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Cool, crisp air was settling in across South Carolina.
Inside her Greenville apartment, 29-year-old Alexis Ware snuggled into bed.
It was Sunday, January 30, 2022.
After a three-day visit at her mom’s house, the exhausted mother of two laid her head down on the pillow for an afternoon nap.
The weekend had been filled with family, food and lots of love and hugs — but was winding down and a fresh start to a new week was on the horizon.
But before Alexis closed her eyes, her phone rang. It was her mom.
As usual, she was checking in on Alexis to make sure she made it home safe and sound after her 80-mile drive home.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “When she left, she told me that she was just exhausted and when I felt like she should be home, I called her. So that was around 3:00, and she answered the phone right away. We were on video so I could see that she was in her bed.”
That's Alexis's mother, Alberta.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “And she said, ‘Mom, I'm just so tired.’ She said ‘I'm laying down -- taking a nap, and I'll call you when I get up.’ That never happened.”
Alberta Gray Simpkins hasn't spoken to her daughter since that video call.
Hasn't laid eyes on Alexis’s smile and pierced dimples.
Alberta is haunted because while Alexis spent quality time with family that weekend, it hadn't exactly been the peaceful getaway she'd hoped for.
She just wasn't herself, her mom remembered.
Alexis had told her she was afraid. Afraid of something or someone, and maybe she had good reason.
After that, Alexis Ware vanished.
It's all very confusing to her family -- but one thing her mom knows for sure, without a doubt: Alexis didn't leave on her own.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “She would never leave her kids. That's how I knew something was wrong. She would have just never left her kids like that -- and this is the longest her children has been without her.”
Now, her family has questions.
Travis Ware: “I feel that he knows more than what he's telling us. Yes.”
As investigators follow a trail of clues...
Andrea Canning: “Did it suggest possible foul play?”
Sergeant Jeff Finley: “Maybe. It is uncommon that you would leave something like that behind in a vehicle.”
I'm Andrea Canning and this is Missing in America, a podcast from Dateline.
The missing persons case of Alexis Ware, a devoted mother of two, is a mystery -- but you might hold the final puzzle piece in the picture of what happened to her.
Maybe you can help crack a case that has left her family in an agonizing limbo.
Travis Ware: “I'm still confused. There's a lot of questions that I want answered. It just don't make sense. It does not make sense to me.”
Alberta says Alexis was bubbly, cheerful and outgoing.Her brother, Travis Ware, says that's the way she always was.
Travis Ware: “My big sister Alexis, she's the life of the party. I love to say that. Anywhere she goes, she just lights up the room, first and foremost. Before she's the makeup artist, hairstylist, before any of that -- she's a mother and she loves her two kids, my niece and my nephew. That was her pride and joy. And so, she was a mother before anything, but she truly was this -- the light that shines anywhere she went.”
Alberta describes her daughter as compassionate and ambitious.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “Alexis is a wonderful girl, very outspoken. She's a go-getter. Whatever she strives to do, she makes it happen.”
Being a mom to a 9-year-old daughter and her 2-year-old son with her ex-boyfriend, TJ Patterson, was her number one priority.
It’s because of her children, that she was determined to build a life for herself and for them.
Alexis had big plans to take the social media world by storm with her own personal brand, as she told her mother.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “‘Ma, I'm just gonna go hard, you know? I'm gonna go ahead and open up my platforms on Facebook, YouTube TikTok. I gotta make some changes in my life because I want better for my kids.’ Her kids was her driving force.”
She was also about to make a big change.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “She had just gotten approved to break her lease and move to Atlanta. Her goal was to open up a boutique, because she was into fashion. She was going to open up a boutique. She wanted to open up her own salon, Alexis had a business license. She has a whole bunch of stuff that you would put in a boutique, as far as the clothing racks. And she even had started stacking up on the shoes and the merchandise that she was gonna place in the boutique.”
A move to Atlanta would also bring her geographically closer to her little brother, Travis.
That weekend at her mom's house, as she told Alberta about her dreams and goals and a better life for her kids, it seemed like it was all finally coming together for Alexis. Especially on the social media front -- Alexis knew her way around Facebook and Instagram. She regularly appeared in photos on the platforms, but her online presence had a downside that was bothering her.
