Skip to main content

tv   Dateline  MSNBC  December 29, 2019 1:00am-2:00am PST

1:00 am
. i'm craig melvin. and i'm natalie morales. and this is "dateline." i'm craig melvin. >> i'm natalie morales. >> this is "dateline". >> i was robbed of my sister! i had to grow up without one. in an instant, she was gone. and it changed everything! >> she dreamed of a career solving crimes, but crime claimed her first. >> gut wrenching pain! my daughter, please, please don't let this be true! >> home alone on a sunny afternoon, she vanished. >> we just said, "oh my god! isn't this one of her earrings?" >> earrings in the carpet.
1:01 am
ribbons on the ground. tire tracks on the lawn. >> there was evidence of a violent struggle. >> what had happened? and who was behind it? >> everything was a 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 and fought. >> we just never gave up. >> don't mess with a mother bear. >> hello. welcome to "dateline." tara ord was just 19. a beautiful young woman with big dreams and suddenly she vanished snatched from the safety of her
1:02 am
own home. there was little evidence to go on. no witness to reveal who took tara or why. or so investigators thought. it would take years and a team of determined cold case detectives to uncover that long buried clue and the story that would blow this case wide open. here's keith morrison with "the knock at the door." ♪ >> reporter: it was a monday afternoon. a baking sun. a school bus made its methodical way among the residential streets of punta gorda, florida. stopped and started and stopped again. it was inland now, miles from the the harbor, the peace river, the center of the town whose warmth had drawn them to the gulf coast. the bus stopped in the middle of a quiet neighborhood. driver opened the door. it was 3:45 p.m. >> we got off the bus and walked home. >> reporter: "we" means veronica
1:03 am
ord, then almost 14 years old, and her younger brother, paul. >> and i remember halfway down the road, remembering that i forget my key. but the closer we got to the house, i had seen my sister's car. so i said, "oh, okay, cool." you know, i don't -- i don't need the key. you know, she's home. >> reporter: then she noticed -- the door wasn't quite closed. >> it was closed, but it wasn't latched. like you could just pull on it and the door would open. i remember walking in and oprah was on the tv. >> what did you assume when you saw the door open and the tv on? >> i thought maybe she left in a hurry. maybe she went with a friend, you know, and she just didn't close the door all the way. >> reporter: "she" was tara, veronica's older sister, not quite 20 then. veronica called out. no answer. she walked through the house, bathroom light was on. >> i went and looked in the bathroom and then i went in our bedroom and i'd seen her purse and everything on top of her dresser. so then, i'm like, where would she be without her purse?
1:04 am
'cause that wasn't usual. so that's when i had called keith. >> reporter: "keith" was keith mcphillips, her mom's fiance. he was just leaving work, told veronica he was thinking of stopping for coffee with a friend on his way home. then veronica told him about tara, that her purse was home, but she wasn't. what did you think when she told you that? >> well, just something wasn't right. because if tara was gonna go somewhere, i knew she wouldn't leave her stuff or her car. she woulda said, "i won't be here when the kids get here." that's how responsible she was. >> sure. >> reporter: keith canceled the coffee plan, drove straight home. >> as soon as i got home, it just didn't look right. there was all kinds of tracks on the floor and i said, "what are these marks on the floor?" and she said, "i don't know." >> tracks? >> muddy footprints. >> reporter: muddy footprints in the living room and master bedroom. and something else, something only those who lived there would know. >> in the bedroom, like, our tv
1:05 am
would be turned a certain way because when you lay in bed, you wanna see it. but when i looked in, it was straight. and then i notice stuff missing off the dresser. jewelry was gone, money was gone. >> what was going on in your head when you saw this, as you noticed things were missing? >> i knew something was -- something bad. >> reporter: oh, and it was. what happened to that grown-up girl in this modest house in the little city by the sea on the 1st of october, 2001? a mystery for so many years. >> she was such a sweet, loving, kind -- >> caring. >> caring, full of life. >> reporter: sharon ord mcphillips is tara's mother. >> she had dreams and ambitions. she was a cheerleader, a catcher for softball. she loved art. most of all -- we were a family. she loved her family and we
1:06 am
loved her right back. >> reporter: they were new to punta gorda. had moved, recently, from scranton, pennsylvania. tara, almost grown up, told them she'd stay behind, make her own life. >> she didn't wanna come down, you know. i'm re change, especially when you're older and -- but we had a bet going on how long it would be before she got here, because >> "i'm gonna stay here on my own." "no, i'm not." >> yeah. yes. >> yep, no. >> reporter: she got a job. made plans to start college. had already decided that she wanted to be a crime scene investigator. >> she had her books and everything. >> yeah. >> reporter: and though sharon's then-fiance keith wasn't officially tara's step-dad, they had a father-daughter sort of relationship. >> yeah, we were very close. yep. always -- always hung out together. she would make our famous peanut butter and jelly triple-decker sandwiches we would have. and she would be going to make
1:07 am
them all. she was my buddy. >> reporter: and now he didn't know where she was. right away, that afternoon, keith called sharon, 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. and i cried that whole way home to "please don't let nothing be wrong, please, please." >> i remember my mother pulling up. >> how did she look? >> oh, panicked. >> reporter: keith had called 911 as sharon rushed home. an officer was there when she arrived. >> my first thing, "you need to do something. my daughter's not here." i just knew. i just knew. >> coming up. what had happened to tara? >> why wasn't anyone taking action and figuring out where she was? >> earrings in the carpet. ribbons on the ground. tire tracks on the lawn. >> it was obvious we had a serious problem. >> gut-wrenching pain. please, please don't let this be true!
