(Introduction to show begins)
TODD MATTHEWS (Missing Pieces Host): This is Missing Pieces and I’m Todd Matthews. Tonight we have Denise Duarte. Hello Denise.
DENISE DUARTE: (Guest): Hi Todd, how are you?
TODD: I’m doing really good. You’re having a storm tonight, I hear, so if we lose you, we’ll pick you back up.
DENISE: Okay. It’s blowing through but I think it’s just about finished.
TODD: And you’re in Florida?
DENISE: Daytona Beach.
TODD: Okay, so you are at the mercy of the hurricanes right now, I think?
DENISE: Yeah, until November.
TODD: Wow. Is it scary?
DENISE: It has been in the past. I’ve been here for more than 30 years and I’ve seen a few bad storms. I can’t say that we’ve ever gotten hit; we’ve been lucky.
TODD: You’ve been really lucky.
DENISE: We’ve been lucky.
TODD: Okay, Denise is here tonight because of her best friend, Mary Michelle Sprague. She disappeared when she was 19 years old, on May 12, 1960. So, you were actually there at the time. Where did she go missing from?
DENISE: She was actually born on May 12, 1960.
TODD: Okay, so that’s the date of birth.
DENISE: Right. She disappeared actually 28 years ago tonight.
TODD: Daytona Beach, Florida, September 11, 1979.
DENISE: That’s right.
DENISE: It’s hard to believe it’s been 28 years.
TODD: You met her after you moved down there, right?
DENISE: I actually grew up with her in Boston. We both were childhood friends and her family had moved down here, and my family eventually ended up moving down here but we were childhood friends from Boston actually.
TODD: Now what would cause a migration from Boston to Daytona Beach?
DENISE: I guess her mother just wanted to gather up her children and start something new. The city was changing. We had a lot of interracial problems at that time; during that time it was…a lot of that was going on and it just wasn’t a safe place anymore, as we had known it as children. My mother had the same feelings and gathered us up after not too long and took us all down there as well.
TODD: So your families sort of knew each other beside just you guys?
DENISE: Oh yeah. Actually one of her sisters ended up marrying one of my brothers.
TODD: Wow, so you are family as well then, practically?
DENISE: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Unfortunately, most of her family has disappeared as far as her mother, her older sister, her younger sister and, most recently, her son who was 2 years old at the time that she disappeared, and he was just recently, unfortunately, killed in a car accident.
TODD: Oh, wow.
DENISE: So, the majority of her family has been deceased, and I’ve been the only person that has pursued her disappearance, with great diligence, in hopes of getting some sort of answer of what might have happened to her.
TODD: Okay, so we’ll go back…28 years from tonight, [Mary Michelle] Sprague was last seen leaving the nightclub where she worked in Daytona Beach. She went to pick up her check, had a few drinks, an argument with her boss and left the club. A cab driver picked her up…what happened?
DENISE: Well, as far as the cab driver, that story is a little vague because the Daytona Beach Police Department, according to their report, spoke to all the cab drivers in the area…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …and determined that no one had actually picked her up from any of the cab companies. That’s questionable, that part of the story; it was printed in the newspaper, as being so, but that statement was given by the gentleman she was living with at the time. So, I would have a tendency to believe the police department, and I believe she was probably…I believe she met her demise shortly after she left that nightclub; whether or not she got in someone’s vehicle or was taken against her will. I don’t know how much credence we can give to the cab driver story because, like I said, that was offered by her boyfriend at the time.
TODD: So, how did you first hear that she had disappeared? Where were you at?
DENISE: I had received a phone call from her boyfriend…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …asking me if I had seen her or had any contact with her and, of course, I hadn’t. I had just recently going to college full time so I hadn’t seen a lot of her in the prior weeks leading up to her disappearance. She did work 2 jobs, she had a stable relationship, and she had her son, so her life was pretty full as well.
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: But, when I received that phone call from him, at first I just thought that maybe she needed to take a few days and get away. I didn’t…I never in my wildest dreams thought that we would never see her again.
TODD: Would that have been normal for her to, maybe, take off like that?
DENISE: I would say no, but maybe under the circumstances of the pressure of 2 jobs and she knew that her child would be well taken care of. Had she done that in the past? No. And it didn’t surprise me that it was something that she may have done, but it was out of character for her. That was just a thought that ran through our minds at the time and, of course, when she didn’t show up a few days, or a week, or 2 weeks, or…then we automatically knew something terrible had obviously happened.
TODD: So the police report, at what point did that happen?
DENISE: Uh, it was filed, I believe, the next day; the boyfriend filed a missing person report. And her entire family was here; her mother was here, and she was very, very close with her family, so for her to take off and not contact the family or somebody and, certainly, not to inquire about her son. It just didn’t add up. It didn’t make much sense that she would just have taken off; she was too responsible as far as her child, and it would have been totally out of character for her to just take off and start a new life. To me, I don’t buy that. I think she met with some sort of force that ended her life very soon after she left that nightclub that night. In my heart, that’s what I believe.
