Case File Overview
The morning of June 6, 1984 started like any other for the Stringfellow family on their farm in Greenville, Alabama.
Greenville, the county seat of Butler County, had a population of around 7,600 in 1984. Known as Camellia City after it petitioned for the camellia to become Alabama’s state flower in 1959, Greenville may have seemed like an ideal quiet place to raise a family.
Betty woke up early because she had to be at the Waffle House restaurant by 7:00AM sharp for the start of her shift. After getting ready, she quietly left the house. She did not want to wake her twelve-year-old daughter Sherry who was sleeping on the couch after giving up her bed to her stepdad’s aunt who was in town visiting for the week.
Shortly after 9:00AM Sherry noticed her stepdad Raymond was backing his red pickup truck down the driveway. She raced out of the house, shoes in her hands, asking if she could go with him into town.
At around 9:30AM the pair stopped at the First National Bank so Raymond could sign some papers. Sherry said she was thirsty, so Raymond gave his stepdaughter a dollar bill and told her to go buy herself a beverage at the Chevron gas station across the street.
Witnesses saw Sherry walking across the parking lot by the General Telephone building and Jernigan’s Furniture store on her way to the gas station.
Fifteen minutes later, Raymond was done at the bank and went out to his truck. He was surprised Sherry was not there waiting for him. When twenty-five more minutes passed with no sign of Sherry panic set it.
Raymond called Betty at the Waffle House to see if Sherry had stopped by there for a visit. Betty said no…she had last seen her daughter that morning fast asleep on the couch.
Raymond checked the obvious places for his stepdaughter, like the Chevron, but had no luck. He also asked around at the tractor shop and the feed store. Sherry’s nickname was “Little Farmer” for a reason; she loved everything to do with farming, including hanging out at those stores. But no one had seen Sherry.
The young girl was finally reported missing at 11:46AM.
Before long a massive search effort was underway. Volunteers combed the city and surrounding areas. An aerial search was even conducted by Crenshaw Flying Service. Family, friends, and volunteers printed off countless missing person posters and plastered them across the city and neighbouring towns.
Despite all of the efforts, Sherry remains missing.
Sherry is a Caucasian female with brown hair and brown eyes. When she disappeared in 1984, she was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 100 to 120 pounds. She has two distinguishing marks: a two-inch scar on her abdomen and a one-inch scar on her back near her shoulder. Sherry was last seen wearing a long-sleeved red plaid flannel shirt, light jeans, gray runners with velcro fastenings, and a watch with a black band.
Sherry at twelve years old
Sherry age progressed to forty-four years old
Case File Theories
Did Sherry run away from home? Sherry’s family thinks it is unlikely.
As heartbreaking as it is to think about, it is not uncommon for children to run away from home. In fact, in 1984 the Department of Health and Human Services reported to Congress that the number of runaway youth in the United States was “more than one million.”
But was Sherry one of those million runaways? Her mother Betty has always insisted her daughter was a happy and content child with no significant issues. She said Sherry had no reason to leave home. Sherry was excited about the plans she had made for the day she disappeared – she was going to watch her favourite TV show and visit her grandmother.
By all accounts Sherry was the type of child who did what she was told. And she did not take any of her belongings with her when she headed into town. Even more, she has never once contacted her family in the decades she has been missing.
Was Sherry abducted by a stranger? Maybe.
Stranger abductions are rare, but Sherry could have been kidnapped by someone as she walked across the parking lot to go buy a drink. It does not take long to grab a person and pull them into your vehicle. Sherry also could have been snatched from the Chevron station. Sherry’s mom has pointed out that in 1984 vending machines did not give change. Maybe Sherry approached a stranger at the gas station to ask for change and the person took advantage of the opportunity and kidnapped her.
Three unconfirmed sightings of Sherry by three different people also support the stranger abduction theory. All of the alleged sightings placed Sherry with a man who looked to be around 50 years old and 5 feet 8 inches tall. He had a husky build and a weathered complexion. One of the witnesses reported they heard the young girl call the man “B.J.” Disturbingly, all three witnesses told the authorities the person they believed was Sherry appeared to be very upset, disheveled, and dazed.
Killed by someone she knew
Was Sherry killed by someone she knew? It is a possibility.
It is no surprise that Raymond, Sherry’s stepdad, was the first person questioned by the police. He was the last person to see her, after all. Raymond cooperated with the authorities and answered all of their questions. But when they asked him to take a polygraph test he refused. Regardless, the police have said he was never a suspect in the case.
And his wife Betty was positive Raymond did not harm his stepdaughter. She said he never got over the fact that Sherry was with him when she vanished. Just before Raymond died in April 2003, he told his wife from his hospital bed, “Betty, I wish I could go get Sherry and bring her home to you, but I can’t, because I don’t know where she is.”
If Raymond was not involved in Sherry’s disappearance, could it be someone else she knew? In 2018, the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina said Sherry had stayed with her stepsister and her stepsister’s husband in the St. Stephen area near Betaw Road back in the summer of 1983. The authorities had received a tip that Sherry was spotted in the same area after she was reported missing in 1984. Were these family members somehow involved in Sherry disappearance? If so, did they take her against her will? Or had Sherry actually run away from home and sought shelter in South Carolina for some reason?