Men were using social media to send her unsolicited messages.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “She labeled him as “creepy men.” That was one of the reasons why even though she loved fashion and wanted to do the modeling with the Instagram, that was her biggest fear. She was scared to do photo shoots. She talked about if she went on these different photo shoots, not being able to defend herself if somebody tried something.”
But her fears went beyond social media. That weekend, Alberta says Alexis was getting phone call after phone call from the same number.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “That particular Saturday, she kept getting a phone call all day. She didn't know who it was and she was like, ‘Look, look: How is this number keep getting through? I have it in block.’ And she would go to her block list and it actually showed me this number being in her block list. When I asked her who it was, she called him the devil.”
And even worse, she told her mom, someone was following her.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “She had got into the zodiac signs. She read so much about her zodiac sign and she kept saying that she could see different things that was going to happen. She would tell us to pay attention to the roads. She would tell us to pay attention to certain colors. She even said that it was a black truck following her.”
Then Alexis shared a grim prediction with Alberta, something that she felt in her bones about her own fate.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “She got here that Friday evening, and I fed her and the kids. And she just laid down and went to sleep. And then that Saturday, she was telling me that she didn't feel like she would see her 30th birthday. And I'm like, ‘Why do you feel that way?’”
She wouldn't tell her mom more than that. But Alberta prodded and persisted.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “And I asked her to tell me why she felt that way and she just kept saying that she knew that she wouldn't see her 30th birthday.”
That birthday was just two months away.
Alberta feared for her daughter so much that she urged her to stay.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “She had agreed to stay. But then when she decided to go, she was like, ‘I'm OK.’ She really fooled me because she did her hair, she did her makeup, she put lashes on, she got herself showered and dressed. She was looking really nice. And she was, I guess, trying to make me believe that she was OK. And in my mind, I'm like, ‘I can't really force her to stay.’”
Against Alberta's wishes, Alexis made the trek back to her home in Greenville.
Sunday turned to Monday with no further word from Alexis.
Her increasingly concerned family couldn't locate her. But they remember that she told them she had some lottery tickets and planned to go to the state lottery office in Augusta, Georgia on that Monday.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “She was going to the main corporate office. I don't know if she had winning tickets or not, but she had several tickets. And she had an appointment that she had made to go to the headquarters.”
She never showed. It was all so strange.
Andrea Canning: “One day she's getting calls from someone she's calling the devil and she's saying she might not make it to her 30th birthday, the next day she vanishes.”
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “Right.”
Andrea Canning: “She knew that something -- I mean, she was scared for a reason.”
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “I didn't know. I've been trying to figure it out. Like, what is it that she didn't tell us?”
On Tuesday, the panicked family reported Alexis missing.
Sergeant Jeff Finley: “Alexis Ware is a 29-year-old female that was reported missing to us back on February 1st of this year by relative of hers.”
That’s Sergeant Jeff Finley with the Anderson County Sheriff's Criminal Investigation division.
He says after the family made that report, his department got to work.
And soon, investigators would find a big clue caught on camera.
As investigators began looking into the disappearance of Alexis Ware, they discovered that once she got home from her weekend at her mom's, she had not stayed at home. Investigators found surveillance video showing Alexis at a gas station, just four hours after chatting from her bed on that video call with her mom.
Deputies determined that at about 7:30 p.m., Alexis pulled into the 7-Eleven gas station on Highway 29 in Anderson, South Carolina, which borders the Georgia state line.
The station is about 40 minutes from her home.
Sgt. Finley: “She was wearing a black jacket, gray jogging pants, black bandana, and she was in her red 2019 Honda Accord.”
Sergeant Finley says there was someone else who could be seen in the gas station video: Alexis's ex-boyfriend and the father of her son, TJ Patterson.
Investigators believed they were at the station so Alexis could hand the kids off to him.
But the video didn't tell the whole story.
Sgt. Finley: “Unfortunately, a lot of the video is actually blocked by a tractor trailer that comes into view. But you can see that they're both there -- separate vehicles. And doesn't appear any struggle or anything -- or anything that's going on that's bad.”
