On September 25, 1977, I had been home for just a few minutes after spending the day with my girlfriend at the time, Janice, when I got a panicked call from her. All she could say was “Suzie is missing”. Suzie Mages was her 12 year old cousin whom we saw almost daily. I really didn’t think much of it, it wasn’t dark out yet and Suzie was adventuresome. I said, “what do you mean ‘missing?’”, thinking she had wondered next door or that there was some kind of miscommunication within the very close family. Janice went on to tell me that Suzie and her mother, Mary, had been doing laundry near the intersection of Avenue C and Eagle Dr…..Mary left for a minute and when she got back Suzie was gone.
Mary had given Suzie money to get a shake at the Burger King across the parking lot from the laundromat. That was the last place Suzie was seen alive. I rushed back to Janice’s house and was confronted by the sight of Suzie’s parents, Janice’s parents and Father Joseph Shumacher of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church huddled up around the kitchen table. Most were crying and Father Schumacher was doing his best to console everyone present. I sat down and got caught up on what had happened. It didn’t sound good. What I had imagined to be a sweet little tomboy roaming, suddenly turned into what truly became a nightmare.
We sat and discussed what had happened and what needed to happen as family members joined the group…….and the horror. The shock of that night is somewhat a blur, but I’m sure the police came and talked to us and we all split up and started to search. Janice and I initially drove around UNT (NTSU at the time) in my 1950 Studebaker and slowly expanded our search area to any place we could think of where Suzie might have gone. We spent most of that night creeping around town, looking through parking lots, down alleys, in cars and around buildings.
The next morning the news had become known in what was then a smaller, more innocent Denton. The police came by Janice’s home and told us what they didn’t know and what they planned to do. They, of course, asked questions about the possibility of Suzie being a runaway, about drug use, boyfriends, family problems, etc……none of which fit Suzie. It was immediately considered an abduction. Friends, family and strangers began to congregate and we started a somewhat unorganized, 9 day search effort in addition to what the Denton Police Department was doing.
We had “missing” posters printed immediately and began to plaster them on the front window of every business, school, and building we could. We split into groups and covered an area within 60 miles or so of Denton. Being a college town, Denton was ripe with suspects. The DPD questioned numerous people we thought of and some we didn’t. In what is a common practice in cases like this, even Suzie’s father, Del, was questioned. No strong suspect surfaced. We continued to look, going as far as to break into deserted farm houses around Denton.
At one point, Suzie’s gymnastics teacher, Buddy, went with his girlfriend to visit a blind woman reported to have psychic abilities. The woman lived in Celina, to the east of Denton, and Buddy and friend went without calling ahead. The couple walked up to the woman’s door and knocked. She eventually answered the door and before Buddy could say a word, said, ” I know why you’re here, you’re here because of Suzie”. Buddy and his friend were stunned, but all the more hopeful that the woman could lead the searchers to Suzie. The woman told them that she envisioned Suzie with two men in a light-colored car. She “saw” them driving and then said Suzie was in water.
For those long nine days and nights, MANY people searched, posted flyers, supported the family and prayed for Suzie’s safe return. On the tenth day, a woman going to fish in a gravel quarry just south of downtown Dallas, found Suzie’s lifeless body floating in the pit. The family, friends and town as a whole, were crushed. A truly sweet, loving, innocent daughter, sister, cousin and friend was senselessly taken away. The police continued their investigation, now with additional evidence from the crime scene, but a rock solid suspect or suspects never materialized. It is an open case to this day. The end was ravaging to those of us who knew Suzie and to those who felt like they had come to know her during the search. Denton had lost some of its innocence.
The funeral was extremely emotional for everyone. No one ever expects to lose someone close to murder………especially someone so young. I was a pallbearer at the Suzie’s funeral and unfortunately had a front row seat to the sadness and tragedy of those two days in October. It goes without saying that the family was devastated, which ripped my heart out knowing them as I did. Suzie’s school friends also took it very hard. No one 11-12 years old should have a friend taken from them in such a horrible manner. Suzie was laid to rest, alone, at Roselawn Cemetery.
Rumors and ideas continued to fly around Denton for months after. I went to a funeral with Suzie’s mother, Mary, of a young girl killed at an area lake. Thinking the two murders might be connected, we went to see if anyone who might have known Suzie showed up. The trip was unproductive. I also went to see the Medical Examiner with Suzie’s parents, Del and Mary and her older cousin, Tina when he gave them his official report. Suzie had gotten a strawberry shake at Burger King the day she went missing,……the ME told us that he’d found strawberry seeds in her stomach and had thus ruled that she died the day she disappeared. (It was misreported in the Denton Record-Chronicle that she’d bought a purple popsicle) This fact was somewhat comforting in that we then knew Suzie had not suffered for days, and that her fright, torment and anguish had not lasted more than that one day. He also told us that there was no evidence of sexual abuse which was also somewhat comforting.
In an odd twist, I recently learned something I did not know at the time. In Donna Fielder’s book, “Ladykiller”, the author claims that Bobby Lozano, a Denton cop who murdered his wife in 2002, was Suzie’s “sweetheart” at the time of her murder. I’m not calling this into question, I just do not recall Suzie ever talking about a “Bobby” or any boy for that matter.
The loss of Suzie was a crushing blow to her family and friends. Del and Mary Mages divorced partly because of the murder of their daughter. Her younger brother, Andy, grew up without the sister he so loved and the lives of everyone who knew her or would have known her were lessened due to her death. I still see Suzie’s dad every so often and can still hear the hurt in his voice when we talk about her. Suzie would have turned 48 last month and would probably have had kids of her own. I still hope for a random lead or a deathbed confession that would bring closure to this tragic Denton story.
Hold your loved ones close and celebrate every day of life………it’s a precious, yet fragile thing…………