On November 11, 2010, Lisa Irwin, a blue-eyed baby girl, was born to Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, both of Kansas City, Missouri. She’s their first and only daughter. “Baby Lisa” has two older brothers, and although they are loved immensely, Deborah and Jeremy felt their family was complete with a baby girl.
Lisa’s birth was a day Deborah and Jeremy would always remember. They felt pride, joy, and elation as any family would, but less than a year later, their joy turned to fear, shock, and sadness when Baby Lisa, just 10 months old, was allegedly snatched up and taken from the family home, during the night. She is still missing.
On October 3, 2011, at around 6:40 P.M., Deborah checked on her daughter and made sure she was safe and sound, sleeping in her crib. Afterward, she enjoyed some glasses of wine while Jeremy, an electrician, worked the night shift. Deborah would later admit that she forgot how many glasses of wine she drank. She invited her neighbor over, and the pair apparently spent hours drinking on Deborah’s front porch. At around 10:40 P.M., Deborah checked on Lisa before turning in for the night. She turned off the house lights, and fell asleep in her bed, with her young son, Michael, sleeping next to her.
A little before 4 A.M., Jeremy arrived home and discovered lights on all around the home, an unlocked front door, an open window in Lisa’s room — and no Lisa.
After shaking Deborah awake, Jeremy panicked when she told him that the baby should still be in her crib. He ran to the neighbor’s house and began banging on the door. Visibly shaken, he asked the neighbors if they’d seen Lisa. When the neighbors didn’t have her, Jeremy ran back home and searched for a cell phone to call 911. He noticed that all the cell phones in the home were missing, so he used his work phone to contact the police.
Within minutes, officers with the Kansas City Police Department arrived and began searching for the baby. Jeremy told them about the open window, missing phones, unlocked front door, and lights. The police searched the home with a fine-tooth comb, yet couldn’t find any clues that would help them find Baby Lisa.
Lisa’s disappearance hit the local media the next day and quickly became national news. Police initially said that Deborah and Jeremy were cooperating, but something happened along the way, and the tables turned. It likely started after police gave Deborah give a polygraph test, which she allegedly failed.
“I offered to take it, because I wanted to show them that I had nothing to hide, that I wasn’t lying,” said Deborah. “So I took it. When it was over, the FBI agent said, ‘I think that you’re a terrible mother, and um, you’re lying, and you failed.”
Deborah also remembered being drilled and questioned for hours on end. She said she had enough and stopped talking to detectives. “The first time they interrogated me was 12 hours. I’m in this little, tiny room, I’m totally helpless,” she said. “If they think I did something they’re not going to look for her. I had enough of the mind games. I said, ‘That’s it, I want my lawyer.’” Deborah claimed that she was still cooperating, but she stopped communicating without her lawyer because she was being treated like a suspect.
Going on Jeremy’s information about the open window, the Kansas City police, along the with FBI, set up a staged break-in at Deborah and Jeremy’s home. They found it extremely difficult to get in through the window, and determined that anyone who actually climbed through the window would have made a lot noise. They also interviewed neighbors, who said their dogs would have barked if anyone nearby made unfamiliar noises, yet their pets were silent all night.To make matters worse, Deborah later revealed that she may not have checked on the baby at 10:40 P.M. as she originally claimed. She said she may have passed out before checking on her, but Deborah still denied having any involvement in her daughter’s disappearance. But, of course, the mixed accounts of events put police on high alert.
As detectives continued to investigate, more details emerged, damaging Deborah’s story even further. According to police records, Deborah’s cell phone was used on the night Baby Lisa disappeared, the same night it was stolen from the home. An outbound call occurred at 11:57 P.M., over an hour after Deborah claimed she went to bed. At 3:17 A.M., someone attempted to check the cellvphone’s voicemail. At 3:22 A.M., another voicemail attempt was made.
The FBI indicated that the call and voicemail attempts happened no more than a third of a mile away from the Irwin residence. Upon searching further, detectives noted that the outbound call was placed to a woman named Megan Wright, who lived in a home with reported drug users, around a mile away from the Irwin home.
When Wright was interviewed, she said she didn’t answer her phone that night because she didn’t have it on her. She said she had no clue who Deborah or Jeremy was, but that her former boyfriend, John “Jersey” Tanko, may know the family, since he did handyman work around the area.
Following up on the lead, authorities tried to find Tanko, and while doing so, uncovered a past filled with criminal activity. Furthermore, he fit the description that three witnesses gave to police. Witnesses said they saw a bald man carrying a baby on the very night that Lisa went missing. Yet, when they were shown photos of Tanko, some identified him while others claimed that there was no way he was the man they saw.
Tanko also had an alibi for October 3, and even though he allegedly bragged that he was paid $300 to abduct the baby, he was never charged with Baby Lisa’s disappearance.
Within a few weeks, Tanko’s public defender, Horan Lance (assigned to Tanko for an unrelated charge of tampering with a vehicle), adamantly denied that his client had anything to do with Baby Lisa’s disappearance. The police-department spokesman, Steve Young, confirmed they didn’t have enough evidence against him when he indicated that detectives had “moved on” from Tanko.
Did police drop the ball by letting Tanko go? Some people believe that he’s the culprit, while others continue to scrutinize Deborah.
The Baby Lisa case remains an open mystery. According to the website Find Lisa Irwin a $100,000 reward is being offered for her safe return. She would be five years old today. An age-progression photo, released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, shows that she likely has blondish-brown hair.
Meanwhile, Deborah maintains her innocence and clearly isn’t giving up hope. “Even after four years I still don’t have any doubt in my mind that I am going to see her again and she’s going to come home. I just wish it would hurry up,” Deborah said.
Anyone with any information on Baby Lisa should call 911 or the TIPS Hotline at (816) 474-TIPS.
If you are in search of a missing person, make sure to enter their information into the database of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Main photo: from official Missing poster
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