By ALEX APPLE, WZTV
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CIRCA via WZTV) — New leads in the disappearance of Tabitha Tuders point cold-case detectives back to Nashville in an investigation that has gone from the Music City to Nebraska and even Las Vegas.
Nearly 16 years after Tuders' disappearance in East Nashville, cold-case detective Steve Jolley is left with no fewer than 10 possible suspects to investigate.
Boscobel Street was the last place Tuders was ever seen by anyone at 7:50 a.m. The problem is the school bus didn't arrive until 8:05 a.m. That left 15 minutes for Tuders to have walked anywhere in the neighborhood. Law enforcement's best guess is she was abducted from Boscobel Street. But that's all that is — a guess.
"There are still people in Nashville that I feel sure have an idea or know what happened to her," Jolley said.
Police didn't know anything was wrong until her parents called them nine hours later in the day when she didn't come home after school.
"I was hysterical," said her mom, Debra Tuders. "I knew something bad might have happened."
No crime scene. No physical evidence. No clear timetable: all fatal gaps.
"I got a tip that leads back to a person of interest early on," Jolley confirms about recent information.
The latest hearsay points detectives back to Nashville. Over the years, they've investigated all across the country. The early days were the most painful for Tabitha's parents, who remember getting tortured by random phone calls.
"At the beginning, people were so cruel calling me ... that I had to turn my phone off," Debra said. "It about drove me insane."
Debra and Tabitha's dad, Bo, have never left the home that still dons their daughter's missing poster. As Bo said, it is the only place Tabitha knows as home.
A man named Anthony was the last person to see Tabitha walking down Boscobel. Circa partner WZTV spoke with Anthony, who recalled seeing her with a piece of paper. He paid attention to Tabitha walking because of recent break-ins in the neighborhood, which wasn't short on suspicious characters.
"There were multiple offenders on the sexual-offender list within just the 1-mile radius of her home," Jolley said.
Anthony said Tabitha was walking slowly, but even a person walking slowly could walk a half-mile in the 15 minutes from the time Tabitha passed Anthony's house until the bus was supposed to arrive.
If she was abducted by someone in a car, the kidnapper could have been as far as Dallas by the time her family realized she was missing. For 15 years, police have been fighting uphill.
"You never want to lose a child because we're supposed to go before them," Debra Tuders said, holding back tears. "But sometimes, it don't work that way."
The Tuders now hope compassion for their plight will turn a case getting ever colder.
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