In 2019, there was a very startling post on the Sherry Lynn Marler Still Missing Facebook page. A woman named Ryan Welch Anderson said that her and a group of volunteers had been searching tirelessly for years to find out what had happened to Sherry. They found evidence they refuse to keep to themselves any longer. Part of the post reads:
Sherry Marler was murdered and dismembered by someone she knew very well (not her stepfather) and thrown into a hog pen in Butler County. We believe the person who murdered her is deceased. We strongly suspect there were 1 or 2 other people there at the time of her death, and that they are also deceased. We strongly suspect she was pregnant at the time. We believe she was a victim of a multiple family based incest pedophilia ring that involved people from both Butler and Crenshaw Counties.
Ryan says they unearthed a pig farm that was functional in 1984 but had since been abandoned and reclaimed by nature. The group says they have video footage of two separate cadaver dog teams confirming hits on human remains in the area. During their excavation, the group discovered clothing that was sent in for DNA testing.
Fabric found at pig farm
The Greenville Police Department said no DNA evidence was found on the material. And to me, the fabric looks more like a burlap sack than the jeans or red flannel shirt Sherry was said to be wearing when she vanished.
Ryan also states that a surviving family member of the person she thinks murdered Sherry allowed her to look through a box of old photos. Some of the photos showed the pig farm up and running. And one photo in particular shocked Ryan – it was a photo of a pig standing by what she says is a severed human head that had not yet decomposed. Ryan says she took a picture of the photo with her phone.
Pig standing over what could be a severed head
The original photo was reportedly seized from the family member by law enforcement and turned over to the FBI. However, when nothing happened with the case Ryan called the FBI and says she was told they had never received any such photo. I think it is hard to tell exactly what is in the photo – it may be one of those situations where something takes the shape of something you expect to see.
Whether or not Ryan and this group of searchers has found evidence of Sherry remains to be seen, but their dedication to the case and to finding answers for Sherry’s loved ones cannot be questioned.
What do you think happened to Sherry?
Sherry was a fun-loving tomboy who enjoyed farming, being outside, and listening to her Kenny Rogers albums. She had an adventurous spirit and could not wait to trade in her moped for a three-wheeler on her thirteenth birthday.
Sherry’s loved ones have had to live decades without answers. Every day, her mom Betty has had to face the horrible truth that her daughter is still missing. And her stepdad Raymond died without ever finding out what happened to Sherry. Somehow, though, Betty still manages to find some solace. She said, “Sherry was always a happy little girl and that’s what I remember the most, even in my dreams.”
Betty has fought hard to keep the memory of her daughter alive. She opened Enterprise Restaurant on June 6, 2010, the twenty-sixth anniversary of Sherry’s disappearance. The sign on the street said the restaurant was “opened in honor and memory of Sherry Lynn Marler.” Betty explained, “We want to honor her memory. But we want also to heighten people’s awareness of the reality of children missing every day in this country.”
To that end, Betty joined Team HOPE (Help Offering Parents Empowerment) – a program created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to train the family members of missing or sexually exploited children so they can help others in their situation. Betty said, “At Team Hope, we are members of a club that no one wants to belong to. I volunteer in the hope that no one else will ever have to go through what our family has been through.”
If you have any information about Sherry’s disappearance please contact the Greenville Police Department at 334-382-7461 or the Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
Love true crime and mysteries? Listen to our Audio File on the unsolved murder of Betsy Aardsma and read our article on the unsolved murder of Thera Dieleman.
Sources and Related Reading
“South Carolina Officials Aiding In Search for AL Woman Who Went Missing In 1984.” Advance Local, September 1, 2018.
“Berkeley Co. Detectives Renew Plea for Information In Case of Girl Who Went Missing In 1984.” LIVE 5 WCSC, August 30, 2018.
“Search Continues for 170 Missing Persons in Alabama.” Montgomery Advertiser, February 17, 2015.
“Missing Child: Sherry Lynn Marler from Alabama 1984.” True Crime Diva, November 5, 2014.
“Mother Holds to Hope of Finding Lost Girl.” Montgomery Advertiser, December 21, 2013.
“Mother of Missing Child Searching for Answers.” The Greenville Advocate, October 22, 2013.
“Coffee County Mother Opens Restaurant to Honor Missing Daughter.” The Enterprise Ledger, June 28, 2010.
“Raymond Douglas Stringfellow.” Montgomery Advertiser, April 5, 2003.
“Runaway Youth Centers: FY 1984 Report to Congress.” US Department of Health and Human Services, 1984.
“Betty Stringfellow.” The Surviving Parents Coalition, n.d.
“Greenville: The Camilla City.” City Website, n.d.
“Sherry Lynn Marler.” NamUs, n.d.
“Sherry Lynn Marler.” The Charley Project, n.d.
“Sherry Lynn Marler.” The Doe Network, n.d.
“Sherry Lynn Marler.” The Resource Center for Cold Case Missing Children’s Cases, n.d.
“Sherry Lynn Marler Still Missing.” Facebook page, n.d.