Play Episode 3 of the Dateline: Missing in America Podcast below and click here to follow.
Read the transcript here:
It was an unseasonably warm day, and while the leaves were starting to turn their predictable shades of red and gold, the crisp fall chill hadn't settled in just yet in Richmond, Virginia.
It was Monday, September 26, 2016. That evening seemed pretty typical in the Jacobs household.
21-year-old Keeshae Jacobs was getting ready to go out, while her mother, Toni, and her brother settled in for the night. Keeshae did seem a little troubled as she headed out; she'd had an argument with her boyfriend.
Toni Jacobs: “She was pretty upset. But me and her brother seemed to talk her down and then she was like, ‘All right, Ma, I’m going, with, uh -- one of my friend's house. I'll be back tomorrow.’”
Before leaving, Keeshae vowed to be back bright and early to make her 25-year-old brother, Deavon, a heaping stack of pancakes.
Toni remembers the moment she watched her daughter walk out the front door, wearing her go-to outfit: black basketball shorts, pink and black Nikes, and a pink scarf.
Toni Jacobs: “I was like ‘All right, just be careful. Let me know you made it there safely.’”
Around 11 o'clock, Toni got ready for bed. She had to work the next morning.
After her shower, came a text message from Keeshae.
Toni Jacobs: “She texted me and told me that she was there and I was like, ‘Just be careful. I love you.’ She was like, ‘I love you, too.’”
The next morning came and when Toni woke up, the smell of pancakes in a skillet was not filling the house.
Keeshae hadn't kept her promise. And she hadn't come home yet.
Toni got ready for work and figured she'd hear from her daughter later.
Then when Toni's lunch break rolled around and she still hadn't heard from Keeshae, her mama bear alarm went off and she started calling.
Those calls went to voicemail and Toni knew something was wrong.
I’m Josh Mankiewicz and this is Missing in America, a podcast from Dateline.
For Toni Jacobs, life from that day forward would become a sort of Groundhog Day.
She couldn't have known that the growing worry she was feeling about her daughter would evolve into urgent questions that would go unanswered for years, and that she would personally have to take on the role of investigator.
This is the story of one mother's desperate search -- a mother who believes that six years later her missing daughter is still alive.
Toni Jacobs: “I just want her to know that Mommy loves you so, so much and I miss you so much. I am fighting and I ain't giving up until I find you.”
She is the heart of this story, but it's her heart that's been broken several times.
Toni Jacobs: “And I just kept praying that both of my children were OK.”
This is also a story that raises serious questions about how missing persons cases are investigated and reported.
Natalie Wilson is co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation.
Natalie Wilson: “Race should not be a barrier to equal treatment under the law and media coverage.”
Listen closely, because something you hear in this podcast might trigger a memory. Maybe you know something that could make all the difference and change the direction of this case.
When she sat down to talk with me, Toni was wearing a blue T-shirt with one word across the top: Survivor.
The morning after her daughter failed to come home from a visit with friends, Toni reached out to her over and over again.
Toni Jacobs: “I just kept calling her phone. I called, I texted her brother and he was like, ‘No, I ain't heard from her, Mom. She's OK. You know, she -- maybe she just hung out with her friends or whatever, whatever.’ I tried to explain to people that even though --. Like, Keeshae’s phone was broke one time -- she would use somebody else’s phone to let me know she's OK, or what's going on. Or she'll log onto Facebook and message me on Facebook and let me know, ‘Hey, Mom, my phone broke. I'm still with so and so, I'll give you a call.’ Or, ‘Can you come pick me up when you get off work?’”
Josh Mankiewicz: “And you weren't getting any of those messages?”
Toni Jacobs: “No, I didn't get anything. So by the time I got off work, I checked with her brother again. He was like, ‘No, Mom.’ And he saw that I was worried.”
Toni began calling all of Keeshae’s friends.
Toni Jacobs: “They was like, ‘Ms. Toni, we're gonna call around and check to see if anybody heard or seen Keeshae.’ And I was like, ‘OK, thank you, just give me a call back.’ And I'm sitting there waiting. That's a Tuesday -- and nothing. So I'm calling her friends and they're like, ‘No, we still ain't heard nothing.’”
It made no sense to Toni. Her daughter hadn't even gone far from home, in a city she'd always considered safe.
