Roger Sealey’s life has been complicated since he was a baby. When Roger was 18 months old, his mother Frankie “Darlene” Horsley disappeared.
It was March 10, 1983. Roger was sick and had a fever. His mother, who was no longer with Roger’s father, headed to the store in her hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina to get some medicine for her son. She never returned home, and she hasn’t been heard from since.
Four days after Darlene vanished, her family reported her missing.
A week later, Darlene’s car was discovered on Interstate 20 West in South Carolina near the 44 mile marker headed toward Georgia, according to Detective Senior Sergeant Adam Bean of the Cumberland Sheriff’s Office, lead detective on the case. Police found the locked car with some of Darlene’s clothes inside. The keys to the car were missing.
“She disappeared under highly suspicious circumstances,” Sgt. Bean told Dateline. He also said that because of now-outdated police technology and practices used at the time of Darlene’s disappearance, it has been difficult to work with the remaining evidence.
He also noted the difficulty of finding witnesses in a 35-year-old case, saying, “One of the hardest things is family members have since passed away, and that the people who are alive now, were young at the time and their memories may have faded.”
Detective Bean did add that the department has interviewed a person of interest in Darlene’s disappearance, but he was unable to elaborate further as the case is considered an active homicide investigation.
Roger also believes foul play was involved in his mother’s disappearance.
“I was told my whole life she wouldn’t just leave me. I was her baby, I was her world,” he told Dateline. “It’s just something I know in my gut. I know she just didn’t leave.”
After his mother disappeared, Roger was adopted by his great aunt and great uncle. The couple was used to picking up the pieces following family tragedy; They had raised Darlene as well, after her mother – herself not yet 20 – died in a car accident years earlier.
Roger’s adoptive brother, Ronald Sealey, recalls being devastated when his cousin Darlene went missing.
“She was here one day, gone the next,” Ronald told Dateline. “I kept thinking she would come home, and she never did."
He too believes it would have been out of character for Darlene to just leave the family.
“I think something happened to her. She would have contacted [Mom] if she had run away -- at least on holidays,” Ronald said. “We had a very Christian family.”
The 35 years since his mother’s disappearance, and the circumstances of his life today, have left Roger with a lot of time to think about his mother and wonder what happened to her.
“I’ve been trying to make sense of this my whole life,” he told Dateline in a phone call from the Columbus Correctional Institution in Brunswick, North Carolina. He has been in prison since 2016 for breaking and entering, and has two years left to serve before he is released.
When he gets out of prison, Roger hopes to find the answer to what happened to his mother, with the help of his long-time girlfriend Adrienne Wilkie. “We talk regularly about his mom,” Adrienne told Dateline. “It's really affected him through his life. Finding her has become his focus.”
Roger keeps a photograph of Darlene in his prison locker. It is all he has to remember his mother by -- he was too young when she disappeared to have actual memories. From where he sits, he is plagued by the ‘what ifs’ of not having had his mother to guide him.
“I wonder everyday what I would have been like if she was around,” Roger told Dateline. “Would I be a better person?”
Frankie “Darlene” Horsley would be 53 years old today. She is 5’2” with blue eyes and brown hair. If you have any information about Darlene, please contact the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office at (910)-323-1500.