1992 Leigh Occhi 8-27-1992

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January 2nd, 2009, 8:30 pm #1

Contact Agency( name , phone #, fax #)
Tupelo Police Department
Federal Bureau Of Investigation

Case # NCMC771656

Name: Leigh Marine Occhi


Sex: Female

Race: White

Age when missing: 13 yrs.

Date Missing: Aug 27, 1992

Birth Date: Aug 21, 1979

Hair Color: Blonde

Eye Color: Hazel

Height: 4'10"

Weight: 95 lbs.



Scars: She has small scratch scars on her right leg and bumps on the skin of both of her knees

Previous fractures or broken bones:


Clothes last seen wearing: A nightshirt and green/yellow silk boxer shorts


Location last seen ( city, town, county) Tupelo, Mississippi

Circumstances: Occhi was last seen at her family's residence in the 100 block of Honey Locust Drive in Tupelo, Mississippi on August 27, 1992. Her mother saw her before leaving for work at 7:35 a.m. Occhi's mother tried to call her at 8:30 a.m., but got no answer. She tried to call once more before returning home, but there was still no answer. Her mother became worried and returned home to check on Occhi, and discovered that the garage door was open. Another door to the house was left unlocked.
There were no signs of forced entry into the home, but there were indications that a struggle had taken place. Blood stains were located inside the house on the walls, doorframe, the bathroom countertop, one of Occhi's nightgowns, and on the carpet. Occhi's reading glasses, shoes, and some of her underclothes were missing. There was no sign of her at the scene and she has not been seen again.

Occhi resided with her mother at the time of her disappearance. Her father was in the United States Army and was stationed in Washington state. He retired from the military in November 1993 and moved to Tupelo so he could assist in the search for his daughter.

About one month after Occhi's disappearance, her glasses arrived at her residence in the mail from Booneville, Mississippi. It is unknown who sent them; handwriting and forensic tests on the envelope yielded no results. Authorities stated they had very little evidence to determine who was responsible for Occhi's disappearance. Several persons of interest have been interviewed, but no one has been charged in connection with her case.

Vehicle last seen in if any:

Work or Hobbies:

Are Dentals, DNA or Fingerprints available( specify)

Additional comments: Strawberry birthmark at the base of her skull. A lazy left eye and wears eyeglasses.


NCMEC http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/ ... Num=771656
Child Seek Network http://www.childseeknetwork.com/?archive=645
Charley Project http://www.charleyproject.org/cases/o/occhi_leigh.html
Crime Stoppers of Northeast Mississippi

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January 2nd, 2009, 8:31 pm #2


Unsolved mysteries
10/28/2005 8:56:45 PM
Daily Journal

If you have any information on unsolved cases, call CrimeStoppers at (800) 773-8477.


Daily JournaL

TUPELO - Capt. Bart Aguirre has been a Tupelo Police criminal investigator for 18 years. For most of those years, he's had the same question on his mind: "What happened to Leigh Occhi?"

Though Tupelo police have hundreds of unsolved cases, Aguirre said the Occhi mystery keeps calling to him.

"It just was a weird set of circumstances," Aguirre said as he leaned forward in his chair, rubbing his forehead. "Aug. 27, 1992, Leigh Occhi's mother called and said she was missing. We went to her home and found a bloody gown and signs that a struggle took place, but there was no Leigh Occhi."

Thirteen years later, Aguirre said they're no closer to solving the case than when it happened. He said "cold cases" like this one can drive an investigator crazy.

"It's hard when a parent or loved one asks you how a case is going and you have nothing to tell them," Aguirre said. "It's something as an investigator you think about all the time."

Not forgotten

With police having to deal with new crimes every day, many people think the old ones are forgotten, but Aguirre said that's not true. He said all of Tupelo's cold cases are active.

Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson inherited five murder cold cases from the previous administration. Despite several leads and arrests on some of them, they remain unsolved.

"After a case goes a while without being solved, it takes a lot of luck to solve it," Johnson said. "Many factors can contribute to solving them. Sometimes people's attitudes change and they confess. Sometimes technology becomes more advanced, which leads to cases being solved.

"It just takes one little piece to put the puzzle together," he said.

Puzzle pieces

Aguirre knows all too well how a missing piece can solve a puzzle, even if it's 13 years old.

In January 1998, Aguirre received a tip that the remains of John Edward Seals, a man police had been seeking for 13 years, were in the bottom of an Itawamba County well.

"Seals was last seen alive at the VA Hospital in Memphis," Aguirre said. "When he was reported missing, we found his car in a median in Belden.

"We had absolutely no clues for all that time until one day someone called and said we could find his remains in that well. We know all these cases are solvable; we just need that one piece of information to get the ball rolling," he said.

Cold Case Task Force

Because new crimes are committed every day, Aguirre and Johnson can't devote all their time to dealing with these old cases. Thanks to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations, they don't have to.

About 16 months ago, MBI created the Cold Case Task Force to assist local departments in investigating these cases. Johnson said he has sent some case information to its headquarters in Batesville.

Task force director Steve Chancellor said sometimes an outside agency can make all the difference in solving a case.

"When we come in and investigate a case, we get to look at it independently," Chancellor said. "We don't know any of the people involved, so we can look at the evidence without prejudice. Sometimes local officers know the area and the persons involved, which can cause them to overlook stuff."

Chancellor said often something was overlooked in the initial investigation that would've help in the case, but luck is still the best tool to solving a cold case.

"As we say in our business, I'd rather be lucky than good."

Aguirre is hoping for some of that luck in solving the Leigh Occhi case.