TODD: So, the boyfriend, was he the father of this child?
TODD: Okay. So we don’t have that connection.
DENISE: Right. No, he was not the father. He did show great care for the child, you know, he took him into his home; that’s where they lived, with him, and by all appearances, he appeared to be a very loving, caring individual. But, you know, anybody is a suspect. I know he has never taken a lie detector test. I don’t want to point any fingers at him; I don’t have anything conclusive to say that, maybe, he was responsible.
TODD: But, with no other answers, it would be good to resolve it.
DENISE: Right. Other than the fact that, recently, within the last year, he’s been asked to provide some information, and which he said he had, but has never been forthcoming with that information. That, to me, draws a red flag, and why it hasn’t with the law enforcement, is beyond me. I called him out of the blue, and he had mentioned that he had some photographs, and we wanted to do some photograph comparisons…I think you may be familiar with Bill Bradford, serial murderer of California?
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: I was in touch with a detective because I happened to look at the missing model photos that they had posted online…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …and one of the photos caught my attention and it looked very much like my friend; enough for me to call the Homicide Bureau out there in California and talk to the lead detective about it.
TODD: And I know they got a ton of calls in that period of time.
DENISE: Yeah. And he actually flew to Daytona to conduct an interview with me. That’s how revealing these photos they had of Bill Bradford’s; photos in his possession. To do the comparison, we needed some nude photos and it so happened, for whatever reason, I remembered that he, the boyfriend, had taken some photographs or her and he agreed, “Yes, I do believe I still have them and I will find them” and he contacted me one other time and said, “I have located them. I would like to make some copies, and I think I still have one of her teeth.” Now, that kind of blew me out of the water…that statement! What would he be doing with one of her teeth? And why would he even mention it? But, needless to say, we certainly could have used that tooth for some DNA comparison.
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: We have been working a little bit with the DoeNetwork, as you may well know, and it certainly would have been some useful information. He was never forthcoming with the photos and, certainly, never forthcoming with the tooth, and I’ve never heard from him again. I turned it over to law enforcement, told them what I had discovered with him because this act of not coming forward made me question him, and I don’t believe anybody has done anything as far as pursuing any information from him whatsoever, so it just leaves a big question mark in my mind. Why wouldn’t he be forthcoming?
TODD: What about other family members? We should be able to get DNA from one of the family members to provide to the National DNA Database.
DENISE: It took me one year, almost one year, to get Daytona Beach Police Department to cooperate with me. I actually had her grandmother, who is 90 years old, flown in from Boston, to do such a swab.
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: I begged them, “Can you send someone up to where she lives? She’s 90 years old. She’s in assisted-living. You could send a nurse in and she wouldn’t even have to be aware of what was…you know. Her son, who lives up there, was more than willing to cooperate, and I just couldn’t get anybody in Daytona Beach to…I couldn’t light the fire, so I brought her down here myself. And I said, “I have her here now. Perhaps now you can come and take that swab. The woman is 90 years old. I don’t think she’s going to be coming back down this way again.” And they did; they actually did, and they also took one from her…she has a younger brother that lives here, and a niece.
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: So they took 3 samples. Now, whether or not it’s still sitting on a shelf, whether it made it into the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Database, which I can only pray it did; and, hopefully, it was turned over to CODIS as well. I don’t know the protocol on that, but I have not had any response from Daytona. I have tried and tried. It’s almost like you’re fighting a losing battle and, although I refuse to give up, I mean it wears you down after a while. But, I keep trying. I keep pushing them, and I do believe the squeaky wheel will get some grease eventually.
TODD: Oh, eventually. It almost always happens. I know you had an article in The Orlando Sentinel on 10/10/2006…
TODD: How did that happen? And what was the article?
DENISE: I believe the article was written by a girl who contacted me because there was…I told you about the detective that came in from California, well he didn’t come just to speak with me. There was another woman whose daughter has been missing has been missing for 25 years, and some of the photos of her, that Bill Bradford had, it was striking the resemblance to her daughter, the photos that they had posted from Bill Bradford’s case, was in striking resemblance to her daughter. And that’s really what sparked it. I saw the article about this woman’s daughter; her name is Fran Webb, her daughter Darlene had been missing for 25 years. That’s what inspired me to look on the Internet, and check the photos myself, and there I saw what I believe to…I mean, it was a striking resemblance to my friend, Michelle. Her name is Mary legally, but she goes by Michelle, so if I refer to Michelle, I don’t want anybody to be confused. And that’s how that transpired. We got a lot of local attention and, of course, with the detective coming into town; he also came with Dateline’s Keith Morrison…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …and the film crew, and we did a one-hour episode back in February.
