Two girls disappeared from Pocatello park 42 years ago. This is where the case stands today
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POCATELLO — For 42 years, how the bodies of two Pocatello girls ended up in a remote area more than an hour’s drive from home remains a mystery.
Tina Anderson, 12, and her 14-year-old friend, Patricia “Patsy” Campbell, were last seen at a Pioneer Day celebration on July 22, 1978, in Pocatello. Their bodies were found in a remote area in a neighboring county, but investigators have not publicly named any suspects.
The two friends reportedly spent the day at the city-wide celebration gathered at Pocatello’s Alameda Park. After Tina failed to show up at a babysitting job that evening across the street from the park, family members reported the girls missing to the Pocatello Police Department.
Three years later, in October 1981, hunters stumbled upon their remains about 60 miles away in rural Oneida County.
Patsy Sherman worked on the case at the Oneida County Sheriff’s office for almost two decades before her retirement as the chief deputy this spring. When she first looked at the case file in 2002, a single manila envelope held everything investigators knew.
“I knew other detectives in the past kind of looked at it and hadn’t gone very far with it and kind of ran into a dead end,” Sherman said. “I took the case and went through some old reports that were in there and just started making contact with some of the names.”
After years of work with investigators in multiple agencies, Sherman said the case file now includes bookshelves full of information. The newly gathered evidence led police to believe they were close to solving the case at least twice over the years.
Why the case is not solved
“(The case is) always going to stay open. It’s always going to be investigated.”
In 2007, then-Oneida County Sheriff Jeff Semrad told reporters they uncovered two critical pieces of evidence and may convene a grand jury. Then again, in 2016, the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office publicly announced it was on the right track.
“Investigators are confident in who the perpetrators of the murders are, what the motive was and how the murders occurred,” a Sheriff’s Office Facebook post read in part. “The case remains open, and investigators are confident that it is solved. We hope to bring some type of justice through the courts for the families who have waited so long for some type of justice and closure.”
The announcement came with a catch, as investigators had lost pieces of physical evidence and in the post called their evidence “strong” but “circumstantial.” The next year, Oneida County Prosecutor Cody Brower told KPVI that with specific evidence being unavailable, he turned the case back to investigators.
“We as police officers obviously have a different job than prosecutors do,” Sherman said. “Oftentimes, we feel we have enough evidence, but sometimes when it reaches the prosecutor, it isn’t quite enough. And there’s nobody to blame. It’s an old case.”
Sherman said today, law enforcement handles evidence differently than they did years ago. She reiterated that a lot of the evidence in the case remains lost, and the sheriff’s office doesn’t have enough for prosecutors to feel they can ethically go forward.
“That doesn’t mean it’s ever going to stop,” Sherman said. “It’s always going to stay open. It’s always going to be investigated. Information still comes to us from time to time, and we follow up on every bit of information.”
In 1981 when hunters in the Trail Hollow area of Two-Mile Canyon discovered the remains of Anderson and Campbell, they quickly alerted authorities in Pocatello. With the remains found in Oneida County, the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office contacted Oneida County, whose deputies returned to the rural gorge a few miles from Malad.
While there, deputies discovered the scattered bones and a skull with a small hole. Investigators also found deteriorated clothing matching that of what Patsy and Tina were wearing. At the scene, the Sheriff’s Office also retrieved .22-caliber bullet casings.
As investigators positively identified one set of remains belonging to Tina through dental records, investigators needed to backtrack. The girls, last seen years earlier, were assumed runaways, but evidence pointed to something more sinister.
The work of a cold case advocate
“I don’t think this was a stranger abduction.”
Crystal Douglas founded Idaho Cold cases in 2013 as a way to help solve the area’s cold cases. She specifically wanted to help a small group of forgotten men and women either killed or missing with no resolution in sight.
“I just started researching cold cases and whatever happened to them,” Douglas said. “I love hunting for old information.”
Over the years, countless hours of Douglas’ life have been spent researching the disappearance and killings of Tina and Patsy. Just as the investigators hoped to do, Douglas attempted to build her own timeline of the girl’s final known hours by meeting with families, witnesses and detectives, and researching documents only seen by a select few.
Pocatello Police denied EastIdahoNews.com’s request to view the initial missing persons report.
During the Pioneer Day Celebration, Tina, Patsy and other youths from the area met up for a day of fun at Alameda Park. At some point, the girls and another friend visited a home blocks away from the park.
Excerpts of police reports obtained by Douglas show the adults at the home told investigators they and the girls piled in a truck on a drive to Moonlight Road, a popular drinking spot for teens and young adults at the time.
“At that point, it’s still unknown how many people went,” Douglas said.
The adults claimed to have dropped the girls back off at Alameda Park, where Tina planned to babysit at a home across the street. The neighbor told police that Tina did, in fact, show up at around 6:30 p.m. but said she could come back at 7 p.m. Tina did not return and was reported missing.
“I don’t think this was a stranger abduction. I don’t think this was a snatch-and-grab on the street in a creepy van,” Douglas said. “I believe the girls willingly went with whoever it was, maybe on the premise of it was doing something else, maybe a party.”
Although many theories are out there, people like Douglas and Sherman plan to keep seeking the facts into what led to the deaths of Tina and Patsy.
“The more that you work these cases, the more invested you become in them, and it’s just a determination that’s inside of you that you’re not going to give up,” Sherman said. “You are kind of being the voice for those that don’t have a voice for this anymore.”