"We just have to stick with it," he said. "Like I said, one little piece of evidence can break these cases; we just have to find that piece."

Lee County cold cases:

1996 - Susan Collier's body was found partially decomposed in a Brewer community field. Her mother had reported her missing. Clifton Benson was arrested and charged in connection with the crime, but was never indicted.

1997 - Shannon Police Chief Bobby Spencer was found in front of City Hall at 4:45 a.m. with a gunshot wound to the back of his head. No one was ever arrested for the murder, but according to a county official, a man who was a suspect was killed by a sheriff's deputy in Pontotoc County.

1999 - The bodies of Pamela Reid and her infant son, Brandon Gliatta, were found at the bottom of a lake in the Palmetto community. The child's father reported them missing. Charles Walters was arrested and charged in connection with murders, but was acquitted at trial.

2000 - Bill Mattox was found beaten in his home in Verona. He died in the hospital from injuries sustained during the assault. Benjamin Yancy was arrested in connection with Mattox's death but was never indicted.

2003 - Steve Duggar was found shot to death outside his residence. No one was ever arrested for his murder.

2003 - Wendy Benson was found shot to death in her home. No one was ever arrested for her murder.

Tupelo cold cases

1988 - Jennifer Jackson Floyd was last seen at her job at Hancock Fabrics, from which she had departed after receiving a phone call. Her car was found a block away from West Main Street and Coley Road. She left behind a 1-year-old daughter.

1992 - Leigh Occhi's mother reported her missing. When officers searched her home, they found blood on a gown and signs of a struggle. Her body was not found. Several people of interest were interviewed, but no one was arrested.

Appeared originally in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, 10/29/2005 8:00:00 AM, section A , page 1

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January 2nd, 2009, 8:32 pm #3

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February 28, 2008

Investigator searches for ID

By Niki Doyle
The Huntsville Times

HUNTSVILLE -- Sgt. Charles Berry had hoped to identify Jane Doe's body, her bones stored in a cardboard box in the evidence room next to his office, before he retired.

It's been 10 years since a hunter found the teenager's body in Indian Creek, and Berry, a crime scene specialist with the Madison County Sheriff's Office, hasn't given up yet.

"You think someone would miss a teenager," said Berry, who's eligible to retire next year. "I find myself looking every time I see a missing child poster. I don't know if it has become a habit or a mission."

An entire shelf of Berry's office is dedicated to Jane Doe, with 4-inch binders full of dead-end leads and, maybe, just maybe, a possible match for Jane Doe.

The sheriff's office has compared the girl's DNA and dental records to more than 40 missing girls from as far away as Hawaii and Canada.

A raccoon hunter found her bones, wrapped in plastic sheeting, off Indian Creek Road near Alabama 53 and Jeff Road in October 1997.

She wasn't wearing clothes.

Forensic scientists believe she's a young white girl, between 15 and 17 years old. She was about 4-feet-10 to 5-feet-1. Weight and eye and hair color are unknown.

Investigators found about 95 percent of her skeleton beside the creek.

She had probably been there for a year to a year and a half, said Berry.

Dr. James Lewis, a Madison dentist and forensic odontologist, said Jane Doe had received some type of dental care in her life.

It's a sign that someone cared for her at one point, but it hasn't yielded any new information, he said.

"This case has been run through the NCIC (National Crime Information Center), and we've come up with nothing," he said.

"The problem with that system is, unfortunately, some of the missing children don't have dental records.

"Chances are she's in it somewhere, but she doesn't have dental records in the system."

And she doesn't have a name. At least not yet.

"At first, when you find someone, you want to know who she is and who did this," Berry said. "The biggest thing now is to find out who she is and get her back to her family."

He's gotten so close.

Racheal Dawn Hayson, a missing 16-year-old from Missouri, had a similar physical description but DNA samples and dental records didn't match.

That letdown came in March. Now, Berry is waiting for DNA from the mother of a missing Tupelo, Miss., girl named Leigh Marine Occhi.

The 13-year-old girl has been missing since 1992, when she was possibly abducted from her home in her nightshirt and green-and-yellow boxer shorts.

"Really and truly, that's the last (lead) I've got right now," Berry said.

It comes in bursts, said Berry.

Sometimes other agencies who see the posting on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will call him, and sometimes an interested citizen phones in a tip.

Lauren Johnson, a social worker in Huntsville, has been trying to feed tips to Berry when she comes across a possible match.

Johnson heard about Jane Doe a few years after her body was found, and she hasn't been able to shake the thought of her.

She's even had dreams about Jane Doe, finally prompting her to set up a MySpace page in her honor.

"When I got out of college and got my first job, a lot my clients lived off Highway 53, and I had to drive past the site numerous times a week," she said. "Every time I would think of her."


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January 2nd, 2009, 8:32 pm #4


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January 2nd, 2009, 8:33 pm #5

Age Progression

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July 28th, 2009, 4:05 pm #6

The Mysterious Disappearance of Leigh Marine Occhi
July 27, 2009
Part 1 of a four-part series

I recently spent a week in Tupelo, Mississippi, looking into the disappearance of Leigh Marine Occhi. I had been vaguely aware of the case prior to my trip, having visited the area several times over the years. It was one of the cases – all writers have them – that I had filed into memory and intended to look into at one time or another. That time finally came this past week. Given the passage of nearly two decades since the disappearance, I was skeptical as to what I would be able to uncover; however to my surprise I could track down several key players in the case, including Leigh's parents, one of the original police investigators, Leigh's boyfriend, and the diligent investigative reporter who first covered the case for the Tupelo Daily Journal. Throughout this four-part series, you will hear many sides to this case, which will paint a picture of Leigh and her unexplained disappearance. In the end, you can decide for yourself what happened that fateful day in 1992.