TODD: Has that aired yet?
DENISE: It did make air in February.
TODD: Okay. I’ll have to take a look at it.
DENISE: So we’re looking for any exposure whatsoever to bring it to light, you know? Sometimes people come forward after a period of time. They might remember something, or saw something, or something stuck in their mind. That’s all you can hope for is to keep the attention and get the file on the top instead of on the bottom.
TODD: Oh yeah, anything to keep it shook up. That’s really good, especially if you are not doing anything to step on their toes.
TODD: That’s usually not good.
DENISE: What made it a little difficult for me, not being an actual family member…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …a lot of doors were closed to me in the past. And, of course, they had lost Michelle’s only dental records, and at that time we didn’t have DNA, so for the longest time, there wasn’t a whole lot that I could do. And, like I said, her family, I mean under the age of 51, she pretty much lost most of her family members. The 2 brothers that she does have were not actively pursuing her disappearance, so it was with great diligence that I just kept pounding on it and pounding on it, and finally I think they got tired of me, Todd. They finally gave in and decided, “Okay, she’s not going to go away. Let’s see if we can help this girl a little bit.”
TODD: And I found out that they have a huge amount of things to deal with; I know that, because there’s just no way…you know I get in a bind where I want to talk to everybody and I want to work on every case and want to do something everyday, and it’s just simply not possible, I know that. But you do tend to respond to the people that are more willing and are there; it’s just a lot easier. Now, the son? Tell us a little bit about him. Now you said…when he grew up, did he have any contact with the boyfriend?
DENISE: No. No, he was actually adopted by family, a couple hours distance from here but, no, he didn’t have a lot of contact with him, or even myself, for that matter. And, as he grew, he ended up joining the Navy; he became a nurse and, from my understanding, he was head of security at Orlando International Airport. He was an inventor in the medical field; he invented a few products. Unfortunately he met his demise by not wearing his seatbelt and, tragically, one night on his way home…
TODD: How recently has that been?
DENISE: About 3 years ago.
TODD: Wow. So, this whole thing, he knew though? He knew that his mother was missing.
DENISE: (apologizes for coughing)
TODD: Oh that’s okay, everybody’s got it right now.
DENISE: I beg your pardon.
TODD: Everybody’s got the cold.
DENISE: Yeah, that right, the coughing. He had actively tried to pursue his mother…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …but there weren’t a lot of angles there for him to go after. He had tried 1-800 lines and he had made several attempts but, like I said, without the dental records that Daytona Beach had sent to somebody in another department, in another state, and they never retrieved them, so there weren’t any comparisons to be done. And, like I said, until fairly recently, DNA just wasn’t available, and so there wasn’t a whole lot that he could have done. He never stopped looking but there wasn’t a whole lot that he could have done. And, until I saw that photo, we didn’t really have anything to go on.
TODD: The dental records though now…of course, that was just a copy. Could they not go back to the original?
DENISE: They took the original. That’s the only set of original dentals; believe me. And, reading over the police report, over time, they had sent it to several different law enforcement agencies in the state and out of the state. I believe they ended up in California, but no one could locate them.
DENISE: So, that was kind of disappointing because, had a Jane Doe showed up, there was no way to do any comparison, and so it kind of went cold for the longest time. We had absolutely nothing new to go on.
TODD: So when DNA actually came onto the scene, what happened from there? When you knew there was a possibility of DNA, did that change how you guys looked at the case?
DENISE: (apologizes for coughing) Yes, absolutely because I thought, at the very least, you know there weren’t very many family members left, and I knew her grandmother was aging, and I thought, through my research, getting on the Internet and doing some research about it, that there could be a comparison with the grandmother.
TODD: Well what about her mother? What happened with her?
DENISE: Her mother died at 51 years old, of renal cancer. Thirty days later, they found my sister-in-law, Michelle’s older sister, deceased on her bedroom floor. Five years after Michelle’s disappearance, her youngest sister had committed suicide. So, the family has just disappeared, I mean it was like…it’s just amazing because they were like my family as well.
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: I was very close with them, and it’s kind of mind-boggling when you think about it, you know, almost the entire family being gone. And, certainly, when I heard the news of her son, I couldn’t believe it. Not another one!
TODD: Up until that point, how did her family deal with it?
DENISE: You know any mother that’s lost a child, and I know several, there’s a look in the eye that you can tell it comes from the heart; that there is something missing there, and it was devastating for her mother. I don’t think she ever recovered. And, on her deathbed, when I spoke to her on the phone, she said to me…her last words were, “Find out what happened to my Michelle.” I was the only person left in Daytona; they had moved to Chicago, and for a dying mother’s wish, that always rang in my ear. And so I was determined never to give up until I could exhaust every possibility I had of trying to find out what might have happened to her. It’s really quite sad. I mean, when you think about, and I know it happens on a day-to-day basis, but when it happens to you, that you lose somebody that you love, and you don’t know why, or where, or…it just leaves an emptiness inside of you that you cannot imagine.