Andrea Canning: “Do you see her putting the kids in the ex's car?”
Sgt. Finley: “That's all blocked by the tractor trailer that shows up to drop off deliveries.”
Andrea Canning: “Were there any witnesses who saw her putting the kids in the car? Are we basing this on the ex’s account of what happened? How do we know that that's what happened at that gas station – or do we not know?”
Sgt. Finley: “We do -- from the ex’s account of things going on.”
According to Sergeant Finley, the ex told investigators that Alexis planned on following him to his mom's house.
Andrea Canning: “If they were going to the same location, why would these two meet at the gas station and he puts the kids in his car -- if she's following him there anyway?”
Sgt. Finley: “Well, she was low on gas. She had texted him earlier in the day asking to meet so she could get gas money from him because she didn't have enough gas money to get anywhere.”
Andrea Canning: “Still, though, I understand then why they might meet -- but why put the kids in his car if they're both going to the same location?”
Sgt. Finley: “That I can't answer.”
Andrea Canning: “Do you find that suspicious?”
Sgt. Finley: “Could be.”
Andrea Canning: “Were there any witnesses who saw her behavior? Anything that can help the investigation?”
Sgt. Finley: “None that have come forward.”
TJ told police that the gas station visit ended with him and Alexis heading off in the same direction.
Sgt. Finley: “Essentially they both pull out the gas station, they take a left and she speeds away -- away from him.”
And just like that, Alexis vanished.
Alberta finds it strange that she never told her about any plans to meet up with TJ to drop the children off.
She says it was TJ who told her about it.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “I didn't even know anything about her even leaving her apartment until he called me.”
Andrea Canning: “What did he say?”
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “That -- have I talked to Lex? And I said, ‘No, last time I talked to Lex, she was at home in her bed.’ That's when he told me about -- she called him when she got to Anderson and had told him that she was running out of gas. So he said that he asked her if she could make it to the 7-Eleven gas station and he put gas in her car. She gave him the kids. He said that he asked her where she was going. He said that she told him that she was coming to my house. It didn't make sense, but that's what he told me. She had just left me. I never heard from her. I never talked to her for her to tell me that she was on her way down here. She never made it here.”
Alexis’s brother, Travis, has a lot of questions about the gas station meet-up.
Travis Ware: “The only story we have really to go off of is her child's father. And -- and I don't feel that he physically did any harm to her, but I do feel that he knows more than what he has said. And at this point, I have not spoken to him because I don't feel comfortable speaking to him quite yet, and I don't want to accuse him of anything. But if you know something more -- please say something at this point. Because now her kids are being affected -- your son is being affected by this now.”
Andrea Canning: “Did she have a good relationship with him? Was there any concern that maybe he might have done something after they left the 7-Eleven?”
Travis Ware: “That part? Honestly, we don't have --. Once they left the gas station, the only thing we have is what he said, and that's: They got to the red light and she went around. You see the cars leaving and that's it. That's it. It's almost like she vanished and then --. I feel that he knows more than what he's telling us.”
We called TJ and requested an interview.
He declined, but he did shed light on what he believed Alexis's plan was for that evening.
He says Alexis was supposed to follow him to his mom's house after the gas station and then had plans to return to her mom's house.
But he says Alberta didn't know about that.
Then came another lead in the case: Investigators discovered that after Alexis left the 7-Eleven around 7:30 and allegedly sped past TJ's car, her car was seen somewhere else -- this time at an apartment complex in Anderson, which is nowhere near her mom's house.
Sgt. Finley: “We do know her vehicle was spotted on that same night a couple of times in that complex, but that's really all I can speak on about it.”
Andrea Canning: “Is this because it's an ongoing investigation, you can't provide more details about her whereabouts after she disappeared? Did someone see her at the apartment complex in Anderson?”
Sgt. Finley: “I can't speak on that.”
Alberta heard about the sighting and went to the apartment complex with a stack of flyers with her daughter's photo printed on them.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “Everybody that we talked to said that they didn't know her and they didn't know why she would be there.”
Alberta says Alexis had never mentioned this apartment complex or anyone she might have known there.
