It was a warm September night in 1990 when Judy Marie Foster took her 12-year-old daughter on a car ride, an activity they often did. It was the last time Jamie Easley saw her mother.
Jamie scrambled into her mother’s maroon Thunderbird and they drove to a popular hangout spot at the Grand Plaza Shopping Center parking lot off East Highway 80 in Grand Saline, Texas, Jamie told Dateline. The locals call it the “beargrounds,” named for football players “as big as bears” who would hang out there in the 1980s.
Judy, 37, was visibly distraught as she told her daughter that she was filing for divorce from Jamie’s stepfather. The two talked about it on their way to the beargrounds.
After a few hours, the mother and daughter headed home just after midnight on September 8, 1990, Jamie said.
“We were on our way home and suddenly my mom said she had forgotten her cigarettes," Jamie said. "So she said she was going to go to the Easy Mart, and she’d be right back."
Judy dropped her daughter off at home and then left in her maroon Thunderbird.
She never came back.
“I woke up around 8 a.m. on Saturday and had a bad feeling. I didn’t smell breakfast. She always cooked breakfast. She was that kind of mom. Homey. Crafty. Loved to cook,” Jamie said. “So I checked her bedroom. The bed was still made. I checked outside. Her car was gone.”
Jamie walked to her Aunt Thelma's house to wait. But Judy didn’t return. Jamie said the adults did not seem concerned, so she returned home to do her chores.
Days passed and Jamie grew increasingly worried.
“I did not feel well. I missed my mom. But I went to school,” Jamie said. “On Wednesday, I went to the nurses station and she said I was flushed. She said I needed to go home. She said she was going to call my mom to come get me. I told her, ‘You can’t. She never came home Saturday night.’”
The nurse alerted the principal and police were called.
Judy’s sister, Linda Sosa, reported her missing that day. Jamie doesn’t know why her aunt didn’t report it to the police earlier.
“My aunt said she thought she’d just left, but my mom never left me like that ever,” Jamie said.
Jamie went to live with her aunt and uncle while investigators began working on her mother’s case.
Judy’s maroon Thunderbird was found later that week, abandoned in the Grand Plaza Shopping Center parking lot, according to Grand Saline Police reports. Her purse containing her keys, wallet and ID were still inside the car. The windows were up and the doors were locked.
Police began questioning witnesses who were at the beargrounds that Friday night.
Witnesses told police Judy was drunk and fell from the tailgate of a truck, striking her head on the ground. She then used a shirt or rag to wipe blood from her head.
Judy was last seen leaving the beargrounds in a truck with three men, witnesses told police.
One of them, a resident of Oakland, Texas, was later determined by police to be the last person who saw Judy, according to theGrand Saline Sun.
The Oakland man told officers that he and Judy went to City Lake, but he drove her back to the beargrounds early Saturday morning.
The Grand Saline Police Department and the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office joined forces and expanded their search efforts.
They searched shallow graves, wells, abandoned sheds, creek bottoms and lakes. More than 50 locations were searched, but they found nothing.
Jamie believes her mother died at the hands of another.
“Whether it was accidental, from her fall maybe, like when she hit her head, and he tried to cover it up, or he did it on purpose, but he did something,” Jamie told Dateline.
The last man seen with Judy died a few years later of health problems, Jamie told Dateline. His best friend, who was one of the men with them that night, is still alive.
“I truly believe he is the only one out there who knows where my mother is,” Jamie said. “Or knows what happened to her.”
The men were among countless people questioned, but no arrests were ever made.
Jamie said her stepfather was also questioned by police, but had a strong alibi, as he was out of town when she disappeared.
Public Safety Director Jeremy Barker, who also serves as Chief of the Grand Saline Police Department, was only about six or seven years old in 1990 when the tragedy hit his small town.
But he always remembered it.
So when the case came across his desk about 10 years ago, he knew he wanted to help.
“I’ve worked on this case for a long time,” Barker said. “We’ve chased so many tips over the years and, of course, in a small town, the stories tend to change over time.”
Jamie said the rumors spread quickly across their small town that year and for many years after she heard many different stories about what might have happened to her mom.
“Everybody knows everybody and everybody talks, Jamie said. “I still hear the stories as an adult. But as a kid, that was the hardest."
Jamie stayed with her aunt and uncle for a short time before moving in with her grandmother, Gracie, who was Judy’s mother.
Gracie Marie Bond refused to leave Grand Saline in the hope that her daughter would return safe. When Gracie was on her deathbed in 2009, she told Jamie, “Don’t ever give up on your mom.”
On Sunday, September 8, 2019, it will be 29 years since Judy disappeared, leaving a scared 12-year-old girl behind.
“I need my mom,” Jamie said. “I need to know what happened. I need closure for myself and for my family.”
Jamie, who now has four children and five grandchildren, and lives about an hour away in Tyler, Texas, refuses to give up. She continues to fight to solve her mother’s case. A Facebook group has been set up for tips on Judy’s whereabouts.
“I’m constantly sick to my stomach and feel like I have a lump in my throat,” Jamie said. “I’m afraid I’m always going to feel this way. But I won’t give up.”
Nearly three decades later, there is still no trace of Judy, but Jeremy Barker has not given up either.
“It may be a cold case, but it’s definitely not forgotten,” the Grand Saline Chief of Police said. “We just know we’d like to get to the bottom of what happened — to give closure to the family, to Jamie.”
If you have any information on the disappearance of Judy Marie Foster, contact the Grand Saline Police Department at 903-962-3145.