© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sister's Disappearance Had Lasting Effect On Kansas City Family

Peggy Lowe

This story was rebroadcast as part of our best-of 2015 series. It was originally reported in September 2015.    

This is the second of a two-part series. For part one of this story, click here.

Some 28 years after the murder of her sister, Stephanie Clack has her cold case close at hand, in a large cardboard box she carries in her car.

“This is how serious I am,” she said, pulling out reports and photos and old newspaper clippings about the disappearance of her oldest sister.

All this information is really part of Clack’s inheritance. It contains the files, notes and scrapbooks collected by her mother, Esther Beverly, starting the day 21-year-old Paula Beverly Davis went missing, Aug. 10, 1987.

“We knew she was a victim of foul play,” Clack said, “because Paula wouldn’t have gone a day without checking in on us.”

“Foul play” is what Esther Beverly stated in the missing person report she was eventually allowed to file on Aug. 17, 1987, seven days after her daughter’s appearance. (Read that report here.)

Clack said her mother was turned away by Jackson County Sheriff’s officers in Kansas City when she first tried to file that report, as they argued that Paula was 21, an adult, and known to hitchhike from a local truck stop. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office didn’t return calls seeking comment.  

An investigation by “Reveal,” from The Center for Investigative Reporting, shows requirements for law enforcement agencies to report missing persons or enter them into the available national databases, like the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, differ widely. The probe also found that Congress has failed to act on strengthening or even funding efforts to solve missing or unidentified persons cases.

But even if the bill had been enacted, the law still wouldn’t unequivocally mandate that Jane and John Does be reported to federal databases, as experts called for in a landmark 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences. The report found that more than 2,300 U.S. jurisdictions have widely varying qualifications, staffing and budgets for conducting competent death investigations.

Davis’s Last Day

Davis was last seen at the Oak Grove (Mo.) Truck Stop, at Interstate 70 and Broadway. Esther Beverly knew that, as she had talked to Davis’ roommate, Cathy Wood, who was with Davis that day. Esther Beverly went to the truck stop after her daughter disappeared and found a waitress who reported that she saw Davis walking westbound on I-70 with an unknown girl, according to the missing person report.

Years went by and Davis didn’t surface. Her parents raised her son, Michael. Records show Esther Beverly checked in at least two more times with the sheriff’s office. But she began to suffer panic attacks and finally, she had a nervous breakdown.

“Our mom lost it,” Clack said. “It’s always supposed to be the parent goes before the child. And that’s what her biggest issue was.”

Esther Beverly died in 2005 -- four years before her other daughters finally found their sister using NamUs and a Google search to link her to “Englewood Jane Doe, found near Englewood, Ohio.

Credit Montgomery County Coroner's Office
Montgomery County Coroner's Office
This is the investigator's report on finding Englewood Jane Doe on Aug. 10, 1987, done by the Montgomery County (Ohio) Coroner's Office. Twenty-two years later, she was identified as Paula Beverly Davis, 21, of Kansas City.

Ken Betz, director of the Montgomery County (Ohio) Coroner’s Office, was the official who entered the information on Englewood Jane Doe in NamUs that became the key to unlocking Davis’ identification.

“Unfortunately, when we first put information in a database like NamUs, it’s sad to say we receive literally hundreds of inquiries on individuals who may be missing from somewhere in our country,” he said.

In the Davis case, along with the demographics, Betz said he put specific information about her two tattoos on both breasts.

“In this case with Paula, she had a tattoo of a unicorn and a tattoo with red rose and green leaves and a green stem,” he said.

Because there are no leads, the investigation into Davis’ murder is considered “inactive,” but not closed, Betz said.

Clack and Alice Beverly are angry that their mother died not knowing what happened to her daughter. They say that if she had been allowed to file the report on August 9, 1987, Ohio authorities could have matched it up when Davis’ body was found on August 10, 1987.

“They made my mom wait. They need to take a report right there and then, regardless. Even if we know they’re 21,” Clack said.

Now, experts say that filing a report right away is a best practice in most circumstances. In Missouri, the state patrol maintains the clearinghouse for missing persons. The patrol follows a federal law that bars local law enforcement from keeping a waiting period on a missing child or missing adult, said Sgt. Shawn Griggs, a patrol public information officer.

But that doesn’t really help with old, cold cases.

“We’re part of the digital age. I can’t interface with a filing cabinet in Missouri,” said Todd Matthews, NamUs’ director of case management and communications.

Matthews credits the Beverly sisters with finding Davis.

“They knew things about the body that we didn’t know,” he said. “We couldn’t have solved it without them because we didn’t have a missing persons report for their loved one.”

Matthews said he understands that dates can get tricky, so NamUs has a “date reported” and a “date last known alive” in their files.

Davis is home

After finding Davis online, the Beverly sisters traveled to Ohio and saw where their sister was buried in a Potter’s field in a pine box. They raised the $5,000 to have her exhumed, she was cremated and brought back to Missouri.

Davis is buried at Floral Hills East, a memorial garden in rural Jackson County. Her ashes are interred next to her mother’s, marked by a black stone plaque. In the center is a unicorn, surrounded by two roses.

“Even after we found her, still, today, it’s like…,” Clack said.  “I stop by here, especially with the things going on in my life. And I really miss her. ”

For more on missing person cases and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, catch KCUR’s new investigative show, “Reveal.” It airs Sunday at 7 p.m.

To contact NamUs, get information by clicking here.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.