Toni Jacobs grew up in Richmond. It's a city where the present meets the past in nearly every way -- and it's in the past where we will begin.
That's because Richmond is where Toni decided to start her own family some 30 years ago, raising Keeshae and her brother, Deavon.
Edgar Allan Poe, who lived in Richmond for a spell, once wrote: “We loved with a love that was more than love.”
And in talking with Toni, this could have been written about her adoration for her daughter: Keeshae Eunique.
And Keeshae, well, she was unique from the beginning. It all started with her name.
Toni Jacobs: “They told me it was a girl, and I really wanted a boy. Because, you know, I had that impression that girls was gonna give you a lot of hell. I'm sorry. So I was scared. But once I came to terms I was having a girl -- she's gonna be unique. It's just, I don't know. It just -- that's what popped into my head for her. She's my unique baby.”
In Toni's memories, there's always a sparkle in Keeshae’s eyes, especially when she was cheek-to-cheek with Toni, who, in photos taken at Keeshae’s graduation, was beaming ear to ear with pride.
Toni and her kids were a close-knit trio.
Toni Jacobs: “Keeshae is my baby. As much as she wants to act like she was grown, she still acted like a baby. All --. I had two kids, but she -- you would have thought she was the oldest ‘cause she always act like she -- she ran stuff. But she was a very sweet and loving person. Like, Keeshae loved to give hugs, and I used to tell people all the time she can make you feel so special and so loved because she hugged you so much. I used to have to tell her, ‘Hey, can I put some of those on layaway for later? Because you overwhelmed me with the love for today.’ Yes, she was the homebody. She was very family-oriented, liked to be around family a lot. And treasured when we had spent time together. She used to be my little sidekick most of the time.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “You took her everywhere with you?”
Toni Jacobs: “If my friends were cooking, Keeshae was going because she was greedy and she liked to eat. So, yeah. Yeah. So she liked to go places with me. She liked being around me and my friends. So, yeah.”
As Keeshae grew older, she began to think about her future.
Toni Jacobs: “She liked kids and kids like Keeshae. But she always loved being around kids. So that's where I saw her at.”
Back in 2016, one duty Keeshae never took lightly was keeping a close eye on her brother -- even though he was four years older.
She wanted to make sure Deavon stayed safe after returning home.
Toni Jacobs: “He was incarcerated for a short period of time and she was excited that he was home. So that was her main focus. Like, her best friend, her brother was home and her main priority was making sure he stayed out of trouble.”
Toni says she was never concerned about Keeshae getting into any trouble. Her daughter, the homebody.
Toni Jacobs: “I didn't have to worry about her going out to the clubs or anything like that. Keeshae was the type of person that -- she would be happy in a pair of basketball shorts and tennis shoes and a T-shirt.”
What Toni did worry about was the company Keeshae sometimes kept.
Toni Jacobs: “I just used to talk to her and be like, ‘Hey, just be cautious. Everybody that says they’re your friend is not your friend. A real friend would try to make sure you stay on the positive end -- up and up.’ So she may have one or two that were OK, and then she had some that was, like, questionable.”
There was one young woman Toni warned Keeshae about in particular -- call it mother's intuition.
Toni Jacobs: “It was just something about the girl. I can't even put my finger on it, but I didn't think she was a good friend to Keeshae.”
In fact, that girlfriend was one of the last people to see Keeshae the night she went out -- she and Keeshae’s best guy friend.
Toni Jacobs: “The last night that I saw Keeshae, one of her other best friends picked her up, which -- I trust Keeshae with him, like 100%. But the female? No, I did not care for her.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “You didn't care for her, but she was 21 and she's allowed to choose her own friends.”
Toni Jacobs: “Exactly. And that's why I tell people, ‘You'll never know everybody that your children are friends with.’”
After a full day with no word from Keeshae, Toni tried desperately to catch some shut-eye -- all the while hoping and praying her phone would ring and wake her up with Keeshae on the other line.
Well, there was no sleep to be had. Her gut feeling and her heart would not allow it.
Toni Jacobs: “I'm frantic. The next morning, I put my clothes on. I'm like, ‘Something's wrong, I know something's wrong.’ So I have to do something. So I just started knocking on people's doors.”
No one said they'd seen or heard from Keeshae. So Toni's sister convinced her to report Keeshae missing.
