Heartland Unsolved: In the Dark

Updated: Mar. 2, 2017 at 8:23 AM CST
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Heartland Unsolved: In the Dark Part 1

NEW MADRID COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - It’s one of the most well-known cold cases in the Heartland: the 2006 disappearance of New Madrid County mom Teresa Butler.

You're about to learn about her case in a whole new light, with new clues, and a surprise announcement from authorities.

Authorities say they are closer than ever to breaking this case wide open.

Her family deserves to know the truth.

"I wouldn't want nobody to go through what we've, the family, me and my boys have had to go through," Dale Butler said. "It don't seem like it's been 11 years. But it has. And we don't have any closure."

It's not easy for Dale Butler to talk about the moment his world crashed in around him and his young sons.

"I can see that it's upsetting to them. But I tell them every day that I love them and their mom would be so proud of them. So proud."

"Garrett likes photography," he said of the couple's now 13-year-old son. "And Gavin, he looks a lot like her," he said of their now 15-year-old.

This is the first time Butler's talked publicly about his wife's disappearance.

"Not knowing is the hardest part," Butler said about his wife's disappearance. "Not knowing what happened or where she's at."

Heartland Unsolved: In the Dark Part 2

And so, with his help, and with the cooperation of investigators who've never stopped working her case, we will walk you through Teresa's final hours and show you never-before-seen evidence in her case.

On Tuesday, January 24, 2006, Dale Butler got ready for his overnight shift.

"I give her a hug and told her I loved her before I went to work."

Dale and Teresa are used to the drill, sacrificing time together to balance two jobs and two boys, four-year-old Gavin and two-year-old Garrett.

Dale leaves around 5 p.m.

According to police reports, Teresa took the boys over to her sister-in-law's house. She returned around 9:30 p.m.

Her sister-in-law comes back with her to use the Butler's computer. Teresa said she needs to get the boys to bed around ten.

Around that same time, Dale tries to call her on his lunch break.

"And it would just go to voicemail. Like it wasn't going through," he recalled. "I thought maybe she was just asleep that night."

Was Teresa asleep, or was she already gone?

The next 12 hours, so crucial in her case, are a blank slate.

"When I come in, I went in the bedroom," Dale said. "And I didn't see Teresa nowhere. And Gavin was in our bed balled up in a blanket. Garrett was......Garrett was on the loveseat in a soaked diaper with an empty bottle and was awake. And then I went through the house. I went to the bathroom. I went through the whole house saying Teresa, Teresa. And then I got on my phone and started calling people, thinking maybe she run over here, but she.......she wouldn't have left those kids there alone. No way. Not by themselves."

"No," New Madrid County Sheriff Terry Stevens replied when asked if there were signs of a struggle inside her house. "Nothing looked out of the ordinary other than the kids were there and she wasn't."

Officers quickly make an inventory of items missing from the Butler home.

"There was a stereo, the camcorder," Stevens recalled.

"A gaming system," lead investigator Captain Chris Hensley added.

"That's right, some kind of video gaming system for the kids."

A search of the house also turned up a possible clue.

"When we looked under the couch, we found a set of ladies rings, which we later found out belonged to Teresa," Stevens said.

"A lot of times at night she would take them off," Dale recalled of his wife's rings. "Like if she was laying on the couch if they were irritating her, she would take them off."

Or, Stevens said, it could have been a more deliberate move.

"That possibly the people she was interacting with she didn't feel completely comfortable with. So, she may have been securing them in her own way."

Teresa and her son, Garrett (courtesy Brenda Wilson)
Teresa and her son, Garrett (courtesy Brenda Wilson)

Investigators also questioned those closest to Teresa.

"It was very hard, those first few days," Dale admitted, "because they were questioning me pretty heavy. And family members. And then I was, had the boys, trying to take care of them too. It was hard, those first few days. First few weeks."

Sheriff Stevens stressed Dale's alibi checked out and he's been cleared of any suspicion in her case. But, he knows the whispers and the rumors persist.

"It's aggravating," he said when asked if it makes him mad. "It's really aggravating that people would [make] assumptions. I know they're just, they're just looking for answers. But, we're all looking for answers. Everybody is."

That search for answers would turn up another clue at the Butler home.

And a crucial piece of evidence pulled from a water-filled ditch.

"I don't think somebody broke in. Somebody, somehow they got in," Dale said of the night his wife went missing.

Authorities said it's possible more than one person spent time inside the Butler home in Risco the night Teresa disappeared.

And no one believes she willingly left her sons home alone.

One clue pointing to how she may have been taken out comes from the Butler's front porch.

"You know, we had the lightbulb that was unscrewed, as to not illuminate the porch where if anybody was driving by couldn't see anybody coming or going to the residence," said Hensley.

And what does that say to you as an investigator, when you see a lightbulb unscrewed on a front porch? I asked.

"That someone has some type of experience in burglaries, some type of criminal past," Hensley responded. "You know, if that is his MO to do that, that is one of the things we've been looking for is other burglaries where the lightbulb has been unscrewed."

A big break in Teresa's case came a year and a half after she went missing when a tip led authorities to a camcorder dumped in this ditch between Malden and Risco.

How did the sheriff find the camcorder?

"Through the investigation, we interviewed an individual who told us a story about exchanging some illegal drugs for a camcorder. And they had viewed the contents of the camcorder after they got it, and realized that it belonged to 'the girl that was missing from Risco,' in their words."

Teresa Butler?

"Teresa Butler and her family," he said.

Teresa Butler (courtesy Brenda Wilson)
Teresa Butler (courtesy Brenda Wilson)

That witness claimed the deal went down within 24 hours of Teresa's disappearance. But with no tape inside the camcorder and no serial number to match it, they can't prove the one they found is the Butler's.

And while they know who allegedly made the drug deal, they don't have an eyewitness.

Is he considered a suspect in this case? Has he been interviewed? What's his status?

"He is a suspect. And we have pursued that person, talked to that person and interviewed him. But, we can't hang our hat on what we know just yet."

Have you been able to identify any other possible suspects in her case?

"We do have a couple more. We are not eliminating anybody at this point in the game."

"I think about it every day," Dale said. "Why? Why her?"

Dale Butler deserves an answer. So do their boys. So does Teresa's family. It's why he agreed to this interview. Why everyone who loved Teresa hopes reliving this nightmare will bring authorities the final pieces of the puzzle.

Dale Butler and his sons in 2006 (courtesy Amy Lacey)
Dale Butler and his sons in 2006 (courtesy Amy Lacey)

"If anybody knows anything, it could be the littlest thing, to let New Madrid County Sheriff know because it could help solve this case and bring the family some closure," Dale Butler said.

So, clearly, that drug deal is a big piece of the puzzle, as are the other items that were stolen from the Butler home that night.

Think you know something? Contact the New Madrid County Sheriff's office at 573-748-2516.You can also message

You can also message Kathy Sweeney on Facebook and she will forward the information to authorities.

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