On August 27, 1992, the residents of Tupelo were preoccupied with Hurricane Andrew; the storm was bearing down on them from the south like a freight train. The storm had cut a destructive swath through Florida, leaving some 180,000 people homeless and inflicting an equal amount of damage on Louisiana, as it made its way towards the Magnolia state.

"The destruction of this storm goes beyond anything we have known in recent years," President George H.W. Bush said.

Luckily, the storm had lost much of its force by the time it reached Tupelo and was downgraded to a tropical storm, but it still produced torrential rains and 15-25 mph winds. Power outages and downed trees proved to be the worst consequences of the storm; however, unbeknownst to many, it also brought with it a killer – not a natural one - but a human one that would prove to be equally destructive.

The radio alarm at the Yarbrough home went off at about 6:45 a.m. on August 27. According to Vickie Yarborough, she and her daughter, 13-year-old Leigh Marine Occhi, had slept in the same bed the previous night – perhaps because Leigh was afraid of lightning and thunderstorms. Vickie had recently separated from Leigh's stepfather, Barney, and it was just the two of them on that rainy Thursday morning.

Nearly a week earlier, on August 21, 1992, the blonde-haired, bright-eyed Leigh had celebrated her thirteenth birthday. Although Mississippi was a world away from the Hawaii military base where she had been born, it suited her well.

Leigh's father, Donald Occhi, was a Master Sergeant in the Army. He and Vickie had met and married while serving together in the military. Leigh was their only child. Unfortunately, the relationship soured and the couple divorced. Vickie left the service and made her way to Mississippi, while Donald transferred to Fort Myer, Virginia. Despite the distance, Leigh was always at the forefront of her father's mind and she knew that he would always be there for her.

With her birthday, Leigh, was excited about entering her teen years and was busy preparing for her first day at Tupelo Middle School. Having been a transplant to the south, her accent set her aside from the other students; however she had never had a problem making friends.

Unfortunately, fate had a different plan for Leigh.

Click here to continue reading this story>

At about 9:00 a.m., Vickie made a frantic 911 call to the Tupelo Police Department. She requested immediate assistance at her 105 Honey Locust Drive home - a cul-de-sac on the city's west side. Vickie told the dispatcher that her daughter was missing and traces of blood were inside the house.

When police entered the house, they discovered blood stains in the hallway and the bathroom. They also observed blood stains and strands of hair on a door frame. In Leigh's room, they found a bloody blue nightgown and bra. The only items missing were Leigh's shoes, reading glasses and underclothes.

Investigators knew immediately that they were not dealing with a runaway. Something far more sinister had taken place inside the Yarbrough home.

A team of officers was dispatched– some going door-to-door, others searching wooded areas around the neighborhood. With the search in high gear, detectives sat down with Vickie Yarbrough and questioned her about the events that had led up to Leigh's disappearance.

"If you don't mind, start this morning from the time when you got up and go all the way up until you made the 911 call to the police department," said Det. S. R. Green.

"The radio comes on for the alarm at quarter to 7 in the morning," Vickie said. "And the radio came on and I think I laid there for a couple of minutes. Leigh was sleeping with me in the bed. She was sleeping opposite. Her head was down by my feet and her feet up by my head. That was because I snore so much and she doesn't hear it so much if she lays like that. I got up; I looked over at her to see if she was sleeping and I brushed her hair by her ear here and said something about 'Are you awake?' I wasn't going to turn the light on because I didn't want her to wake … I went into take my shower. It took about 10 minutes. I don't know. And I came out and Leigh was still lying in bed but she was awake then and I was dressing and then she came out and I went and got the paper from the front yard."

According to Vickie, she read the paper and said goodbye to her daughter, before heading off to work at about 7:40 a.m.

"I don't remember if I put the garage door down. I do every day so I'm sure I did but I just don't remember that. Didn't stick out in my mind," Vickie said. "I went to work, got there probably about, I don't know, about 10 till … I went and got the radio out of my boss' office and put it on my desk so I could listen to the news for the weather 'cause Leigh is very afraid of thunderstorms … [The radio commentator] was talking about the weather and the tornado watches or warnings or whatever it was and the severe thunder storms and after that I decided I had better call home 'cause I knew Leigh was really scared of the weather. So I called and we have a special ring, all right, where I let it ring twice and I hang up and then I call right back and that's how she knows to answer. I did that. I let it ring for a long time that second time. Nobody answered."

Vickie said she became concerned when her daughter did not answer the phone, so she called her mother and asked her to go check on her. Despite this, she said her concern mounted, to the point that she left work to check on Leigh herself. When she arrived at her house, she said she was disturbed to find the garage door open and the light to the opener on –she said that the light would normally go off a few minutes after the door was activated.

"The door was unlocked and I opened the house and it was all dark, so I didn't see Leigh anywhere," Vickie said. "I said, 'Leigh', like that and nobody answered me and then I went in – you go like this and you go into the hallway and I saw blood right there splattered on the walls and then I screamed a, you know, more, and started running and ran in her – saw the blood on the floor in the hallway – and I ran in her bedroom first. And the brown blanket was on the floor and I thought maybe she was under it or something and I picked it up and I don't know if the blood was lying next to it or underneath it. I don't know but I saw that blood and I went running into my bedroom and pulled off the – shake – you know to shake the covers. I went on there to see if she was under the bed there or something. And then I went in there and looked in the spare bedroom and I looked in the closets. I don't remember what order exactly that I looked but I looked in all the rooms in the house and then I ran outside and I ran to the shed and opened the - the shed door was already unlocked – and opened up the door and looked in there and yelled and looked in the pool. And then I came back in and dialed 911."