She went to the local Richmond police station and found it's closed that time of night.
Toni Jacobs: “I'm knocking on the door, nobody's coming to the door. So I literally had to call 911 for somebody to come to the door. And when I get in there, I tell the police officer, I was like, ‘Hey, my daughter is missing.’ And the police officer tells me when she's 21, how you know she just don't want to be found?”
That is something the families of the missing often hear when someone who's above the age of 21 vanishes.
Natalie Wilson: “To law enforcement, they look at it as: This person is an adult. They can come and go as they please voluntarily. So they don't look at it as a big deal. Missing persons isn't a crime.”
Natalie Wilson from the Black and Missing Foundation, whose mission is to bring awareness to missing persons of color.
Josh Mankiewicz: “You think missing persons cases overall are not taken as seriously by law enforcement as they should be. And missing persons cases involving people of color, even less so.”
Natalie Wilson: “There's a stereotype that these individuals are bringing it on themselves and no one will care if they're missing but their family members. And we have to change that stereotype of that narrative, that these are our missing daughters and sons, our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and they’re valuable members of our community.”
And that's what Toni Jacobs says she experienced that night at the police station.
The officer she spoke with pointed out that legally, Keeshae was an adult. Crying and pleading with the officer, Toni says she pulled out her phone to show him past text messages from Keeshae.
Toni Jacobs: “‘I hear from her every day, all day long -- and something's wrong.’ So he went ahead and took her information.”
He told her a detective would reach out the next day.
So far, she’d learned that Keeshae’s best guy friend dropped her off at a house with the girl friend -- that same girl friend Toni didn't trust.
So, that day, Toni began her own investigation and knocked on the door where Keeshae’s friend had left her.
That's where she met someone who she believes knows more than he's telling her or police.
Toni Jacobs had her daughter Keeshae’s friends take her to the two-story red brick row house where Keeshae’s best guy friend told Toni he dropped her off Monday night.
The house was bordered by two other row houses in Richmond's quaint Church Hill neighborhood.
Toni cautiously walked through the gate in the short, white picket fence that blocked off the modest front yard.
She made her way down a short sidewalk, leading to the porch’s concrete steps which were covered in chipped, rusty red paint.
At the top of the stairs, she stood between two white, weathered columns on the front porch.
Toni was a mom on a mission. She took a few steps and knocked on the white front door.
The door swung open and in front of Toni stood a man in his 30s, a decade older than Keeshae.
He said his name was Otis, and when Toni asked him about Keeshae, he said he knew nothing about her disappearance.
In that moment, Toni's worry was in no way diminished.
Toni Jacobs: “He told me that he had saw Keeshae that Monday about 5:00, but it didn't add up because I was like, ‘No, Keeshae was at home at 5:00 on Monday.’”
Josh Mankiewicz: “So right off the bat, he's lying to you.”
Toni Jacobs: “Right. Then he changed the time to 6:00, and then 6:30, 7:00. And I was like, ‘No.’ Her brother was like, ‘No.’ And I called the police right then and there.”
Toni remembers how almost immediately four police cars pulled up, responding to her call about this new information on her missing daughter -- and the officers walked inside to look for Keeshae.
After a brief walkthrough, however, they came out and gave Toni the news: Keeshae wasn't there.
Still, Toni did not have a good feeling about the house where her daughter had been last seen or about the man who called himself Otis.
After that, Toni, her family and friends started plastering flyers throughout the Church Hill neighborhood, handing them to every person they saw, asking if they'd seen Keeshae.
The flyers carry a photo of Keeshae smiling, information about when and where she was last seen, and some key details about her appearance: brown eyes, brown hair and some distinguishing tattoos. A rose on her right shoulder, a flower on her right wrist, paw prints on her right thigh, a leaf on her right foot and the name “Toni” inked with a heart on her left shoulder.
Mark Robinson was a city hall reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper and lived just a few doors down from where Keeshae was last seen.
He looked up during one of his walks and saw Keeshae staring back at him from a flyer.
Mark Robinson: “She disappeared on a street that I walked on every day, in the neighborhood that I was living in.”
Mark describes the Church Hill neighborhood as quiet, filled with historic row houses.
It's where founding father Patrick Henry spoke the famous words from his Revolutionary War speech: “Give me liberty or give me death.”
