Tuesday, January 24, 2006, had been like any other for Teresa Butler, a 35-year-old mother and wife, who worked as a Wal-Mart photo department associate in Risco, Missouri. Teresa had gone to work, came home and made dinner, and played in the yard with her two young sons earlier that day.
Teresa’s sister-in-law, Sarah Buchanan, dropped by the house to visit with her after Teresa’s husband, Gary ‘Dale‘ Butler, left for work that evening. The women made small talk and Teresa asked Sarah if she could borrow acne gel, complaining of an outbreak. Sarah returned to her house around 9:05 PM after Teresa told her that she would stop by on her way to work the next day before 12:00 noon to pick up the gel. The last contact anyone had with Teresa was around 10:00 pm when she spoke to a relative on the phone.
That night, Dale was working an overnight shift at Maverick Tube in Blytheville, Arkansa and attempted to call Teresa around 11:00 PM. However, she did not answer repeated phone calls. After work, Gary ran some errands and met his mother for breakfast. He returned to their locked home around 10:00 AM and found their 4-year-old son “huddled under the covers of his parents’ bed.” Gary said their 2-year-old son was awake and in the same room, sucking on “an empty bottle,” while Teresa was nowhere to be found.
The police were quickly summoned to the Butler home. Authorities found no evidence of blood or a struggle anywhere in or around the home, but after the search, it became apparent that items were missing: a video camera, a PlayStation with games, a Nintendo Game Cube with games, a large Mag-Lite flashlight, a digital camera, Teresa’s purse, her cell phone, and her car stereo.
Also concerning to those that knew Teresa, though, were the items left behind in her absence. The leather jacket she wore everywhere was still in the house, her wedding rings were left (as if she had been possibly preparing to go to sleep), and her car was in the driveway. All of these details suggested that Teresa had not left of her own accord.
The only real clue, and perhaps the most perplexing detail of Teresa’s disappearance, was that a key had been found “broken off in a lock at the residence.” Later, the mystery and speculation surrounding Teresa Butler’s vanishing would intensify as her husband and the authorities discovered two inexplicable phone calls.
The most conclusive facts surrounding Teresa Butler’s disappearance suggest that the Butler family was robbed the night of her disappearance.
- The items deemed missing from the house were all small, easily pawned, and less likely to have been traced back to the family or Teresa’s disappearance:
- Video Camera
- PlayStation Console/Games
- Nintendo Game Cube/Games
- Mag-Lite flashlight
- Digital Camera
- Teresa’s purse
- Teresa’s cell phone
- Teresa’s car stereo
- All of the missing items were able to be stashed in a backpack or easily carried/transported away from the home. Items such as the television, her vehicle, and her wedding rings were all left behind.
Upon closer inspection, evidence suggesting the abduction of Teresa Butler emerged.
“‘Sometimes it’s hard to dial out of Maverick because of all the metal in the building,’ Butler added. ‘I tried over and over, but she never answered the phone.'”
- Teresa was last heard from at 10:00 PM in a phone call with a relative. Dale could not reach her around 11:00 PM when he called several times. However, Dale has mentioned in interviews that it was notoriously hard to call out of his work building. If his phone calls were connecting and Teresa was not answering, it seems as though something happened between 10:00 – 11:00 pm on January 24, 2006.
- A (house?) key was broken off that night in a lock at the residence. Authorities have never confirmed which door the key fragment was found in, or if the key was even to the Butler home, or if it, perhaps, was Teresa’s own home key.
- When Dale came home that morning, the house doors were locked. And, other than the broken key, there was no evidence of forced entry or struggle.
“She had to have left with somebody. The Jeep was left here, and I was driving our Impala.” –Dale Butler
The Calls & A Strange Letter
After an examination of Teresa’s cell phone records, it was discovered that two phone calls were placed after she had gone missing.
At 3:16 pm that night, Teresa’s cell phone called a man in Gideon, Missouri. The man said that his phone did not ring and he did not answer it. He only noticed the missed call later on. This individual was established to have not had any known connections to Teresa.
