It’s been 20 years since 3-year-old Lenoria Jones went missing.
Two decades of questions, worries and trying to piece together the mystery of what happened to the sweet-faced toddler who loved Barney the dinosaur and shuffled among six homes during her short life.
Tacoma police don’t believe the girl is alive.
“It’s a difficult case,” said Detective Lindsey Wade, who handles the department’s cold cases. “You’ve got no crime scene, no body, no witnesses. You basically have nothing but the hope somebody is going to talk.”
On July 20, 1995, Lenoria’s great-aunt, Berlean Williams, called 911 to report the child disappeared while the two shopped at the Tacoma Target store.
Surveillance video showed the girl never entered the store with Williams, who then retracted her report.
In the weeks after Lenoria’s disappearance, investigators interviewed Williams three times, and she changed her account several times.
Williams said two men accosted her in an alley behind her Hilltop house and kidnapped Lenoria. Then she said she knew where the child was, that she was safe but she couldn’t reveal her whereabouts.
Eventually she returned to her initial account, telling police the girl disappeared between the parking lot and the store’s front door. Then she stopped talking.
Because Lenoria was a ward of the state when she went missing, the Department of Social and Health Services took Williams to court to compel her to tell what happened to the child.
She provided no new information.
When Lenoria was born Jan. 3, 1992, she had cocaine in her bloodstream, and her mother relinquished parental rights.
Several family members wanted Lenoria, including her Spokane-based grandparents, but temporary custody was granted to Williams, who was trying to adopt Lenoria when she disappeared.
No arrests were made, and no one has been charged in the case.
Pierce County prosecutors said then they could have charged Williams, the chief suspect in the case, with obstruction of justice, but that would not have compelled her to cooperate.
The statute of limitations for that charge has expired.
Williams, who now lives in Spokane, hasn’t been interviewed since 1995. Neither have her children, three daughters and a son, who lived with her and Lenoria. Wade hopes to speak with them in the near future.
They could not be reached for comment for this story.
A few dozen tips came in after Lenoria disappeared. More than 100 searchers combed the city for any sign of her. The investigation broadened to Spokane and Arkansas, where family members embroiled in a custody dispute over the girl lived.
The last time anybody outside the family saw Lenoria was at church four days before she was reported missing. The girl’s mother said she called to talk to her daughter two days before her disappearance but was not allowed to.
Wade, who recently took over the case, said an anonymous tipster called 911 in August 1995 and told dispatchers information not known to the general public. She declined to reveal details but said she “desperately” wants to speak with the caller.
“This person could be the key to solving this case if their information is correct,” the detective said.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653
Anyone with information about Lenoria Jones is asked to call Tacoma-Pierce County Crime Stoppers at 253-591-5959.