It's also an area where neighbors can keep an eye on things from their front porches and Mark Robinson says everyone regularly checks on one another.
Mark Robinson: “If there had been any sort of altercation or argument or anything out of the ordinary that happened outside of the house, somebody would have taken notice of that and almost certainly said something about it.”
Apparently, no one did.
Then, as Toni continued to scour the area with single-minded determination, someone handed her a phone with a woman on the other end of the line.
She offered information that made Toni's heart sink deeper into her chest.
The woman told Toni she knew this “Otis” character, and the woman proceeded to share her story.
Toni Jacobs: “She basically told me that he beat her and refused to let her leave and then did sexual things to her. Yeah, he beat her bad.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “And when you heard that, you think, ‘That's what happened to my daughter’?”
Toni Jacobs: “I broke down, because he probably did the same thing to her. You know, that then -- that's when it kicks in, your worst nightmare. That was my worst nightmare, hearing that. It's already -- that I'm already dealing with my daughter being missing -- and this is not her -- but the fact that the last person to see her has done this to somebody else. It kind of broke me down. Do I believe he may have something to do with Keeshae’s disappearance? Yes. The police hasn't named him a person of interest or say he has, I don't know. I don't know anything but his first name and I don't even think that's his real name.”
To Toni, Keeshae had never mentioned that man or ever going to that house before. Even so, “Otis” seemed to know Keeshae.
Toni Jacobs: “The strange thing is when I went to that -- because I had her friends take me -- to that home. And when I questioned him and he was—I was like, ‘Do you know Keeshae?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I know Keeshae. I know Keeshae always come over here with --.’ And then he named that female friend that I don't care about.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “What do you think is going on here? Why was she going to that house?”
Toni Jacobs: “Because she was with that best friend, the one that I didn't care for. And I found out later that that best friend had romantic interests with this man.”
Then Toni finally got a call she'd been waiting for. Not from Keeshae, but from a detective with the Richmond Police.
Toni Jacobs: “I reported Keeshae missing officially on that Wednesday morning, like 2:00 in the morning, 1:00 to 2:00 in the morning. And I didn't hear from them again until that following Monday.”
Except for that visit to the house where she met “Otis,” Toni hadn't heard a word from police since reporting her daughter missing.
And on that day, the officers who arrived only looked for Keeshae inside the house, without finding her.
In fact, Toni says it would be a full week after Keeshae disappeared and five days after Toni went to police to report her missing, that she received that call from a detective.
Natalie Wilson from the Black and Missing Foundation says it happens all the time -- law enforcement's assumptions costing critical time. Time that can't be recouped.
She says Keeshae’s case looks like so many others that have come her way.
Natalie Wilson: “There were so many clues lost. So much information wasn't able to be captured because Keeshae’s case was not taken seriously in the beginning.”
Toni believes police were not alone in downplaying her daughter's disappearance.
Toni Jacobs: “I still had people coming up to me thinking Keeshae ran away or she off with a boyfriend. No, that's not my daughter. She didn't have to run away. Somebody told me one time that she was pregnant. My daughter was not pregnant.”
As Toni’s search for Keeshae continued and she pleaded with police for answers, reporter Mark Robinson pitched the story to his editor, even though it veered from his normal beat at City Hall.
He ended up writing a Mother's Day feature about Toni -- hoping to include some intel about any new leads on the case.
Except the seasoned reporter ran into roadblocks when he tried to pry any information from the police.
Mark Robinson: “I sent a list of questions to the police department that they said they would respond to, and then ultimately they provided a sentence or two in response, but did not address the questions.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “Why do you think it is that Richmond Police have sort of circled the wagons on this story, and not sought more help from the public?”
Mark Robinson: “If they do have a suspect or a person of interest, they haven't named them and they haven't made much headway on the investigation in recent years. And I think that they haven't provided additional information because they don't know what happened.”
While police have never publicly named a suspect, they did divulge that foul play was suspected in Keeshae’s disappearance.
Except, they didn't say that until Keeshae had been missing for more than a year.
On November 30, 2017, Richmond Police issued a statement: “Keeshae’s family understands the scope and magnitude of this investigation. This is not a young lady that just decided to run away or move to another state, it is not her character to not call her family or friends in 14 months when she would reach out to them every day. Detectives have worked diligently in an effort to locate and find Ms. Jacobs. We hope that publicizing our belief that she was met with foul play might prompt others to come forward with information that will help solve this case.”