Vickie went on to say that her husband – Leigh's stepfather - Barney Yarbrough, her mother, and the police all arrived at the scene separately, shortly after her call to police. When questioned as to how long it had taken her to drive to her house from work, Yarbrough said it was about a 10- to 15-minute drive. When asked how far away her mother lived, she said 5 minutes.

On August 28, 1992, the leading headline in the Daily Journal read, "Federal Troops Ordered to Fla." A much smaller headline, within a subsection of the paper, read, "13-year-old Tupelo Girl Reported Missing."

"We need bad to find the girl – dead or alive," Capt. Johnny Finney told the Daily Journal.

To be continued…

Click here to read Part 2 of this in-depth four-part series on the mysterious disappearance of Leigh Marine Occhi

Photo Credits: Clippings: Daily Journal; Tupelo: David Lohr; Leigh Occhi: Contributed; House: David Lohr; Police Documents: David Lohr

http://blogs.discovery.com/criminal_rep ... occhi.html

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July 28th, 2009, 4:07 pm #7

The Mysterious Disappearance of Leigh Marine Occhi – Part II
July 28, 2009
Part 2 of a four-part series - click here to read part 1

Yesterday, I introduced you to the case of Leigh Marine Occhi, a 13-year-old girl from Tupelo, Miss., who mysteriously disappeared on Aug. 27, 1992. When Leigh first went missing, authorities launched a large-scale search that covered a lot of ground throughout the Tupelo area. Joining them in that search was Leigh's father, Donald Occhi. The story continues here today with Donald's memories of his daughter and the lengths to which he has gone to try to find her.

Donald Occhi and Vickie Felton met while serving in the Army together in California. According to Donald, the couple courted for about a year before marrying in 1977. Not long thereafter, they transferred to a military base in Honolulu, Hawaii. Roughly two years later, on Aug. 21, 1979, Donald and Vickie welcomed the birth of their first and only child, Leigh Marine Occhi.

"Her birth was difficult because Vickie was in labor for about 18 hours," Donald Occhi said. "Leigh was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. I felt so much love that I did not know I was capable of feeling. When I first held her, I cried like a baby. I had been responsible for the lives of many soldiers, but this tiny baby was mine to care for until one of us died. There was no comparison for this increased degree of responsibility. She smelled so sweet; her skin was so soft. To me, each of her movements was a marvel. This tiny baby was actually mine, and that would never change."

While Leigh was still just a toddler, Donald was dispatched on a mission to rescue two soldiers who had gone missing in a Hawaii jungle. Donald was injured during the rescue; however, the incident led to one of his most treasured memories of his daughter.

"I had fallen off a cliff and landed in a stream," he said. "I seriously injured my eye and had to climb back up the muddy cliff to get to the medics. When I got home later in the afternoon, Vickie was getting Leigh up from her nap and dressed to take me to the emergency room. As I waited, Leigh came down the hallway with all of the confidence of any baby who just discovered that she can walk. She saw the bright white bandage on my muddy face - made a sort of gasping sound - and with an odd look on her face she came across the room making little noises. She looked at my good eye and very gently touched my bandage, then planted her first kiss on my nose."

Unfortunately, Donald and Vickie's relationship soured, and they divorced in April 1981. Not long thereafter, Donald was transferred to a military installation in Germany. Nevertheless, he continued to keep in contact with his daughter, and when Leigh was about 7 or 8, she stayed with her father for several months. During this time, the two spent countless hours together bonding as they participated in a variety of activities.

"The summer she came to Germany for a month or so I enjoyed taking her to the castles, teaching her to speak German, and taking long bike rides," Donald said. "I taught her a phrase, and a German man behind us almost fell over laughing hysterically. She said, 'What did I say?' I answered, 'You want to buy a lovely blouse made out of a cat?' She was both embarrassed and delighted. That was a beautiful time. We also had fun shooting. She was a good shot. She was not afraid to shoot my most powerful handguns. Another of our favorite things to do was to go out after a heavy rain and drive the muddy trails in my 4WD at a high rate of speed. The first time we hit a huge puddle and the mud got all over her, she had a shocked look on her precious face. It was unforgettable. We laughed like fools."

When the trip to Germany came to an end, Donald said he and Leigh were unable to spend as much time together as he would have liked. He was transferred several times to a variety of bases; however, he said he made sure to secure a brief leave to visit his daughter during the summer of 1991. Unfortunately, Donald was unable to remain in the states long, and he was soon called to duty in Iraq for Operation Desert Storm. Donald served one tour of duty in Iraq and was back in the United States for less than 6 months before he received word that his daughter was missing.

"It felt like someone punched me in the stomach," he said. "All day I did not know what I did at work. Initially I thought that she may have run away, so I did not go to Mississippi right away. For days I walked around in a daze and kept thinking about getting my .45 pistol and going to Tupelo and killing someone, but I did not know who to kill. I still don't."

After two weeks of waiting and wondering, Donald traveled to Tupelo to assist in the search effort for his daughter.

