Who Was the Tent Girl?


On May 17, 1968 Mr. Wilbur Riddle had no idea that what he was about to discover would not only change his life, but the future of his family. As Mr. Riddle, a well driller, slipped on an old army jacket and started to unlatch his wooden door, he thought to himself that this is going to be a good day.

That morning he planned to drive his old Ford pickup to Eagle Creek, about forty miles from his modest home in Monterey, Kentucky. The creek runs adjacent to Interstate Highway 75 in Scott County, Kentucky, and he planned to search the area for old telephone glass insulators, which he painted and sold for extra income.

In a thick underbrush area, where Mr. Riddle thought he would find the glass insulators, he was about to get the shock of his life. After finding two of them he kicked something that caused him to stumble. Upon recovering his steps, he noticed an object that was wrapped an old tarpaulin. The green material was bound tightly with a small thin cord. Curious, Mr. Riddle proceeded to pull the object from the underbrush.

Removing his penknife from his pants pocket, he cut a small section of the material and then realized in horror what he had found. Stunned, he crawled under barbwire and ran through the underbrush to his truck. After speeding the two miles to a local gas station, to contact the authorities, he returned to the site accompanied by Sheriff Bobby Vance of the Scott County Sheriffs Office, along with Deputy Jimmy Williams, and Deputy Corner Kenneth Grant.

What Mr. Riddle had found was the badly decomposed remains of what appeared to be a young female. She was unclothed, and was not wearing any jewelry. A small piece of white fabric was wrapped around her head, and she appeared to have been dead for several weeks.

Scott County's ambulance transported the body to St. Joseph's Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, and within a few days authorities revealed that the victim was a white female, 5' 1" tall, with short, reddish brown hair, and weighed 110 - 115 pounds. It was believed at the time that she was 16 to 19 years of age. They were able to obtain a fingerprint by removing one of her fingers.

No weapons or any other objects were found near the crime scene, however evidence discovered during a final autopsy, indicated that she had been knocked unconscious with a blow to the head. An expert in the field Hamilton County Ohio Coroner, Dr. Frank Cleveland believed the victim was then placed into the canvas bag, where she was bound. The officials also conjectured she had later died of suffocation.

Despite the hours spent by law enforcement officials studying autopsy photos, sifting through many letters from the public, and following leads, not much could be determined. The problem was that the victim did not have any real identifying features, and looked much like the average American girl-next-door.

The evidence that had been gathered was sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Crime Lab in Washington D.C. The green canvas material, rope, and white toweling material were given to the Lab in hopes that some more conclusions could be determined. After several months of analysis, putting the materials through every conceivable kind of test, the Lab determined that the small white cloth material was a baby's diaper. In addition, the green canvas material was of a "sturdy, water-resistant fabric made and distributed by a number of manufacturers.

Two weeks into the investigation, the Scott County Sheriff's Office was aided by a story in "The Kentucky Post & Times Star" on the unidentified victim, which dubbed her the "Tent Girl", based on the makeshift shroud she in which she was found. The newspaper contacted Officer Harold Musser of the Covington Police Department, known for his ability to sketch suspects or victims of crime. Officer Musser was known to use an extensive amount of his own time trying to obtain as much detail of the subjects in his drawings. Sometime later he made a second sketch of the Tent Girl.

On a cold and rainy Monday afternoon the Tent Girl was laid to rest at the old Georgetown Cemetery, approximately thirteen miles from where she was originally found. The burial site was in the rear portion of the cemetery, known as the "potter's field". Her body was wrapped in a Mobil Oil bag and placed in a simple pine box. Her grave had a very simple marker that read #90.

First Police Sketch

Piecing Together Clues

However, as the investigation slowed due to a lack of leads, the legend of the Tent Girl rapidly grew. In 1971 two local businessmen from a monument company built her a unique headstone that remains today. The two men made the marker from a red stone. They wanted the stone to match her red hair. Visitors come from all over Kentucky and Ohio to view her gravesite. College students visit her grave, especially young women that feel a closeness to the Tent Girl.

As investigators became more at a loss for answers, a new case quickened their interest. In Bucks County, Pennsylvania another female was found murdered, in much the same manner as the "Tent Girl". Candace Clothier had disappeared from her home on March 9, 1968 in Philadephia, Pennsylvania and an immediate massive manhunt was not able to determine her whereabouts. In the early morning of April 13, 1968, three fishermen found the sixteen-year-old girl in Neshaminy Creek, located in Bucks County, a few miles north of Philadelphia. The body was unclothed and tied up in a canvas bag which had washed up on the bank of an island in the creek.

