The Day Treva Throneberry Disappeared

In the mid-eighties the cheerful high school student vanished. After more than a decade had passed, her friends and family in her tiny North Texas hometown of Electra had no idea where she was—or if she was dead or alive. They certainly didn't know that almost two thousand miles away her fate was kept secret by a teenage girl named Brianna Stewart.

I am now.”

Numerous people were more than willing to help her. A state social worker conducted exhaustive governmental record searches looking for any evidence of Brianna, her mother, or the man she said was her stepfather. A staffer from Indian Health Services, who had been unable to get Brianna off his mind since meeting her, scoured national databases of missing children and even asked her to give blood in hopes of finding a DNA match. She reportedly asked an FBI agent in Portland to investigate whether she was the victim of an unsolved kidnapping in Salt Lake City and visited a Montana sheriff’s office to find out if she was a girl who went missing in 1983.

Everyone came up empty-handed. Undeterred, Brianna took time off from school in January 2000 and rode the bus to Daphne, Alabama, where she said she had been raised. A police detective from Daphne spent several days driving her around, hoping she would see something that would jog her memory. She saw a swing set at a park that she remembered playing on. She saw a table at a McDonald’s where she believed she had once sat. Nevertheless, no one could find any evidence that she had ever lived there.

One possible clue came when she visited a dentist in Portland. The dentist later told a social worker that he was surprised to notice that Brianna’s wisdom teeth had been extracted and that the scars had healed—highly unusual for a sixteen-year-old girl. When the social worker asked Brianna about the dentist’s statement, she responded with a blistering five-page, single-spaced letter criticizing those who would doubt her story. “My word means much to me,” she wrote, “and when I give my word that I am doing and being as honest and upfront as I can with the information about myself, I mean it.”

When Brianna talked to Ken about the dentist’s story one afternoon while they cruised around in the Turd Tank, he found himself, to his astonishment, under attack when he asked if there might be anything to what the dentist was saying. “How dare you think that I’m not sixteen?” Brianna said, furious. “How dare you even ask that? How can you even say you love me?”

Ken tried to put the confrontation out of his mind. He knew deep down that she loved him. Just a few weeks earlier she had worn a dress to the homecoming dance that his mother had made using yards of the most expensive gold lamé that she could find at Fabric Depot. To show that he still loved her, he bought her a sterling silver ring for Christmas, the inside of which was engraved with her favorite line from the new Romeo and Juliet movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio: “I love thee.”

But at the end of their junior year, something happened that devastated him. By then Brianna was staying with the Gambetta family, whose son was good friends with Ken. (She had told him that she needed a new place to live because the church families could no longer afford to keep her.) The Gambettas had been treating her like a daughter, giving her the spare bedroom, where she could put her tennis posters on the wall, and providing her with an allowance of $10 a week. Everything, in fact, seemed idyllic—until Brianna called the police in May 1999 and said that David Gambetta, the father of the household, had been spying on her. She said he had put miniature cameras in the light fixtures in her room and was making videotapes of her as she undressed.

After a quick investigation the police decided that the accusations were groundless, and the Gambettas ordered Brianna to move out. Yet Brianna, who soon found new lodging with the mother of a police officer, kept insisting she was telling the truth. For the first time, Ken didn’t believe what she was saying. In fact, he began thinking back on all the dramatic stories she had told him. “My God,” he said to one of his friends, “what if Brianna has been making everything up?”as the years passed and nothing more was heard from Treva Throneberry, many people in town assumed she had been killed. Carl and Patsy maintained a $3,000 burial insurance policy on their daughter. In 1993 a rumor swept through Electra that Treva had died in the fire at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco. Sharon Gentry even sent Treva’s dental records to the authorities investigating the fire to see if one of the burned bodies might be Treva.

Treva was not there. But in the little town of Corvallis, Oregon, two thousand miles away, there was a teenager named Keili T. Throneberry Smitt working at a McDonald’s and staying with a family she had met at a church. She told people she preferred the name Keili Smitt. In fact, she went to court in Corvallis to change her name legally to Keili Smitt because she said she was hiding from her father, who lived in Dallas. She told Corvallis police officers that he had already found her once in Oregon, forced her into his car, and raped her.

But the police could never find Keili’s father, and eventually she disappeared. The next summer she surfaced in Portland, telling the police there that she was on the run from her sexually abusive father. This time she said that her father was a Portland police officer. Once again, an investigation was begun, and once again, Keili disappeared.

She reappeared in the summer of 1994 in the town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where she told the police her name was Cara Leanna Davis. She said her mother had been murdered and her father, a police officer, had been a member of a satanic cult and had repeatedly raped her. After two months in Coeur d’Alene, she vanished. Later that year she arrived in Plano, a suburb north of Dallas. She told rapt police officers and social workers that her name was Kara Williams, that she was sixteen years

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