Leppert left her family's home in Rockledge, Florida at 11:00 a.m. on July 6, 1983 with a male friend. Her friend later told authorities that he and Leppert had an argument while driving and that he left her standing in a parking lot outside the Glass Bank near an Exxon gasoline station in the vicinity of State Road A1A between 2nd Street North and 3rd Street North in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Leppert carried a gray purse when she went missing. Many reports erroneously state that she was barefoot at the time of her disappearance. Her mother said she noticed Leppert had not combed her hair before leaving the house that day, which is very uncharacteristic of her; she usually spent considerable time on her appearance before going anywhere. At the time of her disappearance, Leppert was planning to go to California to act in some movies. She apparently never arrived there, however.
Investigators looked into the possibility that Leppert was attacked by Christopher Wilder, a man linked to at least a dozen disappearances, rapes, murders and/or attacks of women in the early to mid-1980s. Photos of Wilder are posted below this case summary. He frequented the Florida region at the time of Leppert's disappearance. He sometimes attempted to lure young female victims by offering non-existent "modeling sessions" or other tactics, which would have fit well into a scenario involving Leppert. She was a relatively known model who had won several titles and was an occasional actress, landing bit parts in the films Scarface and Spring Break, and she wanted to be an internationally famous star.
Wilder, whose history of violence towards women went back to his adolescent years, was put on probation in 1980 after pleading guilty to attempted sexual battery towards a teenage girl. While on a visit home to Australia that same year, he was charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting two teenage girls. His parents bailed him out of jail and he flew back to the United States, promising to return for his trial which was set for April 1984.
Wilder is a also a suspect in the Florida disappearances of Mary Opitz, Colleen Orsborn, Rosario Gonzales, and Elizabeth Kenyon. He was killed during a shootout with authorities in 1984. Leppert's family filed a one-million-dollar lawsuit against Wilder before his death, but dropped the suit afterwards. Leppert's mother, modeling agent Linda Curtis, later stated that she never believed Wilder was involved in Leppert's disappearance. Police have never been able to link Wilder and Leppert and it may be coincidence that she disappeared at the same time he was targeting area models. He had a long history of sex crimes but did not begin his killing spree until a year after Leppert vanished.
John Crutchley, the so-called "Vampire Rapist," is also considered a possible suspect in Leppert's case. He received a life sentence in prison after kidnapping and raping a woman in Orlando, Florida and drinking her blood. Crutchley committed suicide in prison in 2002. He has never been linked to Leppert. Curtis criticized the police for allegedly mishandling the investigation into Leppert's disappearance. Police initially believed she ran away, and some continue to think that foul play was not involved in her case. Curtis said her daughter was afraid of the man who last saw her, and that the individual was never properly investigated. Authorities say they did the best they could to find Leppert and the man she was last seen with has been interviewed is not a viable suspect in her case.
On June 1, a month before Leppert vanished, she began acting erratically at her home. She yelled and screamed and broke a window with a baseball bat. Curtis took Leppert to a mental health center for a 72-hour observation after she calmed down. Psychiatrists there could not find anything wrong with her. Curtis planned to get a therapist for Leppert, but she disappeared before that could be arranged. Curtis believed that Leppert may have been kidnapped and murdered as a result of her knowledge of a large-scale drug and money laundering operation in Brevard, Florida. The operation allegedly involved many prominent local citizens. Leppert was reportedly afraid for her life because of what she knew. She stayed in her bedroom more than usual and refused to drink from open containers or eat from her own plate. Curtis claimed Leppert made a police report about what she knew, but investigators have no record of the report and do not espouse Curtis's theory.
Leppert's sister is still looking for her and believes her mother's theory about Leppert's disappearance. Curtis, who moved to Orlando, Florida, after her daugther's disappearance, died of a blood infection in 1995. The missing persons organization Child Protection Education of America states that Leppert had no cavities or fillings at the time of her disappearance; however, this is unproven. Her dental records have been lost. Some agencies incorrectly state that Leppert's home is in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance:
Missing Since: July 6, 1983 from Rockledge, Florida
Classification: Endangered Missing
Date Of Birth: February 5, 1965
Age: 18 years old
Height and Weight: 5'4 - 5'5, 105 - 115 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Curly blonde hair, hazel eyes. Leppert may spell her first name "Tammi." She occasionally uses Tammi and/or Tami-Lyn as stage names.
