Unsolved in Missouri: The Cases of Lenora Seiler & Shirley Jane Rose
On February 15th, 1953, thirteen-year-old Lenora Seiler disappeared after leaving a movie theater in Valley Park, Missouri. Her father had dropped her off earlier, but when he returned to pick her up, she was gone. A friend of Lenora told authorities she decided to walk home when the movie ended a little earlier than expected, but Lenora never made it home. What happened to Lenora Seiler?
Lenora Joan Seiler was born October 7th, 1939, to Bernard and Caroline Seiler. The family resided in Valley Park, Missouri. Lenora was 4 foot 11 with short dark brown hair. By all accounts, she was an average girl in 1950’s. She was an eighth-grade student at Sacred Heart Catholic School. Her father was a drill press operator and her mother a homemaker. In February of 1953, she was at the movie theater before deciding to walk home. She was never seen alive again.
A schoolmate of Lenora told authorities she saw the girl walking just blocks from the Seiler home around six that Sunday evening. Lenora’s mother told authorities she heard a car door slam and a child scream around that same time. This led her family to believe that Lenora had been abducted just a few minutes before she would have arrived home. Lenora’s younger brother said he saw the vehicle, a sedan, with multiple people in the car. However, police initially considered Lenora a runaway.
The search for Lenora was widespread and included seventy-five high school students from Valley Park High School. A $1,000 reward was offered for information leading to Lenora’s whereabouts. On Monday, a truck driver reported seeing a girl matching Lenora’s description near the bridge of the Meramec River at Sylvan Beach. Authorities also noted that there had been several complaints recently about a man in a blue sedan trying to entice young girls into his vehicle. Police questioned numerous men with vehicles matching the description but were unable to locate Lenora.
On March 14th, 1953, a man was walking through the yard of his club house property near the Meramec River when he spotted something caught in some submerged roots. He moved to get a closer look and identified the object as the nude body of a young girl. The body was recovered from the river and taken for autopsy. The body was identified as a young female, matching Lenora Seiler’s approximate weight, height, and hair color. They found a St. Christopher medal caught in the girl’s hair.
The girl was identified as Lenora Seiler based off her measurements, matching dental records, and the fact that Lenora often wore Catholic medals including a St. Christopher medal. Her father said, “I had been prepared for this. I had been hoping against hope that she could be found alive, but I didn’t think she could be held by anyone this long without being seen” (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 1953).
The medical examiner’s report indicated that the condition of the body was preserved enough that they did not believe she had been in the water more than two weeks. She certainly was not in the water the entire month she had been missing. She had bruising around her throat as well as in other areas of the body. Although she was found nude, there were no conclusive findings indicative of sexual assault. There was popcorn in her stomach, however, indicating that she was likely killed within hours of her abduction.
Unfortunately, the police didn’t have much else to go on. They didn’t have any leads and before long the case was cold. It stayed cold for the next five years. In July of 1958, a man named Denver Darrell Morris confessed to abducting and killing Lenora Seiler. Denver was a twenty-two-year-old in 1958, making him seventeen at the time Lenora disappeared. He was arrested for a vagrancy charge at which time he made a confession.
Denver Darrell Morris said he followed Lenora Seiler from the theater. He said he struck her with a stick and abducted her after following her for several blocks. He told police that he rolled and dragged her to the river before throwing her in. After being booked in St. Louis County Jail, Morris recanted his confession. He said he just made it all up. Morris’s uncle told police that Denver was mentally deficient and had learning disabilities. He was working as a farm hand.
After recanting his confession, Denver (pictures with police) later repeated the confession with an accurate description of the clothing Lenora was wearing at the time of her disappearance. He said he asked her if she could walk her home, but she refused. He then followed her and abducted her. At the time of booking, authorities found a news clipping of the Lenora Seiler case in his pocket. The police believed his confession to be credible, but Denver once again recanted. They performed a lie detector test, which Denver passed.
After their only suspect passed a lie detector test, the case once again grew cold. No other suspects were ever identified, and no other evidence ever conclusively pointed to Denver Darrell Morris. The case was eventually closed without any conviction of justice for Lenora and her family.
