In her living room, 79-year-old Fran Langston keeps a flowery picture frame holding a photograph of her daughter, Rachel. She probably will never be more than an old photograph or a wisp of memory.
On Saturday, it will have been 43 years since Rachel Trlica, 17, Lisa Renee Wilson, 14, and Julie Moseley, 9, disappeared from what was then Seminary South Shopping Center.
The case shocked Fort Worth and left the families to painfully adjust to life without their children. Thousands of leads have been followed, dozens of searches completed and hundreds of people interviewed. All proved fruitless.
“I really don’t believe they’re alive,” Lisa’s father, Richard Wilson of Fort Worth, said in a recent interview with the Star-Telegram. “I would like to think otherwise, but it’s been so many years.”
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The mothers of both Lisa Renee Wilson and Julie Moseley died in the past two years, without ever knowing what happened to their daughters.
But Rachel’s brother, Rusty Arnold of Edgecliff Village, believes a break in the case could come soon. He was just 11 when the girls went missing on Dec. 23, 1974.
“I have a theory and I’ve been working on it,” Arnold said in an interview with the Star-Telegram. “I’m just not at liberty to release anything at this time.”
He has dedicated his life to the search for his sister and her friends.
“If only you know what it would mean for us to hold up our heads, mend our broken hearts and be able to say, ‘It’s all been a bad dream’ ”
— From a poem Fran Langston wrote for the girls
A shopping trip
The girls left home before noon that morning and stopped at an Army/Navy store to pick up Christmas presents that were on layaway.
Then they headed to the shopping center, which is now La Gran Plaza, 4200 South Freeway, and parked Trlicas’ Oldsmobile on an upper-level parking lot near Sears.
Rachel had asked others to go shopping, but only Julie and Renee made it that day. Rachel was a newlywed, having married Tommy Trlica in July of that year. Renee wore red and white sneakers and a pale yellow-green T-shirt with “Sweet Honesty” printed across the front.
In a 2009 interview with the Star-Telegram, Rayanne Moseley of North Richland Hills said her daughter called begging to go with Rachel and Renee because she didn’t have anyone to play with that day.
“I knew Renee, and her family, so I finally decided the girls would be able to watch over Julie, and I let her go,” Rayanne Moseley said in 2009.
Witnesses told police they saw the girls inside the shopping center during the day. Investigators believe the girls returned to the car during the afternoon.
The families have heard several stories about what happened after that. A witness reported some men hustled the girls into a pickup. Another witness said he’d seen a man forcing a girl into a van. Nothing has ever panned out.
The Oldsmobile was found at 6 p.m. on Dec. 23, 1974, right where they left it, locked with the presents inside.
“The dads of those girls went down to that shopping center armed with shotguns, guarding that car,” Langston said. “They didn’t want anything to happen to it.”
Langston said she dragged Arnold to the shopping center, entered every store and asked the manager to make an announcement to see if the girls were there.
Police at first believed the girls had run away, several family members have said. Many family members believe that hurt the case because of the delay in investigating the matter as a kidnapping.
The morning after the girls disappeared, a letter arrived at Rachel and Tommy’s home in Fort Worth, addressed to Thomas A. Trlica. The name Rachel was written in the upper left corner of the envelope. No city name existed on the postmark and only a blurred ZIP code: 76083. The 10-cent stamp had been canceled the morning of Dec. 24, 1974.
The letter stated that the girls had gone to Houston and would return in about a week. It also gave directions to the Trlicas’ car in the shopping center parking lot.
Rusty Arnold believes the letter was mailed in the Throckmorton, Texas area, which is about 127 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Some family members don’t believe the girls wrote it.
“Somebody has to have known what happened to those girls,” said Sandy Harkcom of Fort Worth, Julie Moseley’s aunt. Her sister, Rayanne Moseley, was Julie’s mother.
“It’s such a terrible shame, you see, somebody stole them and we never saw them again. Where are they?”
The Arnold family and Thomas Trlica went their separate ways. Trlica remarried, had other children and lives on the Texas coast.
But Rusty Arnold has kept up the search, helped by other family members of the girls, friends and strangers.
They’ve searched creeks in Mansfield, a swampy bayou near Port Lavaca, dug at dozens of locations throughout Texas and combed through abandoned vehicles at the bottom of Benbrook Lake.
Arnold created a website, missingtrio.com, and a Facebook page in the hope of finding answers.
At least seven private investigators have been involved. One of them, Dan James, put up $25,000 as a reward to be paid from his own pocket for the arrest and conviction of the people responsible for the disappearance of the three girls. The reward no longer exists. And nothing has turned up.
“Please send them home. Please dry all our tears. If you only knew what it would mean to mend our hearts, To say it’s been a bad dream.”
“I really miss my sister,” Arnold said in an interview with the Star-Telegram. “I will keep looking for answers as long as it takes.”
This story contains information from Star-Telegram archives.