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A blue denim skirt, a light blue shirt with flower appliques on the shoulders, and flip-flops.
Medical Conditions: Leppert may have been three months pregnant at the time of her disappearance, but this has not been confirmed. She was apparently suffering from emotional problems at the time of her disappearance.
Whatever Happened to Tami-Lynn Leppert? 7 years ago, model says goodbye, hasn't been heard from since.
“I like this place, I've lived here all my life, and I'd like to stay here. Ever since I was a little girl, I've always dreamed of having a house in cocoa beach and living happily ever after.”
-Tami-Lynn Leppert, March 1983
It was the last interview she gave before the fairy tale disintegrated, and she was good at it: Poised engaging, an easy smile that could melt glacial skepticism. Naturally she was good. She was a pro. Four hundred-ten talent and beauty contests since age 4. Two hundred-eighty trophies. She just turned 18. And she was at a crossroad. Her latest flirtation with Hollywood-a cinematic turkey called "Spring Break"-had just been released. But she harbored no illusions about it. Her non-speaking role as a bikinied nymphet carried no more weight than her earlier cameos in "Little Darlings" and "Scarface." What "Spring Break" represented was the latest stop in a carefully nurtured ascent to movie stardom. If visibility management meant getting Tami’s curvaceous hips splashed across a movie poster (Four college dudes erecting a "Spring Break" flag atop them, Reminiscent of the allied triumph at Iwo Jima), That was good enough for now. And if Tami-Lynn Leppert felt compelled to feign embarrassment over this no-talent coup by crossing her eyes and making a goofy face, these were times for celebration. Or so it seemed. At least three producers were talking major roles in upcoming projects. One critic, Steve Walz, Was projecting her to be "One of the stars of the 80's" involving her name in the same breath with Brooke Shields and insisting, "She's not just another dumb blonde"
Model, Dancer, Beauty Queen, Cover girl at age 13. Five-foot five, Hazel eyes, 105 pounds. A can't miss resume. A magnetic aura that turned the heads of men and boys alike, pulling strangers and their promises into her orbit. But somewhere inside those invisible walls, beyond the curiosity of judges and talent scouts, a bomb was ticking. Those familiar with the sound never understood until it was much too late: The weight of expectations. A web of paranoia. Broken glass. On July 6, 1983, Tami-Lynn Leppert went for a ride and vanished so cleanly it was as if she'd never existed. Nearly seven years later, beneath the cobwebs of distance. There isn't even a shrine to commemorate what was. Only a question: Was Tami the architect and star of the perfect getaway or the victim of a perfect crime? Tami's mother/agent Linda Curtis moved from Brevard County three years ago, primarily to shake the emptiness she felt every time she saw something that reminded her of Tami. This was always. Curtis lives in Orlando, Where she conducts her modeling business from a home she only half-jokingly refers to as "The Cave." An artist with eccentric notions stucco edifice himself-Its few windows are primarily ventilation caliber. Having been spotlighted nationally by life magazine and ABC's "20/20" for her talents as one of America's most successful child modeling agents. Curtis might well be expected to enjoy a lifestyle commensurate with her abilities. But nothing ever comes easy for Linda Curtis. After a series of heart attacks, chronic diabetes and a ruptured tendon in her foot, her mobility is relegated to a walker and a wheelchair. She doesn't want her picture taken. And there is the heavy emotional baggage to contend with, which includes two husbands, five children and rip-offs by business associates
By 1983 only daughter Tami remained a part of her household. Today, Even Tami is a memory-which Curtis is still attempting to manage, via book and a screen-play. Predictably, the story will accent all those magic moments only a mother can recite so well: The time her nine-year-old daughter surrendered a beauty pageant to the broken hearted runner-up after an official mistakenly announced the other girl the winner, the time Tami “sold more Girl Scout cookies than anyone else in Brevard County". Tami as a philanthropist who made special visits to Brevard County Detention Center inmates on Christmas Eve: A popular little girl who "Was always sticking up for the underdog." But Curtis plans to unsheathe a more pointed edge in the book. Contrary to what some people think, she insists that her daughter was no runaway. Tami, she charges, was yanked into the shadows by a conspiracy involving prominent Brevardians whose names would make trial lawyers eyes light up with dollar signs. “I want people over there to know I'm writing a book," She says referring to a project (no actual names used) she's been tolling over for months. "I want to shake them up. I want the criminal to know they can't absorb my child-or anyone's child- without ultimately paying the penalty for it."
