Just before 41-year-old Marsha Lyle went missing in May 2020, she was counting the days until her young nephew could walk. Eight months have passed and Marsha’s sister wishes she could see him now.
“She just knew he would walk before he was one,” Bernadette Wartak told Dateline. “I wish she could see him running circles around me now. No one was more excited about his birth than Marsha.”
Bernadette told Dateline that her sister even took two weeks off from her full-time job at Marshalls to help her with the new baby back in September 2019.
“One of the last things she said to me before she went missing was, ‘God truly knew what He was doing when He gave you Blaze. What a mighty God we serve,’” Bernadette said in a Facebook post on her son’s first birthday back in September. “Today, especially, she is sorely missed. We don’t want auntie Marsha missing any more milestones. Please keep Marsha in your prayers.”
Marsha missed not only her nephew’s first birthday in September, but her own birthday in October. She hasn’t been seen or heard from since May 8, 2020, and her family is worried, mainly because she has several health issues.
Marsha’s family told Dateline that she had been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, a mix of Bipolar and Schizophrenia, which is believed to have been caused by an inoperable brain tumor that Marsha has been living with for years.
Bernadette, who lives in California, and their mother, Eileen Thompson, who lives in their hometown of Clewiston, Florida, are both Health Care surrogates for Marsha. They had set up a schedule for Marsha to call them every Tuesday and Thursday after she moved to Seale, Alabama in December 2019 to be closer to her church family.
Marsha is a devout Seventh Day Adventist and youth leader for the Pathfinders program at her church.
“She’s modest and pure and the kindest person I’ve ever met,” Bernadette said, describing her sister. “She doesn’t drink or party or even date. Marsha is single and always says Jesus is her husband. She even named her car ‘baby Jesus.’”
Bernadette told Dateline that their last conversation was on April 27, 2020.
“We had just talked on the phone about my son trying to take his first steps,” Bernadette said. “She was so excited, and wanted me to send the video to our mother. It was the last time we ever spoke to her.”
When calls to Marsha went unanswered, and her mailbox was full, her family grew concerned and on May 3, 2020, called the Russell County Sheriff’s Office to perform a welfare check. Authorities told the family they could see Marsha in bed and that she appeared to be OK.
On May 5, Marsha’s mother and other sister, Sherneth Wright, who lives in West Palm Beach, contacted the property manager at Marsha’s home. The property manager found Marsha in bed, but stated she was “not her normal self,” according to the police report. Later that night, a neighbor reported seeing Marsha pack her car and drive off.
Bernadette told Dateline that Marsha has a joint bank account with their mother and they were able to create a timeline based on bank records. They discovered Marsha had stopped at a gas station in Lake Pana, Florida on May 6. On May 7, Marsha booked a room at the Port Labelle Inn for the week, but she ended up checking out the next morning.
Bernadette told Dateline their family believes Marsha was trying to get home to their mother in Clewiston, Florida, but got confused, even though she was only 30 minutes away. She made other purchases in North Port and Sarasota that same day.
Marsha's mother attempted to file a missing persons report in Clewiston, Florida but was told to file the report where Marsha went missing.
On May 8, Marsha bought gas at the Pilot Gas Station in Jasper, Florida at 12:56 p.m. It was her last known debit card purchase, her family said.
Security video released by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in July revealed new information in Marsha’s disappearance.
The video shows Marsha at a Walgreens store on Park Street in Jacksonville, Florida, on May 8, 2020.
“We have obtained a photo showing her in a Riverside pharmacy shortly after the report of her going missing, according to a statement released by the JSO. “Notice the differing hairstyles.”
Marsha, who is described by her family as modest, always wears some sort of head covering whether it’s a long wig or head wrap or scarf. But in the images captured from the video, the 41-year-old had what family described as a short afro and seemed to have aged drastically.
“She didn’t look like someone in her 40s, she looked like she was in her 70s,” Marsha’s sister Sherneth told Dateline. “I barely recognized her. But it was her.”
Sherneth and Bernadette told Dateline they believe Marsha was attempting to find Bernadette’s old house in Orange Park, Florida. They both said Marsha’s change in physical appearance, and confusion about her whereabouts, were a result of her medical condition.
On May 9, Marsha’s mother went to Seale, Alabama to file a missing persons report with the Russell County Sheriff’s Office. But days passed and after multiple searches and the hiring of a private investigator yielded no answers, the family grew frustrated.
Their next lead came on May 29 when Marsha’s mother received a tow receipt in the mail. Marsha’s car had been towed from a parking lot outside a uniform store in a shopping plaza at 9357 Philips Hwy in Jacksonville, Florida on May 21 for abandonment.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office became involved and conducted a search in the area using cadaver dogs, but nothing was found.
The family told Dateline that for months they called area hospitals and shelters, checked arrest reports, but haven’t found any trace of Marsha. There haven’t been any updates in months and the sisters say they don’t know where to turn from here.
“We just need a starting point,” Sherneth told Dateline. “We’re concentrating on this area in Florida, but she could be anywhere.”
The sisters told Dateline that Marsha loved to be alone with God, and may have gone to a wooded area for peace and quiet, but would never go this long without trying to contact a family member. They added that they believe Marsha has her cell phone with her because it has not been found.
“We’re just worried because when she gets sick, she doesn’t eat,” Bernadette said. “And she loses weight and gets confused easily from her illness. We just want to know she’s OK.”
The sisters told Dateline that anyone who comes across Marsha would be met with her bright smile and sweet spirit.
“Marsha greets everyone with joy and always has a smile on her face,” Bernadette said. “She also treats everyone with kindness. She's the type of person to literally give you the shirt off her back. She loves to tell everyone ‘Jesus loves you.’”
They added that Marsha’s sole interests are family, friends, children, her bible, second hand stores, and religious CDs. Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, Marsha worked retail at Marshalls, where she was a top employee.
“If you ever met Marsha, you wouldn’t be able to get enough of her,” Bernadette told Dateline. “You would love her. She’s the most loving and kind and selfless person. Always doing for others. That’s just who she is.”
As holidays and birthdays and other milestones have passed in the last eight months, Marsha’s sisters pray they will find her, or at least some answers, before any more time slips away.
“My daughter cries for her because she misses her Aunt Marsha,” Sherneth said. “I try to console her but I break down myself.”
Masha’s sisters say they're just at a standstill in their search and don’t know where to turn next. They have created a Facebook page in order to share the details of Marsha’s case with the hope of bringing in tips on her whereabouts.
“I didn’t know it was this tough being missing in America,” Bernadette told Dateline. “We just need to find her.”
Marsha is described as being 5’4” tall, 140 lbs and has black hair and brown eyes. She often wears a black or white head covering. Marsha has a scar on her hip from a dog bite as a child and has a scar on her stomach from a feeding tube. She also has scars on her breast after removing breast implants. Her natural hair has a patch of gray at the front.
Anyone with information on Masha’s whereabouts is asked to call the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in Jacksonville, Florida, at 904-630-0500, or the Russell County Sheriff’s Office in Alabama at 334-664-9855.