IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Inside Dateline: No answers in a daughtere's disappearance

Rob Stafford on a missing Tennessee doctor

May |

No answers in a daughter's disappearance (Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent)

It took almost two hours to drive from Memphis to the town of Jackson, Tennessee. A winding rural road led to the home of Leon and Hazel Pearson. They’ve been living through a terrible ordeal for more than four years, but they greeted me with warm smiles and the kind of hospitality for which this part of the country is known. They thanked us for telling their daughter Cherryl’s story.  They pray that someone watching will provide the clue that solves the mystery of Cherryl’s disappearance.

Cherryl was 37 when she vanished. Her parent’s modest home is filled with pictures that chronicle her impressive life. As a child, she was diagnosed with severe diabetes but that never stopped her from getting a degree in chemical engineering and then going onto medical school.  She became a pediatrician and her experience as a juvenile diabetic and her love of children gave her the perfect touch with her anxious young patients.

As the Pearsons sit down for the interview, it’s clear they enjoy sharing the memories of the daughter they miss so much. Mr. Pearson was incredibly close to Cherryl. They used to talk about sports and movies and he, a retired school principal, was obviously proud of her academic achievements.

“She was outgoing, studious,” he said. “She liked putting together puzzles and games that had a little mystery about them.”

Police have been trying to put together the pieces of this puzzling mystery for four years. Cherryl was last seen in the wee hours of Saturday January 5, 2002, when two friends who have been visiting left her home. At short time later, at 1:58 a.m., someone called her house from a pay phone a half mile away. The call lasted 5 seconds.  Was it simply a wrong number? Was an attacker checking to see if she answered?  There was no sign of a struggle at her home. A few days later, Cherryl’s car was found in the parking lot of a nearby apartment complex. Her car keys and doctor’s bag were locked in the trunk. $140 in a bank envelope was left near the front seat. The car was wiped clean. No ones fingerprints, not even Cherryl’s, were found inside.

Investigators will sort through the clues in our story Saturday night. They have questioned people who were close to Cherryl but have not named any suspects. Her parents say she had no enemies.

No matter where the investigation leads, no matter what the outcome, the Pearsons are desperate to find out what happened. After so many years of worry, they don’t expect a happy ending. They’re simply hoping for any ending at all.

To provide info on Dr. Cherryl Lamon Pearson, call 901-382-MONY (6669).

April 7, 2006 |

You can never be too smart on MySpace (Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent)

After our last story about, we heard from teenagers who said they were way too savvy to post personal information on the Internet. “Man what’s your deal!” wrote someone from Noneofyourbusiness, California. “MySpace is really fun. Smart people don’t give away their address, school, and other stuff like that!”

Our Dateline story Sunday night will show that good kids with attentive parents will let strangers into their MySpace lives, often sharing personal information without realizing what they’ve done.

The story is based on an experiment conducted by a Connecticut detective who wanted to test how cautious kids are online. He set up a MySpace profile and like many MySpace members posted an anime cartoon character instead of a photograph. He said his name was Matt and described himself as a 19-year-old new kid in town who liked baseball, playing pool and listening to his Ipod.

Within two weeks, more than 100 kids allowed him onto their MySpace profiles. Most of them girls. One said she wanted to meet him.

With their parents permission, we interviewed three of the girls while the detective waited in the hall. The girls were 15 and 16. They all told us they never posted personal information and never let strangers onto their MySpace profile.  Then we introduced them to the middle-aged detective who they thought was 19-year-old Matt. They were stunned when he told them all of the personal information he was able to glean.

It was a wake up call for the girls, their parents and their friends. We were concerned the kids would be upset and feel singled out, but all of them told us they wanted to educate other kids about the danger of talking to strangers on-line.

This week, the detective had some help during an Internet safety seminar. Three of the girls he met on MySpace shared their stories.

The report on MySpace airs Sunday, 7 p.m. on Dateline NBC. to learn more about MySpace, including a sample profile with common errors, tips for parents and teens, and a step-by-step guide to navigating MySpace.


Meeting Imette's family (Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent)

I met Imette St. Guillen's mother Maureen and sister Alejandra near their home in Boston this week. They agreed to sit down with "Dateline" for a short interview but seemed in no hurry when they arrived. They were anxious to share photographs and memories of the daughter and sister they loved. 

Then it was time to talk about an ordeal that's hard to fathom. Alejandra and Maureen sat close, leaned on each other and held hands as they described a terrible phone call two weeks ago. When word came that Imette was missing, Alejandra drove for hours to her sister's apartment in New York. Frantically, she pounded on Imette's window hoping she was inside. No answer. Then another call. This one far worse than the first. Police had found Immete's body. There was nothing the family could do.