Toni says she knew there was foul play from the get-go, not only because of her conversation with “Otis,” but also, she says, because police told her they discovered something when they searched that red brick row house: She says it was DNA evidence.
Toni Jacobs: “They told me they found blood.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “But not enough to suggest that Keeshae had died there?”
Toni Jacobs: “Right, right. Like, they said it could have came from a struggle or something like that.”
Why did it take a year and two months for Richmond police to ask for the public's help if they believed Keeshae had met with some kind of violence?
The answer is that we don't know, because they're not talking.
All we can say is that police acknowledge something happened to Keeshae inside that house.
Toni Jacobs: “That's what I kept telling them. And they made me frustrated. I think they just don't want to hear it because once you found her DNA and then you have this person of interest that did this to somebody else, that would have been the radar, period. And I'm not even in law enforcement. That was a radar for me – ‘Hold on. He did this. He may know something about what happened to my daughter.’”
Josh Mankiewicz: “And they've questioned this guy, “Otis”?”
Toni Jacobs: “They said they tried to question him a couple of times, but first time they said right before they got there he was on suicide watch or something. And then a couple of times after that they said he was on medication. He act like he didn't know who they were or couldn't understand what he--they was talking about.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “You've been left with the impression, speaking with police, that their suspect is this guy, “Otis,” but they don't have a case yet.”
Toni Jacobs: “Yeah. But I knew he was a suspect from the day I met him.”
Turns out the man called “Otis” was soon in the wind. Toni couldn't find him.
We wanted to speak with him -- but we couldn't track him down.
And if Richmond Police located him, they didn't tell us.
So what about that boyfriend Keeshae was arguing with before she left Toni's house that night?
Toni Jacobs: “Once Keeshae went missing, he showed up at the house. He knew my son and I think he was a little bit afraid of my son because I was -- my son was like, ‘You know, that's my little sister. If I found out he did anything to her,’ you know, ‘I think I'm going to jail for the rest of my life,’ type thing. And he was like, ‘I would never do that. I care about Keeshae.’ You know, ‘We had an argument and I was wrong, but to say I would do anything, you know, no, I wouldn't do that.’”
Josh Mankiewicz: “You don't have any suspicions about her boyfriend?”
Toni Jacobs: “No, I didn't have any at all because I've been around him and saw him interact with Keeshae and the fact that, you know, he came and talked to me. And ever since then I think he's -- he reached out to try to check on me, if nothing more to say. ‘Ma, keep your head up. She's coming home.’”
As for Keeshae’s girl friend, the one Toni thought of as a bad influence...
Toni Jacobs: “I do believe she knows more than what she's telling. I think she knows more about this man than she's letting on. The police say they questioned her.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “But so far, no Keeshae and no charges against anybody.”
Toni Jacobs: “Exactly.”
Now as bad as this is, our story gets worse.
Toni's string of heart-wrenching tragedies wouldn't be over yet.
Just a couple of months after Keeshae disappeared, Toni received a knock at the door.
On the other side was another crushing blow.
Fall faded away and the trees were left bare.
A cold gush of wind breathed a paralyzing chill through the foothills overlooking Virginia.
As snow blanketed the remnants of the last season, it covered the ground with a fresh, clean slate.
This was back on January 8th, 2017, a little over three months after Keeshae Jacobs vanished.
Toni Jacobs: “I get a knock on the door. My nephew tells me that somebody told him that my son, Deavon, was shot. I was like, ‘What? Deavon wasn’t shot, I just talked to him not that long ago.’”
Like a recurring nightmare, just as when Keeshae went missing, Toni grabbed her phone and tried to call her son.
There was no answer -- and she had a bad feeling.
Toni Jacobs: “I couldn't sleep that night, something didn't feel right. And I just kept praying that both of my children were OK. But I was just praying, I think, more for Keeshae because she wasn't home -- I just talked to my son.”
Instinctively, Toni put on her shoes and demanded her nephew take her to where he said Deavon was shot.
Toni Jacobs: “By the time I got there, the police was right there. And they was like, ‘You can't go back there.’ And I was like, ‘I need to go back there.’ It's, like, I knew that's my son. And he was like, ‘Well the coroner just took the body.’ I was like, ‘That's my son. I need to talk to somebody right now and let them know that's my son.’”