TODD: It brings it all to reality.
DENISE: It really does.
TODD: Now, we talked about The Orlando Sentinel earlier, the newspaper, how did that come about really?
DENISE: Because she, the reporter, had been following the story in Daytona.
TODD: Because of the Bradford story?
TODD: Okay. What all was in that article? What did that article entail?
DENISE: Well, to the best of my recollection, it reflects on both Darlene Webb’s disappearance and Michelle’s disappearance to Bradford.
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: That there may have been some sort of connection there. They did elaborate a little bit more about Michelle’s disappearance from Daytona, but we still have not determined the connection, if there is a connection, between Bradford and these 2 missing women. I know the FBI was supposed to conduct an interview with Bill Bradford, and I think that is still in works. I still keep in contact with the detective in California…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …because we have not given up the idea that it’s a possibility that #31 could, in fact, be Michelle, and #33 could actually be Darlene Webb. But that news article came about as a result of the local interest.
TODD: Now I wondered if it would be something beyond the Bradford connection, you know, on her, directly on her as a missing person. Sometimes the initial interest is to tie it in with another story, and then if that doesn’t pan out, sometimes it kind of fades away, some of the interest kind of fades away from what you are really trying to find out. You’re trying to find out what happened to her.
DENISE: Right. What really would have been helpful is if the boyfriend would have been forthcoming with the photographs that he said that he had because, when the detective came from California to Daytona, he showed us some photographs. I’m going to specifically talk about Michelle’s case. He showed me some photographs of this #31, but they were nude. Now, I could not tell him because I don’t recall having seen my friend in that position, but it would have been really helpful if the boyfriend had come forward with those photos so we could have done a body comparison. That’s what they were really interested in doing, and that would have helped either eliminate it, or it could have made a connection, but without that helpfulness, it left us at a dead end. In my opinion, it would have been most helpful.
TODD: But, you know he declared that he did have them, and then nothing, right?
DENISE: Yes. Absolutely. After I asked him, he said, “I’ll look and see if I have them in my storage.” A few days later, or a week later, whatever, he had emailed me back and said, “Yes, indeed, I did find the photos but I need to go to Kinko’s to make copies.” That was August 2006, and I have not heard from him since. And like I told you before, I contacted Daytona Beach [Police Department] with the information I had, and what we were working on in California, and I felt it might be certainly better for law enforcement to contact him to request the information again, than it would be from myself. And, as far as I know, they never have.
TODD: They’ve never…hmm. So, have you thought about contacting them and asking them what the status is?
DENISE: I have requested information from them for months, to no avail. And the only reason I was able to get the DNA, have an officer come to the grandmother while she was visiting with me, and get the DNA, was because I went directly to the Chief of Police and I would not take ‘no’ for an answer. And I guess I stirred the fires over there because I got two phone calls in one day; one from the lead investigator, and one from the person that works above him. But since then, I am back to square one again. I have not gotten anywhere as far as getting any more information or any more help from them. So, I guess I have to go on a rampage again and threaten to call the chief, and that really seems to get some fires started because I guess they don’t want to have to contend with the chief being upset. I think that’s exactly what happened.
TODD: Well, the anniversary dates are traditionally the ideal dates for these cases, when you’re trying to go get more attention on them, so this is a good time period for that.
DENISE: And I haven’t stopped. You know, if I have to go down there and bang on his door, I will. It’s just that I don’t have anything more off of them, other than, like I say, trying to get the DNA samples at least into CODIS, and if a match comes up, terrific. I just will not stop until I have exhausted everything I know I can do. It’s frustrating when you feel defeated; you feel that you don’t have the help that you need. I was most surprised that when I mentioned the boyfriend having a tooth, that that didn’t raise a few flags with the detectives.
TODD: Well, did you explain it at all when you told them about him having the tooth? How did he explain it to you?
DENISE: Well, he really didn’t, and it took me by surprise because, I’m thinking to myself, “Why would he have one of her teeth?” Did he hit her that night? She fell on the floor and knocked her head, a tooth fell out and he put it in a pocket? You know these things never crossed my mind at that time, but the more I investigate, it’s not unlikely. It could very well be, but why would he mention it? I don’t understand.
TODD: Yeah, that would be bad to mention it if it was something, you know.
