July 10, 2022

Leigh Occhi // 119 // Unsolved

Leigh Occhi // 119 // Unsolved

13-year-old Leigh Occhi disappeared from her home in Tupelo, Mississippi during Hurricane Andrew, on August 27th, 1992.  Her mother, Vickie Felton, arrived home that morning and found blood in the house, but her daughter was missing.   This case remains unsolved.  If you have any information, you can call the Tupelo Police Department at 662-841-6491. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through the Crime Stoppers of Northeast Mississippi at 1-800-773-8477.

Website: https://www.drinkingthecoolaid.com/


Leigh Occhi was born on August 21st, 1979 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her parents, Vickie Felton and Donald Occhi, were military members who met while they were stationed in California in 1977. They dated for a year, got married, and were transferred to the military base of Honolulu. The marriage came to an end in 1981, so Leigh was a toddler at the time. They said there were irreconcilable differences and they separated. Donald was relocated to Germany and Vickie left the armed forces and moved with her daughter to Tupelo, Mississippi so she could be closer to her parents. Donald worked hard to keep a close relationship with his daughter even though he was overseas. Leigh came to visit him one summer while he was in Germany and they explored the country together. He was later relocated to Fort Myer in Arlington County, Virginia after an Iraq tour and he was able to spend time with Leigh and he took her out shooting guns and driving around. He said that his daughter just loved hugs and they found something they really liked to do together. After a big rain, when it got really muddy, he said they would get in the truck and just drive like a maniac through the mud.

On August 26th, 1992, Leigh returned home from an event with some friends and the front door to the house was unlocked which meant that her mother hadn't returned home yet. The article doesn't say why an unlocked home meant this, but I almost think this was one of their codes because we see that they have a special way to call each other too. So, Leigh went to the neighbors house and asked if she could wait for her mom and she was there until 8:45 PM. The neighbor said she was happy and talkative and made plans to come back and give their dog a bath to earn some money and she went home when her mother got there. 

It was the morning of August 27th, 1992. 13-year-old Leigh Marine Occhi woke up and she heard her mother, Vickie, getting ready for work. Vickie had been married to a man named Barney Yarborough, but they had just separated a few weeks before this, so now it was just her and her daughter. They lived in a ranch-style home in the 100 block of Honey Locust Drive in Tupelo, Mississippi which was typically a very quiet town, but on this particular day, danger was hanging over them because Hurricane Andrew was on it's way and it was a very powerful and destructive Category 5 hurricane that struck the Bahamas, Florida, and Louisiana. Leigh was scared of storms, so she slept in bed with her mom that night. When Vickie got up at 6:45 AM to get ready, Leigh was still sleeping. When Vickie got out of the shower at 7, Leigh was awake. They ate breakfast together and discussed their plans for the day. 

Leigh was in 8th grade, loved horses, and was known for being kind, outgoing, smart, and a sweet girl who loved animals and pizza. She was a really good student, especially with math, but she had some disruptive behaviors because she fidgeted a lot and I guess the other kids avoided her because of this. The fidgeting was described as shuffling her feet on the floor and being really noisy. The teachers would ask her to stop, but she would start right back up again 10 seconds later. So, she would get in trouble and the kids would kind of stay away from her. She was 13 and had an 11-year-old boyfriend named Jordan Morse and they attended different schools, so they basically just talked on the phone. Leigh was going to attend an open house for her new school with her grandparents later that day and she was just waiting to be picked up. 

After the open house, they would meet up with Vickie for dinner at Taco Bell. Leigh was staying home unsupervised for the very first time that morning and Hurricane Andrew had just been downgraded to a tropical storm. The storm brought some really strong rain that morning, so Vickie decided to call her daughter shortly after her shift started because she wanted to check in, but no one answered. Vickie had a system where she would call the house, the phone would ring twice, she would hang up and immediately call back. That's how Leigh would know it was her mom so she could answer. She tried calling a few more times, but no one picked up. Vickie either called her mom to at this point to go check on Leigh, or she called her mom when she got home and couldn't find her. We do know that she called her mother, but the timeline is different in some articles. 

Vickie left work and rushed home, but Leigh was gone and there were smears of blood in the hallway and small pools of blood on the carpet. Here's the timeline to show how quickly this all happened and keep in mind, the neighbors all said they didn't see or hear anything. Vickie Felton left the house and headed to work around 7:35 to 7:45 AM depending on which article you read and she got to work at 7:50 AM. When she got to work, she borrowed her boss' weather radio so she could check on things and she found out things were getting worse with the weather. She called the house just before 8:30 AM and quickly drove the mile and a half home, so Leigh disappeared in less than an hour. When Vickie got to the house, she saw that the garage door was open and the light was still on. It's one of those lights that turns on when the door is triggered. Vickie ran inside and called for her daughter and that's when she saw the blood smears in the hallway, small pools were on the floor outside her door and there was blood on the door frame. There was also a bloody nightgown in the hamper. Vickie checked outside for her daughter, saw more blood by the back door and called 911 around 8:30 to 9 AM. It was stated as different times in different articles for this too. 

