CARTHAGE — Beverly Tallent slid a finger under her big purple sunglasses to wipe her eyes.
Even 15 years later, there are tears. Fewer now, of course, and a bit more laughter — as they remember the good times — than the first year they gathered here to mark the anniversary of the disappearance Nancy Lyons.
But it hurts all the same, said Tallent, Lyons’ sister, who called friends and family together this month to remember the woman they lost.
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Lyons was 46 years old when an unknown attacker snatched her from her broken-down car a few miles from her apartment in Carthage.
She was on her way home from a shopping trip in nearby Rushville, where she’d gone to grab some groceries and medications. She stopped her car at the intersection of county roads 700W and 500N in Rush County, though police never learned why. A passer-by discovered the car a few hours later, empty, still running, the trunk open and a back tire gone flat.
And Lyons was nowhere to be found.
Her loved ones searched for her with no luck. It was no use calling her cellphone, which was still in the car. And no one had seen her around town.
Months went by. Then, the news.
A Bartholomew County farmer discovered human remains in his soybean field. It wasn’t long before they were identified as Lyons. Medical experts determined she’d died from a blow to the head.
No suspects have been named. No arrests have been made.
Since the day Lyons went missing — June 17, 2002 — Tallent and her family have been left to wonder what happened at that rural intersection. Their list of questions only grows with the years.
Who took her? Why? Was she scared? How much time passed before they killed her?
And 15 years later, those unanswered questions remain the most painful part of all of this, said Lyons’ brother-in-law, Rollin Mitchell.
“We’ve had to ask, ‘why?’ so many times,” he said.
In life, Lyons was a free spirit, her family said.She loved to sing and dance, to stay up late talking, swapping stories with old friends and loved ones.
She was the middle child of eight and grew up in Marion. But she never seemed to put down roots as an adult, Tallent said. She never married, never had children. She’d move from place to place, usually to be close to one of her siblings. She would spoil her nieces and nephews for a few years before moving on to a new place.
Wherever she stayed, she worked as a nanny, her longtime friend, Tina Jones, said. She wasn’t afraid to be a tough disciplinarian but never could quite follow through. She always followed a scolding with a trip to a candy store to get everyone a sugary peace offering.
Lyons had been living in Carthage for about five years before she died, Tallent said. Lyons moved there from north-central Indiana around 1999 to be close to her youngest sister, Debora Mitchell, and her husband, Rollin Mitchell, who had been living in Carthage and working for the little Wesleyan church there.
She found the small town, located southeast of Greenfield, just over the Hancock-Rush county line, was peaceful and loved the little apartment she’d made her home.
The Mitchells were among the first people contacted after Lyons was taken, Rollin Mitchell said.
He remembers a police officer banging on their front door just before 1 a.m. that summer morning, hours after Lyons’ car had been discovered. That’s when it all began, he said.
‘Women just didn’t go missing’
Lyon’s vehicle had been abandoned along a county road. There was no sign of a struggle. All of her belongings, everything she’d purchased from the store that day, her keys and purse, were still stacked on the seats inside.It was a man who lived nearby who called 911 and alerted police to the car parked oddly off the shoulder. He’d walked around the vehicle to check if someone needed help, and he noticed a woman’s purse sitting on the front seat, he told investigators.
He’d thought it was strange. Surely, a woman wouldn’t leave without her purse, he’d thought.
Within a few hours, Lyons was labeled a missing person, leaving everyone – police, family, the few friends Lyons had in Carthage – baffled.
The area where her car was found was surrounded by farms and fields, nothing to be seen for miles except a little empty farm house a few yards from the intersection.
It’s not the kind of place parents warn their children to be careful when visiting. There is barely a need to look both ways before crossing the street because cars drive by so infrequently.
“Women didn’t just go missing there,” Tallent said.
Tallent, who lives in Louisville, drove straight to Carthage after police determined her sister was missing. And since that moment, she’s led the charge to bring her sister’s killer to justice.