"I have gone to Tupelo on four occasions, the first time for a month; the other times I went for three or four days," Donald said. "Each time, I searched remote areas and followed leads that people would give me. Mostly, the time spent was dawn to dusk. The first and second time, some wonderful people from Tupelo accompanied me. On the other occasions, I went with psychics from the United States and Japan. Once, I went with Craig Rivera from the TV show Inside Edition, though they never aired the episode. Also, I was invited on the Geraldo Rivera show set for airing in February 1993, though I don't know if it aired, as I was at work at the time."

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Unless you have been in a similar situation, it is difficult to grasp the emotions that come with the disappearance of a child. Next month will mark the 17th anniversary of Leigh's disappearance. She never got a chance to learn to drive, graduate high school, or to attend her prom. The lost time together has weighed on her family, and the emotional rollercoaster ride they have been on is one that no one should have to endure. According to Donald, anger, regret and sadness are all par for the course.

Even though Leigh's body has not been found, there is some evidence that suggests her fate. The clues stoke her father's rage.


"I wish that the murdering son of a [redacted] who killed her had killed me instead or tried," Donald said. "This coward must have really felt like a tough man or woman to beat a little girl to death. Often, I cannot help but think of how horrified Leigh must have been while this piece of garbage beat her to death and watched her bleed out in the hall."


"I wish that I had told her how much she meant to me and how much I loved her," he said. "I was not a very affectionate person then and did not care much for hugging and such, though she sure enjoyed it. I should have been more accessible for that because it was not about me, it was about her. It was for her, and now it's too late… I will regret this until the day I die. I don't avoid that anymore with the kids I have today. Though I can get mad at them when they misbehave, I try to demonstrate how much I love them and how much I value them."


"I was supposed to care for her for her whole life. Next month she would have turned thirty," Donald said. "Maybe she would have had her own kids and lived near me. Maybe I could have helped her with problems and let her know that I was here for her. Maybe I could have comforted her in hard times.

"I still have a book [in which] I would write little tidbits of advice, things that I had read and felt they were important that she could learn from. It would have also shown her that I was always thinking of her. I wanted to give it to her at 16 or 21. Now it sits gathering dust in a curio cabinet. I can't bring myself to throw it away."

Donald said that the most difficult days have always been Leigh's birthday and the anniversary of her disappearance.

"I used to get drunk, but there was no future in that, so I bought a living memorial for her and placed it near my parent's grave in a local cemetery," Donald said. "I visit it several times a year. The first one I had made I had 'Leigh Occhi, Aug. 21, 1979-Aug. 26, 1992, MURDERED' put on it. I guess the superintendent saw it one day, and we had a big fight over the phone and then person to person. He felt that people would be offended by the word 'murdered,' so I told him that I was really offended by it. Eventually, we compromised, and I took the plaque and built a small memorial to Leigh in my back yard."

Despite the anguish and sorrow that comes with the loss of a child, Donald remains hopeful that he will someday know what happened to his daughter.

"I want to live to see her body located so that I can see that she is properly buried," Donald said. "Then I will smile when the [redacted] who did this dies in the Mississippi state death chamber."

For now, Donald has to take solace in the memories of his little girl who he says is never far from his mind.

"Leigh was a beautiful little girl with unlimited potential," he said. "All I have is the memories. God, I miss her."

To be continued…

Check back tomorrow to read Part 3 of this in-depth, four-part series on the mysterious disappearance of Leigh Marine Occhi. Find out about the mysterious package her mother received in the mail and hear from a top investigator with the Tupelo Police Department who has been involved since the start of the case.

Photo Credits: Clippings: Daily Journal; Leigh Occhi: Contributed; Police car: David Lohr

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July 29th, 2009, 5:02 pm #8

The Mysterious Disappearance of Leigh Marine Occhi – Part III
July 29, 2009
Part three of a four-part series - click here to read part II

Yesterday, I continued the four-part series on the case of Leigh Marine Occhi, a 13-year-old girl from Tupelo, Miss., who mysteriously disappeared on Aug. 27, 1992. Part one of the series covered Leigh's disappearance and left off with authorities launching a large-scale search to find her. Part two provided information on who Leigh was and her relationship with her father. Now, in part three, we go back to the time of her disappearance and learn what police think of the unsolved case.

One of the Tupelo police investigators who was originally a part of the Leigh Occhi case and who also continues to work it today is Captain Bart Aguirre. He remembers vividly the day Leigh went missing and has been an active participant in the investigation to find the person responsible.

"I remember we had Hurricane [Andrew] coming through and it was just a stormy day that day," Aguirre said. "I think we received a phone call from the mother [at about] 9 a.m. It was pretty early, and our detectives responded out there, and at the scene, we found blood splatter on the interior door facing the kitchen area and a pool of blood on the carpet in the hallway leading to her bedroom … [the blood] wasn't hard. It didn't have what I call a 'skin' over the top of it. It was fresh … When we started looking at the bathroom area, [we could] actually see where somebody had attempted to clean up the crime scene. The mother, she wasn't hysterical. She had her own mother and father at the scene when we arrived, and they tried to comfort her and to figure out what events took place in the house."

According to Aguirre, one of the first places Leigh's mother, Vickie Yarborough, took police was to Leigh's bedroom.

"There was a bloody nightgown [on] the floor in Leigh Occhi's room. That nightgown was collected for further use. If we are ever able to find a suspect, we could use that nightgown to trace hair fibers and determine [whether] the blood on it is actually Leigh Occhi's or the suspect's."

Based upon the evidence found at the scene, Aguirre said it is likely that Leigh was killed inside the house and then transported elsewhere. In addition, Aguirre said that elements of the crime scene were not typical of what his department would expect to find in this type of case.

