Florida Today from Cocoa, Florida on March 18, 1990 · Page 38
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Florida Today from Cocoa, Florida · Page 38

Cocoa, Florida
Issue Date:
Sunday, March 18, 1990
Page 38
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2D FLORIDA TODAY, Sunday, March 18, 1990 7 years ago, model MODEL, From ID modeling business from a home she only half-jokingly refers to as "the cave." An artist with eccentric notions about privacy designed the cramped stucco edifice himself its few windows are primarily ventilation caliber. Having been spotlighted nationally by Life magazine and ABC's "2020" 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 a book and a screenplay. Predictably, the story will accent all those magic moments only a mother can recite so well: The time her 9-year-old daughter surrendered a beauty pageant crown 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 anybody 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, if printed here, would make trial lawyers' eyes light up with dollar signs. "I want the people over there to know I'm writing a book," she says, referring to a project (no actual names used) she's been toiling over for months. "I want to shake them up. I want the criminal element to know they can't absorb my child or anyone's child without ultima-; tely paying the penalty for it." T AMI-LYNN LEPPERT now ! resides in the computer memory ; bank of the Florida Crime Information Center, a community of 5,944, roughly the size of Indian Harbour Beach. Her address is Case No. 21292. She can be found there alongside another Cocoa Beach ; entry: Keith 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 this case, other than ! some family problems I understand c Palm Bay Stephen and Marjorie Mathe of Palm Bay recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas, Nev. They were met there by their sons, Steve Mathe of Los Angeles and Gregory Mathe of Detroit, who hosted a dinner in their parents' honor. The couple then traveled to Los Angeles and San Diego. Harrison E. and Doris Shep- ard of Palm Bay celebrated their, 60th wedding anniversary at Sta-cey's Buffet in Melbourne. Among those in attendance were their son, Harrison Shepard Jr. and his wife, Florence; their daughters, Charlotte Murray and her husband, Kenneth; and Gladys Stauffer and her husband, Lawrence; and friends Robert Casey and Rita Simmons. Love notes Kathleen M. Haas of Rock-ledge and William C. Ellis Jr. of Miami are engaged. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Reynalds E. Haas of Rock-ledge. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. William C. Ellis of Miami. They plan to marry March 31 at St. Mary's Catholic Church, Rock-ledge. 1VE YOUK SMILE Cosmestic Dentistry Ever Wish You Had A Dazzling Smile? (In just 3-6 weeks your wish can come true) Teeth Whitening Porcelain Laminate Veneers I Chipped, Broken, Worn Teeth 5.1," ?TP PY! Rejuvenated 503 N- Or,ando Ave-i Cocoa Beach Spaces & Gaps Closed 7QA IQH Color Computer Imaging f 0f "T" 04L I ; r i J1 FROM THE PEOPLE FRONT PAGE she was having at home," Wicker says. "The agent in charge was a real go-getter. He was the type that sees communists behind every tree, if you know what I mean." The case fell into the department's lap when Tami, a Rockledge resident, was last reported seen in Cocoa Beach. Among other things, Curtis says the young man who picked her daughter up on the morning of July 6, 1983, was never thoroughly interrogated. She says Tami once told her that she feared the same man a businessman wanted to kill her. Wicker dismisses the notion. "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 in 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 the 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 fears were rooted in a confession that would consume her. Tami told her mother how, in an effort to score points, a friend bragged to her about 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 Sheriffs 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 anybody 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 couples celebrate 50th, 60th wedding anniversaries Virginia R. Angolia of Cape Canaveral and Robert M. Hauser of Cocoa are engaged. She is the daughter of Lt. Col. (ret.) Harold and Ruth Barnes of Merritt Island and Lt. Col. (ret.) John and Joy Angolia of Stilwell, Kan. He is the son of Basil and Renee Keats of Las Vegas, Nev. They plan to marry March 31 at Word of Life Christian Church, Merritt Island. Alicia McLaughlin of Cocoa Beach and Richard Alan Mizell of Titusville are engaged. She is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Bernard H. McLaughlin of Cocoa Beach. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. George R. Mizell of Titusville. They plan to marry March 31. Kim Michelle Auleta and Anthony B. Lind, both of Carmel, N.Y., are engaged. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur J. Auleta of Cocoa Beach. He is the son of Mrs. Carl Ulstrup and Jack Lind, both of New York City. They plan to marry April 7 at Church of Our Saviour, Cocoa Beach. Klmberly Montrose of Car-rollton, Texas, and Roger Martin of Dallas are engaged. She is the daughter of Mr. and says goodbye, hasn't been seen since Muss m Tami-Lynn D.O.B. 2566 Height 5'4" Weight 105 lbs. Hair: Blond Eyes: Hazel ' No Scars Occupation: Actress, Model, Dancer Last Seen 7683 In The Cocoa Beach Florida Area the abduction and murder of aspiring Satellite Beach model Terry Ferguson, last seen at Merritt Square Mall. Curtis filed 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 says she never considered Wilder a strong suspect. She says she only sued the Wilder estate during 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-catego-rize teen-age relationships not exactly a hot romance, but not exactly little sisterbig 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," Adams 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." Mrs. John P. Montrose of Melbourne. