A haunting look from a little girl in a convenient store prompted Tracie Dean to search missing children Web sites, even review surveillance tape until finally one police officer trusted Dean's gut.
Dean stopped into an Alabama convenient store, saw a little girl roaming the aisles alone, didn't sit right with her. The little girl left with an older man. Dean took down the license plate on the truck they drove off in.
She then spent a week calling the police, checking missing children's Web sites, even contacting “America's Most Wanted”. Nothing. Finally she decided to drive back to the convenient store many miles away and ask to look at the surveillance tape. While she was looking at it, Sheriff's Deputy Bryan Davis walked in.
Dean told him her concerns. He launched an investigation, which brought them to 58-year-old John Wiley and his wife, 40-year-old Glenna Faye Cavender, who are now charged with multiple counts of sex crimes and child abuse against the little girl and a 17-year-old boy found in their trailer.
Tracie Dean and Deputy Bryan Davis with the Evergreen Alabama Police Department joined ‘The Abrams Report’ to talk about their extraordinary tale.
To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.
DAN ABRAMS, HOST, ‘THE ABRAMS REPORT’: Tracie, take us through this, if you can, chronologically from the time that you see this girl and tell us what it was about her that led you to be suspicious.
TRACIE DEAN, CAUGHT A SEX OFFENDER: Well I want walked into the gas station and she was alone and a small child alone in a gas station is definitely a bad sign. So when I was in the gas station three or four minutes she was still alone and unattended. I went over to her. I said hello.
She said hi and she sort of ran off and then a few minutes later came back over to me. At which point I asked her you know does your mommy work here. At that time a man from across the room said the name Elizabeth and walked over to her and said are you trying to find a new mommy. And when he said it, it was just a chilling way that he said it.
There was no warmth there. She seemed frightened or tense. And so when I went to check out the things I was buying and walked back to leave the store she had gotten up under me and was pushing the door open to the point where I actually asked her if she was going with me. She wouldn't let go of the door. I wouldn't let go of the door and then the man said you can let go of the door now. And when I walked away I just in my heart knew that he was not supposed to be with her.
ABRAMS: Wow. All right. So you have this sense—it's just a gut sense, right? And so you say you know what, I am just going to take down the license plate number of the truck and then you start making calls?
DEAN: Yes , sir. I got the license plate number of the truck. It was an older model car. It was a Washington plate and therefore, you know, when I plugged it in the navigation system it was nearly 3,000 miles away. So I immediately called 911 when I got on the interstate and told them basically everything we just talked about, including the location, what they were wearing, what happened, and the license plate number.
ABRAMS: And at that time their response is probably without more we can't do anything, right?
DEAN: No, their response was we'll get right on it. They called me back five minutes later and said, you know asked me what kind of car it was. I told them and they said well that tag is registered to a 2001 Honda. At that time I said I had a feeling something was wrong. They said we'll get someone to check it out.
Five minutes later they called back and said it was the grandfather. Everything is fine. Don't worry about it. I said what about the tag? And they said it all checked out. Don't worry about it.
ABRAMS: But you weren't satisfied?
DEAN: No, I got home to Atlanta and I realized that only nine minutes had gone by from the time I called 911 to the time they told me everything was fine. Fortunately, I was able to look at those times on my cell phone. So I sat down and got on the Web site for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. I typed in a description of the little girl and a little girl popped up that I thought was her.
ABRAMS: And then you go to the gas station, which was pretty far from your house, right?
DEAN: Well at that time I contacted the 800-number for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, gave them the tip. The story, it's four days later before I actually drove back to the gas station. And I had actually contacted on Monday—was a holiday. Therefore, I couldn't get in touch directly with the detective in charge of the case.
So I contacted “America's Most Wanted”, gave them the tip, got no response. Wednesday contacted them again via e-mail, tried to contact the detective a few times to no avail. On Thursday contacted the Alabama Bureau of Investigators, got routed to the division for missing and exploited children and wanted to find out exactly what officer responded to the call.
I wanted to personally speak to him, could not get that information, encouraged the Alabama Bureau to please investigate the video surveillance of the store or to get the little red cowboy hat the little girl was playing with in the store to get fingerprints. They said they were not able to do that without a court order.
At which time I told them that their job was to get a court order then and check it out. They said they weren't able to do that. I hung up the phone. I contacted the store, grabbed two girlfriends, and we drove 300 miles back to the store to look at the tapes ourselves.
ABRAMS: Wow. And that's when Deputy Davis came in, right?
DEAN: Yes, it was about 12:30 at night because the manager of the store who was not feeling well, already at home 60 miles away, agreed to come back. So it was about 12:30 at night. I guess Officer Davis was actually coming in maybe just for a drink. I don't think he was supposed to be there. He just happened to walk in and immediately said what are you guys looking at.
ABRAMS: Deputy Davis, why don't you take us from there? What happened? You walk into the convenient store and you see Tracie looking at this surveillance tape.
DEP. BRYAN DAVIS, CONECUH CTY., AL SHERIFF'S DEPT.: Yes, Dan. I stopped in the store to do a check on the clerk in the store as we usually do at all of our gas stations and other stations that are open. And when I walked in, her and her two friends were viewing the videotape with the manager and I inquired about what they was doing and why they was watching the videotape.
ABRAMS: And once they tell you, did you right away say all right, we got to act on this?
DAVIS: Yes, when she first stated what had happened and she thought it was maybe possibly a missing child, at that time I went ahead and started doing a report and I contacted the supervisor and he come down and we then started a further investigation to find out if it was indeed the missing child in which she had a laptop with a picture of the child on it.
ABRAMS: So how do you end up at the home of the two suspects?
DAVIS: Up until that night that I saw Ms. Dean I had done further investigation up until the morning and had got some tips that the suspects were probably staying around in this area. The following day the sheriff and I along with the chief deputy investigator come back to the same area and searched the area and was able to contact the vehicle description that Ms. Dean had gave us located at the residence.
ABRAMS: And you get there and what happens?
DAVIS: The first attempt we went there and no one come to the door. And the second time we went there approximately five minutes later the gentleman later known as Jack Wiley come to the door. And we advised him that we was there to check on the welfare of a child.
ABRAMS: And did you then see the missing child?
DAVIS: Yes, sir. Just a few moments later the female subject walked outside with the child, the female subject was later identified as Glenna Faye Cavender.
ABRAMS: And did she confess at some point?
DAVIS: We spoke with her and began to get their names and information. And we started the investigation there and we took pictures of the small child and was doing a further investigation and our dispatcher advised us that Mr. Wiley come back as a possible sex offender out of Wisconsin.
ABRAMS: Right and you had actually arrested him for failing to register properly in Alabama as a sex offender. But at what point were you able to file charges against them for the abuse of the child?
DAVIS: Well the investigation led to that they was both giving false names, so they were then arrested and transported to our office. And a further investigation by our investigator and the sheriff and with the Department of Human Resources with the children determined there had been sexual allegations against the child and they took over the investigation from there.
Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.