Never the Same

Investigators dig deep into the days surrounding Gwen’s disappearance and into the unraveling of a man once revered by his family and friends.

Episode Info

Episode Transcript

Greg Bodker: On the last episode of Solvable…

Investigators from Mississippi confirmed the identity of Baby Jane / Delta Dawn, as Alisha Ann Heinrich, but her mother Gwendolyn Mae Clemons is still missing.

The last person who saw them alive was Gwen’s boyfriend Phillip, a married policeman from Webb City, Missouri.

Around Thanksgiving 1982, the two of them and baby Alisha packed up a U-Haul and ran away together to start a new life in Florida.

Aunt Alicia: She was excited the last time I seen her cause she says they gonna move and make a new life for themselves and she said she thought it would be best for her

Greg Bodker: To everyone’s surprise though, after just a few days, Phillip called his wife he’d abandoned in Missouri and claimed he had a mental breakdown and had no memory of how he ended up in Florida.

He asked to come home but the man that returned wasn’t the same man that had left.

Phillip was missing two very important things when he arrived back in Missouri, Gwen and Alisha.

He told Gwen’s father that he’d dropped the mother and baby off in Kansas City with a rich man who owned a big yacht.

Jackson County investigators working the case now are not convinced that story is entirely true.

Jackson County Investigator: What’s your spitball, what’s your idea, your thoughts? The guy with the U-Haul is key.

Jackson County Investigator: I just think the U-Haul guy, that’s what I call him, is either gonna have information: where she got out, or else he’s the guy that killed them both.

Amanda Reno: In late 2020, we joined investigators at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for a roundtable discussion about everything they knew so far in the case.

This sort of meeting is routine for a team of detectives. It’s a chance for everyone to sit down and review their different perspectives on any new information that’s come in.

In Gwen and Alisha’s case, there seemed to be some consensus among the group that the only person who knew more about what happened to them, was Phillip.

Jackson County Investigator: So, how did she get hooked up with *BLEEP*? She wrote a letter in August to her sister, I’m in love with a guy *BLEEP*, he’s in his 30’s, he’s a police officer in Webb City. Comes back down with her and they load up a U-Haul with their belongings. The plan is to move to Tampa and open a pet shop. So, right after Thanksgiving week or so, or however many days, they are southeast bound allegedly coming from somewhere in Missouri? Joplin. She says *BLEEP* comes back and says I was never in a relationship with her. I took her and her belongings and her child to some guy in Kansas City. This is about the time he’s telling family, I dropped her off in Kansas City and this is about the time period she was killed, her time of death.

Jackson County Investigator: That’s the last known person to see her alive that she was with that we know of. Then him showing up, she’s not with him, neither of them are with him, that’s a clue. If it took a couple of days there and back, it fits with the route. He kills her, shit *BLEEP*, we ain’t going to Tampa no more.

Amanda Reno: Investigators really wanted to speak directly with Phillip when they first learned about his relationship with Gwen and his bizarre story after returning to Missouri. But unfortunately, the passage of time prevented that.

After conducting several interviews and doing some research, police learned that Phillip died several years ago.

Greg Bodker: Phillip being dead, and whatever information he took with him to his grave, may never be fully known.

In law enforcement, I’ve learned that this kind of scenario is tough for investigators to overcome, but it’s not a complete dead end.

Sergeant Eddie Clarke was able to uncover some crucial information about Phillip.

After several interviews with Phillip’s children and his ex-wife, Eddie learned a lot about the man Gwen fell head over heels for.

Sgt. Eddie Clark: I thought about it a lot, after hearing his story when he came back. He never once told his wife what he did, that he ran off with Gwen and the baby. He never told her that. He told her he doesn’t know what happened. He went nuts, he lost his mind and he just one day woke up in Florida and didn’t realize how he got there or what happened. Now, if that’s the case if you do, he told her family I was just trying to help her, “We weren’t really gonna start a life. I was just trying to help her out, trying to give her a ride more or less to meet this other guy.” Ya know. Why not tell his wife that? “I was just trying to help a friend, I took her down there, I dropped her off.” See what I am saying? Why go to that length, if you just put her out of the car, and just take the U-Haul back whatever, and just show back up in your town, why not just say that?

