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Missing Missouri woman’s family trying to keep her part of family traditions, while seeking answers in her 2019 disappearance

Betty Alexander was reported missing from her Sullivan, Missouri, apartment on April 14, 2019. The 69-year-old’s glasses and purse were left behind. 

Mom’s home-cooked meals. They are among the first things that come to mind for Betty Alexander’s children, when they think of their mother. The food itself was just a small part of what made meals so special — the togetherness that came with them was the best part. 

“She liked visiting with family,” Betty’s son John Schoonveld said. 

Dateline spoke with Betty’s three adult children — John, Tonya, and David — who all spoke highly of their mother and her cooking, which is how she showed her love. 

Betty Alexander
Betty AlexanderTonya Miller

“She was really known to be a, you know, good cook,” David Schoonveld said. “Me and my wife got married a little over 30 years ago now. And we had somebody that was catering.” That didn’t stop Betty. “My mom actually brought food. And it was a good thing, because the caterer hardly brought anything,” David said. “And it was way nicer and better.” 

“She was a go-getter and a firecracker. Her cooking for me was something that [I’ll] never forget,” John told Dateline. “She could take an empty cupboard, no kidding, and make this -- what felt like a gourmet meal.” 

Tonya Miller told Dateline that it wasn’t just cooking her mother excelled at — it was baking, too. “She loved to cook, she loved to bake,” she said, noting that Betty was known for her Christmas “snowball cookie.”

She went all out for birthdays, too. “Every birthday I had, I’d have several cakes that she would make for one birthday,” Tonya said.  

Betty Alexander
Betty AlexanderTonya Miller

It’s now been more than five years since Betty Alexander’s children have had one of her home-cooked meals, famous “snowball cookies,” or special birthday cakes.

In April of 2019, the 69-year-old disappeared from her apartment in Sullivan, Missouri, where she lived alone.

Tonya told Dateline that on Saturday, April 13, 2019, she was about an hour and a half away with her daughter at a weekend track meet. She remembers getting an unsettling phone call. “I had received a call from my brother, John. And he was asking if I had heard from Mom or anything. And I told him, ‘No,’ that I was at the track meet,” Tonya said. “And I guess he had tried calling her and couldn’t get through.”

Tonya said that was uncharacteristic of their mother. “Mom had a wall phone and I don’t know how, but no matter what, she could always answer it on the first ring when you called,” she said. 

The next day, April 14, Tonya went to her mother’s apartment to check on her. “I had called before I was heading over there to let her know I was on my way and she didn’t answer again,” Tonya said. “So whenever I got over there, I went and knocked on the door and there was no answer. I knocked again and still nothing.”

At that point, Tonya was growing worried. “So I had gotten my key out and I opened the door. I went in and was looking around,” she said. “She had her Meals on Wheels sitting on her kitchen table. And I just immediately grabbed the milk to see if it was still cold and it wasn’t.” 

Tonya told Dateline she immediately started looking around the apartment. When she didn’t find Betty, she began looking for clues as to where she might have gone.

She made a discovery that sent chills down her spine. 

“I glanced in the living room and on the arm of her recliner were her glasses,” Tonya said. “I knew something had to be really wrong because when she stayed with us, she wouldn’t even -- her feet wouldn’t even hit the floor before she would have her glasses on. So I knew something was wrong.” 

Something else also struck Tonya. “One thing that’s really been puzzling is the fact that she did just have the pharmacy [deliver] her medication to her. She had fentanyl medication prescribed for the pain from the rods and screws in her back that she had been on for quite some time. And she only had box two of two at the house. So box one of two that was delivered” Tonya explained, “was nowhere to be found. We still have never found it.”

Betty's glasses left on her couch
Betty's glasses left on her

Tonya told Dateline the pharmacy confirmed that both boxes had been delivered on April 10. 

“Whenever I had found her purse in her closet where she kept it, I was looking through making sure to see if her ID and everything else was in there,” Tonya said. “And I came across two envelopes and in each envelope, she had $100. So she had an extra $200 that we can’t trace because when Dad passed away, I had taken over her bills and making sure they were paid.” Betty’s husband — the children’s stepfather — died in 2018.

Tonya then went outside to talk to Betty’s neighbors to see if they had seen her. 

This is the timeline that Tonya has since pieced together: 

At noon on April 10, 2019, Betty was seen by her cleaning lady. 

At 1:15 p.m., the pharmacy delivery person saw Betty when they delivered her medicine to her apartment. 

At around 3:00 p.m., Betty’s neighbor Jerry — who happens to be Tonya’s sister-in-law’s uncle — saw her outside in the garden.

Betty apparently took her 7:00 p.m. medication that evening but did not take her 7:00 a.m. medication the next day. 

It is unclear if anyone saw Betty on April 11 or 12, and on April 13, she was not answering her children’s phone calls. 

It was clear to Tonya, after what she learned, that something was very wrong. She called her brothers to come to the apartment right away. 

John said that he and his brother David and their families were eating dinner after Palm Sunday mass when they got Tonya’s call. “We were sitting here at the house when she called and said, ‘Oh, my gosh. Mom is definitely not here,’” he remembered. “At first you’re like, ‘Well, she must have just went to the store,’ or something, but then her purse was there and her glasses, and at that point we’re like, ‘Maybe she’s visiting somebody in the complex,’ like, she had walked out.” 