Ms. Clothier's body was taken to a nearby medical facility for an autopsy. Officials stated that she had been found with a canvas bag tied up around her neck, with a wool sweater wrapped around her head. The bag had deposits of mud that indicated she had been dead for sometime.

In comparing the two cases, investigators observed that both the girls were of a similar height and weight. They also had the same hair color, build and their facial features were very similar. The biggest difference, however, was the absence of a grieving family of a missing, daughter, wife and mother. Where was the Tent Girl's family? These two cases remain unsolved to this day, and are still thought to be possibly connected. However, no evidence has been collected to date to substantiate or deny a connection between the two.

In 1969 the Scott County Sheriffs Office made one of it last attempts to properly identify the Tent Girl by releasing the story to a magazine known at the time as the "Master Detective". In May of that year the story was released nationwide. They had no idea that it would take almost thirty years from her death for someone to solve the mystery.

Second Sketch

Twenty Years Later....A New Detective

In the late 1980's, Wilbur Riddle, the retired well driller who had found the body of the Tent Girl, moved his family to Livington, Kentucky. His daughter, Lori, recalls that the family really did not have a reason to move other than a friend had told them about a particular home for sale in that community. It was a good move. They soon met an individual that would spend the next decade searching for the identity of the Tent Girl.

Almost twenty years after the discovery of the Tent Girl, 17 year old Todd Matthews stared at the sketch of the Tent Girl in an old copy of the "Master Detective" Magazine. Todd was dating Lori Riddle and learned the Tent Girl's story from his future wife's family.

After Todd and Lori were married his interest in the mystery intensified and Lori Riddle-Matthews became concerned about her new husband's obsession with solving the mystery of the Tent Girl's identity. Mr. Matthews believes that his intense desire to solve the case derived from his own brother and sister's death. Both his brother and sister died at birth. Mr. Matthews stated to a spokesperson of "The Fallen Wall", in a telephone interview, that he always believed the dead were just in a different place. He stated that he never felt any communication with any dead person. However, he believes that they know everything we do here on earth.

Starting From Scratch

His first steps were to try to learn every detail he could about the case. After spending hours talking about the Tent Girl with Mr. Riddle, he realized that if the case were to be solved the first step would be to gather more information. He gathered all of the newspaper clippings from the time, and closely scrutinized them for any details he could garner. He would take the articles, and his copy of the "Master Detective" to work, and would discuss them with anyone that would be willing to listen.

While familiarizing himself with the case, Mr. Matthews developed a hypothesis that was somewhat different than that of the official investigation. Even though Mr. Matthews fully respected the authorities, and the tireless efforts that they made in trying to locate the victim's family, his conclusions differed in a couple of areas. Mr. Matthews theorized that the results of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Lab, stating that the white cloth material was a baby diaper, led him to believe the victim was older. He believed that this could mean that the victim could have had at least one child herself.

This thought prompted him to write several of the officials in Kentucky. He wrote the Scott County Sheriff's Office and the Governor of Kentucky explaining his reasoning about her age. Mr. Matthews even wrote the county coroner in an attempt to get her remains exhumed. He hoped that the coroner would cooperate so that her pelvic area could be re-examined to eliminate this possibility.

On one occasion he wrote "Unsolved Mysteries" in hopes they would air a story about the Tent Girl. For years he felt that his attempts were of no avail.

All of these attempts started taking a toll on his life. He found himself having sleep disorders, as well as mounting marital problems, because of his obsession. Mr. Matthews even became concerned about his sleep problems. He recalls that he even found a kitchen knife the morning after one of the nightmares left on the couch. He reasoned that while sleepwalking he was acting out a dream. His wife grew alarmingly concerned that he may accidentally injure her in one of these episodes.

In 1991, after reading an article about the Tent Girl's gravesite Mr. Matthews decided to visit her resting-place for the first time, and enlisted on old high school buddy to accompany him for the two-hundred-mile journey.

While driving to the grave he told us he saw a vision of what she looked like. Her appearance was somewhat different than the two previous sketches that had been done. Once at the site, he felt uneasy, and thought he should not stay long. He left quickly and went directly to Georgetown Graphic Newspaper where he learned that no new information had been found. He went to the funeral home that prepared and arranged for her burial, but was not able to obtain any new information there.

He left the town feeling very frustrated, and that all of his efforts might have been in vain, much like the law enforcement agencies in the past.