Greg Bodker: Eddie had a great point. Why did Phillip tell his wife one story and Gwen’s father a completely different story?

If either tale was true, why not just stick with the true story?

Based on the interview statements from Phillip’s ex-wife regarding his psychiatrist’s opinion that Phillip was a pathological liar, it’s not a far leap to conclude that neither explanation Phillip gave about what happened to Gwen and Alisha was the truth.

Eddie also has transcripts of interviews he conducted with Phillip’s children, who are now grown.

And it’s what those individuals have to say that really makes you look at Phillip’s relevance to this case, in a whole new light.

The children of Phillip, a man we’ve given a pseudonym to, told Jackson County Sergeant Eddie Clark some very interesting information when he interviewed them recently.

They said their father, who once ran away with Gwen Clemmons and her baby girl Alisha, was never the same when he returned to Missouri in late December 1982.

Sgt. Eddie Clark: His family, they were just so adamant that he was just never the same person when he came back. One of his grown daughters, she was daddy’s girl, she was 13 when he left, said when he came back that was something evil about him and that she couldn’t even be in the same room with him. She said he was not invited to her high school graduation, not invited to the wedding, she didn’t trust him. Didn’t want to be around him. She just thought there was something evil about him. Says he was never the same man, he was like 2 men.

Amanda Reno: Now, I think there’s naturally bound to be some distrust and fractures in relationships when a person abruptly abandons their family. But, to me, Phillip’s daughter’s statements go beyond a general distrust or fracture.

I think her words to Eddie Clark may provide a small glimpse into what may have been a scary and traumatic time in her life and something she saw manifesting in her father.

In making this podcast it’s always been a priority for us to share the first-hand accounts of those involved in this case.

So, we attempted to reach out to Phillip’s family and asked them to speak with us or to provide a statement.

We didn’t want this show to exclude their experience and feelings.

Both his ex-wife and his daughter declined our request.

“Computer keyboard typing*

Greg Bodker: The prevailing theory law enforcement has is that Gwen is most likely deceased.

Eddie Clarke believes that whoever the person or people responsible for her death are, they put her in a different place than where they discarded Alisha’s body.

Sgt. Eddie Clark: Just spitballing, I honestly think that she was not placed in the same place as the baby to make it harder to identify the two if they were found.

Do you think she will ever be found, I think one day we will find out. We were really hoping when we got her information to put on NAMUS, she was already out there, just unidentified, you know. We haven’t had anything yet, but we are still looking. I honestly think that she was not put in the same place as the baby, simply because it is much harder to identify the child without the parent. I think if they would have been together that story would have come out of mother and child together. We would be looking for two people instead of one, which would have made it much harder or easier with looking for both.

Greg Bodker: Authorities have also had to consider the idea that Gwen was responsible for what happened to Alisha and that maybe Gwen is still alive out in the world.

But based on everything they’ve uncovered and everyone they’ve interviewed, that scenario just doesn’t fit because little evidence supports it.

Sgt. Eddie Clark: There’s one thing that’s kinda consistent, everyone we talked to says she loved that baby. I don’t think for one second that she would have harmed that baby or let anything happen to that baby.

We’ve done searches for her SSN which turned up nothing absolutely nothing, as of 1982, no public assistance no nothing, there is nothing out there with her name on it past 1982.

Greg Bodker: One big question Mississippi detectives working Alisha and Gwen’s case want to try to definitively answer is where a critical clue to their story ended up.

* Box truck motor starting up & idling*

The U-Haul…

*Box truck rolling back door being pulled down and closing*

The U-Haul full of Gwen’s furniture and belongings was something that investigators had a lot of questions about.

Almost everyone they’d interviewed, mentioned that U-Haul.

Teresa, Gwen’s sister, distinctly remembers it parked outside of their parents’ house before Gwen left for Florida with Phillip in 1982.