DENISE: Yes. The only thing I can remember is, back when she first disappeared, we did go to this little…it’s called ‘The Little White Church,’ and apparently, that’s why he mentioned it because he thought that maybe I would remember, which I did not. But he had actually placed something in this little basket, and he sent a message up, and I don’t know…these psychic readers give you some information. Apparently, and I didn’t recall, he must have placed her tooth in that basket that day. I did not remember that, and I think that’s the only reason he may have mentioned it, because he thought that maybe I would remember. I don’t know, Todd, I just think it’s very bizarre that law enforcement can’t take a few steps. At least call him and question him. You have some information, you have some photos, you have some possible DNA there…just talk to him, question him. You know, I can’t do their job for them, although I think I have up to this point.
TODD: Do you think that something happened to cause them to lose interest in this particular case? Maybe they know more about it than you realize?
DENISE: I want to think that that’s always the case. I want to believe that, yes, they are pursuing something and they’re not sharing it with me…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …but there’s another part inside of me that says, “They’re not doing a damn thing. They have other things to worry about. It’s a 30-year-old case almost, and they really don’t have much to go on.”
TODD: Well, there’s no family to push anymore, so that makes a big difference too.
DENISE: What’s that? I’m sorry.
TODD: No family; there’s no family pushing this case anymore.
DENISE: Right. It’s been myself. It’s only been myself, and I just hate to think that they would push it aside because almost all of her family is now deceased, so why bother? I would hate to think that that would be their attitude; I really would. But, there’s always that in the back of my mind and that’s what keeps me pushing. I’m not going to allow them to give up, you know, until they’ve done everything that they possibly can, and I’ve done everything I possibly can. Then I’ll rest easy, knowing I did everything I could, in my power to help to at least bring her home. She’s out there; let’s bring her home. And I don’t mean alive; I don’t believe she’s alive, but it would be nice to at least let her rest with her family.
TODD: Well, any of her remaining family, is there a possibility that they could help? Did you re-ignite their interest in this case?
DENISE: Well, she has one younger brother here that was about 5 years old when she disappeared; he did not know his sister. She does have another brother that lives here, who I don’t have contact with, and I think the only way he would be of any interest would be if someone was paying him some money. So, I don’t reach out to him. I figured, you know, if he really cared about his sister’s whereabouts, it would be him instead of myself that would be pursuing this, and I don’t think he has any interest whatsoever; which is sad to me, you know.
TODD: Well, like you said, he was really young at that age.
DENISE: Yeah, the youngest one, and he, believe me, stands behind anything that I pursue; he’s 100% for it. He doesn’t know what he could possibly do that I haven’t already done.
TODD: But as a family member, he could probably get better access, or they might have to answer to him quicker. You know, they can always say, “Lady, it’s none of your business.”
TODD: And, even though you know that it is, in you heart and in your mind and in what you’ve done yourself, but that’s an easy way to say, “Hey, you really have no horse in this race.”
TODD: And it’s easy to do that. But with him, it would be a little more different, if you had a partnership with one of the family members.
TODD: If you say, “I need you for the family connection. I’m doing this work but together we would be more effective.” You wouldn’t have to ask a lot of him other than to make a few phone calls. Certainly, he’d be interested in that.
TODD: I mean, you’ve done all this work; you’ve done everything. You’ve pushed this so many ways and you need his authority as a family member.
DENISE: Right. Well, that’s something I will certainly talk to him about, you know. I’m just really surprised…I don’t know if I’m so surprised. I mean, they have been forthcoming since I went to the chief. They have really not denied me any information that I know of…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …they just haven’t been real diligent with the search. I guess with the boyfriend, I think that’s what bothers me the most. I think that’s what I question the most, why they haven’t and like you said, maybe they have and they’re just not sharing it.
TODD: I think he could get you some of the answers. I think the brother could definitely get you some of the answers, you know, because you have all the information to put into his head so that he can turn around and ask these questions and get answers. If I were you, if the positions were reversed and you were law enforcement, I would say, “Why haven’t you contacted the brother?”
TODD: You know that’s how it is. I think that a really strong lead for you would be to contact the brother.
DENISE: Yeah. He was forthcoming; he did some DNA as well. He’s real open to anything and I never even considered this that maybe he would have a little bit more pull than I do.
TODD: Well, he would have to because that family line is hard to say, “Hey, ain’t nothing to you.”
DENISE: Harder to say ‘no’ to.
TODD: Yeah. I mean, they’ll have to give him some kind of explanation. You know he might have to be persistent, but through you, I think he can be.
TODD: I think he can be. Maybe he doesn’t know what to do, you know and he doesn’t know the options. Some people don’t know that, but I think you can school him on that because you’ve definitely been through it already. But, together, you can be a very effective team in getting some data and getting some information on this, I’m positive of that.
DENISE: I don’t know what protocol is for DNA, as far as, when it goes into the local database. Is it automatic? Do they submit that to CODIS?
TODD: Not necessarily. Everybody’s got their own little routine, I’m sure. Even though there might be a procedure, whether it’s actually followed or not, that remains to be seen. So, right now, if I were making a case file for this case, I couldn’t say that DNA was available because I don’t know what they’ve done with it.