Tami-Lynn Leppert now resides in the computer memory bank of Florida Crime Information center. A community of 5,944, roughly the size of Indian Harbor Beach. She can be found there alongside another cocoa beach entry Keith D. Fleming who vanished in 1977 at age 13. Cocoa Beach Police Capt. Bob Wicker is mildly indignant over Curtis' allegation that his department blew the investigation of Tami's disappearance. He says he couldn’t find a hint of foul play. "I can't say there was anything unusual about the case. Other than some faintly problems I understand she was having at home" Wicker says. "The agent in charge was a real go-getter. He was the type the sees communists behind every tree, if you know what I mean." The case fell into the departments lap when Tami, a Rockledge resident, was last reported seen in Cocoa Beach. Among other things, Curtis says the young man who picked up her daughter up on the morning of July 6, 1983, was never thoroughly interrogated. She says that Tami once told her that she feared the same man-A businessman-wanted to kill her. Wicker dismisses. "Nothing in the report has him down as a suspect" He says. "We have no reason to believe he did anything wrong, at this time." Wicker says he has no current Address on the man Tami was last seen with. Because the case is still pending, he says, records on the investigation remain closed.
"Family Problems" Tami-Lynn Leppert lived in fear shortly before she vanished. Strangers prowled around the eyes of those she knew best. She wouldn’t drink from open containers; she only ate food from someone else's plate, not hers; she stayed in her room and refused to answer the door. Linda Curtis concedes these things. She says she got her first glimpse of deterioration the year before; When Tami broke down on the set of Brian DePalma's cocaine-war thriller, "Scarface." A blood-and-guts scene during the filming sent her into hysterics. But Curtis insists that Tami's authentic tears were rooted in a confession that would consume her. Tami told her mother that how in an effort to score points, a friend bragged to her on a large-scale, drug-money laundering operation in Brevard. Cops, Bankers, Leading citizens-the people in on the take were powerful, powerful enough to make Tami fear she knew too much. Curtis says she told Tami to make a report with the Brevard County Sheriff's Department. Officer Mike Wong, now with the department's drug task force, says he vaguely remembers his meeting with Tami. "It was so long ago," Wong says "and the best I can recollect, the conversation didn't have anything to do with anyone trying to kill her. I think she came in to talk about some stolen property she wanted back." Wong expresses bewilderment over the drug scenario. "The last I heard, they thought that race car driver was involved." That reference is to serial killer Christopher Wilder. Before he was shot to death in a tussle with a state trooper on the Canadian border in spring 1984, Wilder's murder spree lanced Brevard. The FBI linked Wilder-A Grand Prix aficionado who posed as a fashion photographer-with the abduction and murder aspiring Satellite Beach model Terry Ferguson, last seen at Merritt square mall. Curtis filled a $1 million wrongful death suit against Wilder's estate that year. She says Wilder met her daughter on the set of "Spring Break" in Fort Lauderdale and traveled to Brevard in a fruitless effort to convince Curtis to let him photograph Tami. Curtis said she never considered Wilder a strong suspect. She says she only sued the Wilder estate luring the manhunt to force him to answer questions about Tami. She dropped the lawsuit after Wilder's death.