“You never want to believe what it turned into here,” John said. “As soon as we realized it wasn’t something that was just simply explained, we all hopped in our cars and headed that way.” 

Tonya had already called the police and reported Betty missing. Officials had arrived by the time her brothers got to Betty’s apartment. 

“I got on the phone and called the police and they started showing up with the police and the fire department and canines and started searching from there,” Tonya said. 

Betty did not have a cell phone and didn’t drive, so if she had gone somewhere — it would have been on foot. 

Tonya told Dateline that the initial response from law enforcement, as well as the surrounding community, was very helpful. 

The Sullivan Police Department posted about Betty’s case on their Facebook page in April of 2019. “On Sunday, April 14th, 2019, the Sullivan Police Department received a report of a missing woman,” the post read. “A family member discovered 69-year-old Betty Alexander missing from her apartment located on South Center Street within the city limits of Sullivan.” 

The post said that the department began an investigation and contacted the Missouri State Highway Patrol to send out a Silver Alert about Betty. Officials also stated that they contacted Missouri Baptist Hospital Ambulance and the Sullivan Fire Protection District, who assisted in “a search of the surrounding area.” The Facebook post also confirmed that Betty “left her shoes, purse, and glasses at the apartment.” 

Dateline reached out to the Sullivan County chief of police for details of the investigation. He requested a list of questions by email and indicated he would respond before the 4 p.m. publishing deadline Tuesday, which has now passed. Should a response come, this article will be updated to include comment. 

Betty Alexander
Betty AlexanderTonya Miller

“They were really helpful right off the bat with the searching and getting everybody there immediately and getting them searching,” Tonya told Dateline of the initial police response. “And then they also came back the following day and we did -- they had more search dogs out there. They did a grid search. We had door-to-door with volunteers. They had emergency personnel. They got a helicopter with infrared and a drone going. So they were thoroughly searching.” 

“They went above and beyond — the fire department and stuff, really pitched in where that’s -- I didn’t even know they would, you know, be able to do stuff like that,” David told Dateline. 

“After that search that day and the following day, then it was kind of left up to the family to be able to search anymore and take care of that,” Tonya said. “So we did organize another search. And I mean, I’ve set up -- I’m in touch with a group of canines that they’ve searched multiple times just either by foot or with their dogs, just in different areas to try and rule out areas.”

When asked if Betty’s back injuries would hinder her from walking far, Tonya responded, “I really, I don’t know for certain. She kind of had good days. She kind of had bad days where she was in pain.” 

She remembered that about a week before Betty disappeared, they had gone for a walk together. “She went with us to this conservation area called the Horse Trails that she went and she walked a lap around there and I think it’s three-quarters of a mile maybe,” Tonya said. “So, on a good day, she could.” 

The investigation has slowed down considerably over the past few years, but Betty’s children remain desperate for answers. 

Tonya told Dateline she recently began working with a private investigator to try to get some momentum back in her mother’s case. And that’s not all. “There was a guy from the highway patrol that had reached out. And his boss had asked him if there was a case he wanted to cover in his spare time and he had brought up Mom’s case,” Tonya said. “So I have been working with him, which -- his time has been very limited, but he is determined to solve it.” According to Tonya, the private investigator and the highway patrol officer have been collaborating on Betty’s case. “So I think we may finally be starting to get somewhere,” she said.

Betty’s family has also turned to social media for help. They started the page “Bring Betty Home” on Facebook in the hope of finding answers and spreading awareness for Betty’s case. “The support from the page has just been tremendous and some days it’s the only thing that really helps keep me going — is knowing that I’m not alone in this fight,” Tonya said. 

While Betty’s family searches and prays for answers, they have found ways to keep her a part of their family traditions. 

Tonya, Betty and her granddaughter, Ashley
Tonya, Betty and her granddaughter, AshleyTonya Miller

“She liked to get together for holidays,” son David told Dateline. 

Celebrating for their family has been hard since Betty has gone missing, but they are now at the point where they are beginning to celebrate again — and find comfort in including Betty in small ways. 

“The first couple years I couldn’t -- I couldn’t make any kind of holiday dinners. I couldn’t do cookie trays. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it,” Tonya said. “And so when I finally did, my daughter and I got back to doing some cookie trays for Christmas time and we all had our matching personalized aprons that we would wear. So we took [Betty’s] and we’d hang it in the kitchen while we were baking cookies.”

Tonya told Dateline she and her daughter have carried on Betty’s tradition of baking her family-famous “snowball cookies” over Christmas.

John said that of his five children, only the two oldest got to meet Betty. “Unfortunately, three of them never got to meet her,” he said. He makes sure to tell them about Grandma Betty. “We do say prayers for her,” he said. “it gets very hard after a while.”

Dateline asked Tonya what she would say to her mother right now if she could. “I would say I love you. I miss you so much. The kids miss you,” she responded. “You have new grandkids and great-grandkids that you would just absolutely love.” 

Betty is 4’11”, has blue eyes, and weighed 145 lbs., with brown hair and blonde highlights at the time of her disappearance. She would be 74 years old today.

Anyone with information about Betty’s case is asked to call the Sullivan Police Department at (573) 468-8001. 

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