Police didn't find any signs of forced entry and a team of bloodhounds searched the neighborhood, fields, and nearby ditches, but they didn't pick up any scent of Leigh. Police didn't know if that meant that Leigh truly hadn't been in those areas or if the heavy rains were washing away her scent. They searched a ½ mile area around the house, paid special attention to searching an 80 acre area of brush and trees, walked through vacant lots, searched the landfill and used the bloodhounds to search the family vehicles. Police did find traces of her blood in the bathroom and it was evident that someone tried to clean up the counter top because there was a pink haze left behind, but the rag or towel that was used for this, was never found. There was a trail of blood leading from the hallway to the living room, and there was blood and hair stuck to the door frame, indicating Leigh had hit her head during a struggle. There were a few items missing from the house and that would be Leigh's shoes, a pair of shorts, a new pair of underwear she had just gotten, her glasses, and a sleeping bag.

When the bloody nightgown was analyzed, it was believed that Leigh likely had a neck or head wound that had dripped onto the gown and the blood was Type O which matched Leigh's. It was believed that she had been hit in the head and way lying on the carpet for a short period of time before being moved. Her father, Donald Occhi was in the Army and he got the call on August 28th which is the day after Leigh's disappearance. His ex-wife, Vickie said that Leigh was missing. He was granted a temporary leave from the Army, but he believed that Leigh had runaway from home because Vickie didn't tell him anything. She called him back a few days later and told him the details about the blood and everything else.

Leigh's boyfriend, Jordan, called the house on the night of her disappearance and he had no idea that she was missing. He said that Vickie answered the phone, but she didn't say much, so he had to hear the details on the news with his family. He says that the police never interviewed him which he thought was strange, especially because the two were dating and called each other all the time.

On September 1st, police canvassed the area to see if anyone had seen something unusual on the day of the disappearance. No one had seen or heard anything and unfortunately, most of them had been worried about prepping for the storm, so they weren't paying attention to anything outside of that. On September 4th, a community college student in Booneville, Mississippi called the police stating they saw a girl that looked like Leigh. The child was sitting inside a truck at a McDonalds drive thru, but it ended up not being her. 

On September 9th, Vickie received a package in the mail that was addressed to B Yarborough which is Leigh's stepfather. Vickie and Barney had recently separated and there was no return address, but inside the package were Leigh's glasses. The package was tested, but there weren't any fingerprints and the stamps had been wet down with water, not saliva. It was postmarked from Booneville, which is a town that's 30 miles away. The street name in the address on the envelope was misspelled. It should have been HONEY, but it was spelled HONY, the E was missing and the envelope had 6 stamps which is twice the amount needed. Police do believe that this was a strategic move to mail the glasses to mislead the investigation.

Rumors started rippling through the town and people started claiming that Barney was abusive towards his stepdaughter. There was also a rumor that a local doctor abducted her and buried her in a barn. Some of Leigh's classmates started remembering that she used to show up to school with bruises, but she always said it was from horseback riding. One of her friends said that she saw Leigh eating berries on the school playground one day and told her that may be poisonous, and Leigh said she didn't care, maybe she wanted to die. The friend thought it was a joke, but it clearly stuck with her. This made people believe that Vickie may have done something to her daughter. She took 3 separate polygraph tests and two of them were done by the FBI and she was told that she failed all three. Leigh's father, Donald took a polygraph and passed. Her stepfather, Barney took a polygraph and passed as well. He also had a good alibi, and the police say he was forthcoming and cooperative. 

Vickie Felton has never been charged in connection with Leigh's disappearance, but her ex-husband, Donald, believes she knows something. Donald and Vickie met through the Army, and he says that Vickie was a trained interrogator for the U.S. Army. When he spoke about the investigators handling this case, he said, “I had my concerns. I don't think they had dealt with someone with Vickie's intelligence before. She was a trained interrogator. She knew how to act regarding questioning.” Donald had mentioned that it doesn't make sense to him that someone could show up to the house, kill or harm his daughter, hide the weapons, clean up the blood in the bathroom and get out of there in less than an hour. He believes that Vickie murdered Leigh the night before and lied about the timeline or that someone in the family is involved in this. He has worked hard to make sure people don't forget about his daughter's case and he printed out flyers and distributed them at bus services, local businesses, and he gave them to truck drivers. He sent the information to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Child Quest. He also turned to psychics for help and they have all claimed that a body of water is somehow related to this case.

Police haven't necessarily called Vickie a suspect. Even if a few things don't seem to add up in her story, the blood in the house was fresh and hadn't started to congeal when the police arrived. That means she couldn't have killed Leigh the night before because the blood hadn't been there for much longer than 15 minutes. If she was involved, she would have had a very tight schedule for killing her daughter and hiding the body.