Teresa: So, she came here, it wasn’t a week maybe 5 days, I think, a few days and come down here to Joplin and met up with him and stayed here a couple of days at my parents’ house, and loaded up all her furniture and her little girl, and left to go to Florida we thought.

Greg Bodker: When we discussed the U-Haul with investigator Eddie Clark, he had a theory.

Several years ago, he’d worked on a case involving a stolen vehicle. In that report, the suspect had abandoned the car in a truck stop parking lot where it sat for many months.

Eddie suspects something similar may have happened to Gwen and Phillip’s U-Haul.

Sgt. Eddie Clark: You know we are talking 1982, could have been the same scenario; dump it at a truck stop somewhere, company comes and gets it, it doesn’t necessarily come back as stolen. I don’t know how that would have worked, it could have gotten taken back to a U-Haul place and they just cleaned it out.

Greg Bodker: I think it would be interesting to find out if the U-Haul was ever found, and if so, where?

Was it found in Florida or Mississippi, Missouri, or somewhere else?

Unfortunately, the U-Haul company records don’t go back far enough for investigators to get that information, but maybe someone will remember something and call in a tip.

This is where you, the listener, can be very important to helping push this investigation along.

Amanda Reno: A big step the Jackson County Sheriff’s office took in updating everyone on its investigation into Baby Jane happened on December 4th, 2020.

That date was selected intentionally, just one day short of 38 years from the day her mystery began in Jackson County.

The department held a press conference to announce the official identification of Baby Jane as Alisha Heinrich.

For months investigators, and our team knew Alisha and Gwen’s real names, but the public did not.

The community also had no idea that Gwen was officially a missing person.

Greg Bodker: I headed down to Mississippi to get a front-row seat for the announcement.

Attendees gathered in a courtroom, not the usual place for a press conference like this, but it was the biggest space available for an announcement of this magnitude.

Almost every person we’ve interviewed for this podcast was there, ready to receive the information they had waited decades for.

Sheriff Ezell stepped to the podium situated in front of the judge’s bench.

Sheriff Ezell: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. For those of you that don’t know me, I am sheriff Mike Ezell Sheriff here in Jackson County. We want to welcome you, this is a long-term event that has been going on here for many years. Tomorrow will actually be December the 5th, so it will be 38 years since Baby Jane was discovered in the Escatawpa River.

Through DNA, candidate family members were identified for testing at the Othram lab. Baby Jane has been identified as Alisha Ann Heinrich, daughter of Gwendolyn Clemons, both of whom went missing in Missouri in 1982.

Greg Bodker: The sheriff then revealed for the first time a photo of baby Alisha and Gwen.

It was the first time for most people in the room to see the face of the baby so many people had spent decades trying to identify.

Baby Alisha’s strawberry blonde hair is shown fanned out from her face, with just a hint of curl at the ends.

Her beautiful eyes are hazel or a light brown.

She is dressed for the warm weather of summer, in a yellow ruffled top.

On an easel next to Alisha’s photo, was a poster-size print of Gwen’s senior photo from Webb City High.

Sheriff Ezell provided the media and attendees with a timeline of the investigators’ work on the case and detailed a lot of the same information we’ve shared with you over the last eight episodes.

Missing from the press conference was Gwen and Alisha’s family, but it wasn’t for lack of desire to be there.

When we’d spoken with Teresa, she expressed that she wasn’t ready to physically see the bridge where her niece’s life was stolen from her, and the last place her sister was likely seen alive.

Not to mention the global Covid-19 pandemic that limited a lot of travel over the past year.

Teresa and Gwen’s sister-in-law, Aunt Alicia, both expressed that they deeply appreciate all of the investigators’ efforts and everyone who’s played a part in identifying baby Alisha and Gwen.

Aunt Alicia: The gentleman down in Mississippi that buried her, you know, his daughter’s name is Bobbie, I have been talking with them and they are such wonderful people and they take care of her gravesite down there. Be sure it’s got flowers on it. They go out and visit her. They just took her under their wing and adopted her and I thought that was so sweet. She ain’t been alone, they have been with her.