Rick Adams was one of the few people Tami-Lynn Leppert trusted to the end. "It's hard to say why, really" Adams says. "Maybe it's because I never really wanted anything from her.”Now 27, Adams sifts through his pictures. Pointing out the times he escorted her to both his junior and senior proms at Cocoa High School. It was one of those hard-to-categorize teen-age relationships-not exactly a hot romance, but not exactly little sister/big brother either. He knows only one thing for sure "She could've dated anybody she wanted to.”They drifted apart after he graduated. Perhaps that was inevitable."Tami had a lot of pressure about her appearance in public "Adam recalls.”Because of who she was, she felt like she had this image she had to live up to. Everything she did was, like, fine-tooth combed. Her makeup had to be just right, every hair had to be in place, what she wore had to be perfect. It drove me crazy, to tell the truth. I got burned out on the whole thing, with so many people hanging around, so many people coming up to her. It was almost like having to compete for attention, and I wasn't into that." but shortly before she disappeared, Adams says Tami began confiding in him, telling him that someone was trying to kill her. He says the fear was real. "I knew it wasn't drugs. I can say for sure that Tami wasn't into drugs. She didn't even drink. "Finally, on Tuesday evening July 5, 1983. Tami told Adam she had "seen something she shouldn't have seen" She didn't get specific. They went to pray at Rockville Evangel Temple. "Tami cried as hard as I’ve seen anyone cry before" Adams says. He dropped her off in front of her house around 11 that night. They made plans to go back to church Wednesday afternoon."And then." Adams says "She looked at me and said. I just want you to know that I may have to go away for a while. But I also want you to know that I love you." Then they hugged each other, and held the embrace for as long as it took. Rick Adams never got a chance to ask her what she meant. He called late the next morning to reconfirm their date. She was already gone.
Curtis concedes Tami had been restless, that her career hadn't advances as quickly as she wanted. She says Tami was preparing to pursue some acting leads waiting for her in California. But paranoia engulfed her first. It was the last of June, first of July 1983. "Tami went outside for some reason-which seemed strange, considering how she afraid to go outside-when the door slammed and locked behind her. I think a gust of wind caught it." Curtis says. "Anyway, she went berserk. She bashed the window with a baseball bat she picked up in the front yard, and she reached her and inside to unlock the door. "She came running in, Yelling and screaming, but before she could do anything I pinned her against the wall and kept saying.” I love you, Tami I love you Tami, over and over again, and then she went limp." The next day Curtis checked Tami into the Brevard mental health center for 72 hour observation. “Then they released her and said she was normal as far as they could tell." Curtis says. "So we were all set to check her with another psycho therapist. But we were too late." Curtis was sitting in the house that Wednesday morning when she heard a car horn beep out front. Tami peered out the window and went out the door. She was wearing a light blue blouse, a denim shirt and was barefoot. She stuck her head back in and said "bye mommy, I'll see you in a little bit, OK?" "For some reason, I was preoccupied that day and I didn't pay much attention to it, and I'll never forgive myself for that." Curtis says. On the other hand since her daughter did not have her purse? Curtis didn't think she was going far. Ten minutes later, Curtis heard the car engine crank up. She rose to see what was going on. Tami was riding away in the car of the young man she supposedly feared. It was 11 a.m. Linda Curtis never saw her daughter again. The last reported contact Tami attempted came in a flurry of calls she made that Wednesday afternoon. Three times she left urgent messages for her aunt, Ginger Kolsch, at Kolsch's Cocoa Beach costume shop, Balloonatics. Kolsch was out of town; Tami said she was calling from a nearby location. "Tami was definitely afraid of somebody," Kolsch says. "It was real, I'm convinced of that." Kolsch says the runaway scenario doesn't wash.
"Did you ever see her play Peter Pan?" asks Rick Adams. "Linda's got it on video." The performance in an enduring image in Adams' memory, a special place for the little girl he thought was destined to be a star. This is the one where Tami-Lynn Leppert, dressed as the famous boy-who-wouldn't-grow-up, is confronted with a dying Tinkerbell poisoned by the notorious Captain Hook. And the only way to save Tinkerbelle’s life is to rally the support of the audience. "Oh, please, please, everyone who believes in fairies, clap your hands!" Tami urges. Grief and fear come trickling down Tami's cheeks so easily it flows like blood from a fresh wound. "Please!"She continues with greater conviction, "Louder! Oh please, louder!" The audience responds with lusty, award-winning applause and Tami's tears of sorrow smear with tears of relief. Tinkerbell lives. "She could make you cry, man," Adams says, "That was Tami at her best. She had the gift." A fountain of sorrow, forever young.
Florida Today March 18, 1990
By Billy Cox