TODD: I don’t know what’s available. I don’t know enough about it, based on what you’ve told me, you know, they took a swab, but what did they do with it? Where is it at? You know, I don’t know where it’s at.
TODD: There’s not enough information. But, I think if you had a checklist with these things, is it entered into the NCIC? Do you know?
DENISE: I’ve been trying to contact the detective and I could not reach him but I am certainly, like I said, I’m either going to go down there again, and I will have…I think I’ll take her brother with me, like you suggested.
TODD: I think together you could do it because you are the mouthpiece and he’s the person with the legal authority. Now, I’m looking at her case file page, right now I’m looking at the DoeNetwork page, and I work with the DoeNetwork as well, and I know we’re really diligent about trying to find the NCIC numbers, and I’m not seeing one listed. There’s an Agency Case Number [79-09-3362], the local case number, but there’s no NCIC number. So, I’m either thinking it’s never been revealed, or we don’t know if there is one, and you said that there is probably not one.
TODD: If that’s the case, I know that that’s very essential to try to do that because she’s not being compared on an automatic basis, unless she’s actually in that system. That was something that I would push for.
DENISE: Yes. I got that information onto the DoeNetwork about her, and it wasn’t long after that I got an email from Rocky, as you well know, that told me that there could be a couple of possible matches.
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: Possible. And that’s why I was so driven to get the DNA into the system, and I’m telling you, it took me 5 months of emails, and it took me nearly a year before I could actually get somebody to come and take that DNA. It was so frustrating, and sometimes, you know, you want to give up.
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: You want to go, “Wow, come on! Somebody help me here! Open some doors.” It shouldn’t have taken a year to get that DNA sample. I mean, I know they have other things that they’re doing, but a year…I think that’s little…it’s strange if you ask me.
TODD: But then with the brother, together you can refer back to the potential matches that have already been submitted and say, “Okay, where are they now? Has this been ruled out, or what?”
TODD: You know there’s just nothing to say. I know because we have this time and time again. You know Rocky and I are both on the administrative staff at the DoeNetwork, so we see this daily. There are hundreds of cases in little snares like this, where they are not getting anywhere, and you have to get in there and work on it; and it’s key to have somebody like you down there that’s actually in the area and can do that, because it’s really hard to do it from a distance. But, I’m really thinking that brother is going to be very key to this. If you can get him to agree to work with you and you’re telling him, “Hey, I’ve done all the work and I’ll continue to do it. I just need you to help me.”
DENISE: Right. And I know that he will be more than willing to do whatever he can. I’m sure. I’m sure he will.
TODD: I wish her son could have heard some type of resolution.
DENISE: It would have been really nice for him.
TODD: It’s kind of sad. What about her grandmother? I know she’s older.
TODD: Has she held any hope at all?
DENISE: No, not really. I think she had made her last trip to Daytona, like I said, she lives near Boston, and at 90, I don’t think she’ll be coming back this way again. I don’t foresee it. I mean, she’s been most helpful in submitting her DNA, that’s for sure. That was the most that I could ask from her.
TODD: So you think that she has actually come to accept the status quo that she’s gone and she’s probably not coming back?
DENISE: Absolutely believes that, but she would like to see her at least buried with the rest of her family…her mother and her sisters. And that’s the most that any of us could ask for.
TODD: You know, if we had the tooth, if we actually did know that tooth is there; that tooth can be identified as which tooth is was and that’s at least one part of the dental records. She’s got at least one missing tooth that we know of, and I’m seeing that her teeth…she looked like she had really nice teeth.
DENISE: Yes, she did, and that was one of her distinguishing characteristics; she had an absolutely beautiful display of teeth. She took very good care of her teeth, and that’s why I was a little surprised that he had one because I don’t remember her having…certainly no missing teeth in the front, okay?
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: Maybe a molar but…still, I bang my head against the wall and I say, “Why aren’t you coming forward? Why isn’t law enforcement doing something to obtain that from him?” They have a cold case unit that they have just assigned within the last 2 years to do nothing but cold cases here in Daytona, and I know they have a lot, but here’s a…to me, is a big piece to a puzzle…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …that should be pursued. And, like I said, if they’re doing something, fine, just tell me, “Yeah, we’re doing something but we can’t tell you about it” and I would be satisfied with that. But, no response at all, just reinforces that they’re doing nothing.
TODD: I know sometimes I’ve been in situations where there’s just was nothing that could be said, and it’s very difficult sometimes, even if they’re doing everything in the world but, to me, I’m afraid that when it looks like the way this appears to you, that nothing, and then that creates a lack of faith in law enforcement, which I figure is not really good. It’s not good, especially if they really are doing something.
