The 1997 abduction of Amber Renee Barker

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Amber Renee Barker, 10, was a 4th grader at James Monroe Elementary School. She was one of eight children born to Robert Barker and Bonnie Barker. Her parents were divorced, and she resided with her mother at 3119 NW 39 Terrace.  

The brown-haired, brown-eyed girl had many interests. She loved animals, riding her bike, working on cars, and spray painting. She was a bit of a tomboy and wanted to be a welder one day.  

On Thursday, Dec. 18, 1997, Amber rode her bicycle to a friend’s house at 3041 NW 45th St., a half-mile away, around 3 p.m. While at her friend’s house, Amber called her mother. She left her friend’s residence at 5:50 p.m. and was last seen riding her blue 10-speed bicycle down Drexel Boulevard toward her home.

The bike ride should have taken less than five minutes through mainly residential areas. Amber never arrived home and has not been seen since. Her mother called the police at 7:20 p.m.

About 35 FBI agents, Oklahoma City police officers, family members, and neighbors searched for Amber. The police set up a computer program called Rapid Start to help organize tips and information at the command post for the search. 

According to newspaper articles at the time, a family member found Amber’s silver ring that evening in the street on Drexel near NW 45th Street. 

This isn’t very clear because Drexel appears to start at NW 43rd Street.

Her sister, Tonja Barker, 18, and the girls’ aunt, Joan Barker, 38, handed out fliers with Amber’s picture. A male witness told Joan Barker that he saw Amber riding her bike in front of Drexel Condominiums, 4000 N. Drexel Blvd., at 5:25 p.m. near a boy selling candy in the street. 

Amber’s bike was found next to a tree at 10:37 a.m. the next day, in Denniston Park at NW 25 and Drexel, about a mile south of Drexel Condominiums. The bike was not damaged.

On Dec. 20, 1997, searchers found Amber’s tennis shoes a block apart, one at NW 12 St. and Drexel and the other at NW 13 and Drexel. A sock that might have belonged to Amber and her beige sweater was found near bushes at NW 15 and Drexel. Police did not locate her pants and underpants.

The authorities continued a massive search for Amber through Christmas, but she was never found. 

The day before her disappearance, Amber told her mother that she was afraid of Daniel John Smith, 24, the common-law husband of Amber’s sister, Debbie Barker, 22. Smith and Barker had one child together.

Amber had seen Smith and was afraid he would force her into his truck. Police questioned him on the night of her abduction and asked him about her disappearance. On Dec. 20, they determined they should talk to him again and began looking for him.  

Smith had a rough upbringing. He was only six years old when the court removed him from his biological mother’s care. He was subsequently raised in foster homes and had a history of alcohol and drug use.

At the time of Amber’s disappearance, Smith had been serving a five-year deferred sentence for a kidnapping conviction, in which he attacked a woman in a nightclub parking lot on April 23, 1995.

Smith claimed he had been drinking and was trying to steal the woman’s car keys. Police initially charged him with robbery, but it was later changed to kidnapping. Officials added a second count of intimidating a state’s witness after Smith threatened a security guard at a court hearing. 

As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, Smith pleaded guilty to kidnapping and was sent to a four-month boot camp program at William S. Key Correctional Center for young adults. Prosecutors dropped the charge of intimidating a state’s witness, and Smith’s success in the program determined his sentence.

As it turned out, Smith’s performance in the program was excellent, and he managed to obtain his GED certificate. His case manager thought Smith could be rehabilitated.

Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office recommended Smith receive a five-year suspended sentence. In November 1996, District Judge Leamon Freeman sentenced Smith to five years of probation but made it a deferred sentence.

The terms of his probation were simple. Smith had to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, undergo counseling, and maintain part-time employment. He was assigned a parole officer, who he met with once a month. But Smith could not stay out of trouble.

On Nov. 30, 1997, the police responded to a domestic violence call at Debbie Barker’s apartment in the 2400 block of NW 35 Street. Barker claimed Smith hit her after she refused to have sex with him. Police gave him a citation for the incident. Smith had a court date scheduled for January 1998 in OKC Municipal Court.

Shortly before Amber’s abduction, Smith failed to attend an AA meeting, and the police filed an arrest warrant for a parole violation after Amber’s disappearance. 

On Dec. 21, 1997, police found Smith’s silver Mitsubishi pickup at a convenience store at 7727 S. Sunnylane Rd. 

The following morning, volunteers from the Del Aire Neighborhood Watch Association and police officers combed Ray Trent Park.

At 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 22, 1997, searchers found Smith’s body hanging from a tree over Crutcho Creek at Ray Trent Park at the northeast corner of Interstate 40 and Sunnylane Road. His death was ruled a suicide. 

Newspaper reports say the site was less than a mile from the convenience store, but Google Maps and MapQuest show the park as nearly five miles north of the store. If Google maps and MapQuest are correct, it does not make sense that Smith would walk 5 miles to commit suicide; he likely would have parked his truck closer to the park.

The Daily Oklahoman revealed in January 1998 that Smith was at Bonnie Barker’s home when Amber called her mother from her friend’s house the day she disappeared. Shortly after the call, Smith “left the Barker residence in a direction that ‘would have put him in line to have met up with Amber as she was headed home,’ a police affidavit states.'”

Barker, now Villines, said in 2013 she does not believe that Smith abducted her sister. She thought another man was responsible but did not say his name. Barker also said the medical examiner incorrectly classified Smith’s death as a suicide but did not elaborate. She relayed the information to the police, but they did not pursue it. 