In the interview with "The Fallen Wall", Mr. Matthews explains that he really could not quit. He told us that on several occasions he tried to walk away from the Tent Girl mystery, his life's challenges seem to increase. He stated that even though trying to solve the case placed burdens on him and his family, overall life seemed to worsen when he was not actively searching.

New Technology...Renewed Effort

However, one major change was starting to take place in the world of technology that would make a tremendous change in Mr. Matthews' search. In 1992, while listening to Vice President hopeful Al Gore, from his home state of Tennessee, talk about the Internet, Mr Matthews realized this was a tool that could greatly empower his search. He knew he needed a way to contact a large audience of people regarding the Tent Girl. At that time, Senator Gore's speech on the Super Highway suggested the means might now be available.

Over the next four years Mr. Matthews launched his own campaign trying to get the word out to as many people as he could about the Tent Girl. He wrote the editor of the Georgetown Graphic, asking them to place an article in the local paper, calling upon the resident to write "Unsolved Mysteries" about the Tent Girl. He also wrote the Georgetown Police Department encouraging them not to give up on the case. He even wrote a letter to the Georgetown Mayor asking for his support.

Although the idea of utilizing the Internet seemed excellent, at the same time Mr. Matthews felt overwhelmed. He did not have a computer and did not know how to begin. After months of saving, Mr. Matthews finally found a computer in his limited price range. Ironically he found it in Georgetown, Kentucky on one of the many visits to the Tent Girl's grave, a little Compaq Presario be bought on clearance at a local Wal Mart store. Mr. Matthews received information in his phone bill about a local Internet provider in the Livington area. Prior to this he did not use the computer often because utilizing national providers involved a toll call, and the cost would have been financially prohibitive.

Mr. Matthews remembers having butterflies in his stomach while logging on to the Super Highway for the first time, but over the next few month he refined his researching skills on the Internet. Spending hours of his free time facing the computer he decided to hang a picture of the Tent Girl's headstone over his computer to keep him motivated.

With these changes came disadvantages too. Even though technological advances had been made, it also was a detriment to his family. Ms. Lori Riddle-Matthews remembers their son 4, imitating her by saying "Daddy is alway at the 'puter". Ms. Riddle-Matthews recalls that that her husband's obsession was causing them a lot of problem. She felt that he was not giving her, or their son, enough attention.

Suppressing the guilt he felt about neglecting his family, Mr. Matthews persevered. Continuously searching missing person's files, along with Web sites where someone was looking for a lost loved one. He wanted to build a site for the Tent Girl but lacked the knowledge to construct such a site, Mr. Matthews knew he would have to find someone that would aid him.

Technical Help On The Net

He recalled viewing a Web site about the paranormal named "Anomalies". The site was created by a gentleman in California. So he sent a detailed letter about his situation to the creator, Mr. Garth Haslam. Mr. Haslam expressed immediate interest. Mr. Matthews sent him research material, and a short time later Mr. Haslam had formulated a story about the Tent Girl.

The Tent Girl story received more help when a reporter from Lexington, Kentucky contacted Mr. Matthews after receiving an e-mail from him. Mr. Byron Brewer titled the article "Internet May Solve The Tent Girl Mystery". The article was viewed by many and regenerated local interest about the story. Mr. Matthews' e-mail address was printed in the article. A short time later he received several e-mails, informing that several others were also interested in solving the case. One letter even stated that the writer's father always believed he had witnessed the Tent Girl in Georgetown, Kentucky, a few months prior to her being found. The writer's father even contacted authorities about what he saw, because the girl was acting strange.

All of the letters offered a morale boost to Mr. Matthews, however none seemed to offer any substantive information that would lead to the victim's identity.

Mr. Matthews' efforts to publicize the case had worked. Over the next several months he received hundreds of e-mails. Although he continued searching the Internet, he did not realize that he was about to make the breakthrough he had been seeking for ten years.

Crane & Hibbs Database

One late January evening in 1998, long after his wife and child was asleep, Mr. Matthews made a startling discovery. Working in his bed clothes dozing at the computer this night he was viewing the many missing persons' case on the "Crane & Hibbs" database on the Web, a favorite of his, because every victim's description is listed neatly, and organized chronologically by birth dates.

After already viewing approximately four hundred descriptions he continued, clicking again on each victim, one-after-another, when to his amazement he found these words boldly jumping out at him .....LEXINGTON.....1967...... MISSING. He immediately knew the search was about to end.

The post read as follows: Crane and Hibbs listing posted August 4, 1997 Name: Barbara Ann (Hackman) Taylor Relationship: Sister Date of Birth: 9-12-1943 Female Remarks: My sister Barbara has been missing from our family since the latter part of the year 1967. She has brown hair, brown eyes, around 5 feet, 2 inches tall, last seen in the Lexington, Kentucky area. If you have any information on my sister, please contact me at the address posted.