For two weeks, Imette's family has been dealing with unbearable grief. They talked about that and also responded strongly to people who seem to be blaming Imette for being out alone late at night. "To those people who spoke, were they ever 25?" her mother said." What did they do at 25?  I mean, you can't live your life in a bubble."

Before Imette's family left, they urged anyone with information about the murder to come forward and they said one more thing: "If you can learn anything from this, it's to hold the people that are close to you and keep them close. Tell them you love them because you never know what's going to happen."

After the interview, I was supposed to fly back to work in New York. Instead I decided to rent a car and drive to my hometown in New Hampshire. I visited my family that night and caught a flight in the morning.

Rob Stafford's report airs Dateline Sunday, 7 p.m./6 C.


Why we grieve with the St. Guillens (Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent)

It’s not just Imette St. Guillen's friends and family who are grieving.

Complete strangers have been moved to tears about the murder of the Boston native, and people across the country are wondering how a promising graduate student could become the victim of such a horrific rape and murder.

Local newscasts across the country, not just in Boston and New York City, are covering the case as it develops.  But what is it about some cases that drives people to follow them closely, while others barely resonate?

Experts say there are several factors. Former Connecticut prosecutor and NBC News analyst Susan Filan says that she thinks it’s because of the nature of the crime. “I think this case has captured our imaginations like none other in a very long time, partly, because we know so many of the very gruesome details.”

The victim plays a role too, especially one as easy to relate to and endearing as this one.  “She had everything to hope for,” Filan adds. “She was really doing well in her life.” St. Guillen was a dean’s list graduate student, finishing her degree in criminology from John Jay College.

And sometimes terrifying stories like this make people question their own safety: “When you’re young, you think yourself bulletproof. You think nothing can hurt you and I think what happened with Imette had kind of broken that myth,” says former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt.

Imette’s mother and sister have touched people, as well.  “This is every family,” says Susan Filan of Alejandra and Maureen St. Guillen, Imette’s sister and mother, respectively. “This could have happened to anybody,” she adds.

And so people follow closely, wondering how such a promising life could have met such a tragic end.

Rob Stafford will have the latest developments on the case on Dateline Sunday, 7 p.m.


Below is the Today show preview of Dateline's Sunday show:

New developments in murdered NYC student case

Imette St. Guillen’s family is still reeling from the news about losing Imette in a horrific crime that shocked New Yorkers and the nation. 

St. Guillen was last seen leaving a bar two weeks ago tomorrow. Her body was found viciously tortured, raped and strangled.

St. Guillen’s body had been dumped in a desolate section of Brooklyn, her hair cut, a sock shoved in her mouth, and her face bound with tape. Her sister had to face all that to identify her: “I just pulled it all together and at that point, said, ‘No, it can’t be possible. I just have to see her. I have to know,” says Alejandra St. Guillen.

Police narrowed in on the Falls bar after an employee who initially had said St. Guillen left alone suddenly changed his story.

According to John Jay College professor Lawrence Kobilinsky, what they’re now hearing is that a bouncer escorted St. Guillen out of the bar. “Soon thereafter muffled screams were heard,” he says.

That tip led police straight to the home of Darryl Littlejohn, 41, an ex-convict who'd been working as a bouncer the night St. Guillen disappeared.  Littlejohn, — who's spent some 12 years in prison on robbery, drug and gun possession convictions — was described by neighbors as a short-tempered loner who dressed like a cop.

Littlejohn is in custody but has not been charged with the crime, nor are police officially calling him a suspect.

They do have cellphone records putting him in the same area where St. Guillen’s body was found on the very day she was murdered. And carpet fibers found at Littlejohn's home reportedly match threads on the tape on St. Guillen’s face and on the comforter that wrapped her body. But so far, DNA tests have been inconclusive.

"We're going forward with all deliberate speed and hopefully we'll be able to come to a successful conclusion soon," says Ray Kelly, NYPD commissioner.

The St. Guillen family refuses to talk about any suspect until someone is officially charged, choosing instead to focus their energy on remembering Imette.

The hardest part for the St. Guillens? "Knowing I'll never see her again," says Imette's mother, Maureen. "[I can] never hear her voice. You cherish the little things and I want to be able to smell her... and I can't smell her."

Dateline airs Sunday, March 12, 7 p.m./6 C.

March 3, 2006 |

Why parents must mind MySpace

Earlier this year, of posting personal information on social networking Web sites such as Here are related stories that came across the wire on MySpace... all of the reports were published within the last few days:

Dateline is continuing to investigate this story.