Without being able to see him with her own eyes -- and desperately hoping she was wrong -- Toni went to that same police precinct and started banging on the doors until someone answered.
And then her worst fear was confirmed.
Toni Jacobs: “‘He's gone. He's gone.’ He's like, ‘How you know, Auntie?’ I was like, ‘I just know. I just know he's gone.’ And the detective came and he was like, ‘Ms. Jacobs, I'm sorry.’ And I was like, ‘I know.’
Toni’s 25-year-old son had been shot to death just before 11 p.m., at a Motel 6 in Richmond, after a struggle.
Josh Mankiewicz: “I think I know the answer to this one. I ask you anyway: You don't suspect that the death of your son and the disappearance of your daughter are in any way connected?”
Toni Jacobs: “No. No.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “No, you just have maybe the worst luck ever.”
Toni Jacobs: “Yeah, I think. Yeah, I think. Right. But yeah. Yeah.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “They're not part of the same thing.”
Toni Jacobs: “No. The police investigated and they was like, ‘No, it had nothing to do --. Those were two separate incidents.’”
Deavon’s shooter claimed self-defense, but was convicted of his murder.
Toni Jacobs: “He's in jail now. He went to trial. The first trial was by jury and they gave him 15 years. And then the judge overturned it.”
Before the man could stand trial again, he was given a plea deal and a five year sentence behind bars.
Toni Jacobs: “It didn't surprise me, because when he murdered my son and when they finally caught up with him -- because he ran -- the judge gave him house arrest and let him out on bond -- for murder. Do I have faith in the system? No, I don’t. I don’t.”
Keeshae disappeared in 2016. Deavon was killed in 2017.
And those were Toni's only two children.
Today, while Toni may not put much stock in the legal system she says keeps failing her and her children, her faith that Keeshae will come home remains constant.
It's that faith that keeps her hope alive -- and the belief her daughter is still out there waiting for her to find her alive.
Along her journey, Toni has also gotten support from The Black and Missing Foundation.
Here's the foundation’s co-founder, Natalie Wilson:
Natalie Wilson: “We’re there with her. She is part of our family and we are lock and step with her. And whatever support she needs from us, we are there for her. But it's keeping Keeshae’s profile in the forefront because Toni believes her daughter is still alive and she's waiting for her to come home. And we want to honor that and we want to help bring Keeshae home, and the only way that we can do that is through the media and media coverage and keeping her story in the forefront.”
Black and Missing Docuseries: “There's so many missing people of color in the U. S.”
Keeshae’s story was featured on the docuseries “Black and Missing.”
Natalie Wilson says publicity like that series can bring resources to missing persons cases like Keeshae’s.
Natalie Wilson: “We believe that visibility has been instrumental in the Richmond Police Department adding a new detective to the case. So again, it's putting pressure on law enforcement to do their job.”
Natalie's non-profit foundation has been at this for 13 years. She and her co-founder, Derrica Wilson, have helped hundreds of families find their missing loved ones.
Natalie Wilson: “Forty percent of the population of missing persons are of color and media coverage is vital because one, it alerts the community that someone is missing and they can be vigilant as they go about their day to help find that missing individual. But it also puts pressure on law enforcement to add resources to the case.”
In Keeshae’s case, she has Toni fighting for her -- and that could make all the difference.
This dogged mother keeps pushing, searching, prodding -- no matter how many days, months and years pass.
Josh Mankiewicz: “Do you think Keeshae’s still alive?”
Toni Jacobs: “I feel it in my heart like she is. Everything in me is telling me she is. Before I found out my son was deceased, I knew something was wrong. I felt it. I felt it in my heart and I found out --. I was thinking it would be Keeshae, but I found out it was him. But everything else in me is telling me she's alive and I have to fight. Like, I have to find her and she needs me to find her. And I can't give up.”
And then, as I was sitting there talking with Toni, she unveiled her own theory -- one she's built over the years.
It began with that story, the one she says she heard from the mysterious girl on the phone while Toni was posting flyers for Keeshae. The caller claimed “Otis” had held her against her will and assaulted her physically and sexually.
Toni believes Keeshae met a similar fate.