Nevertheless, her car was seen there about an hour and a half after leaving the gas station, leaving Alberta trying to piece together what happened that night.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “Whatever happened to my child happened immediately after that gas station stop. The only thing she kept telling us is that she felt like she was being followed, that she was being watched. And I do believe that for this to happen right after separating herself from her children, that someone saw that. Someone saw her separate herself from her children at that gas station.”
For Alberta, it's all just mind-boggling.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “I've been racking my brain trying to figure out what could have happened to my child. You know, it's a lot of rumors and speculations going on and -- but I'm just wondering if it was a stalker. She was scared or something. She was scared of somebody. She just didn't tell me who.”
But investigators were about to get another break in the case. Something was found in yet another town -- something that would change everything.
I want to take you on a road trip -- about 50 miles south of Anderson, South Carolina.
That’s where the quaint, small town of McCormick sits. It was once known for its prosperous gold mines.
But on Groundhog Day of this year, there were no shiny gold nuggets to be found.
Still, something else -- perhaps more valuable -- was unearthed: a 2019 red Honda Accord.
Sgt. Finley: “On February 2nd, her vehicle was located in McCormick County, which is a good ways away from our -- our location here. There was no signs of foul play at the vehicle.”
A property owner had spotted Alexis's car on a dirt road, about an hour's drive from where it had last been seen at that apartment complex, and it was in an unlikely spot.
Police say it had been there for a couple of days. Because it was logging season in the area, the property owner assumed that it was a logging worker’s vehicle.
Sgt. Finley: “It’s a heavily-wooded area with some trails cut by construction equipment, but mostly wooded area.”
Andrea Canning: “Is it the kind of area that a car would normally just be sitting in?”
Sgt. Finley: “Uh, no.”
Andrea Canning: “This was odd that her car was in this wooded area, I would imagine.”
Sgt. Finley: “Yes, it was.”
What's also abnormal was what was left behind inside Alexis's car: her cell phone, her purse and a bag of clothes in the trunk.
Also inside the car, police found those lottery tickets she told her mom about.
Sgt. Finley: “Generally, I mean, it suggests she wasn't robbed -- that there was not a motive of any kind of robbery going on there. So we can eliminate that.”
Andrea Canning: “Did it suggest possible foul play?”
Sgt. Finley: “Maybe. It is uncommon that you would leave something like that behind in the vehicle. You instantly kind of gravitate towards that maybe some foul play was involved. But as of yet, nothing has been found. No theories are off limits.”
And the black hair bonnet -- referred to as a bandana by Sergeant Finley -- that she was last seen wearing at the 7-Eleven, was lying on the ground just outside her car.
Andrea Canning: “Was that suspicious to you -- the fact that a woman's hair bonnet would be outside of an abandoned car?”
Sgt. Finley: “Yes, it could be.”
What they didn't find inside her car was blood or any fingerprints other than Alexis’s to help point to any leads.
And Alexis? She was nowhere to be found in this small rural community where, according to her family, she had zero ties.
So, on February 8th, a little more than a week after she vanished, 10 law enforcement agencies including more than 30 personnel manned a grid search covering more than 200 acres near where her car was found.
It was essentially all hands on deck, scouring nearly four square miles on the ground and from the air.
Sgt. Finley: “An aerial map was produced, and then we actually divided it off into teams with a K-9 and their handler, to be sure that every area amongst -- that we had drawn out was covered.”
But as the Anderson County Sheriff told Dateline earlier this year, it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Despite all of their searches, authorities never located any further evidence.
Alexis’s family also conducted some of their own searches in McCormick.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “We went to McCormick. My daughter didn't know anything about McCormick. So I feel like for her car to be left in McCormick, someone that knew that area placed that car there.”
Andrea Canning: “What do you make of that -- when there's just so little to go on?”
Sgt. Finley: “I mean, It's not uncommon. We have cases all the time that we don't have any evidence. And then we just have to do our work and develop them.”
At the family's request, the FBI joined the investigative efforts two months after Alexis went missing.
Andrea Canning: “Is that normal for, you know -- if the family requests something like that, is that normal for the FBI to get involved?”
Sgt. Finley: “It's a case by case basis.”
