Society, True Crime

Justice denied and mystery remains for 35 years.

Sources consulted follow this article.

Friends Susan Smalley and Stacie Madison were last seen near the end of Spring Break March 19, 1988. They were students at Newman Smith High School in Carrollton, TX: Stacie a senior, Susan a junior. They were never seen again after that night. No bodies ever found, no suspects ever charged.

This is a cold case that haunts many of us, not only their families.

During this time, I was a seventh grader at Blalack Middle School along with one of Stacie’s sisters. My older brother was a junior at Newman Smith. The news of Susan and Stacie’s disappearance shook everyone. They were one of us: Carrolltonites, Newman Smith Trojans. They had plans and aspirations as we all did, and they were working toward their goals. Stacie, in fact, took her SATs just that morning.

Spring Break was coming to a close.

Stacie and Susan had plans together on that last night of freedom from academics, and Stacie would sleep over at Susan’s home. The timeline of their last night changes a bit depending upon the source, but they did visit friends at an apartment in Arlington, TX (28 miles from Carrollton) at approximately 10:00 pm. They also made it back to Susan’s home by midnight for Stacie’s curfew. As is not uncommon with teenagers, they slipped out of the house again later. They were seen between 12:30 and 1:00 am in the parking lot of the Steak and Ale restaurant in Addison, TX, where Susan worked as a hostess. After Susan’s visit with a coworker, the mystery begins.

Susan Smalley's workplace
Where Susan worked, photo from Facebook group

In the first few days of their disappearance, fear grew within the family and within the halls of Newman Smith High School. With Stacie’s sister being my classmate, I was heartbroken for her. Susan and Stacie  were reported missing, and then Stacie’s 1967 Mustang was found Tuesday the 22nd in a parking lot off Webb Chapel Road and Forest Lane in Dallas County. Forest Lane at the time was a common cruise strip. Although their purses were not in the car, other personal items were, including a portable stereo as us Gen Xers fondly refer to as a boombox.

Stacie Madison's Mustang
Stacie’s Mustang, photo from Facebook group

What happened?

Most likely Susan and Stacie hopped into another vehicle with someone they possibly knew. The abandoned Mustang was returned to Stacie’s family without being processed, thinking the girls were runaways wanting to extend their Spring Break. And, they were technically adults and could do as they please. However, according to Stacie’s mother, the police did pop the trunk to check for bodies. Even if the car were fingerprinted, it would most likely come up with nothing of evidentiary value being that the likely scenario is that they got into someone else’s car.

According to the Texas Center for the Missing, non-family abductions are only 3-4% and stranger abductions are less than 1% of all missing persons cases.

Stacie and Susan book

Shawn Sutherland, a Newman Smith 1982 alumni, took it upon himself to research, interview numerous individuals, and self-publish This Night Wounds Time: The Mysterious Disappearances of Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley in 2009. Within the book are comprehensive descriptions of the two girls. Here is a brief overview:

Meet Stacie Madison

  • Two younger sisters
  • Honor student
  • Award-winning baton twirler
  • French horn player
  • Involved in Camp Fire Girls
  • Loved the bands Air Supply and Journey, the song “We Built this City” by Starship, and the soundtrack of Xanadu.

Meet Susan Smalley

  • Older brother
  • Honor student
  • Volleyball player
  • Basketball player
  • Track athlete
  • Favorite movie: Footloose
  • Favorite song: “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
Stacie and Susan
Susan and Stacie, 1988 Yearbook Photos, The Iliad

Who’s responsible?

If their demise was the result of someone they knew, fingers pointed toward Stacie’s boyfriend as a person of interest. Although I know the name of the individual, I will follow Shawn Sutherland’s lead in referring to him as Jason Lawton. He was known to his peers as someone with a hot temper and to be abusive. In Sutherland’s book, Stacie’s mom had reported having seen bruising on her daughter and that Stacie had been trying to put some distance between Jason and herself not long before going missing.

On March 19, Stacie planned on spending her last night of Spring Break with Susan and told her mom that if Jason called, to just let him know she went out and to leave it at that. He did call looking for her. Was he angry? Did he go looking for her?

Lawton is a known liar and has changed his story and details of that weekend multiple times. He even confessed to his next girlfriend that he killed the girls and buried them in a cemetery. Years later he said he bludgeoned them and dumped their bodies in a fish hatchery in north Texas. Jason later claims he wasn’t being honest, that he basically was just angry and lashing out. The girls were never found at either location.

What happened to this person of interest?

Jason Lawton did pass a polygraph in 1988. Weeks later, he left Texas and changed his name.

I did some research on Jason Lawton under the name he had in high school and the name he changed it to. He’s mostly been under the radar, and I only found two pieces of interesting information: (1) He has been married four times and (2) he had been charged with sexual abuse of a child in 2010, but those charges were later dropped.

The upshot:

Regardless of how the girls went missing, the upshot is that they were most likely murdered. The case remains a missing persons case, though, so that if and when human remains are found, they can be compared to those listed in missing persons databases.

The girls’ cases are also listed with the Doe Network. The Doe Network is “devoted to assisting investigating agencies in bringing closure to national and international cold cases concerning Missing & Unidentified Persons. It is [their] mission to give the nameless back their names and return the missing to their families.”

We all continue to hope for a resolution, to find the girls, and to learn answers we’ve been seeking for thirty-five years. Even without that, we can find some sort of comfort knowing they are together and at peace.

Please, share this far and wide. Someone knows something. It’s time to speak up.

On this 35th anniversary of Susan and Stacie’s disappearance, I know I won’t be alone in visiting their space in front of Newman Smith High School in honor and remembrance. They have not been forgotten.

Stacie and Susan memorial
Photos from Facebook group

Ironically, the high school yearbook The Iliad that year was named “Lucky 13” for the school’s 13th year.

For all Newman Smith Alumni…

Newman Smith High School Alma Mater

Stacie and Susan are also mentioned in a previous post on Life, So
: click here to read

Sources Consulted

“102DFTX – Susan Renee Smalley.” The Doe Network, May 18, 2022. Web.

“103DFTX – Stacie Elisabeth Madison.” The Doe Network, May 18, 2022. Web.

Braden, Beth. “Two Texas Teens Left after Curfew in 1988 and Never Returned.” Investigation Discovery, February 2, 2023. Web.

Cavallier, Andrea. “Disappearance of Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley Still a Mystery 32 Years Later.” NBCUniversal News Group, July 4, 2020. Web. “Newman Smith High School.” Yearbooks Online – Digital Yearbook Archive. Accessed March 1, 2023. Web.

“Logan Man Charged with Sexual Abuse.” Bowling Green Daily News, March 16, 2012. Web.

“Never Forget Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley.” Facebook. Marisa Barrier, 2009. Web.

“Newman Smith High School – Yearbooks.” Carrollton Farmers Branch History. Accessed March 1, 2023. Web.

“Public Records Searches.” BeenVerified. The Everyday Information Company. Accessed March 1, 2023. Web.

Sutherland, Shawn. This Night Wounds Time: The Mysterious Disappearances of Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley. United States:, 2009. Print.

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