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East Texas cold case revisited

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By Jena Johnson - bio | email

PALESTINE, TX (KLTV)- It'll be 22 years this May since a 16-year-old East Texas girl went for a walk and never returned. Michelle Richardson was last seen near her Palestine home on FM 322 in May 1989. Investigators believe that she disappeared on that same busy highway.

"She just went walking and she was gone," said Linda Richardson, Michelle's mother. "Until this day I still don't know what happened. I would like to know what happened to her. We all would."

"She goes for a walk and just disappears off the face of the earth," said Joe Willis, original investigator.

Michelle Richardson was last seen walking down a busy highway on May 1, 1989. Her mother, Linda, watched her walk away.

"She said she was going to walk about half a mile and come back and well about 20 minutes passed and she didn't come back so me and my son went looking for her and we didn't see her no where so that's when I called the police," said Richardson.

Anderson County Investigator Joe Willis remembers the call nearly 22 years ago. "This is the picture of Michelle Richardson that we had and I still carry it with me," said Willis as he pulled out of his briefcase.

As time goes by, he says a happy ending grows dimmer.

"After this amount of time I think there's probably foul play involved," said Willis. "We just haven't had any leads in this amount of time. I think there's probably foul play."

There's no physical evidence to prove that, only theories. At first, authorities thought Michelle was a runaway.

"We thought well maybe she's hitchhiking to a friend's house. She didn't have but a handful of friends and we checked all those out and no one had ever seen her."

Michelle and her little brother, Jeff, went walking everyday. The one day he didn't go with her, is the day she disappeared. He says five minutes after she left walking, he tried to catch up with her, but Michelle was no where to be found."

She also left everything behind - her purse, clothing and her two-month-old baby, Justin. The last known picture taken of Michelle was with her son.

"I know he always feels like there's an empty spot because he didn't have his mama," said Richardson.

Michelle's son, Justin, is now 21. He says he thinks about his mother everyday and wonders if life would be different for him if she were here.

During the time of Michelle's disappearance, two other East Texas teens also vanished: Kim Norwood and Kelly Wilson.

For months, Anderson County authorities tried to connect the three cases.

"At one time we were getting information from the Rusk County Sheriff's Department and we spent numerous hours in Rusk County following leads and none of the leads we're able to be followed up on," said Willis.

In 1996, Willis says his investigation took him to the DFW area where nine-year-old Amber Haggerman went missing. Her body was later discovered, but her killer has never been found.

"I went up to Arlington and talked to those investigators as well and basically the leads that we had never went any further," he said. "We had more ties to the girls coming up missing in East Texas than we did the Amber Haggerman case."

Back in Palestine, Willis says they combed the area again where Michelle was last seen.

"They investigated everybody that we knew," said Richardson. "Nobody knew nothing."

"From 1989 until now she's never made contact with anyone. No one has seen her. No one has heard from her."

Michelle's family holds onto the idea that one day they'll find out what happened to her on that may afternoon.

"I believe that she's somewhere out there," said Richardson. "I don't feel that she's dead. That may be just wishful thinking, but I just don't feel like she is."

In 2007, investigators collected DNA from Michelle's son. Michelle's case remains open, filed under a "missing person."

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