Teen disappeared without a trace 36 years ago

Lori Jean Lloyd, 14, was babysitting her nephew on Feb. 11, 1976 when she decided to walk to a 7-Eleven at 3613 Wilmington Pike to purchase cigarettes, just a little more than a half mile from the family home at 3303 Annabelle Drive in Kettering. She left the baby with her friend. It was a cold night, and she was dressed in a sweater, jeans, and possibly a T-shirt and jacket. She did not take any personal belongings with her, and the small amount of money in her bank account remained untouched.

When her mother, Anita Smith, returned home after midnight, she found Lori’s friend and the baby asleep. Lori wasn’t there. Employees at the 7-Eleven store told police they never saw her that night. No one else has reported seeing her since.

Lori was the youngest of five siblings, some of whom helped their mother search for Lori that night.

Because Lori had a history of running away, including some arrests, police initially did not take the case seriously. But she never really ran away, according to her family.

“She would go to a friend’s house,” said Joni Spencer, the eldest of Lori’s siblings. “Kind of showing her independence.”

At one point, Smith called police to have them pick up Lori, to teach her a lesson. But because she had run away before, many people assumed that she did it again, Smith said.

News agencies also originally refused to report on it. A letter from the Dayton Daily News to Spencer dated Nov. 18, 1976 — when Lori had been missing for nine months — states “I only wish you knew how many letters like yours we receive, from worried parents and loved ones of young people who disappear without leaving word. The vast majority eventually turn up as runaways.”

There was some reason to believe she might have left voluntarily. Lori’s friends reported that she wanted to go to California and live with her father, even though he had moved there a decade earlier and kept little contact with his five children.

Lori stood about 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed about 110 pounds. She was also having some problems — she slashed her wrists about six months before her disappearance and her family said last month that she had been experimenting with drugs. At one point, she moved in with Spencer after her mother refused to allow her to paint her bedroom black.

The best lead the family ever got was when News Center 7 aired a documentary called Angel Death, about the drug PCP, in 1980. A girl in the background of one scene, filmed at a Santa Monica drug rehabilitation center, eerily resembled Lori, so Spencer and Smith went to Los Angeles. For weeks, they searched for her at the places where runaways were known to gather, like Hollywood Boulevard and the Sunset Strip, but found no one who knew Lori. The girl who was the focus of the filmed scene declined to cooperate with the family. The makers of the original documentary followed Smith and Spencer around, then released another program, entitled “Whatever Happened to Lori Jean Lloyd?”

But while the family originally thought the girl in the background was Lori, now they’re not sure. They held a memorial service for her in 1999, 23 years after she disappeared — coincidentally just days after Erica Baker, the 9-year-old Kettering girl who vanished while walking her dog in Indian Riffle Park, was reported missing. The difference in police response, community concern and media attention stunned them.

“That is a real source of pain,” Spencer said. “Back then, they didn’t have Amber Alerts.”

They also had a ceremony for Lori on her 50th birthday last October at the site of the former 7-Eleven and are still in contact with Kettering police. Smith has given DNA, she said.

Kettering Detective Vincent Mason said there are no new leads. The investigative file is slim, largely because during the critical time immediately following her disapearance, police thought she had run away.

Anyone with information about Lori Jean Lloyd’s whereabouts is asked to call Mason at (937) 296-2583.

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