Restaurant in Coffee County honors Greenville girl missing for 26 years

Published 4:14 pm Monday, June 28, 2010

Sherry Lynn Marler had brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen on June 6, 1984, as she left the First National Bank in downtown Greenville, Ala., to go to the gas station across the street.

The 12-year-old was wearing a red shirt, faded jeans, and tennis shoes that morning 26 years ago, Betty Stringfellow said Thursday. Stringfellow is Marler’s mother, and she has worked tirelessly for more than a quarter century toward any effort to find her daughter.

She told the story of their crusade to find her as she sat in the Enterprise restaurant her family opened June 6, the anniversary of Marler’s disappearance.

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The old Carlisle home on Main Street has been home to a number of restaurants over the years. It’s still called Carlisles on Main, but the sign out front now notes that it is opened in honor and memory of Sherry Lynn Marler.

“We want to honor her memory,” Stringfellow said. “But we want also to heighten people’s awareness of the reality of children missing every day in this country.”

Stringfellow said she had moved with her children from Coffee County when she remarried a Greenville, Ala., man. One morning in June, the daughter she described as a tomboy, jumped in the truck with her stepfather as he drove into town to go to the bank. He gave Marler a $1 bill to buy a soft drink from the gas station across the street with instructions to meet him back at the truck.

“In 1984, vending machines didn’t give change, so she might have asked someone at the gas station for change,” Stringfellow said. That was the last time Marler was seen by family or friends.

What ensued was a nightmare, Stringfellow said. After a search by authorities for Marler proved fruitless, allegations surfaced that her stepfather and mother were involved in the girl’s disappearance. The pain inflicted upon the family shows in Stringfellow’s eyes as she recalls that time.

After Marler’s disappearance, she was reportedly seen by three people on three different occasions in the company of a man. Each witness described the man to police as husky with a weathered complexion. He would have been near 50 years old when sighted with Marler, according to police reports. He was described as being about 5 feet, 8 inches tall and having noticeable crow’s feet at his eyes.

She was sighted at a mall in New Orleans days before Christmas in 1984, her mother said.

“The man who reported seeing her said that what made her so discernable was that she was so despondent and dazed-looking. Each of the three police reports described Marler as dazed, disheveled and despondent. The truck driver who saw her at a truck stop in Conley, Ga., said she called the man she was with B.J.

Stringfellow has volunteered thousands of hours with organizations focused on finding missing children and offering support to their parents. “Help Offering Parents Empowerment” is the acronym for Team Hope, a program that the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children makes trained volunteers who are families of missing or sexually exploited children available to help others in their situation.

“At Team Hope, we are members of a club that no one wants to belong to,” she said. “I volunteer in the hope that no one else will ever have to go through what our family has been through.”