One day in the late 1970's two young girls vanished from school. No sightings, few leads,they're just gone. It's one of the oldest cold cases in the Roanoke Police files. They think they have their man and they believe the girls were murdered. The prime suspect was a convicted killer, but he took any clues to his execution. Those clues might just be buried in rural Bedford County.
"I've come up with a hypothesis of my own," claims Linda Owens. She says a small parcel of land in Bedford County holds the bodies of her kid sister and one of her friends.
Linda was 18 when her 14-year-old sister Tammy Akers skipped classes in the winter of 1977. Tammy didn't like school at William Ruffner Junior High, she didn't fit in. Growing up in a poor, working class neighborhood in Southwest Roanoke, the teenager was dealing with discord in her family.
"For a fourteen year old kid who's going through a lot of emotional issues," she says. "She didn't know how to handle herself, she was overwhelmed."
One of Tammy's friends was Angela Rader. The baby in the family, Angela was quiet and going through her own growing pains.
"She had difficulties you know with my mother and father's divorce, not unlike any other child, back then or now," recalls her brother, Walter.
"I drove her to school that morning and dropped her off like usual," says Angela's older sister, Sue Davis. She says February 8th, 1977 was the last time she ever saw Angie. It was unusually warm that afternoon when she went to pick her up from school.
"And she wasn't there," remembers Davis. "I was surprised because Angie had never done that before."
Initially investigators thought they'd simply run away. They'd be back. The days, weeks, months, then the years passed before Roanoke Police changed course: In the early 1980s it became a missing person's case.
"It's a missing person's case we think with some foul play," says Roanoke Police detective Lin Manning. He is now the department's cold case investigator. The girls disappeared 35 years ago and this is the 4th oldest of Roanoke police's 40 some cold cases.
"As time progressed, we really started knowing, 'ok something's not right,'" he says.
Vinton, 1994. A family of four murdered in an arson. Earl Bramblett is charged and convicted. It came as no surprise to Linda Owens, who says Bramblett owned a silk screen printing shop down the street. She worked there, despite his unwelcome advances. She says he sexually molested her.
"He would come by and wipe his hand across our bottoms or across our chest," she says.
During the quadruple murder investigation, Roanoke police got a huge tip. Bramblett, drunk at a party, cried out that he wished he hadn't hurt Tammy. She would go to his house for parties, where he was known to give young girls drugs and alcohol. Tammy and Bramblett were friends. He was nearly twice as old. It creeped out her sister who said Tammy often left with Bramblett in his car.
"I said this is wrong and mom said, 'Oh know he loves her like a daughter,'" she says. "I said, 'Oh he loves her alright."
The thought all around is that Tammy and Angela rode with Bramblett out to his custom built house in Bedford County. What happened after is a mystery.
Detectives tried their hardest to get something, anything out of the convicted murderer before he was put to death in 2003. But even as he approached execution, he never offered up anything on what might have happened to Tammy and Angela in those woods deep in the country.
The last major progression in the case came a few years ago, when a contractor called Detective Manning and said Bramblett hired him back in 1977, right around the time the girls went missing. He helped build the basement at Bramblett's home. A hunch hits Manning: Could the girls be buried underneath the house?
"My mind goes to I need to check that area, I need to check that area their bodies, and we did," says Det. Manning.
Cadaver dogs, ground penetrating radar; even a team called in from the University of Tennessee helped search Bramblett's basement and the woods nearby. Nothing, no remains, no more clues. The case remains cold.
Linda Owens, Tammy's sister has her own theory about those woods. She says Tammy and Angela are still there, on that murderer's land, waiting to be found.
If you know anything about the girls disappearance, including any possible places they might be buried, call Roanoke Police.