Amanda Reno: She’s right, despite decades without a name, her niece was never forgotten. She was constantly on the minds of investigators and the community.

Aunt Alicia has played over and over in her mind what could have happened to Gwen and Alisha that cold night in December 1982, when witnesses spotted the young mother walking alone along I-10.

Aunt Alicia: Of course, back then they didn’t have cell phones like they do now, but I’m sitting there going… I just put myself in their place she was young, confused, in a strange place. She was used to a small town, and I guess her boyfriend kicked her out of the truck. Said they got in an argument and he went back to Joplin. She wasn’t a very big person, she was very small, petite, and someone overpowered her. I don’t know what happened, but it just breaks my heart. To know that back then they didn’t have cell phones, because all she would have had to do is pick up that and call anybody, and they would have come and got her, you know, her dad, me. Just one phone call. We would have been there or we would have got somebody there for her, but she had to be so confused and scared out there on that interstate from what I hear they said she was up walking up and down, carrying the baby.

Amanda Reno: That’s one of the most puzzling parts of this case that really sticks out to us.

I mean, if Gwen was kicked out of the vehicle by Phillip and abandoned on the side of the highway with baby Alisha, why would she refuse help from good Samaritans?

We know from Alisha’s autopsy report that the little girl had no food or drink for an extended period of time before she died.

If Gwen had gotten help from one of these good Samaritans, they would have been able to request law enforcement’s help or driven the mother and daughter to the next exit on I-10 to call family.

It’s Gwen’s unexplainable behavior that makes the theory that she is still alive seem possible.

For some people, the thought that Gwen is still alive is no longer just a thought, it’s what they believe is the truth.

Teresa: I did kinda question it, you know at that time, that you know, maybe she was alive. Because it was just too much coincidence there.

Amanda Reno: When we interviewed Teresa, Gwen’s sister, she told us about a few events over the years that have left her family questioning if Gwen did truly run off with the man from Oklahoma with the yacht, as Phillip had suggested.

Teresa: The only thing, one time I don’t remember how far after that, you know, she left. But I’m thinking it was probably 7, 10 years. I have a friend that her mother was living in Florida and on the radio station during the week of my sister’s birthday, they had wished a Gwen Clemmons Happy Birthday.  And it was kinda weird because it was during that week.

*Phone ringing*

Amanda Reno: Teresa told us that at one point, a person even called Gwen and Teresa’s grandmother stating Gwen was alive and well.

Teresa: Then somebody called sometime during that year, to my grandma and said they found her number in the back of a Bible and that they just wanted to call to let her know that Gwen was okay and with him. Of course, my grandma was like 80 years old, you know, she didn’t get any information.  And then, about a year after that they called, the gentleman did and said that she had just had his baby and that he just wanted the family to know.

Amanda Reno: Here’s the thing, those phone calls might not be all that meets the eye.

Investigators in Jackson County have a theory on the person who may have called Teresa’s grandmother.

And that person is Phillip.

Think about it for just a second, Phillip had groomed Teresa and Gwen’s grandmother’s dog for years.

He would have had easy access to her phone number.

Teresa: The thing of it is, this Phillip that had this pet sitters, my grandma took her dogs to him. So he would have had access to her phone number. Just to throw us off, you know, that we think that she’s okay. But we never did.

Greg Bodker: It begs the question, say the scenario is one where Phillip is involved in what happened to Gwen and baby Alisha, could he have been calling their grandmother to try and make people think Gwen and Alisha were still alive?

Police have considered that as a potential theory.

Despite this suspicion though, there is one person we’ve interviewed that is fully convinced Gwen is not dead.

And that person is James, Gwen’s ex-husband.

When we last spoke with him on the phone, he was adamant Gwen was very much alive several years after she and baby Alisha disappeared.

The reason he was so sure? He saw her.

How confident are you that it was her you saw back then?

James: Oh, very, I’m pretty confident it was her. ‘Cause she looked right at me, she was wearing her glasses and she looked right at me. That was 7 or 8 years after she left. Yeah.

Greg Bodker: We’ll dive into that, on the season finale of Solvable…