Shirley Jane Rose
On October 17th, 1975, Shirley Jane Rose, a nine-year-old girl living in Springfield, Missouri set out to walk from her grandmother’s home to her house a few blocks away. She never made it home. “All I can say about it is that I want by baby back. I can’t understand why anybody would want to take a nine-year-old child” her mother said in a plea for her safe return (Dark, 1975). The mystery of what happened to Shirley Jane Rose would mystify and terrify the Springfield, Missouri community.
Shirley Jane Rose was last seen by her friend, shortly before 7 pm. At that time, she was walking just blocks from her house. Her mom said that she never stayed out past dusk because she was scared of the dark and scared to cross the street by herself. When Shirley wasn’t home an hour after dark, her mother reported her missing. Shirley had brown eyes and short brown hair. She was wearing a white blouse and white pants at the time of her disappearance.
Shirley lived in her Springfield, Missouri home with her mother Joyce and four siblings. Shirley’s mother was a small-time drug dealer, dealing marijuana in her community. Rumors swirled that a bad drug deal likely led to the kidnaping and murder of Shirley. Her mother adamantly denied these rumors and pled for her daughter’s safe return. She described her daughter as “a good kid. She had odd traits. I would be forever throwing things away, empty salt boxes or pepper cans, and I’d go in her room for something and find them in her drawer. She played house with them” (Beasley, 1995).
In December of 1975, fifty-eight days after Shirley went missing, two men were searching for beaver dams near McDaniel Lake when they found a shallow grave. The badly decomposed body of Shirley Jane Rose was discovered and confirmed to be the missing girl through dental records. They found a blouse around her neck, suggesting she had been strangled with her own shirt. Because of the severe decomposition, the exact cause of death was not evident.
Twenty years after the murder, police were nowhere closer to solving Shirley’s murder than they had been in 1975. Rumors continued to suggest that the murder was drug related and police claimed numerous informants backed out of sharing what they knew out of fear of retribution. Shirley’s mother defended herself, telling reporters that she didn’t owe anyone money and always provided for her children before purchasing drugs.
Police indicated they had a solid suspect but could not prove the case even twenty years later. “We ran the case into the ground, and everything came back to the same person” detectives said (Beasley, 1995). Police pointed to the son of a prominent businessman living in the Springfield community where Shirley Jane Rose had lived. The suspect had a history of being involved in narcotics. Unnamed witnessed claimed he would freak out when someone mentioned the unsolved murder.
Shirley’s mother had her own suspicions. She said she once bought marijuana that had been dried in a dryer, burning out the THC. The dealer for which she sold under allegedly said she embarrassed him and his business. Joyce said that people had suggested he killed Shirley Jane in retribution for this embarrassment. Joyce also made a comment regarding police failing to investigate all of those who lived in the house. It is unclear whom she is referring to.
In 1992, police re-opened Shirley’s cold case and begged again for the public’s help in solving it in 1995. Unfortunately, anyone who does know what happened to Shirley either can’t or won’t talk. Shirley’s murder remains an unsolved case to this day. Shirley, like Lenora, never got the justice she deserves.
What happened to thirteen-year-old Lenora Joan Seiler nearly 70 years ago? : UnresolvedMysteries (reddit.com)
Lenora Joan Seiler (1939-1953) - Find a Grave Memorial
St. Louis Post Dispatch (1953) Body of missing Valley Park girl discovered in Meramec River. 15 Mar 1953
St. Louis Globe-Democrat (1953) Slaying suspect to take lie test. 01 Jul 1958
St. Louis Post Dispatch (1953) Search for girl missing since Sunday goes on. 18 Feb 1953
Beasley, T. (1995) Hope still alive in 20-year-old case. The Springfield News-Leader. 21 May 1995
Zeller, B. (1975) Grave yields girl’s body. Springfield Leader and Press. 14 Dec 1975
Shirley Jane Rose (1965-1975) - Find a Grave Memorial
Shirley Jane Rose – CUE – Community United Effort (ncmissingpersons.org)
Dark, K. (1975) Shirley’s mom pleads ‘I want my baby back’. Springfield Leader and Press. 20 Oct 1975