Stacie Madison would have turned 50 years old in June. Her friend, Susan Smalley, would have hit that milestone last September. But back in the early morning hours of March 20, 1988, the two high school seniors disappeared without a trace. And their families believe that’s when their lives ended.
Stacie’s mother, Ida Madison, who is now 75 years old, has long accepted that her daughter is gone, but continues to hold on to hope for answers about what happened that night.
“For a long time, I kept hoping she’d walk in the door,” Ida told Dateline. “But I’ve given up on that. It’s been 32 years. Now, I just want closure.”
Stacie, who was 17 years old at the time, and her 18-year-old friend, Susan Smalley, were just a couple of months away from graduating from Newman Smith High School. They had just finished a week of spring break and were determined to enjoy their Saturday night in their hometown of Carrollton, a suburb of Dallas, Texas. They planned to visit some friends and then have a sleepover at Susan’s house.
Ida recalled her last day with her daughter. It was March 19, 1988.
“I remember I had given Stacie a perm that day,” Ida said. “She was hesitant about going to Susan’s that night. I told her if she didn’t want to go, she didn’t have to. I wish I had told her she couldn’t go. That was my biggest mistake.”
Stacie picked up Susan in her pale yellow 1967 Ford Mustang convertible. They spent the evening shopping at Prestonwood Town Center and later visited friends in the nearby town of Arlington.
Around 11:30 p.m., the girls stopped at the Steak and Ale restaurant, where Susan worked as a waitress and hostess. Co-workers at the restaurant said Susan was there only a short time, talking with friends while Stacie waited in the car.
The girls had a curfew of midnight and made it home to Susan’s house in time to call Stacie’s mom to check in. They also called a friend. It’s believed they were there just long enough to make those phone calls before venturing out again, Ida said. They were never seen or heard from again.
When Stacie didn’t return home on Sunday, Ida began to worry.
“I just kept thinking she’d walk in the door,” Ida told Dateline. “We went out for dinner that evening and the first thing I did when I got home was check to see if she was home.”
But there was no sign of Stacie or her car.
“I stayed up all night walking the floor,” Ida said. “Just waiting for her to appear. But she never did.”
On Monday morning, Stacie and Susan were reported missing to the Carrollton Police Department.
Two days later, on Tuesday, March 22, Stacie’s Mustang was discovered in the parking of Webb Chapel Village on Forest Lane in Dallas, Texas. The doors were locked, the convertible top was up and the girls’ jackets had been draped over a boombox in the backseat.
According to Stacie’s sister, Stefanie, Forest Lane was a cruising strip that was a popular hangout spot for teens in the area.
Stefanie was only six years old when her sister disappeared.
“My memories are spotty, but I remember that time being a shift in my family’s life,” Stefanie said. “I have memories of Stacie in the house. And then she was gone. Then I remember sitting in her room, waiting for her to come home. But she never did.”
Stefanie, who spoke to Dateline along with her mother, Ida, added that she remembers helping her family pass out missing person fliers in the days and weeks that followed.
A search for the girls was launched by the Carrollton Police, but the families believe it was too late.
“Investigators treated them as runaways at first -- that they had extended their spring break and gone down to South Padre Island,” Ida said. “But I don’t believe Stacie would have taken off like that.”
Stacie’s family said her Mustang was never dusted for fingerprints or forensically searched. The next weekend, some of Stacie’s friends took it out for a drive hoping to find someone who had seen the car the night the girls disappeared.
“Anything that might have helped the case was long gone,” Ida said.
Susan’s brother, Rich Smalley, was away at college when he got the call from his mother that his younger sister was missing.
“I wasn’t around, but I wish I had been,” Rich said. “I feel like they dropped the ball on the case. I feel like I could have done more if I was there.”
Detective Jeremy Chevallier, who has only had the case for the last few years, told Dateline that the original investigative team initially believed the girls were runaways, but later launched a missing persons investigation.
The girls’ high school graduation came and went and there was still no sign of either one of them. Ida told Dateline the principal at the time gave her Stacie’s cap and gown and diploma.
“I asked, ‘What if she comes back and needs to finish the school year.’” Ida said. “But he just told me, “She’s already earned this.’”
Stacie, who had been working as a receptionist at a local doctor’s office, had plans to attend the University of North Texas.
“She was sweet and kind and caring,” Ida said, describing her daughter. “She didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. And that turned out to be her downfall.”
Ida told Dateline she fears Stacie’s boyfriend at the time had something to do with the girls’ disappearance. She said Stacie had been trying to end the relationship, but didn’t know how to do it peacefully.
Earlier in the day before Stacie disappeared, Stacie had told her mother that if her boyfriend called the house looking for her, “tell him I’m out with Susan.” Ida said the boyfriend did end up calling and she followed her daughter’s instructions.
“I think he got mad and went out looking for them,” she said. “And I think he found them.”
According to Detective Chevallier, the boyfriend was questioned extensively and given a polygraph test, which he passed.
Detective Chevallier told Dateline that the boyfriend was “considered a person of interest,” but there was not enough evidence to charge him. The boyfriend is not a person of interest at this time, he added.
Susan’s brother Rich told Dateline that their mother held out hope for her daughter’s return, but hasn’t spoken about her in the last 10 years.
“So much time has gone by without any answers,” Rich said. “It’s hard to hold on to any hope at this point. We just want answers.”
Rich remembers his sister as being a “strong-willed, spirited” teen who had plans to travel after graduation.
With no credible leads and a stalled investigation, the case went cold.
In 2009, Shawn Sutherland, who graduated from the same high school in 1982, decided to conduct an independent investigation and published a book about the case titled, “This Night Wounds Time: The Mysterious Disappearances of Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley.”
“I felt drawn to the case,” Shawn told Dateline. “It felt like a calling to share their story. Their disappearance had a big impact on this community.”
Hundreds of leads and tips poured in following the release of the book, but Detective Chevallier told Dateline that none of them has led to any conclusions in the case.
“But we haven’t given up,” the detective added. “We continue to look at all tips that come in and encourage people to come forward with any bit of information, no matter how significant it may seem. You never know what information will break this case wide open.”
Stacie’s mother continues to push for answers in her daughter’s disappearance.
“If you know anything -- anything at all -- please call the police,” Ida said. “It’s time for someone to come forward. It’s past time.”
Stefanie said they think of the case like a puzzle.
“Everyone has a piece of the puzzle, but if one person holds on to their piece, the puzzle is never finished.”
“We’ve begged for that piece of the puzzle for a long time,” Ida interjected. “It’s time to complete it.”
At the time of their disappearance, Stacie was described as being 5'6” tall and weighing 160 pounds. She has blonde hair, blue eyes and her ears are double-pierced. On March 20, 1988, she was seen wearing a long-sleeved white sweatshirt with a pink and orange logo on the front, white cotton pants and white sneakers.
Susan was described as being 5’8” tall and weighing 140 pounds. She has brown hair, green eyes and her ears are pierced three times each. On March 20, 1988, she was seen wearing a white sweater and blue pants. She was carrying a navy blue shoulder bag with camel trim.
Anyone with information about the disappearance of Stacie and Susan is urged to call the Criminal Investigation Division at 972-466-3300.