Jonnie Carter told Dateline that her daughter Bethany Markowski had “a big heart -- and a big personality, to go with it.” Bethany also had “a little sort of attitude,” her mother said, but she was “very selfless, and thought about people all the time.”
Jonnie would never see Bethany grow to be an adult, or even a teenager. On Sunday, March 4, 2001 the 11-year-old vanished.
At the time of Bethany’s disappearance, Jonnie said she and Bethany’s father, Larry Markowski, were going through a divorce. She and Bethany had moved a couple of hours away from the family home in Gleason, Tennessee to live with Jonnie’s sister in Nashville.
Bethany’s father Larry had been granted court-ordered visitation rights to see Bethany, Jonnie said. He was allowed weekend visits, and phone calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Jonnie said that because she had a personal restraining order against Larry, she could not drop Bethany off with him on weekends. So on Friday, March 2, 2001, Jonnie said her sister, Bethany’s aunt, took Bethany and dropped her off with her father for the weekend. According to Jonnie, Bethany and Larry spent the weekend in both Gleason and a few hours away in Little Rock, Arkansas. Jonnie said she spoke with her daughter on Sunday morning, March 4.
“Around 9:38 a.m. Sunday morning, the phone rang,” Jonnie said. It was Bethany. Jonnie told Dateline that she remembers her daughter asking, “I’ll see you at 5:00 p.m., right?” Jonnie said yes, as her sister had planned to pick Bethany up from Larry at 5:00 p.m. in Waverly, Tennessee and bring her back home to Nashville.
Jonnie says she told her daughter she loved her, and hung up the phone.
But that evening at 5:00 p.m., according to Jonnie, her sister could not get in touch with Bethany or Larry. Her sister tried calling Larry, but there was no answer. Jonnie says Larry eventually called back, and told them he and Bethany had stopped at the Old Hickory Mall in Jackson, Tennessee around 2:30 p.m. that afternoon. According to Jonnie, Larry said he was taking a nap in the car when Bethany went into the mall alone. Larry would later tell authorities that when Bethany did not return, he went inside the mall to look for her. After what he said was hours of searching, Larry was unable to find Bethany.
Dateline was unable to reach Larry Markowski for his recollection of events for this report.
Larry reported his daughter missing to mall security, and at 6:00 p.m. that evening, the Jackson Police Department was notified. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Cathy Ferguson, who worked for the Jackson Police at the time Bethany disappeared, told Dateline she remembers searching the mall for Bethany.
“Me and other investigators personally went to the mall and looked and collected every single surveillance video from any store that had them,” Agent Ferguson said.
Jonnie, her sister, and brother-in-law each headed to the mall that night to join Larry in the search for Bethany. Jonnie said she hoped, “Maybe she’s just hiding. Maybe they got into an argument -- maybe she’s just scared.”
But Bethany was nowhere to be found.
Agent Ferguson said that, after conducting interviews and looking at store security videos, investigators “were not able to corroborate that Bethany was ever at the mall.”
On March 6, two days after Bethany was reported missing, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation became involved with the case to broaden the scope of the investigation and utilize more resources.
Agent Ferguson said “everything was vetted and run to the ground in 2001” including any tips, leads, or information they had initially. The TBI was only able to confirm to Dateline that Larry and Bethany had indeed been in Arkansas for part of the weekend visiting a friend of Larry.
Agent Ferguson said that, while Bethany’s disappearance is an ongoing investigation, no suspects or persons of interest have been named in the case.
“Tips do still periodically come in,” Agent Ferguson told Dateline, adding that over the years, thousands of leads have been vetted. “Someone will call in and maybe they’ve seen somebody that looks like her now and they’ll forward us that information.”
Still, Bethany’s mother Jonnie has never given up hope. She has been a relentless advocate for her daughter on social media, and has placed Bethany on every missing persons list she can find. Jonnie even worked with a state representative to create Tennessee Missing Children’s Day to spread awareness and gain support for children like her daughter. Tennessee Missing Children’s Day falls each year on the anniversary of Bethany’s disappearance, March 4.
“That day is still seared into my mind, and I could never forget it,” Jonnie said. “We’re still looking for her. We are not giving up. No mother ever wants to think that their child’s not alive -- especially without any proof. But there are days when I question that myself.”
Bethany Markowski would be 29 years old today. At the time of her disappearance, Bethany was 4’8’’ and weighed 95 lbs. with brown hair and blue eyes. If you have any information on Bethany’s case, please contact the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations at 1-800-TBI-FIND or 1-800-824-3463. You can also email TipsToTBI@tn.gov.