Your kid's cyber secret (Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent)  Never heard of it? Just ask your kids. They know.

It's a cyber secret some of them like to keep from their tech-challenged parents. I think of myself as a savvy dad, but I was shocked by some of what I found on the site.  Friday night on Dateline we'll show you what you need to know about MySpace and other social networking sites to keep your kids safe.

MySpace is sort of a cyber diary, yearbook and social club. It's free, easy to join, and easy to message other members. You're supposed to be at least 14 to sign up but we found younger kids using it. Kids design their own MySpace page and most chat back and forth about school, sports, gossip etc.

What many of them don't realize is that millions of people have access to the pictures and personal information they post.  Police say in some cases sexual predators are using that information to find kids. One Internet safety expert said for a pedophile, it can be "one stop shopping by catalogue."

When "Dateline" surfed the pages of teens on MySpace, we found many listing their names, addresses, even their after school schedules.  Everything a pedophile would need to find them.  We also found scenes of  binge drinking, apparent drug use, teens simulating sex and in some cases even having it. As a parent whose kids know more about the Web than he does, it was a wake up call.  Teenagers know computers but they're often too young to know the dangers.

Find out more about this story Dateline Friday, 7 p.m.  .

And .

Heated e-mails (Viewer feedback so far) | 3:22 p.m.

I am 17 and I have a Myspace page. While there may be cases of drinking and other things but I have noticed that you did not mention anything that was remotely positive about MySpace at all. Like the fact that people use it to talk to people who live far away; also people use it as a place to express themselves and to get frustrations out. I think that the next time you report on something you should show both sides ofthe story, because that is just not fair. I know that it makes a good story to show the 'horrors' of what can happen on it, but that can happen anywhere on the internet. It is just a matter of the child and the adults being responsible about it. --Jessica Underwood, Freeport, Ill.

Okay, I have not seen your report on MySpace yet, but I'm sure you will not show it in a good light. Please don't forget the fact that it's the parents responsibility to monitor what their kids do, not mine, yours or the Government. Please keep in mind that the majority of users do use MYspace to talk to friends from other parts of the country. Bands and artists use it to get their music out to the public. Please do not jump on the bandwagon of censorship and how sites like this need to be monitored by the Gov't. Again, IT'S THE PARENTS RESPONSIBILITY AND NO ONES ELSES. Please remind parents that they need to take care of their children and not leave it up to someone else.  --Christy, Middleburg Heights, Ohio

Even if someone does not list personal information on their myspace profile, a predator can easily track her/him down by perusing the friends' comments, photos, etc. And - many predators create a myspace account so they can leave "luring" messages in the myspace mailbox of the person they are trying to create a relationship with - the myspace mailbox is password protected, and the messages cannot be seen by parents if they just look at their child's profile. --Anonymous

I am a teenager with a myspace. My parents have rules, like no pictures, full names, places, etc. The only people who can access mine are my friends, because I use the block feature. Myspace is fine, as long as it is used correctly. --Amy, Minn.

I think MySpace is a great parenting tool. I regularly log on to see what my kids are doing, and more importantly, what the kids they're hanging out with are doing. Yes, it's important that parents have discussions with their kids about "safe cyberplay." And, it's important to have a handle on what children are doing online. We tell our children not to post any photos or blogs they wouldn't want to come back and haunt them in 20 years, and remind them that anything on the web is being archived somewhere by someone. But for high school students, "MySpace" and similar sites fill the same social function as the "community journals" I used to share with my friends in high school. I'd hate to see hysteria wreck a great communications venue for teens. --PTOMom, Tucson, Arizona

I  think that if kids are dumb enough that they put all of that personal information on a website viewed by millions of people and potential pedophiles, well, the hell with them. After all, what is natural selection for? People blame this and that nowadays and never look at the root of the problem, which is faulty parenting. no it's the videogame/website/tv show/movie's fault, not the fact that parents assume no responsiblity anymore. My sympathy goes out to the 95% of us who use these forms of media responsibly and end up getting screwed by idoits who either are looking for a cheap excuse to make a quick buck or are just dumb enough to not look around them in the first place. America, get a brain. --Timothy Jacobs, Kent, Ohio

I am so glad you are doing this story. My niece is posting sexually explicit photos of herself along with blogs about drinking and having sex. She is now 19 so her dad probably can't do anything about it anymore. But she has been doing this since she was 16. I wanted to alert her dad but he doesn't speak to us and would only "kill the messenger" if we went to him. My husband says we will wait until we see her face on a milk carton and then tell him. Not only does she put her full name on MySpace but also her city and state. Any predator could find her if they wanted to. That is what worries me. I just hope her father watches the show but he, like many other parents, will probably think this stuff doesn't even pretain to them. --Becky, Scurry, Tex.

