The Disappearance of Carla Roberson

Published: Updated: 6 comments

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Carla Roberson, 19, had just finished a busy sophomore year at Huntingdon College and needed to relax.

She hopped in her 1983 pink Chevette and drove to Florida to stay with Ralph and Nell Roberson, an uncle and aunt who resided in Pensacola.

Once in Pensacola, she had planned to visit a male friend who had graduated from Huntingdon and soak up some sun on a beach before her return to Montgomery for summer classes and a part-time job in a doctor’s office.

On Tuesday, May 8, 1984, Roberson and Nell Roberson went to Majik Market together, and Roberson bought Heineken beer, soft drinks, and gas.

Roberson told her aunt that she wanted to stop by Cordova Mall to buy a book to read on the beach and return to her house by 5 or 5:30 pm. Roberson never returned home.

She was last seen around 1 p.m. wearing a bright red one-piece swimming suit near Fort Pickens.

Later than night, beach deputies noticed a car parked at the Gulfside picnic spot near the entrance to Fort Pickens. It was Carla’s.

The deputies searched the area and found Roberson’s purse, shoes, and towel on the beach and one set of footprints leading to the water.

Authorities spent ten days combing 15 miles of beaches and sea for Roberson but found nothing. They presumed she had drowned in the Gulf of Mexico.

But Roberson’s family said she was a good swimmer. Her watch and high school class ring were missing, and her brother, Michael Roberson, said she would never have gone swimming wearing both items; she would have taken them off and put them in her purse.

Michael Roberson did not believe someone stole them because her wallet, a small sum of money, and car keys were found in her purse.

Investigators checked with all the local pawn shops for the missing items but came up empty. Other than those items, the police had no leads in Roberson’s disappearance.

They believed someone would have witnessed an abduction take place because others were on the same beach that day. The area was a highly-populated area of the beach. Furthermore, according to one investigator, the water was rough, and “the conditions were right for undertow or riptide.”

“The probability is that she went into the water,” said homicide Detective Rhett Smith in late May 1984, “but we have no evidence to support it.”

But Roberson’s cousin, Mark Roberson stated that the water was between 60 and 65 degrees and too cold for swimming. He did not believe she would have swum in the cold water.

Roberson’s mother, Gladys Roberson never believed her daughter drowned. She always swam with a tube, and that tube was found in her car. Gladys believed her daughter left with someone she knew, perhaps the male friend she had planned on visiting. Was he with her at the beach?

Roberson has never been found and Gladys Roberson has since passed away.

Between 1982 and 1992, several young women, including Carla Roberson, went missing or were murdered in Escambia County, Florida.

  • Ruby L. Brittain, 24, of Pensacola was stabbed to death on January 9, 1982. Her badly decomposed body was discovered on February 14, 1982. No further information is available but it was still an unsolved case in May 1995.
  • Leigh Ann Dozier, also known as Leigh Ann Clark, 27, was found murdered in a wooded area near the Pfeiffer Cemetery on Marlane Drive on September 12, 1982.
  • Tonya E. McKinley, 23, was found strangled to death on January 1, 1985, in an empty lot at the corner of Peacock Drive and Creighton Road, just one block off Scenic Highway. She had also been raped. In March 2020, Pensacola Police arrested 57-year-old Daniel Leonard Wells, of Pensacola, for her murder. Two weeks later, Wells hung himself in his jail cell.
  • Patricia Lynn Stephens, 29, was found dead on March 1, 1985, in a wooded area west of the intersection of North Blue Angel Parkway and West Michigan Avenue. Manner of death was ruled a homicide. Her case is still unsolved.
  • Tavia Elizabeth Bailey, 15, of Pensacola, disappeared on December 31, 1985. She has never been found.
  • Vernise Wilburn, 14, of Pensacola, was found dead on August 18, 1986, in the woods on the Northwest corner of Olive Road and Sears Boulevard. She had been missing for four days. No additional information could be found on her murder.
  • Mary Elizabeth Plavnick, 25, of Pensacola, disappeared on April 9, 1987, and has never been found.
  • Tammie Rich, 25, of Pensacola was stabbed to death on January 25, 1988, in her Pensacola home. Eight years later, in early 1996, police arrested and charged Lloyd Salter, 36, with her murder, but they dismissed the charges seven months later when DNA testing showed blood at the murder scene was not his or the victim’s blood.
  • Kelly Simms, 19, of Pensacola was found stabbed to death on October 21, 1988, in a wooded area southwest off Pinestead and Hampton Roads. She was last seen earlier that day.
  • Tabbetha Kay Worford, 19, of Pensacola disappeared from her home on May 5, 1990. She has never been found.
  • Melissa Lynn Eck, 15, of Pensacola, disappeared on June 25, 1992, after leaving her boyfriend’s house in the 1700 block of Blakely Avenue. She has never been found.
  • Joanna Kay Otto, 15, of Pensacola, was last seen on November 20, 1992. James Earl Gibson, then 27 years old, gave Joanna a ride home after a party. She has not been seen since. Gibson is a possible suspect in her disappearance and likely murder.