Another call was placed from Teresa’s phone to a residence in Clarkton, Missouri. The call was answered by an elderly woman. The county sheriff expressed the following:
“The lady said she answered the phone and said ‘Hello’ a couple times. There was nothing on the other end that she could ever hear, so she hung up.
She has no idea who the Butler or Buchanan families are. So we don’t know what to make of that.”
Both Gideon and Clarkton have a 543 area code. Risco, Missouri- the town where Teresa lived, also has a 543 area code. In addition to this, Gideon, Clarkton, and Risco are all in the same county in Missouri. Because of the shared area code, it seems logical that the phone calls were not placed wholly at random. Could these phone numbers have been a few digits off from the number of a relative or friend of Teresa’s?
Though the phone calls initially appeared to be a promising lead, they quickly became another dead end. If the mysterious calls were placed by an abducted or injured Teresa, why did she not verbalize or indicate in some way that she needed help? If she were able to make calls, why not dial 911 or hit a relative’s number from her contact list? And, if they were placed by someone else, possibly her abductor, what was the purpose? Why was the phone silent when the Clarkton resident answered? The phone calls to Gideon and Clarkton have continued to go completely unexplained.
In addition to the strange phone calls, another bizarre yet vague detail has emerged. Dale claims that his mother received “a strange letter, the contents of which [Dale] preferred to keep confidential.” No further details have been released regarding the mysterious letter.
Small Town Drama
Risco is a very small city in New Madrid County, Missouri with a population of approximately 346 people. The city “started out as a logging town in the late 19th century.” Teresa and Dale Butler lived in a small home on County Road 241, also known as Eight Ditch Road, just off of Highway 62.
Though, the area is tight-knit and rural, some internet commentators have emphasized that the small town atmosphere would not necessarily favor a conclusive resolution to Teresa’s disappearance.
By all accounts, the relationship between Teresa and Dale was very close and loving. A friend told reporters that Teresa was “always talking about her family and how perfect her marriage was. She loves Dale and he thinks the world of her.” Dale also had a strong alibi (work) and passed a polygraph test.
However, suspicion quickly fell upon Dale’s ex-wife. A former co-worker of Teresa’s told media that “[Dale’s ex-wife] called [Teresa] enough to make her uncomfortable. She would call her from Wal-Mart to Wal-Mart, because this other lady worked at the Kennett Wal-Mart.” Teresa’s father, Don Buchanan, also said that the calls from Dale’s ex-wife were “harassment” and that his daughter had been threatened by the woman.
Dale maintained that, though, there had been differences between Teresa and his ex-wife, they were “amicably resolved” before Teresa’s disappearance.
Over the Years
Four months after the strange disappearance of Teresa Butler, the county sheriff, Terry Stevens, confirmed to media that “he’s positive foul play was involved.”
Dale Butler made a plea to the general public for financial assistance only nine months after Teresa went missing. After a stint of “heavy, unforgiving rains” in the area, Dale and his young sons faced additional hardships as the home that they had shared with Teresa began to fall apart around them. Dale further explained:
“I’ve got pride. I don’t really like to ask people but I know my son and he don’t need to be here. There’s bacteria and mildew, and he’s already taking breathing treatments for asthma… There’s mildew, but I don’t want to leave in case my wife comes home.”
Around two years later, Teresa’s family and friends continued to keep her memory alive in their town by posting flyers and yellow ribbons around town. A friend of the family described the communal frustration with the lack of media interest by saying:
“We contacted FOX News, CNN, every show you could think of. One time we thought Montel was coming, and then he got a bigger story. Teresa don’t have any money, she’s from a poor area, but to us she’s just as important.”
On the five year anniversary of Teresa’s disappearance, authorities conveyed to the media that “[they were] still waiting on that one call or email that will bring [Teresa’s] family closure.” As the years passed without any real developments, authorities still experienced a constant trickle of theories, rumors, and tips from the public.
According to reports,”there’s been so many rumors, the stories can be overwhelming.” Teresa’s sister, Brenda Wilson, commented that:
“There’s just been so much it’s hard to tell what’s true. We’ve probably heard the truth. I honestly think we have.”