Toni Jacobs: “When the guy, “Otis,” his intention was to keep her, like he was gonna do to the other girl. He abducted her, held her, you know --. But when everybody came looking for her, he was like, ‘I got to give her away.’ Because he ran. He ran and they caught him somewhere up in Maryland. I believe that he gave her to somebody.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “So she was trafficked. That's what you think.”
Toni Jacobs: “That's what I believe.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “And all these years, she hasn't been able to get in touch with you?”
Toni Jacobs: “I have phone calls where people call me or somebody’ll be on the phone and don't say anything. Or I have phone calls where people ask to confirm that it's me that they're talking to and I can hear them talking to somebody in the background, but I don't know who it is.”
She says she doesn't know if it's Keeshae on the other end of the line, but she's optimistic.
Toni Jacobs: “At the end of the day, I can't say she's gone until I have proof she's gone.”
So what about Toni's theory that Keeshae was sex trafficked? Natalie Wilson says it's more common than you think -- and she cites research on that very subject from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation:
Natalie Wilson: “We do know that young women and girls of color are trafficked at a very high rate -- than any other population. There's a study that says the sex traffickers believe that trafficking a Black girl, you get less jail time or no -- no jail time.”
Josh Mankiewicz: “In your experience, does law enforcement take seriously enough, the nexus between missing people and trafficking?”
Natalie Wilson: “They're very dismissive of the cases of missing people of color and there's a lot of work to be done. And I think if they worked hand-in-hand with sex trafficking units, they will see that there's a correlation between missing persons and sex trafficking.”
And so here we are, six years later and no Keeshae.
Her case is still open and considered active with the Richmond Police Department.
And while over the years they've made public pleas for information, they rarely speak with the media with any new information -- or otherwise.
Mark Robinson: “They say they need anyone who saw something or may have seen something or may have information about the case to come forward. And they have really placed the onus on making any headway on the case or what may have happened to Keeshae on that participation from the public.”
The last public statement about Keeshae's case by the Richmond Police Department was on Sept. 26, 2018 -- two years after Keeshae vanished.
The police chief at that time was quoted in a press release: “Keeshae’s disappearance remains an active investigation within the Richmond Police Department. The detectives have made good progress in this case, but we are still hoping to get more information to get the family the answers they need.”
Since then, no one in the department has spoken publicly about her case, and they declined Dateline’s request for an interview. They did say it's still an open investigation.
These days, Toni says she's working with a new detective with the Richmond PD -- the third set of fresh eyes on her daughter's missing persons case.
Toni Jacobs: “The detectives I’m on now, they're looking at the evidence and the information and they're like, ‘OK. This should have been done, this should have been done.’ But it wasn't done. Because it's been going on almost six years now, I don't know if those same avenues are open,but I think -- I believe in my heart that they're still trying to find -- find Keeshae, at least from the conversations that we had.”
No matter how many years pass, how many seasons change, Toni continues to cling tightly to the only thing she has left, which is hope.
Josh Mankiewicz: “Your son is dead and your daughter is missing. How do you go on?”
Toni Jacobs: “I don't believe I fully mourned my son's death because I still have to fight for Keeshae. So the fact that she's still out there -- that pushes me. It pushes me and I have to do what the mother has to do. And I have to fight for my daughter, because there’s apparently --. No one else is gonna fight for her like me.”
And one day, Toni says she knows when Keeshae comes home, she will finally get one of those hugs she put on hold all those years ago.
Toni Jacobs: “Them hugs that I used to put on layaway -- it's time for me to cash them in. Because I be needing a whole bunch of hugs and love from her.”
Toni had a special message just for Keeshae, her “Eunique” baby who has Toni's name and a heart tattooed on her shoulder.
Toni Jacobs: “I just want her to know that Mommy loves you so, so much and I miss you so much. And I am looking. I am fighting. And I ain't giving up until I find you. So tell that person -- whoever got you or wherever you at -- ‘My mama’s coming.’ Because I'm coming. I’m coming.”
This is where you can help. If you know something about Keeshae Jacobs’ disappearance, call the Richmond Police Department's Major Crimes Unit at 804-646-0729.
Thanks for listening. To learn more about other people we've covered in our Missing in America series, go to DatelineMissingInAmerica.com. There, you'll be able to submit cases you think we should cover in the future.