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Inside Dateline: One woman makes a difference

Keith Morrison: Our story about Betty Tisdale should probably carry a warning:  watch out for this woman — she might get under your skin.

May 26, 200 |

Why Betty Tisdale made a difference (Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent)

NBC's Keith Morrison

Our story about Betty Tisdale should probably carry a warning:  watch out for this woman — she might get under your skin.

When I met Betty, something like six years ago now, her story was something to look back on.  As a young-ish woman during the Vietnam years, she had helped fund an orphanage in Saigon, had flown back and forth between a job in Washington and her passion voluntary campaign for Vietnamese kids. Then, she was part of the famous baby lift that brought hundreds of Vietnamese orphans to American lives in 1975.

But — who knew? — it didn't turn out to be a backward looking story at all.  Betty had retired when we told our first story, but the process got her blood up again.  And now she's at it again...

We followed her back to Vietnam to visit some new projects, learned about other orphanages she supports in Africa and South America through her charity "H.A.L.O.," and tried... I say tried... to keep up with her.  She simply doesn't stop. 

I don't know how many children she has helped, though I do know its a great many. But, for me, the important thing about Betty Tisdale, the thing that gets under your skin, is her enthusiastic proof that one regular person — all by herself — can get up one morning and decide to make a difference in the world.  And actually do it.

The report on Betty Tisdale's story airs May 28, Sunday, 7 p.m. Click here for her Web site.

April 26, 2006 |

A woman who came up with a brilliant and dangerous plan. The victim was her twin sister. And to catch the killer, she pretended to be her sister —dressing like her, talking like her, taking over her very identity. It was a dangerous journey for this woman. Because soon, her life would be at risk, too. Keith Morrison preview Dateline Saturday.

What happened to the Seabolt twins? (Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent)

NBC's Keith Morrison

There is a thick line of grassy hills that forces Highway 5 to Bob and Weave at 4,000 feet on its way up to Bakersfield from Los Angeles. You are leaving Southern California, the hills tell you, physically and culturally. Then down you glide onto a flat, flat plain and often through a thick grey-brown soup those last 30 miles straight as a ruler across the bottom end of California's central valley.  Bakersfield feels like heartland, solid and hardworking, in so many ways different than LA. 

And so are its stories.

You couldn't dream up a story like the Seabolt twins, Theresa and Lisa, who were as different from each other as L.A. is from Bakersfield.  It was like that line from the movie "Capote," said Theresa:  "I walked out the front door and Lisa walked out the back."

It was when Lisa disappeared that the relationship between the sisters began to develop into something almost other-worldly. Lisa seemed to be calling her sister to places we needed to visit, too: meth labs, gang hideouts, places a reasonable person might quite sensibly avoid. 

And one of those places is stunningly strange: outside the city, cranking away in the heat of dry rolling hills, is a veritable village of oil derricks - some of the oldest in the nation.

Bakersfield was among the first oil producing cities on the West coast (Oildale is a close-in subdivision), and some of those oil wells are long since abandoned.  They're just deep holes now.  Any oil worker would know how to put something down there... a place where something lost might never be found.

Was Lisa in one of them?  Would Theresa follow her?

Sitting in a jail just outside the city, a man accused of one murder crouched on the floor beside the jail's pay phone.  He spoke with chilling precision as he proposed something truly dreadful.
Could the man he was talking to — big, burly, tough — make it happen?  

Bakersfield is where the nasty business comes to a head, and we finally learn the fate of the Seabolt Twins.


Stirring up some uncomfortable feelings while poking around a story (Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent)

There is a suburb of Portland, one of the very first pioneer settlements on the West coast, a place called Oregon City.  It runs up the green hills from paper mills down along the river, past an old downtown full of stores and bars with names you won't see anywhere else, past drop dead pretty renovated cottages a century old or more, up to the less well-endowed rental condos of people for whom life is sometimes a struggle.

Here, in January of 2002, a middle school student named Ashley Pond went missing. A couple of months later, a second girl, Miranda Gaddis also vanished.

Soon, a massive investigation had been mounted, a force of FBI and local police that amounted to 60 or more officers. And one private investigator named Linda O'Neil.

Linda was related, if only vaguely, to Ashley and therefore felt driven to figure out what had happened to her.  Our story is her story — her investigation, now told in her book, "Missing: The Oregon City Girls."  Linda's conclusion?  She was able to pinpoint the culprit long before he was finally arrested... seven months after the girls disappeared.

Now here is the uncomfortable issue for more than a few residents of Oregon City and the Portland area: even in the last few weeks, as we made our way around town, talking about the story of that investigation now several years old, we encountered many people who still wondered, as did newspaper headlines back in August, 2002, "Why did it take the police so long to solve the crime?"  Linda's feeling was clearly shared by many others... from lawyers to local reporters to shopkeepers. 

But not the FBI, nor the Oregon City police!  Not only do they defend their investigation, but they have taken Linda and her book to task, claiming much of it can't be believed. 

Perspective, of course, is everything.  And the story of those two little girls, the effort to find them, and the second guessing that is now a rather bitter residue... makes for a fascinating and affecting story.

The story on the Oregon city girls airs Dateline Friday, 9 p.m.