"There [was] no sign of any kind of forced entry to the house or anything like that. The house was not torn up or in disarray. There was evidence there that would lead [one] to believe that Leigh Occhi's head struck that door frame, received an injury, and laid there on that carpet and bled. There was quite a bit of pooling of blood, not a huge pooling of blood, but it was probably about the size of my fist. An area about that big, and it was still wet, very wet … A [random] criminal would not take the time trying to clean up and wipe down the bathroom countertop and the sink to make sure all the blood was washed out of there. There was definitely blood on the countertop – a very light pink haze was on the sink countertop and down in the bowl, and there was a swab that was taken and tested and proved to be blood, so it makes me very suspicious. The child was awake and had eaten breakfast with her mother before [the latter] went to work. Now, if you look at that timeline, from the time she left and went to work and the time she started calling and getting no answer – probably an hour, hour and a half – our perpetrator, whoever it may be, is going to come in that house, assault Leigh Occhi, and clean up that crime scene in that hour, hour and a half time frame?"

When the case was first covered in the media, reports surfaced that a pair of scissors with a reddish stain on them had been found on top of a refrigerator inside the home. According to Aguirre, the substance was later found to be irrelevant to the case.

"We took a look at that [and] there [was] some rust on them," Aguirre said. "We did a presumptive test on them and it wasn't blood."

In addition to the Yarborough home, authorities also searched the family car.

"We took the liner out of [the] car - out of the trunk of her car," Aguirre said. "I don't know why we took that but I think that we felt like it may hold some evidence of some sort, and I know that was sent to the state crime lab and it was gone over, but nothing to my knowledge came of that. Even if they found blood or hair in the trunk - unless it was fresh blood or something like that - [we] wouldn't have been able to do a whole lot with it. Even if we found some traces of hair or fibers from some of her clothing, unless, I mean, why wouldn't her hair be there? She [could have] threw her clothes and her other gear in the trunk of the car, there could have been a transfer, and some of that stuff could have fallen off in there; and if it was in there, so what? That is quite normal for people, for hair to be in their car. So, unless [we] found big knots of hair with the roots pulled out, it wouldn't be too suspicious."

As the investigation continued, police conducted both ground and aerial searches in an attempt to locate Leigh. In addition, some 130 citizen volunteers searched large areas of undeveloped land in the surrounding area. Despite everyone's best efforts, no sign of Leigh was found during any of the searches. The case was coming to an abrupt standstill, but all that seemed to change on Sept. 9, 1992, when Leigh's mother contacted police and informed them that she had received a mysterious package in the mail that contained Leigh's missing eye glasses. Nothing else was included in the package. The glasses had arrived in an 8-inch envelope, addressed in block letters to "B Yarborough." The return address was listed as the same. The address contained one misspelling; instead of 105 Honey Locust, it read, "105 Hony Locust."

"Her glasses were mailed from a city about 30 miles north of here," Aguirre said. "[The package] had a postage stamp on it from Booneville, Miss."

The envelope was sent to the state crime lab in Jackson for handwriting analysis and DNA testing; however, Aguirre says, "nothing of evidentiary value" was found. Despite this, investigators began to shift the focus of the case.

"We polygraphed the mother. The mother was the last one to see her alive," Aguirre said. "She was polygraphed three different times, once by a local polygraph examiner and twice by the FBI. She failed it 3 times."

According to Aguirre, Vickie Yarborough's husband, Barney Yarborough, was also given a polygraph, but he passed the examination.

"He was very cooperative. He was not living with Leigh and her mother at the time," Aguirre said. "He lived in an apartment complex here in Tupelo and he was very forthcoming and tried to assist us in any way to try to help locate her. He would join us anytime we went out to search fields and woods or whatever. [He] was always willing to assist and to help, but he later died."

Despite the passage of time, Aguirre said that his department continues to receive tips from time to time.

"I believe the last tip we may have gotten was back last year sometime," he said. "We have departments that call and want us to check and make sure that our files are up to date, especially our NCIC (National Crime Information Center) files about our missing persons. We get people calling, wanting to know if Leigh Occhi is still missing, and the last tip we got is from a psychic … So we have been told to look under a storage shed at a certain address, but it's hard to go out there and convince a circuit court judge to give us a search warrant for a piece of property based on conjecture or a psychic's tip. The best thing we can do is go to that property, knock on the door, and say, 'We are investigating a cold case file. Would you give us permission to go over there and look under that shed?' Once they give us permission, we can go over there and look under dog houses, sheds, and everything else."

Today, the case is cold because investigators have been unable to obtain enough information to make an arrest or name an official suspect; however, Aguirre said his department has evidence it has not made public, as well as a person of interest in the case.

"There are still some things that we know that we are not releasing or talking about to the public, which could possibly tie a suspect to her death," Aguirre said. In regard to a possible person of interest, he said, "I don't think it would be wrong to call Vickie a person of interest, [but] we definitely don't want to call her a suspect at this time … Until Leigh's body is found, and until we know exactly the cause and manner of death, [the case] will always remain open."

Check back tomorrow to read the fourth and final part of this in-depth series on the mysterious disappearance of Leigh Marine Occhi, and find out what Vickie Yarborough thinks about the case and what could have happened to her daughter.