A search for answers
The family set up a command center in the living room of Debora Mitchell’s Carthage home. They searched for Lyons daily for two weeks, each time widening their path to include more land in neighboring counties. They drove streets, combed corn fields, knocked on doors and begged for information.In the end, it was a farmer more than an hour’s drive away who discovered Lyon’s skeletal remains in October 2002, and the investigation switched from a missing person case to a homicide.
Police continued to search for information about Lyons’ killer. They chased down the leads that came in, did searches based on hunches. Nothing ever turned up. And as the months passed, the phones stopped ringing.
Eventually, they declared the case cold.
Tallent never stopped.
A lingering pain
The unanswered questions still keep Tallent up at night.To this day, she reaches out to law enforcement experts she finds online, asking them to look into the details of her sister’s abduction and slaying.
It’s the logical next step, she argues. She’s already chased down public records, contacted the FBI, attended meetings with officials from across the state who were interested in missing persons cases.
She’s spent hours listening to the stories of those who knew Nancy, who might have some tidbit of information to share about what happened to her. But everything she’s tried has come up short.
As months turned to years, Tallent forced herself to step away from the case, to return to it occasionally rather than daily. She realized she needed to live, to not let the case consume her to the point that her children lost their mother and their aunt to the same tragedy.
She’s still in contact with a few of the investigators who handled her sister’s case, even though most have retired. She peppers them with questions to pass along to those who took their place, making sure they haven’t forgotten Lyons, making sure they are still searching for the justice she is.
Gathered to remember
Every year on the anniversary of Lyons’ abduction, a crowd of her relatives gathers at the Rush County intersection where she was taken. A poster-sized photograph of Nancy pinned to a telephone pole marks the spot.They were there earlier this month to place a handful of pink balloons at the site and say a quick prayer for answers — a prayer they’ve said so many time.
Debora and Rollin Mitchell still own a home in Carthage, and though they don’t live there — they live in Plainfield where Rollin Mitchell works as a minister — they visit regularly.
When they run into neighbors at the little store in town and exchange pleasantries, someone always seems to ask about Lyons. They have no answers, no updates to give.
As the years have passed, they’ve taken advantage of new means of spreading the word about the case.
Tallent started a Facebook page titled “The Nancy Lyons Project” a few years ago in hopes of quickly delivering any news or developments to old friends, distant relatives and curious community members — and, of course, generating leads.
Tallent’s posts to the page are occasional, only on days when her pain is clearly a bit heavier than she can burden alone. Around Christmas or Lyons’ birthday. Each note carries the same plea for information.
Their father passed away earlier this year, and a few of the tears they cried at their gathering to remember Lyons were for him. He died without knowing what happened to his daughter, a fact that added to the family’s grief, Debora Mitchell said.
But perhaps God wanted it that way; perhaps he didn’t want Dad to know, she said.
They battled the wind to place the balloons near the base of the telephone pole.
Rollin Mitchell stumbled up a little incline to get back to the roadway. Age and old knees have made marking the anniversary a bit harder. A day will come when maybe they can’t.
“Now, I wonder who will be the last one here,” Rollin Mitchell said.
But Tallent knows.
“It’ll be me,” she said. “I’ve got a job to do.”
The search for Nancy Lyons’ killer has reached its 15th year, with no new information released about the case. Family members of the Carthage woman say they still haven’t given up hope they will one day find justice.
June 2002: Nancy Lyons’ car is found abandoned along a rural Carthage road, her belongings still inside. Investigators quickly suspect foul play.
July 2002: Search dogs that specialize in locating cadavers are called to the Carthage area to search for Lyons. They turn up no leads.
October 2002: Human remains, including a skull, are found scattered in a farmer’s field in Bartholomew County. They are soon identified as Lyons, whose death is investigated as a homicide.
November 2002: Coroners rule Nancy Lyons’ cause of death blunt-force trauma from a blow to the head.
June 2003: As a family pushes for answers, investigators announce they’ve exhausted all leads in the slaying of Nancy Lyons.