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My Mom Vanished 20 Years Ago

Photograph by Bryanne Salazar

Twenty years ago this month — on October 12, 1995 — my mother disappeared in West Sacramento and was never seen or heard from again. I was just 15 years old when my dad told me the news.

For the longest time before my mother's disappearance, I secretly harbored the belief that one day she would change. I imagined her wanting to know me and wanting to rebuild our damaged relationship. When I learned that police believed her to be dead, those dreams died, too.

I'd lived with my mom's brother since I was a baby. Although biologically he was my uncle, I saw him as my dad (and still do). He rescued me after my mother took my older brother and walked out of our apartment, leaving me completely alone in a rancid crib so she could pursue drugs a day's drive away.

Three weeks later, when my dad heard that my mom had returned to town, he went to confront her. He found her high on heroin in an open van while my brother, just 3 years old at the time, was searching for food in an outdoor dumpster. My dad scooped him up and brought him home, too. The three of us have been a family ever since.

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My dad always believed my mother would wake up from her haze, realize she had two children to love and care for, and that one day, we would return to her. Maybe, like me, he was holding on to hope that had no footing in reality. My mother made lots of promises but was never able to deliver on them.

In 1985, she gave birth to our little sister, shortly after a stint in prison. My mom kept the baby and raised her. I suppose I was jealous; weekend visits with our mom were punctuated by the knowledge that my brother and I would leave, and she would stay. Our little sister knew our mom in a way I never could.

Ten years later, when our mother disappeared, it was our little sister who was left behind, alone and scared. In various ways, our mom abandoned all of us.

One day, I hope we will learn the truth about what happened to my mother all those years ago. Until then, I will keep her story alive.

When my dad told me the news of my mom's disappearance, I hadn't seen her in five years, and the last time I'd spoken to her, nearly eight months earlier, we'd argued over the phone. I asked her why she didn't just abort me when she had the chance. My mother told me that all I knew about her was a lie, and that she loved me. I didn't believe her. The last time I spoke to my mother, I hung up the phone on her.

I won't pretend that I felt close to my mom, but still, the moment my dad held up the newspaper clipping that showed her face, telling the world the story of her disappearance, I cried.

The picture they used was a former mugshot. She looked so grotesque, so hardened by her life. The article got some of the details wrong — details that to this day bother me.

Photograph by Bryanne Salazar

First, they said that my mom went missing October 11, but she actually went missing the following day. They also said that my mom was "a very dedicated mother to her child" and had never gone missing before. While it's true she was a much better mother to our sister than she had ever been to us, her being called a "dedicated mother" warranted an eye-roll. Finally, the article claimed my sister was 8 years old at the time, though she was nearly 10.

The article was the only media coverage her case received. I didn't know that then, nor could I have understood, how different the police treat a missing-persons case when the person missing is an ex-convict. Her case didn't go cold; it was on ice the moment she disappeared.

It wasn't until 1999, seven months before the birth of my second child, that I took a renewed interest in her disappearance. I was a new mom, and had felt a strange pull to understand more about what had happened to my own mother. I spent hours on the phone tracking down the new detective assigned to her case, and once I found him, I managed to ignite his interest in the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, too.

He told me the police department believed my mother had been murdered. He retold the exact story my dad told me nearly four years earlier. A witness claimed to have seen my mother at a nearby store, arguing with a known drug dealer. It was the detectives who surmised the drug dealer must've killed my mom and hid her body.

Up until then, nothing more than preliminary investigative work had been done. Witness statements were collected, reports were filed. The room she went missing from was never tested for traces of blood. No luminol or black lights were ever used to see if she'd been murdered in her motel room. By the time I was in touch with the detective about her case, the motel had long been torn down.

Most interesting of all, my mother's ex-husband, the man she had only recently left before she disappeared, had never been questioned.

The new detective felt my former stepfather was a person worth speaking to, and so he asked me for his contact information, which I provided. Over the course of the next month, my former stepfather went from a non-entity in her case to the primary suspect.

The one thing the detectives did not get from my former stepfather was a confession. Without admittance of guilt, or finding my mother's remains, there was essentially no case.

He was caught by detectives misleading the investigation by having a friend tell a false story about seeing my mother a year prior in Sacramento. During questioning, the detectives used a method of lie detection called Voice Stress Analysis, which picks up the AM and FM frequencies in someone's voice without them knowing they are being analyzed. Two times this method was used on my former stepdad while he was interrogated, and both times showed deception.

The one thing the detectives did not get from my former stepfather was a confession. Without admittance of guilt, or finding my mother's remains, there was essentially no case.

Circumstantial evidence like hearsay and lie detection alone wouldn't hold up in court. After a month of exciting progress, my mother's missing-persons case came to a standstill — and it hasn't moved forward since.

At the height of the investigation 16 years ago, I had a dream about my mother. I asked her to be there with me when I had my second child. My mother told me she would and she smiled before she left. It was the last dream I ever had of her.

Seven months later, on October 12, 1999 – exactly four years to the date of her disappearance — my second and last child was born.

I know my mother was there, in spirit, guiding me as a mother in a way she was never able to in life. Even if my family never has closure on her case, I have found love and forgiveness for her. In a strange way, our relationship is much stronger now.

One day, I hope we will learn the truth about what happened to my mother all those years ago. Until then, I will keep her story alive.

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If you have any details about the disappearance of Tami Lyn Seymour, please contact the West Sacramento Police Department and reference case number 95-8376.

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