Jumping to his feet with his heart pounding in disbelief he ran to awaken his wife. He stumbled over a chair, hollering "Lori, wake up, I found her!"

Finally - A Sister Missing Since '67

Trying by e-mail to contact Ms. Westbrook, the individual who had posted the missing person listing, Mr. Matthews realized that the e-mail address was incorrect or obsolete. Fortunately an Internet address was listed for a Web site of a friend of Ms. Westbrook. After sending an e-mail to the friend from her Web site, Mr. Matthews received an e-mail from Ms. Westbrook. Mr. Matthews then wrote and asked her to contact him by telephone.

In a recent telephone interview Mr. Matthews told "The Fallen Wall" that Ms. Westbrook was glad to hear from him, but felt saddened to learn that her sister was probably not alive. Both of them believed that the Tent Girl was indeed Ms. Westbrook's long lost sister.

Mr. Matthews learned that during the time that Mr. Matthews was searching for the identity of the Tent Girl, Ms. Westbrook was searching for years for her missing sister. While he felt enormous satisfaction that the Tent Girl had been identified, he also shared the grief of her sister, a woman he had never met.

After they compared information, Mr. Matthews told Ms. Westbrook that he was going to contact the authorities. He knew at this point that DNA testing would be needed.

The Other Side Of The Story

In Arkansas, Ms. Rosemary Westbrook would stay up late at night exploring the Internet. She had spent year trying to put together the pieces of a family puzzle. Finally, at age 40, she had most of the pieces except one. She hoped that by searching the Internet she would be able to find out what happened to her older sister, Barbara Ann, a 24 year old mother of two who had disappeared in 1967 when Rosemary was 10 years old.

In 1957, two weeks before Ms. Westbrook was born, her father and her brother were caught in flood waters near their home in Illinois and killed. Ms. Westbrook's mother had six other children and caring for all of them finally become too much for her. Ms. Rosemary Westbrook was sent to live with her uncle and his wife, and who eventually became her legal guardians.

As the youngest child she would occasionally visit her other siblings, but as they grew up they dispersed to other parts of the country, starting their own lives and families.

In a telephone interview with "The Fallen Wall" Ms. Westbrook revealed that she was able to determine the whereabouts of most of her family but her search for her sister, Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor, still continued.

Ms. Westbrook knew very little about her missing sister Barbara Ann, known to family and friends as Bobbie. She knew that Bobbie had married a man named George Earl Taylor, and had been traveling with him during the 1960's working at carnivals. She told us she searched for her sister at every carnival she attended as a child. She also knew that Bobbie had a daughter with Mr. Earl Taylor, and that they also cared for Mr. Taylor's daughter from a previous marriage.

In 1989, twenty-three years after the discovery of the body, Ms. Westbrook received a call from her older sister with some good news. She had just received a call from Bobbie's daughter. Her daughter had no idea what had happened to her mother either. Less than a year old when Bobbie disappeared, the daughter was raised in Ohio by her paternal grandparents. Bobbie's husband had told the family that Bobbie had run off with another man in 1967. Authorities believed he may have been able to shed some light on her disappearance, however he died of cancer in 1989.

Ms. Rosemary Westbrook was also able to locate Bobbie's stepdaughter. She had strong memories of her step-mom, and remembered that she had last seen Bobbie in Lexington. She also shared with Ms. Westbrook vital information about where her parents had lived and worked.

Conclusion

On March 2, 1998 the Tent Girl was exhumed. Her remains were sent to a laboratory in Frankfort, Kentucky. Dr Emily Craig, anthropologist and state medical examiner, analyzed the details of the Tent Girl and realized the they were very similar to that of the information gathered on the missing sister. Dr. Craig also concluded that age of the victim was between twenty and thirty years old.

On April 28, 1998 the DNA testing confirmed what Mr. Matthews and Ms. Westbrook had suspected. Ms. Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor was indeed the Tent Girl, finally solving the thirty-year-old mystery of her identity. The mystery about the cause of her death remains to this day. Was Barbara Ann Hackman-Tayor the victim of a homicide? Perhaps one day that question will be answered as well.

If anyone has any information about this incident PLEASE contact the Deputy John Farris of the Scott County Sheriff's Department in Georgetown, Kentucky at 502-863-7859, or the F.B.I.

FINALLY IDENTIFIED, BUT WHO MURDERED HER?

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