Photo Credits: Clippings: Daily Journal; Bart Aguirre: David Lohr; Tupelo Police Department: David Lohr; Tupelo Police car: David Lohr

http://blogs.discovery.com/criminal_rep ... chi-3.html

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Joined: January 2nd, 2009, 2:47 pm

July 31st, 2009, 1:02 pm #9

The Mysterious Disappearance of Leigh Marine Occhi – Part IV
July 30, 2009
Part four of a four-part series - click here to read part III

Today I wrap up the four-part series that began earlier this week on the case of Leigh Marine Occhi, a 13-year-old girl from Tupelo, Miss., who mysteriously disappeared on Aug. 27, 1992. Part one of the series covered Leigh's disappearance and left off with authorities launching a large-scale search to find her. Part two provided information on who Leigh was and her relationship with her father. Part three delved into the police investigation and where it stands today. Now, in part four, we hear from Leigh's mother, boyfriend, and the diligent crime reporter who first covered the case.

According to Leigh's mother, Vickie Felton, formerly Yarborough, the most important thing is that people don't forget about her daughter.

"That is the biggest thing. That's all," she said. "Not to forget about her."

Despite the police department's belief that Leigh was murdered, Vickie said that she is unwilling to give up the hope that her daughter is still alive.

"I am not going to accept anything for sure. I am not going to do that … I have to keep focused on factual things, logical things, not emotional things, or I wouldn't be able to cope very well. I just don't want to do that again."

Vickie said she is well aware of the rumors and speculation regarding her possible involvement in the case; however, she does not let that bother her.

"That has never been a bother to me," she said. "It's never been about me. It's about finding Leigh, and I didn't care and I [still] don't care what anyone says about any of it … I have never not cooperated with anybody because I am not going to not cooperate with anyone because of what they might think. I don't care about that. I want to find my daughter. I am not fazed by what they say. I have thicker skin than that. I am more reasonable than that. If that bothered me, I would not have been able to cope, but that is not the focus and that is not a problem."

According to Vickie, she has her own idea of who is responsible for her daughter's disappearance.

"There is an individual that is currently incarcerated in prison, and he is linked to two missing people in Tupelo," Vickie said. "[It] is quite a coincidence that one person would be linked to two cases … I believe he is the one responsible. I don't have any proof; I just have my feelings."

Vickie said that both she and Leigh knew the individual and that after Leigh went missing, he began acting strange whenever he was around Vickie.

"Things that he did after the disappearance were strange to me, and when I looked him straight in the eye, his avoidance of eye contact was very awkward," she said. "He had never been over to my house [before that], but then he stopped over to bring me a picture of her. When he first did it, I didn't think anything of it. I thought he was just concerned, but then after that, when I found out some of the things that he did to another young girl … it all fit in place pretty much in my mind that he had to have been the one responsible. He has horses, and Leigh had commented that he had asked her when she would want to go riding. She would have jumped at the chance for that. She would never ever open my door to a stranger, and she had to have opened the door. I am 100 percent sure of that."

When asked for her opinion on the investigation into her daughter's disappearance, Vickie had this to say:

"I want to believe that they did everything the best they could. I want to think that. I want to have faith in them … I know they were very diligent. I am trying to believe that everything they did was in the best interest of finding Leigh."

As for the future, Vickie hopes that the person responsible will someday step forward and reveal what happened.

"Hopefully, people will perk up and maybe if <redacted> wasn't involved - if it was someone else - maybe they are older now and maybe they have a conscience now."

Click here to continue reading this story >

Vickie's hope for a resolution is shared by Leigh's former boyfriend, Jordan Morse.

Jordan and Leigh met roughly two years before her disappearance. The time they knew each other might be considered short by some standards; however, according to Jordan, the time they spent together was priceless. The last time Jordan saw Leigh was at her 13th birthday party, which was held at an arcade inside the Tupelo mall.

"She seemed happier at that birthday party than she had on any other day that I knew her," Jordan said. "She looked like she was having a good time; she looked like she was happy, and that is a good memory for me to have. I could tell you exactly what she was wearing – that is how vividly I remember it."

Jordan says that he and Leigh attended different schools. As a result, school started for him one week before her's would go into session. The timing hindered their ability to see each other, so he would call her when he got home to chat about the day's events. August 27, 1992 would prove to be the last time Jordan would call the Yarborough residence.

"I called her house, and her mom picked up the phone," Jordan said. "I asked to speak with Leigh, and she said, 'Sorry Hon. Leigh is missing.' I thought 'missing,' what is 'missing'? I mean, at that point in time, I didn't compute missing. I had never been exposed to anything like it before. Vickie started to cry, and then my mom took the phone. [She and Vickie] spoke for a few minutes, and then my mom tried to explain it, but I didn't quite get it until I saw the news that night, and they talked about blood in the house. That is when I understood something really bad had happened."

Despite the passing of nearly two decades, Jordan says that he still remembers the pain and heartache that he felt back then. Those are emotions that he says he continues to carry with him to this day.

"My world fell apart. My childhood ended," he said. "… a couple days [don't] go by that I don't pass something and it makes me think about her. And there is still no answer. That's the worst of it."

Rick Hammond, a former crime reporter for the Daily Journal, also continues to wonder what happened to Leigh.

"I lived only a few blocks from Leigh's house, and when it came across the scanner that there was a call for a missing person at her house, I beat some of the police there. Gosh, it seems like I wrote about it every day for months. I, frankly, always suspected 10 years later or something that a body would be found and they would figure out it was her. There were a couple of false alarms in the few years after that. They would find a body, and people would wonder if it was her, and it wasn't her. I think she is still out there in the country somewhere in some grave waiting to be found."

Leigh Occhi touched a lot of people in her short life and she continues to do so today. There are a number of possibilities in the case – plenty of maybes and what ifs – but the complete portrait of the crime remains blurred. A lot of blank canvas remains, but with it there is also the hope that the final brush strokes will someday appear so that Leigh Occhi can finally be put to rest.