Amber Barker: pic of her sister, Brandie Kay Perry who was killed in 2013.
The Daily Oklahoman via Newspapers.com

Amber’s sister, Brandie Kay Perry, 40, was killed during a massive storm on May 31, 2013, and was listed as a storm victim. Perry’s body was found in a ditch in Wewoka, 70 miles southeast of OKC.

Bonnie Barker did not believe Perry was a storm victim. 

“I’m pretty sure because there wasn’t a storm down there that day,” Bonnie Barker said. “No one else in the area died from the storm. I don’t know how they got she was a storm victim.”

Bonnie Barker heard Perry died from a drug overdose, but she did not rule out the possibility that someone had murdered her. Perry had been in an abusive relationship and had a history of drug use. The case is not related to Amber’s disappearance.

After Amber’s disappearance, Bonnie Barker kept Amber’s Christmas presents under the tree, waiting for her when she came home. When that did not happen, Bonnie Barker moved out of the home she shared with Amber in 1998. She passed away in 2014.

Amber’s mother and father said in 1997 they believed Smith did not act alone in abducting Amber.

On Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, a lead investigator on Amber’s case filed a search warrant, requesting DNA samples from inmate Forrest Jay Rice.

Amber Barker: photos of Daniel John Smith and Forrest Jay Rice
(L) Daniel John Smith (R) Forrest Jay Rice in 2018/The Daily Oklahoman and OK Dept. of Corrections

DNA lab techs found blue fibers on Amber’s sweater and what appeared to be vomit. Smith’s pickup truck had blue cloth seats, blue carpet, and a blue vinyl dashboard. Police also recovered hair from the passenger and driver’s sides of the vehicle.

There was a tiny drop of blood on Amber’s shoe, but authorities could not link it to a specific person. In 1997, they could not extract a DNA profile because the technology did not exist.

Fifteen years later, tests revealed a partial male DNA profile. News on 6 reported in a 2015 story that “Rice admitted to the police that Smith was at his apartment the night Amber disappeared and was with him that day. He also admitted to being with Smith the day he committed suicide.” Rice had lived in various places, including OKC, Moore, and Guthrie. Rice, who also goes by the name of Steven Brent Henley, was 22 years old at the time of the disappearance.

As of this writing, there have been no further case developments. 

True Crime Diva’s Thoughts

This is one of those cases where it seems obvious who committed the crime.  

I feel Smith likely did it because Amber was afraid of him and thought he would grab her and force her into his truck. He must have said something to her to make her feel that way. And I agree with the family and police that another person, likely Rice, participated in the abduction. I also wonder if Villines knows what happened to her younger sister. 

Amber was last seen at about 5:50 p.m. I am confused by this because the male witness said he saw her at 5:25. Both the 5:25 and 5:50 sightings occurred on Drexel. But this also does not make sense because supposedly, one of Amber’s sisters (no idea which one) found her ring near NW 45 and Drexel, the street Amber’s friend lived on. So, if it’s true, this tells me that Amber was kidnapped on Drexel near her friend’s home shortly after she left to ride home. So, how could the male witness have seen her closer to her home on Drexel at 5:25 p.m.?

Because some of her personal belongings were found strewn along Drexel Blvd., I think Amber’s abductor(s) took her clothes off in the truck and then threw them out the window. Then, he/they took her to another location, possibly Smith’s or Rice’s residence, and raped her before killing her and dumping her body. We know that she was possibly sodomized, at the very least, because of the potential ejaculate found on her sweater with the vomit. Police never found her pants and underpants, so I think the killer(s) destroyed or buried them with the body because they likely had a lot of DNA on them.

Her bike was found undamaged near a tree, so her abductor did not knock her off the bicycle with his vehicle. Amber likely stopped her bike when confronted by her abductor.

I do believe Rice and Smith were involved. But their criminal history did not involve violent crimes like sexual assault and murder. So, maybe they wanted to fulfill some sick, twisted fantasy.

Let’s talk about Smith’s suicide. As mentioned above, Google Maps and MapQuest show a distance of almost 5 miles between the convenience store where police found Smith’s truck and Ray Trent Park, where they found his body hanging in a tree. News sources say it was about a mile away. I am not familiar with OKC, but when I punched in directions from the store to the park, I got a distance of nearly 5 miles on both Google Maps and MapQuest.

So, let’s say it was 5 miles. Why would Smith walk 5 miles to commit suicide when he could drive to the park and leave it there? For that matter, why would he walk a mile? That makes no sense at all. If he wanted to kill himself, he likely would have parked his truck at the park. The fact that he did not leads me to question his manner of death.

Maybe Rice abducted Amber, and he was worried Smith would talk. I’d like to know what vehicle Rice drove at the time of the disappearance.

There is a slight possibility that a stranger kidnapped Amber. The bike ride from her friend’s house to Amber’s home was a half-mile. Someone could have seen her as she left and followed behind her. Who was the male witness who claimed he saw her riding her bike near the condos on Drexel Blvd at 5:25 p.m.? He said a boy was selling candy in the street, which to me sounds suspicious. What parent would let their kid sell candy on the road? The boy could have gone door-to-door with his parents. I’m not sure I believe this man. Either that or the girl on the bike might not have been Amber.

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True Crime Diva

True Crime Diva

I've blogged true crime since 2010, happily taking up only a tiny corner of the internet. I'm not here for attention; I'm here to tell you their stories.

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