On Saturday, September 25, 1982, two young girls were approached on the western side of Rome, Georgia, by a woman who wanted to know their names. Her MO, it later turned out, was to pretend she knew a girl she approached and call her by a wrong name. Once she was set straight about her mistake and learned the girls actual name and where she lived, this woman would continue to pressure her about going with her to ride around in her car. Both of these girls managed to avoid her. They were the lucky ones.
Thirteen-year-old Lisa Ann Millican was at Riverbend Mall, the central shopping area in Rome, GA
, which had a videogame arcade for families and teenagers. Lisa was on an outing with five other girls from the Ethel Harbst Home for neglected girls in Cedartown (though Cook later says there were boys at this facility as well). Two years earlier, a woman had been robbed at gunpoint here at this mall, on the day before Halloween, but Lisa did not know anything about that. Nor would she have cared. Being a teenager, she probably would not have believed that such incidents would ever come close to her. But she was wrong. In fact, the very woman who had been arrested for the robbery and sent for a brief time to a juvenile facilitythe Rome Youth Development Center
---was now luring her away from the mall and toward a brown car.
Since no one recalled a struggle, Lisa apparently went easily enough. One minute she was with the other girls, told to meet at a certain spot within an hour, and by the time they were all back together again, writes Cook, she was gone. Three separate searches were made, and then the police were called, but Lisa was nowhere to be found. The worried social worker who had accompanied the girls said that Lisa had been wearing jeans and a white-and-black patterned blouse.
Little River Canyon & Falls, Alabama
Several days went by and there was still no sign of young Lisa. Then three anonymous calls to the police from a femaleall of them apparently from the same person---directed them to Alabamas Little River Canyon, near Payne, some thirty-five miles away. First, the Rome police received and recorded a call and checked it out superficially but found nothing. Then police in Alabama took the next two calls. A call also came into a Rome radio station, claming that the police were covering up a murder done by a female juvenile officer. The caller named Lisa Ann Millican as the victim. (In retrospect, it appears that the girls abductors were attempting to implicate people in authority for various offenses, from sexual abuse to murder.)
Finally the police decided to make a more concerted effort to search the area where the caller directed them, especially since she had seemed insistent and had given quite specific instructions. Just as night was falling on September 29, they spotted the still figure of a child, draped partially over a tree trunk, face down on the canyon floor. A pair of jeans hung from a branch. As they rappelled down to get closer, they could see from a bullet hole in the victims back that she had not fallen accidentally but had been murdered. She apparently had been thrown there from the eighty-foot height onto the rocks. As they carefully brought her body up to the top in a basket, a woman who had known her from one of the juvenile facilities identified the body as that of the missing girl. Lisa Ann Millican had been found.
The autopsy showed that she had been subjected to a series of brutal attacks, from rape to injections in the neck and back with something that boiled the fat under her skin into what Newton quotes the county coroner describing as the consistency of anchovy paste. Crime scene investigators also found among the debris near her body three plastic syringes to test for fingerprints and to determine with chemical analysis the substance that had been used on the girl. From the crime lab, they learned that it had the basic components of toxic household cleaners, such as Liquid Drano. These would affect the flesh in the way Lisas skin appeared at the site of the injections. And it would have been terribly painful. The jeans that had been hanging from the tree had red splotches, which turned out to be blood, and they werent Lisas jeans, so someone who had been close to the girl had thrown them over the edge. The jeans might belong to her killer.
Detective Sergeant Kenneth Kines was assigned to head the investigation. Aside from whoever had made the phone call, there were no suspects. Yet the voice had been recorded, so if an arrest were made this recording could be compared to that person. It was also a good place to start. Investigators listened to each of the calls made to the various places regarding Lisa and some of them agreed that the same woman had made all fourespecially when the transcripts were typed out. The clues lay in how she talkedthe phrases she used and her accent. She sounded fairly young and several things she had said indicated that she was familiar with the juvenile justice system. Investigators checked whether Lisa had any enemies. While it turned out that she was not popular with anyone, there seemed to be no specific grudges that might fuel murderous intent. Whatever connection she had with the caller, it remained a mystery.
The police figured that Lisas abductor was probably from the Rome area rather than Alabama, since the first calls had been made there. Yet they interviewed everyone they could think of, from the girls at the home where she had been placed to former neighbors, to her destitute father, who had allegedly molested her, and her mother, who had a boyfriend fresh out of prison. Many people were given lie detector tests, and some looked pretty good as suspects, but no one emerged as a viable person to continue to investigate. It seemed that Lisa either had friends that no one had known about or she had been abducted by a stranger. Given the calls and the fact that she had been murdered, it was unlikely that she had run away from the mall and had just stumbled into a bad situation. This incident had all the marks of a predator who had grabbed her.
Even as the police were busy with this crime, another one was taking place on the streets of Rome, with another victim targeted for similar treatment.