It Takes a Family to Find a Body
Jenna Lord, she only makes it worse. Because now it seems like a pattern. Not just vulnerable women with drug problems getting preyed upon, maybe abducted, their lives hanging in the balance. Now we’ve got cops who don’t do much about it. Who don’t seem to give a crap. That’s what has Eileen Law fired up.
Law is a longtime PI, with an office next to Longwood Gardens. Next month—on Law’s husband’s birthday—it will be a year since a woman named Toni Lee Sharpless went missing. She’d been partying at Sixer Willie Green’s house in Lower Merion, drove off alone in the wee hours after getting kicked out and fighting with the girlfriend she’d come with, and hasn’t been heard from since. Sharpless has a 13-year-old daughter, and that, especially, hit Law hard. She’s spent a year on the case, pro bono. Nothing.
And now here’s Jenna Lord, another woman with a little girl and a checkered past, whose body was found in Camden a few days ago by family members who came searching for her—it’s feeling all too familiar to Law. Toni Sharpless was sighted, she believes, in Camden, and Law has spent a lot of time looking for her there. She’s also spent a lot of time feeling like a one-woman band—do our local police departments care at all about women like Toni and Jenna?
Which is the same thing Jenna Lord’s family went on national TV to ask.
“I deal with police departments all over the country,” Law says. “Not one has ever said, when I’ve called for legitimate requests for information, that ‘I can’t give you that.’ But Camden is different. Lancaster is different. Lower Merion is different.”
What Camden and Lancaster have in common is residents or truckers passing through who think they’ve spotted Toni Lee Sharpless. But Eileen Law kept getting shuffled from department to department when she prodded for information, with Lower Merion thrown into the mix because that’s where Toni was last seen. They all seemed territorial, paranoid, and not particularly interested in finding her.
Which is why the Jenna Lord case just makes it worse. The family found a Camden guy who said he did drugs with her, and he led them to the lot where she’d been decomposing for two weeks—then he ran off. Family members caught up to him, and beat him up. At which point the cops put him into a car and took him away.
In this case, police admit there was a little jurisdictional confusion. Courtesy of the Daily News, here’s the pass-the-baton process in the Lord case:
Lord went to a family barbecue in Collingswood July 4th. The next morning, her mother says, she caught a ride to downtown Camden on the way home to Collingsdale. She never showed. The family contacted Collingswood police that day, July 5th.
Apparently nobody was paying attention: Collingsdale Police Chief Robert Adams admits there were some issues about which department would head the case. Supposedly the Delaware River Port Authority and Camden police were in on it, but Camden claims they weren’t notified until July 14th, nine days after she disappeared.
Jenna’s mother and the father of her 3-year-old son didn’t pussyfoot around when they went on national TV last week: Cops, they said, had written Jenna off as a junkie with a criminal record.
Adams told the DN that he felt the family’s pain. He wasn’t sure if Lord had fallen through the cracks, but he did say, “Have I learned from it? Sure. Would I approach it differently? Probably.”
The family can find the guy doing drugs with her, the guy who abandoned her in a vacant lot, and the cops can’t? It’s up to the family to discover her body, which had been rotting in the heat for two weeks?
This drives Eileen Law mad. She’s still looking for Toni Lee Sharpless, who may be in Camden, or may be in Lancaster, or may be in another state.
No one knows. Not enough people seem to care.
It’s not easy for Law to say this, because she’s pro-cop. She’s worked with a lot of them. But it’s got to be said.
“Private detectives and families of missing people,” Eileen Law declares, “are on their own.”
ROBERT HUBER is Philly Mag’s features editor. Anyone with information about Toni Lee Sharpless can contact Eileen Law at 610-388-1776.