Debra Watkins dropped out of high school in the 9th grade after giving birth to her daughter, Tanisha Loraine Watkins, on Aug. 22, 1981.
In early 1984, Debra and Tanisha resided in a mobile home with Debra’s grandmother, Loraine Dory, at 2110 Thrasher Lane in Austin, Texas.
Around 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 5, 1984, Debra swept a rug inside the home. Tanisha played outside on a set of swings in the front yard. Debra checked on the toddler a few minutes later, but Tanisha was gone.
Debra went to a neighbor’s home to use the phone, but the neighbor thought Tanisha had just wandered off. The two began searching for the little girl, and when they could not find her, Debra called the police at 3:37 p.m.
Shortly after, police used dogs to search around the mobile home area. A Department of Public Safety helicopter, equipped with an infrared sensing device, flew over the area. Ground and car searches also took place, but police found no sign of Tanisha.
Six days later, a group of 25 volunteers and half a dozen police officers performed a grid search for Tanisha in about 15-30 acres of land located behind the mobile home.
The search team found no physical evidence, such as blood or clothing, indicating Tanisha had been harmed. Furthermore, there was no indication someone had kidnapped her.
Tanisha’s 19-year-old father thought Debra had taken the toddler out of town.
A witness reportedly saw Tanisha with a slender, bearded man wearing a green Army hat as they walked east on nearby Riverside Drive.
Crime Stoppers offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and grand jury indictment of the people responsible for Tanisha’s disappearance.
In November 1984, police received a tip about a possible sighting of Tanisha Watkins. A witness reportedly had seen a couple moving into a Northeast Austin apartment with a little girl who resembled Tanisha.
Police went to the apartment, and while the girl did look like Tanisha, she was not the missing tot.
If alive today, she would be 38 years old.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
This is another case with hardly any media coverage on it.
I am not convinced a stranger abducted Tanisha Watkins, and I question the sighting of Tanisha and the bearded man. Media articles did not mention this man in 1984. The Austin American-Statesman briefly mentioned the sighting in a 2001 article. I couldn’t find any articles on this case after that year.
If a witness did see this man with Tanisha, he didn’t live too far from Tanisha if he was traveling on foot. And why Tanisha? Did he know her and Debra?
Tanisha’s father thought Debra had taken Tanisha out of town. I wonder about Debra’s possible involvement in the disappearance because she was only 16 and had a toddler. Maybe she snapped. Police said there was no evidence of an abduction. No one saw Tanisha leave the trailer park.
And yes, I question why Debra would let her 2-year-old play outside by herself. It just takes a bit of curiosity for a toddler to wander off. If she had just wandered off, she would have been found.
What about the 19-year-old father? I found nothing on him except that he thought Debra took Tanisha out of town. Why did he think that? Did Debra tell him she took Tanisha out of town?
Tanisha didn’t scream, and nobody inside the trailer park witnessed an actual abduction. So, did Tanisha know the person who took her? Did someone even abduct her? Is this case closer to home?
The mobile home park is no longer there. I understand that another mobile home park was built in the exact location in 1996 but has since been torn down.
“$1,000 Offer Seeks Clues in Child Case.” Austin American-Statesman. April 24, 1984.
Cox, Mike. “Civilians Aid Search for Missing Child.” Austin American-Statesman. January 11, 1984.
Gibson, Elise. “They’re Very Alive in Families’ Minds.” Austin American-Statesman. November 4, 1984.
“Southeast Austin Child Missing.” Austin American-Statesman. January 6, 1984.
“Tanisha L. Watkins.” Austin American-Statesman. July 19, 2001.