Could any of these cases be connected to Carla’s?

True Crime Diva’s Thoughts

I am not convinced Carla Roberson drowned in the Gulf of Mexico. The water temperature is enough to convince me that she stayed out of the water.

Carla’s watch and class ring were missing and her brother said she would never wear them while swimming. Those items should have been in her purse and were not, so of course, I’m thinking souvenirs for the killer. 😉

Carla was last seen around 1 pm. According to the police, the beach was a highly-populated area and someone would have witnessed an abduction take place.

But if she were with someone she knew and felt comfortable with, no one would think anything of it.

Beach deputies did not find her belongings until later that evening, so I think it’s possible that the one set of footprints leading to the water might not have been hers.

I also think it’s possible the male friend murdered her. I could not find his name anywhere. Were they dating or just friends?

What happened to the book Carla bought to read on the beach? She was heading to the mall to buy a book before she hit the beach. So, why wasn’t it with her personal belongings? Did she decide not to buy one?

What about clothes she probably wore OVER her swimsuit when she arrived at the beach? What happened to them?

As shown above in this post, several young women went missing or were killed between 1982 and 1992. I can’t help but think one or more might be connected to Carla’s. You never know. I know Pensacola is a decent-sized town, but anything is possible.


True Crime lover November 11, 2020 - 12:07 PM

If you look at the other girls that have not been found, minus the one who has a possible suspect, they look similar. That is just an observation on my part. But the absence of the book and the other clothes is something that is puzzling. I would hope that the aunt would have gotten the name of the friend that she was visiting with at least. I don’t really think she went in to the water either. Her family would know her habits regarding the watch and ring. So, where was she seen at 1 pm? Was in on the beach or in the parking lot? As a woman, I am not going to take my purse on the beach. I would leave it locked in my car and just take my keys. I wasn’t much younger that her and I always had a separate bag that I put my stuff in going to the beach. Still do. The friend that she was meeting is who I would have tons of questions for. Taking the time to go and set up a seating area on the beach with her stuff and then do one set of footprints to the water is more like a diversion tactic to me. Even if she did set up the area and then go to the parking lot or a different area why wouldn’t she have taken her purse? That part doesnt make sense to me, no female leaves her purse unattended. I don’t think she made it to the beach from the parking lot. Something happened then someone panicked and set up the stuff later and didn’t think about the book or her other clothes. So the friend is my number one suspect, if he is cleared, then I think it is someone who is a lot more organized and its not their first go round.

truecrimediva November 12, 2020 - 8:45 AM

I agree with everything you said! She did not go into the water, and she probably wasn’t even at the beach. However, I am under the impression that she was seen at the beach or somewhere nearby at some point because she was wearing the swimsuit. I wish I knew who last saw her – stranger or someone she knew.

Carolyn November 8, 2020 - 4:25 PM

After I left a comment, I looked up convicted killer Mark Riebe.. he trolled that area and he had been known to leave behind the car, keys, and purse! I would wonder?!

truecrimediva November 11, 2020 - 9:12 AM

Interesting! It does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

Rebecca earl November 5, 2020 - 6:51 AM

What if she was abducted before she got to the beach? And the purse, car and keys were placed there by the person who abducted her to make it look like she went into the water? That way if people think she drowned no one will be looking for her? People make mistakes all the time it might not have been her that was seen in the red swim suit?
Maybe it was like a Ted Bundy thing and they asked for help posing as someone who is injured to get her to the car park area and then drove off? Maybe the prints were someone who was looking at the items left there? And then they walked backed down to the sea to walk along the beach. You know in the wet sand bit? Her family know her best, so they know little things like not swimming with her ring/watch on. Someone who has always done that Is not going to change there habits suddenly after 19 yrs!

truecrimediva November 5, 2020 - 12:36 PM

I wondered about that, too! It’s very possible she was abducted elsewhere and by someone who knew she was going to that beach or who spotted her somewhere nearby. I also think her personal belongings were placed there. I would not be surprised if this involved a serial killer. Several young women were killed and went missing, so you never know!


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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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