1:08 am
>> when "dateline" continues. cs she said she needed one. good thing walgreens is right around the corner with great gifts for her. get in. get out. get jolly. where did we hide danny's gift? really? good thing walgreens is right around the corner with lots of great toys. get in. get out. get jolly.
1:09 am
with lots of great toys. hi susan!) honey? yeah? i respect that. but that cough looks pretty bad... try this robitussin honey. the real honey you love... plus the powerful cough relief you need. mind if i root through your trash? robitussin honey. because it's never just a cough. uh, "fifteen minutes could save you 15%ain? or more on car insurance." i think we're gonna swap over to "over seventy-five years of savings and service." what, we're just gonna swap over? yep. pump the breaks on this, swap it over to that. pump the breaks, and, uh, swap over? that's right. instead of all this that i've already-? yeah. what are we gonna do with these? keep it at your desk, and save it for next time. geico. over 75 years of savings and service.
1:10 am
1:11 am
reporter: so there they were, as evening deepened, pacing around the little house, frantic about tara. what happened? where was she? >> it was getting late. you know, why -- why wasn't she home? >> reporter: the policemen who came to help them only seemed concerned about the jewelry and cash that appeared to have been
1:12 am
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 -- >> it wasn't sinking in. >> what was going on. they were trying to say, "well, maybe she's at a football game." 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
1:13 am
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. >> 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.
1:14 am
>> 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. >> 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.
1:15 am
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 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. >> reporter: 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
1:16 am
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 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.
1:17 am
>> reporter: and, he said, she was perfectly fine when he left the house early that afternoon. so, assuming that was true, who else came to that little house on the afternoon of october 1st and took away their tara? coming up -- >> something needed to happen. >> a frustrated family reaches out to someone new. >> if you met sharon, you wouldn'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. >> a turn in the case was coming. when "dateline" continues.
1:18 am
1:19 am
1:20 am
1:21 am
>> reporter: how to explain how a mother feels when her child has vanished and all signs point to something bad? 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 -- >> right. >> 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.
1:22 am
>> 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 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, did you have a birthday party? >> we had to. we had the presents. and -- i'll never forget this.
1:23 am
i went to open one, and my son said, "you're not opening that." he said, "she's coming back." 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 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?
1:24 am
>> 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 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. >> repor 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
1:25 am
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. >> 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. then the reality is -- that's it, you're never gonna see her again. it's so devastating. it's the worst pain ever. she didn't belong out there. >> reporter: 284 days after tara vanished, they knew, finally, she was never coming back.
1:26 am
but they were no closer to knowing how she wound up out there in the woods. >> coming up. >> now what? find the killers and make them pay for the crime. new leads, at last! >> reporter: isn't that your connection? >> it was a great connection. >> reporter: and new questions for someone who'd been at the house that day. >> i feel like i've been, you know, harassed.
1:27 am
looking around here i see tablets, laptops, printers, smartphones. they're all connected to the internet. they're all connected. can your network handle all those devices?
1:28 am
sometimes. comcast business runs on the nation's largest gig-speed network. so you can get the bandwidth you need to power all of your devices at peak performance. if all of my devices could have that kind of speed, i would be dancing! get started with secure 35-megabit internet and one voice line for just $64.90 per month. call today. comcast business. beyond fast.