Sergeant Finley says the investigation remains open and ongoing.
Andrea Canning: “Are you looking at the ex? Do you think that he might have had something to do with this?”
Sgt. Finley: “We're pursuing all possibilities. Nothing -- nothing has been ruled out.”
No suspects have been named.
For her part, Alberta doesn't think TJ had anything to do with her daughter's disappearance. She's more troubled by what was on her daughter's mind that weekend.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “The reason why I feel that he has nothing to do with it -- because I know the conversations that me and my daughter had, as far as she would call him “creepy man” in her inbox, her messenger. The fact that she felt like she was being followed, I don't think TJ did any of that.”
At this point, Sergeant Finley says his department doesn't have a leading theory about what happened.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “They tell us they're working hard as they can to solve this mystery. Because it's like she just vanished. I knew something was wrong from the beginning because she would never have walked away from her vehicle in the middle of nowhere. You would have to know that area. No one walked away from the area, not a female anyway. Her keys, her phone, her purse, everything was in the car. That's very unlikely.”
One way the family is showing how desperately they want and need Alexis home is the new billboard they recently erected in Greenville along one of the busiest roads in the city.
Large, bold white letters on a red and black background, read: MISSING ALEXIS WARE, Last seen 1-30-2022 in ANDERSON, SC.
The words are bordered by two photos of Alexis – and also include the hashtag in red letters: #HelpUsFindAlexis.
Travis Ware: “We're still fighting. We're still bringing awareness. We're still praying. And we're still going to spread awareness until my sister is found.”
In March, Alexis’s 30th birthday arrived and there was still no word from her.
Her ominous premonition felt all too real.
The family celebrated without her.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “We had a seafood boil -- which is her favorite food. We just tried to make the best of it. We had shirts made with her 30th birthday and a picture of her on it.”
And had a cake with edge-to-edge white and burgundy buttercream roses, framing a portrait of Alexis.
But Alexis wasn't there to blow out her candles and make a wish.
It’s hard for her whole family – but perhaps, even harder for her children, who can't understand where their mom is or why she hasn’t come home to them.
Alexis's daughter, who lives with Alberta, remains steadfast in her belief that she'll see her mom again.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “My oldest granddaughter, she believes that her mom is coming home and we stay with that. She doesn't want to hear anything different. She said to me, ‘When she come back, Gigi, you can't let her leave here.’ She said ‘Just lock her up and make her stay here for about a year.’”
Alberta often thinks back to that last weekend and those conversations she had with her daughter. She thinks about Alexis's decision to drop the kids off with her ex. And she shared a theory with us that Alexis made the handoff for a very good reason.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “That Sunday, when she was getting dressed, she was talking about her kids and she said, ‘Mom, I have to put my kids first. Lord forbid something happens to me with my kids in the car with me.’ And I said, ‘Why do you say that?’ She didn't tell me why she felt that way. So when I found out that she had gave the kids to TJ, the first thing that came to my mind was that she did what mothers do protect their children. She felt like there was something wrong. She felt like she was being followed. I felt like when he said she hit the gas and sped away from him -- I feel like she created a separation between her children and herself. She wanted her children out of harm's way. And I said she did what moms do protect their children.”
For Alberta, the not knowing is excruciating.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “Lord, I miss my child every day. I keep asking God to send me a clue. Help me. Sometimes I sit in the car by myself, away from the kids, and I just have my moments. Just racking my brains trying to figure out what happened, ‘What do I need to do? Show me. Guide me.’”
Sergeant Finley is holding out hope that they will find her alive.
Sgt. Finley: “We don't have any leading -- either one way or the other. We just have the hope that she's still alive somewhere.”
This is where you can help bring Alexis home to her family, to her two children.
Alexis has multiple tattoos, including a feather on one hand and a rose on the other. She has dimple piercings, long black hair and brown eyes.
If you know something about her disappearance, call the Anderson County Sheriff's Office at 864-260-4405. Or you can submit information through Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.
For now, Alberta's message to her daughter is simple.
Alberta Gray Simpkins: “I love you. I miss you. Your children need you, and we want you home.”
To see pictures of Alexis and 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. Thanks for listening.