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Rafford Martin of Indianapolis. They plan to marry April 7 at West Melbourne Baptist Church. D Q D D Q 0 Q D D Q Robert W. Bengels C. HT. 189298 A.C.H.E. ' i AIRPORT HILTON MELBOURNE 200 RIALTO PLACE a WEIGHT L0SS-M0N. MARCH 26 STOP SMOKING - TUES. MARCH 27 7683 Leppert 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 Adams she had "seen something she shouldn't have seen." She didn't get specific. They went to pray at Rockledge's Evangel Temple. "Tami cried as hard as I've ever 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 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 advanced 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 was 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 in the window with a baseball bat she picked up in the front yard, and she reached her hand inside to unlock the door. "She came running in, yelling and screaming, but before she could do anything else, I pinned her Happy day Happy birthday to South Brevard RSVP members Alex Morrison and George Rogers. ppb fliH ll KJB ud H M THREE Hypnotist 18 years 90 Success Rate Fitness Instructor Groups & Corporate Smoking, Weight & Stress Mgt. Programs program ONCE Have you been obsessed with your weight, with food, with the size of your clothes? A life of carrots & celery is not the answer. Come to our SEPARATE & COMPLETE weight control seminar. Presented as a public service by BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION P.O.Box 57250, Jacksonville, Florida 32241 (904) 292-9770 against the wall and kept saying, 'I love you, Tami, I love you, Tami,' over and over again, and then she just 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 in with another psychotherapist. 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 skirt 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 didn't 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. "Give me a break," she says. "Of course, children and their parents get into fights. I know many people felt like Linda led Tami's life, but that's not true at all. Tami was more independent than my three boys put together; Linda raised her to be that way. "People are creatures of habit. Tami called her mother all the time, no matter where she was. They were very close. The only way Tami wouldn't call Linda is if something bad happened to her or if she was under someone else's control." Tami also made another call that afternoon to Ron Abeles, a friend who owned a video store on the corner of SR A1A and SR 520. Abeles wasn't in, either. Abeles says he retains a vague impression of being unsurprised at the news of Tami's disappearance. "I remember Linda as being very well, how should I put this aggressive about Tami's acting career. I always wondered if there were problems there. "But I was surprised that Tami never showed up again. In all this time, she never called her mother? What is she, Houdini or something? I think that's very strange, don't you?" ' TWENTY-SIX-YEAR-OLD Lisa Geiger of Cocoa says: "Sometimes I felt it was my fault because I didn't Reported by Kathy Reakes and Nancy Nugent-Feldhauser To have a notice about a wile-stone published in FLORIDA BB BWlWfflB jfl jjiJfl (3) HOURS! Close your eyes, relax and become a non-smoker and lose weight by attending Behavior Modification's Group Hypnosis Seminar. I will hypnotize you, and also teach you self hynosis. By using our techniques you will never smoke or gain weight again and we GUARANTEE IT. SEE and FEEL the changes happen... and last FOREVER. NO TAPES (as sold by other hypnotists) to buy or follow-up courses. This is complete in one night. & FOR ALL! try to get her to come over more. We stopped hanging out together because of me. I mean, I was getting so wrapped up in all her problems I wasn't letting myself grow up. I just got tired of it, I guess." Geiger met Tami when the two were students at Clearlake Middle School. Geiger remembers the call she received a week before the disappearance. Tami told Geiger she was afraid for her life. Geiger invited her over to talk, but Tami never came. Geiger says she always figured Tami would turn up sooner or later. "I saw her and her mom get into some real arguments about her career. Tami told me one time, 'Man, when I hit 18, I'm out of here.' That's what made me think she ran away. "Tami was real insecure. I could never figure it out. When it was just me and her together, we'd get along fine. But as soon as other people would show up, she'd put on a different act, this fake personality. I don't think Tami knew who she was." : ARGUMENTS? OF COURSE, Curtis acknowledges. What normal parent-child relationships don't have arguments? , f "I know Tami got frustrated sometimes," she says. "I know she wanted her career to move fast. I know she didn't like the fact that I was in a wheelchair and that I was almost penniless at one point." But a refugee from a domineering mother pushing a career? No way. "Modeling was something Tami wanted to do ever since she was 4 years old," Curtis says. "It was always her decision to make. You can't push a child to do something they don't want to do and expect them to have their heart in it. Tami was driven. She was a perfectionist. She wanted to be the best." "DID YOU EVER see her play Peter Pan?" asks Rick Adams. "Linda's got it on video." The performance is 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, poisonea Dy ine notorious capiain Hook. And the only way to save Tinkerbell's life is to rally the support of the audience. j "Oh, please, please, everyone who believes in fairies, clap your hands!" Tami urges. j Grief and fear come trickling down Tami's cheeks so easily it flows like blood from a fresh wound. I "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. i 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. ; TODAY, mail the information to Milestones, P.O. Box 363000, Melbourne, Fla. 32936. 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