Leigh Marine Occhi is described as a Caucasian female, 4'10" and 95 lbs. She has blonde hair and hazel eyes. Click here to view an age progressed photo. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Tupelo Police Department at 662-841-6491.

Photo Credits: Clippings: Daily Journal; Leigh Occhi (2): Contributed; Tupelo Mall Arcade: David Lohr; Daily Journal: David Lohr
http://blogs.discovery.com/criminal_rep ... chi-4.html

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Joined: January 2nd, 2009, 2:47 pm

January 7th, 2010, 3:58 am #10

New York (CNN) -- Leigh Occhi, 13 and ready to start the eighth grade, was still in her pajamas the morning of August 27, 1992, when her mother left their home in Tupelo, Mississippi, for work.

It was one of the last days of Leigh's summer break and mother and daughter had eaten breakfast together, reading the paper and talking about the coming school year.

Leigh planned to go to an open house at her new school that morning. She was waiting at home for her grandmother to pick her up. It was the first time she'd waited home alone.

As Vickie Felton left for work shortly before 8 a.m., bands of rain from Hurricane Andrew moved over Tupelo, and the Gulf Coast was under a hurricane alert. Worried, Felton called home. Nobody answered, so she hurried home after spending just a few minutes at the office.

Felton said that when she returned home, she found the garage door open, the light turned on. "That was very strange because the light doesn't turn on unless someone triggers the door," she said.

"I came in the house and there was blood on the side of the wall," Felton said. "I started calling for Leigh and going through all the rooms," she said. "Then I went into her bedroom."

"Her favorite blanket was crumbled up on the floor and I was very scared," she said. She ran into the backyard, checking the pool and the shed. There was no sign of Leigh.

Felton called 911.

Police said they received the first call at 8:30 a.m. from Felton and responded immediately. Leigh had been alone for less than hour, said Capt. Bart Aguirre, one of the original Tupelo police investigators assigned to the case.

"Vickie took us to Leigh's bedroom," Aguirre said. "There, we found a laundry basket that contained Leigh's nightgown that had blood stains all over it."

Blood and hair were stuck to a door frame and a small blood trail led from the hallway to the living room to the back door.

"It's a pretty significant amount that would lead any parent to concern," Aguirre said.

A team of bloodhounds and searchers canvassed the neighborhood, beginning in the yard and expanding outward to nearby ditches and fields.

"We covered a half-mile radius from the house that morning with the dogs and could not come up with anything," Aguirre said. "It was raining and it was storming and blowing pretty good. Had our dogs not had that bad weather to work in, they probably could have gotten on good scent."

Helicopters were added to the search once the storm passed. Still, there was no sign of Leigh. Investigators refocused their attention on the house, the only place where they had found evidence.

Aguirre said he searched the master bedroom down the hall from the bathroom. "I noticed there was a real light pink haze on the countertop," he said. The countertop later tested positive for the presence of blood, he said.

"It's pretty obvious to us that someone tried to clean up the scene or the countertop," Aguirre said. "But we couldn't find the rag or towel that had been used. We couldn't find it anywhere."

According to Felton, articles of Leigh's clothing were missing from the house, including a pair of shorts, a pair of shoes and a sleeping bag.

It's pretty obvious to us that someone tried to clean up the scene.

--Capt. Bart Aguirre
Detectives found no sign of forced entry, and the girl's mother and grandmother said she'd never open the door for a stranger.

At the time of her daughter's disappearance, Felton was separated from her second husband, Leigh's stepfather. Barney Yarborough had recently moved out of the family's ranch-style home. Leigh's father, still serving in the military, was living in Alexandria, Virginia.

The police investigation cleared both men of involvement in Leigh's disappearance.

Investigators asked Felton to submit to a polygraph examination. She agreed and failed it. "We let the FBI do another poly and they said they found deception," Aguirre said.

Felton said the first polygraph was administered within hours of her daughter's disappearance, and the others within a week or two.

"I couldn't tell you why," Felton said about the test results. "They measure changes in your body and when your daughter has gone missing and they strap you up to things, I can't imagine anyone's body not reacting."

She said detectives would not be doing their job if they didn't push her for answers.

"But, unfortunately," she said, "they wasted a lot of time with it."

Felton is not considered a suspect, and Aguirre said she has always been very cooperative.

About a month after Leigh's disappearance, the mystery deepened. A package arrived at Felton's doorstep, addressed to Yarborough.

"I called my husband and told him that he had gotten something in the mail," Felton said. "When he opened it, it was Leigh's glasses."

The package, which identified both the addressee and remitter as "B Yarborough," had been mailed from Booneville, Mississippi, approximately 30 miles north of Tupelo.

Tupelo officials sent the glasses and packaging to the FBI, which was already involved in Leigh's case. "We tried to get anything from the envelope, the packaging, and we didn't come up with anything," Aguirre said.

It was the last clue that investigators would get in Leigh's case.

Ultimately, Aguirre says, the lack of DNA evidence from a potential perpetrator in Leigh's home is what handicaps the investigation.

At the time she disappeared, Leigh had a slender build, bluish-green eyes and blond hair. She would be 30 years old.

An award up to $1,000 is offered by Crime Stoppers of Northeast Mississippi for information leading to an arrest in Leigh's case. An undisclosed reward is also offered by Leigh's mother.

Anyone with information concerning Leigh Occhi's disappearance is asked to call Crime Stoppers of Northeast Mississippi at 800 773-TIPS.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/11/13/gra ... index.html