January 24, 2016 was the 10 year anniversary of Teresa Butler’s disappearance. Sheriff Terry Stevens told news outlets that local “[police] still get tips from time to time, but they usually are something they have already checked out or that lead to a dead end.” Stevens went on to say that “he wants Butler’s case solved before he hangs up his badge.”
Teresa’s sister, Brenda, and their family are also still hoping for justice. Brenda described the decade of fruitless searching and living without her sister accordingly:
“We would love to see someone arrested. We just take it day by day. There has been no news lately so… We are content with that she is probably dead and in a better place. We just want answers.”
Like many other mysterious disappearances, there are no smoking guns in this case. Though there have been many theories and rumors over the years, no conjecture regarding Teresa’s fate truly seems any more convincing than the others. However, there are a few aspects surrounding Teresa’s case that suggest logical, and therefore more popular, possibilities.
Teresa’s purse and cell phone were both missing from her home, and there was a broken key in the door lock.
It seems unlikely, but not impossible, that an abductor would allow her to bring her purse and cell phone. It also seems unlikely, but not impossible, if this had truly been a ‘standard‘ home-robbery-gone-wrong type of situation, that this burglar (who was entirely uninterested in traceable items such as Teresa’s wedding rings, television, and vehicle) would have intentionally stolen such easily identifiable, and potentially trackable, items.
The broken key evidence most likely suggests one of two scenarios. Someone could have been trying to pick/force the lock open with the key (which was an incorrect key or a bad/old copy of the correct key). Or, Teresa was roughly grabbed while she was unlocking the door.
Considering the above-listed elements of her disappearance, is it possible that Teresa left for a quick outing somewhere while the boys slept? To a friend, family member, or neighbor’s home? To the store, for formula, or something equally important? Could she have then returned to and interrupted an impending robbery?
If so, she could have been attacked while putting her key in the door. Perhaps, there was no substantive evidence of struggle because it had taken place in the yard while Teresa still had her purse and cell phone on her person.
As for the former broken key possibility, internet commentators have suggested that, perhaps, the broken key was used by Teresa’s abductor in order to trick Teresa into opening the door.
Still, others believe that the Butlers were not genuinely robbed. None of the stolen items have been recovered to date. Additionally, actual abduction seems an unlikely response for a petty thief.
A Loving Mother and Sweet Friend
Teresa Butler is described as “very generous, kind and funny” and as “a truly special person, an angel on Earth” by her lifelong friend, Amy Lacey. Amy created a website, and later, a Facebook missing group, detailing Teresa’s personality, life, and tragic disappearance.
“[Teresa] didn’t have an enemy in the world. I don’t think anyone followed her home from work and abducted her.”
“I love Teresa. She’s a good person and the best person I’ve ever met. We’ve been together for nine years, and I love that woman.”
Her family and friends emphatically insist that Teresa would not have left her two young sons.
“[Teresa] would not leave her babies behind, unattended, until someone found them home alone the next morning. Teresa was a devoted mother and daughter. She would never willingly leave her family behind.”
In the comments on a blog post about Teresa, a commenter (who claims to have known both Teresa and Dale) vehemently argued that she had to have been taken or harmed, because Teresa would not have left her boys. Echoing the implications of Teresa’s close friends and family, the poster went a bit further to declare the following:
“I know with all of my heart that she would NEVER EVER have left her children alone willingly. You would have had to see her when she thought she couldn’t have kids to know what I mean. It was almost as if she didn’t want to live in a world where she couldn’t be a mother.”
Teresa would have been 45 years old on November 26, 2016. She was 5’7″ tall and weighed 110 pounds. Teresa was noticeably thin and had a full, rounded face. At the time of her disappearance, her hair was dyed black, but is naturally brown. Teresa has brown eyes, dimples, and pierced ears. If you any information about Teresa’s disappearance, or remember anything suspicious which may have been related, please contact the New Madrid County Sheriff’s Department at (573) 748-2516.