The case is approaching its 30th anniversary. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

The Springfield Three

This story is part of a series on The Springfield Three, our most confounding cold case, which is quickly approaching its 30-year anniversary.

Since 1992, Springfield police — and a swath of amateur sleuths — have wondered what happened inside the house at 1717 E. Delmar St.

The home was the site of a local disappearance that’s haunted Springfield for nearly 30 years. In the early hours of Sunday, June 7, 1992, three women disappeared in what became the cold case called The Springfield Three. They were teenagers Stacy McCall, Suzie Streeter, and Suzie’s mother, Sherrill Levitt. Catch up on the details and history of the case in this Daily Citizen in-depth report.

Now, on to more history of the investigation.

Early on, investigators honed in on three broad theories

Sherrill Levitt was the target. She was the only one of the three expected at the house that night. Anyone wanting to harm her would have gone there.

Suzie Streeter was the target. She hung with a crowd that found trouble. Maybe someone in that crowd decided Streeter was trouble.

The crime was random. A sexual sadist was driving around Springfield, looking for a victim. He saw Suzie and Stacy driving past in their red cars — Suzie leading the way with her personalized license plate, SWEETR — and followed them to the house on Delmar.

Police say one person with a gun could have subdued the women without a struggle. An FBI profiler said one person probably committed the crime. According to the profile, if there was a second person, he or she might not have known they were getting involved in a crime until it happened.

Investigators mostly agree that the kidnapper needed a larger vehicle, probably a van, to take his victims. They believe he was “familiar with the area of the crime, and he may have frequently been out and about at odd hours.”

They also think he may have gulled intimates into thinking he’s mild: “People who know the suspect may not believe that he is capable of committing this type of crime, and he may not have a history of committing crimes of violence.”

Where are the women?

Springfield Police Department poster.

There’s no general agreement among investigators. Some think they were buried in the Mark Twain National Forest.

Others point to a hog farm in Webster County as the most likely place to dispose of evidence. A motorcycle gang member gave police that tip; investigators combed the site in 1993 but found nothing to corroborate the lead. Police thought the information was valid because the man who owned the Webster County property was a convicted murderer. He died in 1995.


Who was investigated?

In the first days of the probe, police openly talked about interviewing and polygraphing people — like Suzie Streeter’s ex-boyfriend, Dustin Recla, and also her brother (and Sherrill’s son), Bartt Streeter, who was estranged from the family but cooperated with the investigation. Streeter said he drank heavily the night of June 6, 1992 and passed out. He passed a police polygraph. In explaining the interviews, the chief of police at the time, Terry Knowles, said they were among the “three to five that we have a focal interest in” in a June 10, 1992 interview with the Springfield News-Leader.

When the initial investigation slowed, detectives turned their attention to others.

Officially, police say no one has been cleared. But all leads also fizzled into dead ends, and no one has ever been charged.

Gerald Carnahan, 64

Gerald Carnahan

Well-heeled businessman Gerald Carnahan first came to widespread local public attention in 1985, when a young Nixa woman, Jackie Johns, was beaten dead and dumped in Lake Springfield. Carnahan was named a suspect and accused of lying to a grand jury about his alibi. A judge dismissed the charge.

Over the years, police named Carnahan a suspect in other homicides, including the 1987 death of Debbie Sue Lewis. Like Johns, she vanished from her car on U.S. 160. Like Johns, her purse and keys were left inside and the driver’s door was open.

Lewis’ skeleton was discovered months later in Newton County. Carnahan was never arrested or charged in that case.

In the spring of 1993 — less than a year after the women vanished from the house on Delmar Street — Carnahan was arrested after trying to kidnap a woman from a sidewalk near Sunshine Street and Ingram Mill Road  He served two years in prison for that crime.

Evidence of Carnahan’s notoriety: his attempted kidnapping trial had to be held in Columbia, after a local judge spent two fruitless days in August 1993 trying to seat an impartial jury. Ninety percent of potential jurors in Greene County had heard about Gerald Carnahan.

Because of his history, Springfield detectives investigated Carnahan but did not find evidence linking him to the missing women. He denied any involvement in the crime.

Carnahan denied killing Jackie Johns. But police in 2007 matched his DNA in that case. A jury convicted Carnahan of first-degree murder and forcible rape. He’s currently serving a life sentence.

“I did know Jackie, and Debbie Lewis,” Carnahan wrote in an email sent from inside prison to the Daily Citizen. “Both good people.”

As for the missing women: “Really have no idea what happened or where they ran off to, the three girls.”

Steven Garrison, 63

Steven Garrison

Steven Garrison, a member of a motorcycle gang at the time, told police in 1993 that he knew what happened to the women. He offered more information if investigators would help him get out of jail, where he was being held on an unrelated weapons charge.

Garrison claimed he overheard someone confess to killing the three women at a drug party. He said their bodies were taken to a hog farm in Webster County. Police said Garrison had information that wasn’t public knowledge.

A judge lowered Garrison’s bail. Police put him up in a hotel, where he promptly fled. A few days later he broke into a woman’s apartment in Springfield and attacked her. She survived and testified against Garrison.

In September 1995, Garrison told the Springfield News-Leader that police had questioned him as a suspect in the missing women case.

Garrison is serving 40 years in prison for rape, sodomy, burglary and robbery.

Robert Craig Cox, 62

Robert Craig Cox

Robert Craig Cox was a one-time Army Ranger and death-row inmate. A Florida jury in 1988 convicted him of the slaying of a Walt Disney World clerk a decade earlier. Citing a lack of credible evidence tying Cox to the slaying, the state supreme court reversed his conviction and ordered his release in 1990.

Cox came back to his childhood hometown, Springfield. He was here in 1992. Several years later, police questioned him about the missing women. Cox told reporters that he knew the women were dead but did not provide any further details.

Cox was arrested in 1995 for holding a gun on a child during a robbery in Texas. He’s serving a life sentence.

Cox said police had questioned him about the three missing women in 1992, and again in 1996.

When asked directly by the News-Leader if he abducted the women, Cox said in March 1996: “That’s a frivolous question. Obviously, I’m going to say no.”

Dustin Recla, 50

Dustin Recla was a former boyfriend of Suzie Streeter. He broke into a Springfield mausoleum a few months before the women vanished and stole $30 worth of gold fillings from a skull.

Police looked at Recla because Streeter had given investigators a statement about the mausoleum break-in.

Recla took a lie-detector test in June 1992, denied any involvement in the disappearances, and passed. He testified before a grand jury investigating the case in August 1994 and said the select panel was “asking the same old questions” about his relationship with Streeter.

Recla, who received a suspended sentence and was placed on probation for the vandalism at the cemetery, now lives in Colorado.

Ron Davis is a writer and raconteur who lives in Springfield. When he’s not typing he’s usually listening to music and reading about ways to keep cats off the keyboard. Follow him on Twitter @thisisrondavis and on Instagram @rondavis or email him at: More by Ron Davis