Vickie had her own theories about what happened to her daughter. She believed that Oscar Kearns, the Sunday school teacher at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church was to blame. Vickie and Leigh attended this church and Oscar had horses at the same stable that Leigh went to and they went out riding together once or twice. Vickie believes this theory makes sense because it would explain why there was no forced entry into the home. Leigh would have opened the door if it was someone she knew. This theory isn't as far fetched as it might sound. Nine months after Leigh's disappearance, Oscar Kearns abducted a 15 year old girl in Memphis, Tennessee whom he'd met through church. He raped her and then dropped her off at school and he pleaded guilty to rape when he was arrested. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison, but only served four and was released in October of 1997. Two years later, he kidnapped a married couple and raped the wife. He served an additional 20 years for these crimes and he refused to talk to the police or the FBI about Leigh's disappearance and he died in May of 2021.

Fourteen months after the disappearance, a skull was found in a soybean field and it was identified as Leigh, but this was a big oops. The state medical examiner's office did not use her most recent dental records and the skull wasn't hers, it was announced 4 days later that actually, the skull belonged to a 27-year-old woman who had been missing named Pollyanna Sue Keith.

In August of 1997, police said there was a suspect in the case, but they didn't publicly name them. Years later, they did a new search of Leigh's former backyard and it was revealed that the Public Works Office had been installing rocks as a form of drainage control at the time of her disappearance. It was believed that Leigh may have been buried here, but cadaver dogs were not able to pick up a scent. During an interview with the Open: The Case of Leigh Occhi podcast, a garden centre owner said she saw something strange on the morning of Leigh's disappearance. She was driving on Honey Locust Drive and she saw a male and female walking along the road in the torrential rain. As she got close to them, the man pulled his hood over his face and wrapped his arm around the female's shoulders and pulled her close to him. When the female looked up, she didn't appear injured, but looked frightened. The woman was going to offer the two a ride, but she decided against it because she felt that something was off. She got a really bad feeling. Once the woman heard about Leigh's disappearance, she called the non-emergency police line and was told that someone would contact her, but they never did. She said that the man she saw was a bit shorter with a thick build, grey hair, and a scruffy beard and he had been wearing an army type green jacket.

It wasn't until September of 2016 that investigators took down her testimony, which is 24 years after Leigh's disappearance. 

Here are some of the theories in this case. Keep in mind, they are rumors, and they are all alleged:

-We talked about Vickie's theory about Oscar “Mike” Kearns. He did have a criminal past and he lived a mile from Leigh. She knew him and would have opened the door for him. Vickie claims that he started acting strange towards her after her daughter's disappearance. He avoided eye contact and would randomly drop by the house which is something he never did before Leigh went missing. When police attempted to talk to Oscar, he lawyered up.

-Many of the residents believe that Vickie was involved in her daughter's disappearance. There were rumors about her alleged abuse towards her daughter and classmates say Leigh was often in a sombre mood at school and had bruises and black eyes. Some people have questioned why Vickie would leave work so quickly on the day of the disappearance. She says she checked the weather right when she arrived and couldn't get ahold of her daughter, but Leigh was waiting to be picked up by her grandparents. I couldn't find the exact time she was supposed to be picked up, but it does seem a little odd that Vickie panicked so quickly when she knew her daughter was being picked up. It took Vickie 15 minutes before calling the police for help after arriving home and seeing blood everywhere and she lead her ex-husband to believe that Leigh had just runaway and didn't express the severity of the situation. Vickie last saw her daughter wearing a nightgown when she left the house, but it was found full of blood in the hamper and she was able to determine exactly what outfit was missing from her room so police had a description of what Leigh would be wearing. She even knew what underwear she was in and said it was because she had just gotten them for her birthday. Despite all of this, Vickie maintains her innocence and investigators say she has been cooperative.

-Some rumors point in the direction of Leigh's stepfather, Barney. People have claimed that he had violent behavior towards Leigh and a family friend said they heard Barney whipped and hit her. Leigh's boyfriend, Jordan, said that Leigh told him that Barney locked her out of the house as punishment one time. He also said that Leigh told him she was scared of her stepfather because he always yelled at her. She had called him crying and this was the only time she ever mentioned a problem at home and Jordan says she changed the subject and started talking about cats.

Leigh's case has gone cold, but this is not closed. Vickie hired a private investigator and Leigh is still classified as a missing person and her mitochondrial DNA profile has been uploaded to a national database. At the time of her disappearance, she was slender, 4'10” in height and weighed about 95 pounds. She had light blonde hair and bluish green eyes. She had on a nightshirt and green/yellow silk boxer shorts. Leigh has a strawberry birthmark at the base of her skull, small scratch scars on her right leg and bumps on the skin of both of her knees. Her ears are pierced, and she wears glasses because she has a lazy left eye. If you have any information, you can call the Tupelo Police Department at 662-841-6491. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through the Crime Stoppers of Northeast Mississippi at 1-800-773-8477.