TODD: So, the wondering is the worse thing of all. I think that that brother is the key. You’re really going to have to work with him and get something and I’d definitely like to find out…do another interview with you after you talk to the brother and see if you guys can go find out something and we could possibly add something to your file page, because you’ll have a permanent file page with Missing Pieces because we use this. One of the reasons that I’m doing this whole thing, you know, I’ve been the media director for the DoeNetwork now for years, since the beginning, and I work with other organizations, and the lack of material with some of these cases was so terrible and I was talking with people on the telephone a lot and I got all this information but there was nothing out there media-wise. Nothing. So those are the cases that you want to try to work on, some that had little or no movement, you know, that sparks things. You get calls when you put things out in the media, when you put things out before the public and people see it. If they don’t see it and they never hear of it, they don’t know about it.
DENISE: That’s right.
TODD: Obviously. So, it’s good to try and do this and try and establish, at least, a foundation to build on, and I think you can.
DENISE: And believe me when I tell you, I try to give law enforcement every benefit of the doubt, but the idea that it took them one year…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …and certainly not by any efforts really of their own, other than sending an officer to my home. That’s what cast doubt in my mind about them…
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: …because if they wanted to pursue this, I think, how hard would it have been to send an officer from that district up in Massachusetts to do that? I mean I think, you know, maybe it entails more than I know, but it seems to me a phone call would have been sufficient to send an officer to take a swab.
TODD: Well, the one guy flew all the way over from California.
DENISE: This is the detective in California that didn’t know me from Adam, and was the most helpful. He was the one that really inspired me to pursue.
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: “Don’t give up. You’ve got to keep on pushing.” This is a seasoned officer and I’m telling you, he was a tremendous amount of help.
TODD: The thing is, he was trying to work for the Bradford case. You know, that was his thing, you know?
TODD: And, at least, that helped you with what you were doing, but what about, have you thought of calling him back, or contacting him again?
DENISE: I keep in contact with him all the time.
TODD: Okay. Good. Maybe he can suggest something.
DENISE: Well, he thinks it’s rather unusual that Daytona is not pursuing this ex-boyfriend, but he feels like it’s not his jurisdiction and, like you just said, he’s working on the Bradford case. That’s his main interest and I understand that and, I guess they don’t want to step on each other’s toes. Now I will tell you this, he told me himself and I don’t believe he would have any reason to not tell me the truth; he told me that he personally mailed him (the boyfriend) two letters, and I believe he did, and he told me himself that he got no response. Now, this is a law enforcement officer that has made every effort on his…well, he wanted to see those photos as badly as I did.
TODD: Well, it’s still unresolved for him if he doesn’t get them.
DENISE: Right. And I just thought if one law enforcement agency could communicate with the other and express how deeply important it is to get a hold of these photos, and maybe they can find some more information from him. But, like he said, he didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes here, and he figured he did what he could on his end by trying to write him a letter…two letters actually.
TODD: So, you’d think there’d be a degree of professional courtesy where they’re working together on something but you know, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
DENISE: I tell you. I tell you. Yeah.
TODD: But it just seems like the most obvious path will be to try to work with the brother. I think that’s going to be the most effective weapon that you’re going to have. At least it’s so much harder to turn somebody like that down; they just can’t say, “Go away,” and it’s hard for them just to ignore it.
DENISE: Right. And I think and it’s possible that they think this, like you said before, the family members, most of them are deceased; she has 2 brothers that aren’t actively pursuing this, this is just a friend, although she was my best friend and I know she would do the same exact thing for me if the circumstances were reversed. Anyway, I will contact the brother and I know that he will be more than willing.
TODD: And there’s so much that you have already done. You can write a letter and say, “Hey, will you co-sign this letter?” or “Will you sign this letter? I wrote it, I‘ve made the request but I need your authority to help me push it through.” I really think that you are going to make a lot of headway doing that.
TODD: I think it will really help.
DENISE: That will be something that I will certainly do, almost immediately. Because, like I said, I can’t give up, I won’t give up, although at times I get frustrated and want to, there always seems to be another door that’s ajar, so they haven’t completely closed in my face just yet.
TODD: It’s harder to quit than to just say that. It’s very difficult to quit something like that when you’ve really got it inside of your gut, it’s hard to just turn in off. You just can’t do that. It’s not that easy. You can walk away for a little but while but it always comes back.
TODD: It always comes back.
DENISE: I think a lot of people don’t really understand how important it is to have that closure. You know, if someone is missing, God forbid, and they are found, at least you have some closure there. You know maybe what happened or maybe you don’t know but you have that closure, but ‘not knowing’ will gnaw at you continually.
