck was backed up to the front door. what other reason was that pickup truck backed up the front door other than to take tara out of that house? >> reporter: we went out to the house to get a better idea of where this woman was sitting and what she could have seen. >> so, she's sitting right here.
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>> wow. so that's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, nine, 10, like maybe a dozen steps away where this truck is parked. >> yes. >> so, that's close, yeah. >> it's very close. >> huh. so if -- if the back of truck, it would've been, how -- how far from the door? like, right up to the door like that? >> that's correct. and -- and in this general area, on the outside -- track, tire track, was found the hair ribbons. >> way out here? >> right out here. >> okay. so suggesting that they put her in the back of the truck and the hair ribbons came loose as they were driving away or putting her there or something? >> that would be a pretty good -- explanation. >> well, well, well. this -- makes it all the more real when you see how close this must have been. >> reporter: the woman said she didn't actually see what the men
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were doing, because the cab of the truck blocked her view. but still, this was way more than they had before. finally, 14 years after tara vanished, barr and mcmannis were going on trial for her murder. what had happened at the house that day? a jury finally hears the story. . >> coming up. >> we believe she confronted him. >> reporter: a mother's perseverance had brought the case this far. >> she fought and fought and >> reporter: would a verdict bring justice at last? it's tough to quit smoking cold turkey.
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welcome back. david was headed to trial for the murder of 19-year-old tara. for with no forensic evidence linking either, prosecutors worried making their case would be difficult. but now they had an eyewitness.
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someone cold case detectives had only recently sdovrd. she was about to describe what she saw when day she disappeared. >> reporter: it was october 2015 when the trials began. dan feinberg was joined by a co-prosecutor named jennifer garczewski, 14 years -- almost to the day -- since tara's life ended. >> she's only a year younger than me. so when i think back to where i was in 2001, i was just finishing college and obviously that was a goal of hers. so i did feel a connection to her, thinking about her and where she would've been at my age now. >> reporter: and the defendants now on trial? phil barr owned a septic tank repair business, dave mcmannis was his helper the day tara disappeared. the detectives had learned that barr used his business as a
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cover for stealing from the homes of unsuspecting customers. and here's what happened, said the state, that first of october, 2001: tara's landlord asked barr for a repair estimate. barr and his helper, mcmannis, began their work-day by smoking crack. around noon, four hours before veronica arrived home from school, the men most likely knocked on the door and tara let them in, unaware they had robbery not work on their minds. >> dave mcmannis was taking the property while barr was distracting her in the bathroom. we believe she found out. she heard something or saw something that mr. mcmannis was doing, where he was in a place he shouldn't have been and she confronted him. and two people with impaired minds do things that normal people wouldn't do. and their solution to that was to kill her. >> reporter: the woman who'd been sitting out in the front yard told the jury how the two men had been laughing and joking when they arrived, but later when she saw them backing their truck up to tara's front door breaking that small palm tree in
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the process. >> it was almost like they had a mission, that they had a plan. and one went straight to the tailgate and put the tailgate down out the truck and the other went -- went straight to the front door. >> all business? >> all business. >> reporter: that, said the prosecutor, is when they cleaned up and took tara's body in a bed sheet, loaded it into the truck, and waited for dark when one or both of them dumped her body in the woods. but to tell that story took two long trials, each peopled by witnesses the jury might not think were very credible. >> "we raped and killed the girl." >> "they're not gonna find her." >> "i'm going to kill you like i killed the girl in florida." "the girl i killed was 20." >> reporter: one witness testified about overhearing a conversation between barr and mcmannis.
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>> phillip barr was saying to david mcmannis, "i didn't want to kill her." and she overheard david mcmannis respond, "she had to die." >> reporter: not very believable, said the defense attorneys. just people making things up, said barr's lawyer, mark de sisto. >> we contended that those conversations never took place. >> reporter: some of those witnesses were inmates, too, snitches. >> i never met a confidential informant that's gonna inform just 'cause he wants to be a nice guy or a good citizen. there's always something in it for him. >> reporter: that woman, the star witness found by the cold case team, who said she saw the two men coming and going from tara's house? >> could it be she made herself believe this over so much of a time to make sure the bad guy goes away? >> reporter: dave mcmannis's attorney, michael bross, said his view those detectives focused on the wrong man. said phil barr's accomplice must have been peewee st. john, the man who'd turned in jewelry three days after tara went missing. >> there's enough circumstantial evidence to believe that he was
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involved if not in the murder, but definitely in the complicity to cover it up. >> reporter: the only thing that dave mcmannis was guilty of, said bross was being a sarcastic guy. >> the majority of the statements that were made were sarcasm at best. so if he's guilty -- >> it's a claim. yeah. and that's kind of an easy out for saying terrible things, isn't it? >> well, it was inappropriate statements, if said at all. david is known to be a jokester and sarcastic. even during the course of the trial, he would say things that were sarcastic. >> reporter: the trials, two of them, dragged on for more than 15 months with delay after delay in a case that had taken more than 15 years to get to this point. sharon and keith's marriage didn't make it that long. they're separated now, but they attended both trials together. >> we started this together, we're gonna finish it together, no matter what. >> reporter: and after all that time? in each case, deliberations took less than 90 minutes.
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the verdicts: guilty. both men were sentenced to life in prison without parole. mcmannis has filed an appeal; barr lost his. >> i think everybody would agree that but for sharon, neither trial would've taken place. she fought and fought and fought for justice. >> reporter: tara's little sister veronica has two children of her own now. >> they know their aunt tara. and they have necklaces with her pictures on it. and my daughter, you would think that she had met her. she dreams about her. >> never met her, but they love her. that warms my heart. >> reporter: a few weeks after the trials were over, the prosecutors, detectives and their spouses got together for
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dinner with sharon, keith and veronica. detective mehl made a presentation. >> she was a fighter and she kept us fighting for her, for you and your family. >> they've had the picture hanging in their office for a very long time. and they -- they passed it onto me. i could look at it now and go, "we did it. we did it." >> you've given us a new chapter in our life. >> reporter: the family gave the cold case detectives and prosecutors gifts as well. each was engraved: "justice for tara." >> they put in so much hard work and time and respect, compassion. so we wanna give them a little token of our appreciation and love for everything they've done. they gave tara peace and
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justice. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thank you for watch iing. she can lie to you, make love to you, kill you, all in the same week. and not even cry at the funeral. >> she was living that dream california lifestyle. you talk about "housewives of orange county." she could have been on the show. she wrapped him around her finger. >> reporter: she had it all, waterfront home, fancy cars, millionaire boyfriend. quite the life. until --


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