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New details renew search in 1974 case; more witnesses, technology revive quest to find 3 girls last seen at mall

By Deanna Boyd
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT WORTH -- For 26 years, Rayanne Moseley watched investigators come and go as they looked into the 1974 disappearance of her daughter and two friends from a Fort Worth shopping mall.

By the time one would become familiar with the case, that officer would be promoted, moved or swamped with other work, and a new investigator would be assigned.

"It's kind of like the football you reach down to pick up and then kick it just before you pick it up," Moseley said. "I think it's been kicked around enough already."

Responding to those complaints, Police Chief Ralph Mendoza assigned homicide Detective Tom Boetcher and major case Detective Ronald Prioleau to that case exclusively in January.

At a news conference Thursday, the detectives detailed new developments in the case, including 20 new witnesses, some of whom saw 9-year-old Julie Ann Moseley, 14-year-old Renee Wilson and 17-year-old Rachel Trlica at the Seminary South mall Dec. 23, 1974, the day they disappeared.

"That, combined with DNA evidence and the way DNA is collected and processed since this case was originally investigated, makes for a better outcome," Boetcher told reporters, declining to elaborate on the DNA evidence.

Two days before Christmas 1974, Julie Ann Moseley called her mother at work and begged to go shopping with Wilson and Trlica.

Moseley gave in, a decision she said will haunt her the rest of her life. She never saw her daughter again.

When the girls didn't return home by 4 p.m., family members went searching for them. They found only Trlica's locked car, containing packages but still parked at the mall, now called Town Center Mall.

Police believed that the girls had run away. A handwritten note, addressed to Trlica's husband, that arrived in the mail a day later initially seemed to confirm that.

"I know I'm going to catch it, but we just had to get away," it read. "We're going to Houston. See you in about a week."

But the handwriting raised questions about whether it was written by Trlica. Her family members are convinced that it was not. Detectives said Thursday that an analysis of the letter could not determine who wrote it.

While initially the letter was thought to have been mailed from Eliasville in Young County, the U.S. Postal Service has determined that it was mailed in Fort Worth, Boetcher said.

Boetcher said detectives believe that the girls left the mall with someone they trusted.

"We can say that they were at one point seen with one individual, but we believe there was more than one involved," Boetcher said.

Detectives have narrowed the number of suspects to "under five," he said.

Detectives believe that after leaving the mall, the girls encountered "foul play and met up with some unfortunate circumstances," Boetcher said.

The detective would not speculate whether he believes that the girls are dead, but said police had sent about 150 letters to coroner offices in a five- state area, inquiring about any unidentified female remains discovered since 1974.

Of 40 responses received, Boetcher said, the department has learned about 10 or 11 unidentified females, including seven bodies uncovered years ago in New Mexico.

Prioleau said officers are taking DNA samples from members of the girls' families to determine whether the remains might be those of the girls.

It's a frustrating case, Boetcher and Prioleau acknowledge. In the 26-year span, some witnesses have died, moved or married and changed their names. Some of those who have been located and have been reinterviewed have clouded memories of that day.

But the detectives remain confident they are on the correct path, a sentiment echoed by some members of the girls' families who attended the news conference.

Rusty Arnold, Trlica's brother, listened intently to the detectives while sitting next to Rayanne Moseley. Arnold, who was 11 when his sister disappeared, said he is encouraged by the detectives' efforts and hopes an arrest will be made.

"I owe Mr. Mendoza a world of thanks," Arnold said. "I feel like they have done in the last three months more than any other officers or detectives have done in the whole 26-year investigation."

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the homicide unit at (817) 877- 8225.

Deanna Boyd, (817) 390-7655

Send comments to dboyd@star-telegram.com


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