I think this is great that you have brought attention to this site ( Recently a co-worker of mine wanted to see what his kids were up to. I happily looked them up for him. When we looked for his daughter she came up blocked. Perhaps more parents should know about that feature so they can nudge, if not force, them to block out strangers. This way the people they add are people they already know or feel comfortable with. I think most sexual predetors would not be willing to make the effort.  --Rachael Brown, San Diego, Calif.

I am an adult who uses Myspace. I am in my late 20's and find it a fairly good way to get in touch with long lost college/high school friends and keep in touch with friends who are some distance apart. The implication that only juveniles use this site is horribly insluting to myself and a great number of other responsible adults whom are around my own age. I'm sure that your report on the upcoming Dateline will be another fine example of contempary yellow journalism, designed to strike fear into the hearts of parents. --Aaron, Buffalo, N.Y.

I am teenager and also a myspacer I check all my information daily. I can see where things could be a problem because people post everything on myspace and i do mean every thing. Is there no way that it could be monitored more and stop kids from putting out all information and having pornography on their sites? I really enjoy myspace because i can talk to friends that i havent seen in years and cannot talk to elsewhere but some could be useing the site for other things that they shouldnt be. --Autumn

I hate! My 16 yr old has used it for at least a year. Once I found out I easily found her webpage without her knowledge or asking her questions. I then made her remove all personal information that I found. I also found out about skipping school, drugs, acohol and smoking. I confronted my daughter and thought it was over. NO! she made another webpage thinking I would only monitor the first one. Hint to all parents, look up your children's friends webpages! You will find information about your child that your child has hidden. Before you say I should not allow her on-line, realize that kids can access the internet at school, libraries, and friend's houses. So just keep checking!! --Heather, Junction City, Ore.

January 26, 2006 |

, we received a lot of e-mails, asking us to look into social networking Web sites, such as MySpace. Below is a sampling:

How dangerous is the Web site and should teens be using it? How easy is it for predators to get information about where you live? --Peter Bicker, Medford, N.J.

I am a minor with major concerns. I recently deleted my blog on the page because men in foreign countries would start messaging me with the intention of starting a relationship online! I was scared, so with the help of my parents, that blog was quickly deleted. I thank you for your efforts in trying to stop sexual predators online. I am helping in my community by spreading the word to be careful. Good Job Dateline! --Anonymous

I watched your story about online predators and chat rooms. I would like to know if you have done any investigation into the new wave "" I consider myself very aware of what my kids are doing, but when I realized that they were posting pictures and talking to people they did not know through this Internet site I was scared. You will find half of the town that I live in under the age of 16 with pictures and everything. The parents of these kids think it is okay because "Everyone else is doing it."  Please check this stuff out.  This is going to be the new way for predators to find their victims. It scares me to death. We need help to educate parents on this! --Linda Turner 

Will you please do a story on I am a mother of three children and the Internet is a scary place. But I have discussed this with my friends and we all feel the same way... that so many parents have no idea what is being said on I really think that would make a awesome story especially since dateline has been doing the undercover stuff about sex predators on the Internet. Think about it, please, or at least have a producer check out this Web site.  --April Adams

Has anyone taken a good look at the goings on over at There is a seemingly endless sea of 13, 14, 15 and 16-year-olds potentially offering themselves up to Internet predators and pedophiles. One such kid was boasting of losing her virginity at 11-to-a-21 year old. To set up a MySpace profile of your own, requires nothing more than access to a computer. This means that kids as as young as 13 (perhaps younger but 13 was the youngest I saw in the short time I could stomach at MySpace). As a mother of three kids myself I would like to know who I should contact and what can be done. Thank you for your help. --Rosario Romero, La Jolla, Calif.

Also what can you say for this new Web site that all the kids are using called Do you know about it? My kid came home talking about it a few weeks ago. Around the same time I had just watched your show on "Internet predators." My kid is not allowed to go on that Web site. Kids are logging on to it like crazy. What is all the hype about? I think it is very dangerous. --E

My husband and I watched this with our 13-year-old son. It really helped get the message across to our son of why you do not give any personal info on who you are or strike up a conversation with just anybody? Just last week I monitored his use on and he was unhappy. Now he knows why I did just that. --Rebecca Kincer, Aliso Viejo, Calif.