1:29 am
a man suspected of stabbing at least five people during a hanukkah celebration in muncie, new york, has been arrested in nearby manhattan. the attack, which happened around 10:00 p.m., took place at a local rabbi's home on the seventh night of hanukkah. police were on the scene so assist authorities as the counterterrorism bureau monitored the investigation. the governor is having a crime
1:30 am
scenes task force investigate the crime. back to "dateline." ine. welcome back to "dateline." i'm craig melvin. nine months after tara ord disappeared her bones were found in the woods outside town. as her family absorbed the devastating news, detectives began to comb the site searching for any clue that could lead them to the killer. here again is keith morrison with "a knock at the door." >> 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
1:31 am
results. they were not helpful. >> only half of the bones in her body were recovered. and some of the more important 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
1:32 am
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. 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?
1:33 am
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 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
1:34 am
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 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
1:35 am
residence either came back to the family or was not relevant to this case. there was no indication that the 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.
1:36 am
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, 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. >> coming up -- >> i always felt this was a case that could be solved. >> reporter: enter the cold case squad! could they do what no one else had? >> how important was that?
1:37 am
>> extremely important. >> when "dateline" continues. >> when "dateline" continues we used to love going out with julia and mike, but since they bought their new house... which menu am i looking at here? start with "ta-paz." -oh, it's tapas. -tapas. get out of town. it's like eating dinner with your parents. sandra, are you in school? yes, i'm in art school. oh, wow. so have you thought about how you're gonna make money? at least we're learning some new things. we bundled our home and auto with progressive, saved a bunch. oh, we got a wobbler. progressive can't protect you from becoming your parents, but we can protect your home and auto when you bundle with us. that's what the extra menu's for.
1:38 am
1:39 am
1:40 am
>> 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
1:41 am
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. we made sure she was there. >> we had a big, big picture 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,
1:42 am
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, 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
1:43 am
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. 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
1:44 am
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 and that all were followed up, every one of them. detective mehl chased down a 2001 walmart receipt, a minor, forgettable purchase, except that the time stamp on the receipt cast serious 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 phillip barr said something similar because peewee is
1:45 am
talking about, "well, i've only seen a body. it's not against the law to see a body." and barr tells him, "hey, shut up. we're all gonna end up in prison." >> and it was somebody with credibility? >> better than what we had before, yeah. >> reporter: but overall, a key problem remained. >> terrible witnesses. >> 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. 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
1:46 am
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 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.
1:47 am
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, who is this person?" and mike said, "oh, i know someone by that name." so mike then went out and 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. >> reporter: how important was that in the --
1:48 am
>> 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. >> 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
1:49 am
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 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. >> a mother's perseverance had brought the case this far. >> she fought and fought and fought. >> would a verdict bring justice at last? when "dateline" continues. when "dateline" continues. patients want something that works faster for them. why would somebody want to suffer if there is options
1:50 am
that they don't need to. i think dentists will want to recommend sensodyne rapid relief because it's clinically proven to work in 3 days. which means for patients that they get relief very fast. you have fast-acting power over pain,
1:51 am
so the whole world looks different. the unbeatable strength and speed of advil liqui-gels. what pain? at chwe're a festive family. we're a four-legged family. we're a get-up-and-go family. we're a ski family. we're all part of the chevy family. and as we kick off the new year, we'd like you to be a part of ours. because our chevy employee discount is still available to everyone. the chevy price you pay is what we pay. not a cent more. so happy new year, and welcome to the family. the chevy family! the chevy employee discount for everyone ends soon.
1:52 am
1:53 am
>> 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 cover for stealing from the homes of unsuspecting customers. and here's what happened, said
1:54 am
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
1:55 am
breaking that small palm tree in 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 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. people who supposedly heard barr and mcmanis say -- >> "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. >> phillip barr was saying to david mcmannis, "i didn't want to kill her."
1:56 am
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 >> we contended that those conversations never took place. some of those >> 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 involved if not in the murder, but definitely in the complicity
1:57 am
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. 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.
1:58 am
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 dinner with sharon, keith and veronica. detective mehl made a presentation.
1:59 am
>> she was a fighter and she >> 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." >> here to tara. >> cheers! >> 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 justice. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin.
2:00 am
thank you for watching. natalie morales. >> and this is date line. >> do you have one that got away. >> my first love. >> the guy that disappeared. accept in his case he really disappeared. >> he's going to call me in a couple of days and he never called me. >> his family, in agony. >> i wrote letters to america's most wanted. >> a rookie detective finally broke the case. >> i said oh my gosh, they have hit pay dirt. >> ae strange phone call revead the secret. >> david needed to be gotten rid of. >> then we gotgo the real story >> a bombshell revelation. was she really a bereaved ex. >> i'll always love david. >>ys or maybe a black widow. >> barbara briton is in the


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on