Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Public safety

Police still looking for Pinellas Park woman missing 32 years

PINELLAS PARK — For more than three decades, Gloria Smith has been waiting for a phone call from her daughter. It should have come on May 29, 1981.

Back then, Smith and 19-year-old Barbara Barkley were more like sisters than mother and daughter. They talked about boyfriends. They met late at night for hot fudge sundaes. They worked out together.

And every day, on her lunch break at work, Barbara called her mom. But on that particular day, the call never came.

Last week marked 32 years since Barbara Barkley vanished from her job at the Pipe Furniture Store at 9677 66th St. N in Pinellas Park. Today, it is one of the oldest unsolved cases at the Pinellas Park Police Department.

Smith, now 78, still lives in the same St. Petersburg house she did then. She still has the same phone number. She still hopes that maybe, one of these days, she will hear from Barbara.

"I can (only) imagine what it would be like to live and not know what happened to her child," said Detective Roxanne Hunt, the Pinellas Park police investigator who now handles the case. "You talk to her about it and she's looking off to the side like she's playing it back in her mind."

• • •

She was called Barbara, but sometimes spelled it without the middle A — "Barbra." When she was little, her brother had trouble pronouncing the name. Thus came her nickname: "Bobbie."

Bobbie was shy and quiet. She liked swimming and bicycling. She loved Elvis Presley and horses and decorated her bedroom wall with plaques and pictures of both. Alongside them, taped to the wall, was a piece of notebook paper with the Lord's Prayer and Hail Mary in her handwriting.

She shared an apartment with older brother, Bernard Barkley, in St. Petersburg. She had a fiance, Daniel Ullian, whose family owned the store where she worked. She was often alone there. And between occasional customers, Bobbie was known to sunbathe in a chair outside.

At 10 a.m. May 29, a woman at a business across 66th Street saw Bobbie show up for work. About 1:30 p.m., Bernard stopped by and found the store empty.

A TV was on, tuned to a talk show. Bobbie's cigarettes were on her desk. Her purse, with about $20 inside, was there. A calculator and pencil were on the floor.

Only Bobbie and her 1973 Plymouth Fury were gone. Her brother began making calls. He visited neighboring businesses. No one had seen her. When she still hadn't returned by early evening, the family called police.

• • •

The story of what happened next is told in yellowed newspaper clippings and on the tattered pages of police reports sandwiched between the covers of a set of black binders.

Police combed wooded areas near the store. Pilots did aerial searches. They found nothing.

Three days after Barkley went missing, a friend of her family was driving on U.S. 19 near Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard when he saw her car parked in the lot of the Studio 19 rock club. The driver's side window was open and the keys were in the ignition..

When news of the car's recovery hit local TV, a witness called police and gave them a lead. About 2:30 p.m. May 29, the witness said, he was at a self-serve car wash along U.S. 19 in New Port Richey. A man pulled in, driving the Plymouth, and offered him money to clean the car.

The man was in his late 20s and had ash blond hair and a light stubble beard, the witness said. One of his legs was wrapped in a bandage, an injury he said made it difficult for him to clean the car.

A Jackson Browne casette tape was in the tape player, the witness recalled. The rear bumper had a "Single and Loving It" sticker. On the front bumper hung a crooked license plate with a name: "Bobbie." All were features that matched Barbara Barkley's car.

The witness washed the car and thought little of it. Later, he was hypnotized and police created a sketch of the man. It resembled Mark Cutler, whom police had questioned earlier. Cutler, who had a history of minor crimes, was allegedly overheard bragging that he knew what had happened to Barkley.

Cutler denied being involved. When police put his photo in a lineup, the car wash witness didn't pick Cutler as the man he saw.

Cutler was never charged. He later moved to Citrus County, where he died in 2011.

The only other promising suspect in the case, a known serial killer, is also dead. James Winkles died in 2010 on Florida's death row.

• • •

Investigators still are trying to determined what happened to Barkley.

Advanced DNA technology, unavailable in 1980, is being put to use. Police plan to submit items from Barkley's car to a forensic lab to look for traces of DNA.

"I would like to see this case solved," Detective Hunt said. "I would like to bring closure to her mother. You look at her and you can tell she's still living it."

   
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