TODD: uh huh
DENISE: It’s always in the back of your mind, and it’s so important to have that closure and it’s hard to explain to people that have never experienced something quite like this, just how important it is to…I don’t want to say ‘put it behind you’ but to be able to go on because otherwise that ‘not knowing’ is so frustrating. I mean you have someone that you love and you care about, and they walk out the door one day and you never see or hear from them again, and you don’t know what happened to them. It is just mind-boggling. And I know it happens on a daily basis to a lot of people, and I sympathize with every one of them, but there are people out there that will listen, there are people out there that will help you. You have got to be diligent and not give up and, so far, I have not given up.
TODD: Well, we’ll definitely bring you back for a follow-up as soon as you get the next step along the way and we can write a follow-up. There are so many ways we can follow up, but we’ll create you a nice page here at Missing Pieces and make a really good point of reference. This episode will be transcribed in time; volunteers are really good about helping us do that and it will be a good starting point.
DENISE: Beautiful. Beautiful. I can’t thank you enough. I think that what you do and the time you put into it, is just amazing.
TODD: I think I’ve lost my mind. I think my experience with it…it’s like you can’t stop once you get going on something and you just keep going.
DENISE: Well, I’ll tell you, you provide a lot of faith and hope for people out there that feel as if all hope is gone. Trust me.
TODD: It still doesn’t feel like enough, you know. I think this is self-therapy too, you know. I don’t know why, but for some reason it is, but as good as it makes you feel to do this, there are so many times in the middle of the night, you just feel that is all just empty because nothing’s done, you know, until something is completed and it’s over and somebody is back home and the situation resolved, all the effort that you put in it means nothing until…or you feel like it means nothing.
TODD: So, but it’s good when you’re talking to somebody like you and you feel like, “Okay, it did impact this person to help them try to do this, and it did make them feel better and it did give them some type of new resolve to move forward with things.” That means something.
DENISE: And I’ll tell you, sometimes it only takes that one person that can restore your strength and then you can go, “Okay, I can keep going. There is somebody out there that believes and will help.” And even if it is a few kind words, you don’t the impact sometimes that that can have on one person in one situation. I have to mention just one thing about the cold case groups, they are just some of the most phenomenal people that I have had the pleasure of interacting with on the Internet.
TODD: Oh, really?
DENISE: Amazing. Amazing group of people, yes.
TODD: Wow. There are over 2,000 people there.
DENISE: It’s a beautiful thing; the spirit is strong, and they are ready and willing to do anything and everything they can to help, and I think, “My goodness.”
TODD: And they’ve become like, you know, they’re my extended family. I know these people on a first-name basis, I’ve talked to a lot of them on the telephone and they’re the ones…when I get something and I need to take it somewhere to go for information, I take it there.
DENISE: And they’ll do anything they can; it’s a beautiful place. I’ve been encouraged there on many occasions when I felt like, “Oh, I just can’t do this anymore,” and they have restored my strength and my faith, I’ll tell you.
TODD: There are a lot of really great people there.
TODD: It’s over 8 years old now. That group is over 8 years old.
DENISE: I’m happy to be a member. My hat is off to every one of them.
TODD: Well, I think we’ve talked it out for now until you get with the brother and we hear something about that. I think we’ve got a good plan in place, and we’ll go for it and see what we can come up with.
DENISE: Sounds great. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you and I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to talk to me about Michelle, and I hope that one day I can encourage people in the same situation; God forbid they should find themselves there, it’s not a fun place to be, but at least you know that there are people out there that do care and they are willing to help as well.
TODD: Well see, and you already have. That’s part of what this is about too. I think people seeing people like you taking on these roles and making these efforts, it does mean a lot. I think it tells people, “I can do it too. I know I can.” And we just try to show people effective ways to do it where you are not really interfering but sometimes there’s that pressure that you have to put it, and you try to do it in the most effective way possible. It’s not always easy.
DENISE: Right. It’s not.
TODD: Well, we’ll say goodnight to everybody.
DENISE: Well goodnight and thank you.
TODD: And hopefully we’ll have you back. Thank you for being here.
DENISE: I’m looking forward to it.
TODD: All right, I’ll see you in Cold Cases.
DENISE: You got it. Thanks.
TODD: Alrighty. Bye bye.
Date Of Birth: May 12, 1960
Age at Time of Disappearance: 19 years old
Weight: 115 lbs.
Distinguishing Characteristics: Very thin eyebrows due to plucking; perfectly straight, white teeth.
Medical: One pregnancy.
Clothing: She may have been wearing a leopard design dankskin top and turquoise pants. Michelle was also known to wear silver jewelry, but it is unknown if she was at the time of her disappearance.
Circumstances Of Disappearance: Sprague was last seen in leaving the night club where she worked in Daytona Beach, Florida on September 11, 1979.
Sprague went to her nightclub to pick up her check. She had a few drinks and an argument with her boss, then left the club. A cabdriver picked her up and had to elude a truck that seemed to be following her.
Her family does not believe that she would have left her 2 year old son behind and suspect foul play.
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