Gone Missing: Michelle Parker

Gone Missing: Michelle Parker

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There is a certain agony that comes with any breakup, but things can become heated and bitter when money and children are involved. Michelle Parker suffered this type of defeat and disappointment when her engagement to Dale Smith fell apart. To make matters even worse, Dale would insist on dragging their problems into the national spotlight.

More than eight years later, there is no sign of Michelle and Dale, while never arrested or charged for anything, remains the only suspect in the then-33-year-old woman?s disappearance.

[Pieces of the timeline and some of the details of this story may not be 100% accurate, as there was a lot of information to process, but I did my best to present the facts.]

Public Humiliation

Image for postDale Smith and Michelle Parker ? Source: Daily Mail

In 2011, Michelle Parker was a single mother of an 11-year-old from a previous relationship, as well as a set of three-year-old twins that she shared with Dale Smith. [1] Beautiful and bubbly, Michelle?s mobile spray-tan business was taking off, and she was in a new relationship with a man named Nathan Mitchell. She was happily and successfully moving on from her rocky engagement to Dale ? or so she thought.

The problem was, Dale wasn?t ready to move on just yet. The breakup wounded his pride and dented his wallet. In better times, Dale had given Michelle a $5,000 engagement ring, but after a night of feuding, Michelle allegedly threw the pricey piece of jewelry over a hotel balcony while in a drunken state, and Dale wasn?t about to just let it go. [2]

To blow off steam, Michelle would sometimes watch court TV shows with her friend, Angela Launer. The two would make fun of the plaintiffs and defendants on the show. It was good entertainment, but the friends couldn?t help but think how embarrassing it would be to have to appear on national television to hash out a legal problem.

Little did they know that Dale, still fuming about the sparkly chunk of change his ex-fiance had thrown off of a balcony, planned to not only get his money back but to humiliate his ex in the process.

If that had been the end of it ? if Dale had taken Michelle to court and Michelle never went missing ? it might have been easier to have sympathy for Dale. After all, $5,000 is a lot of money and no one could blame him for being upset over losing that kind of dough. But it?s difficult not to suspect that a plot was in place to destroy the young mother both mentally and physically.

Doomed From the Beginning

A lot of people have a past. Good luck finding someone without at least one skeleton in their closet. Some people, though? They have a closet overflowing with old bones.

That was the case with Dale Smith. He was muscular and good-looking and he knew how to have a good time. Michelle was a gorgeous, outgoing bartender at a local establishment. When their eyes met in 2006, it seemed like it was kismet.

Dale was very much on the hunt for love. The then-40-year-old had been divorced and widowed and didn?t want to spend the rest of his life alone. [3] The only problem was, he seemed incapable of maintaining a healthy relationship. He wasn?t even capable of staying out of trouble. It seemed that bad decisions had become a way of life for Dale Smith.

Image for postDale Smith ? Source: Fox News

Dale?s problems began in 1990 when Orlando police nabbed him on a felony burglary charge. It was downgraded to a misdemeanor trespassing charge and adjudication was withheld.

In 1992, Dale got in trouble for possession of weed and entered a pre-trial diversion program. On Memorial Day weekend of that same year, he was involved in a group fight in Orlando that left one man dead. His friend was convicted of fatally stabbing the victim, and Dale pleaded no contest to attempted aggravated battery for kicking the man in the head during the fight. After spending a few days in jail, he was released and given two years of probation.

Dale joined the Marines in 1996 and married Amanda Pernice less than a year later, but the couple divorced in 2000. Eleven days after the divorce was finalized, Dale married Kathleen Collins.

In February 2001, Dale was court-martialed on drug charges and a domestic battery charge and was sentenced to 36 months in prison. While he was behind bars, his new wife died of a brain injury after consuming too much Ecstasy.

Image for postDale Smith ? Victim?s Heartland

Michelle, too, experienced Dale?s wrath during their relationship. According to Michelle?s oldest son, Dale once attacked Michelle in front of all three of her children. Less than a month after the couple?s twins turned one, Michelle moved her children out of Dale?s house and into her mother?s home.

Later that year, she filed for a restraining order after Dale allegedly broke out the passenger window in her car. Court records show that during the altercation, Dale held their then-15-month-old daughter and shouted at Michelle: ?Your day is coming!?

It seems that Dale was serious when he issued the warning. Whether or not that meant murder or plain old humiliation is up for debate, but he wanted to hurt her at the time. And he could stab her where it hurt ? in the wallet, and the pride.

Dale submitted the dispute over the wedding ring that Michelle tossed in a fit of anger to the powers that be at ?The People?s Court,? one of the same shows Michelle enjoyed watching and laughing at. [1] Their appearance gave the country an inside look at the chaos that dominated much of the relationship.

Image for postMichelle Parker and Dale Smith appear on The People?s Court ? Source: New York Post

Michelle said in court:

?He gets pretty malicious and vindictive, especially when he?s been drinking. He shouldn?t have put his hands on me and shouldn?t have put his hands on me prior. He shouldn?t have left me three or four times over the past year-and-a-half that we?ve been together.?

Michelle accused her former fiancee of cheating on her with at least seven different women and told the judge how they were locked in a battle over custody of their two children.

Image for postSource: ABC News

Judge Marilyn Milian ruled that Michelle and Dale should split the cost of the ring, ruling in Dale?s favor and ordering Michelle to pay him $2,500.

Michelle?s mother, Yvonne Stewart, said the experience was, indeed, humiliating for her daughter, who simply wanted to arrive at a custody agreement with Dale and move on with her life.

Yvonne said Michelle told her:

?It was the most humiliating experience of my life. I don?t even ever want to see it. I wish I had never gone.?

November 17, 2011

At 2 p.m. on November 17, 2011, the episode of ?The People?s Court? featuring Michelle Parker and Dale Smith finally aired. [4] It?s not known if Michelle knew it would air that day and, if so, whether or not she watched it.

What is known is that the last time Michelle was seen was around 3:15 p.m., when she spoke to her current boyfriend, Nathan Mitchell, via text. [4]

Image for postNathan Mitchell hugs a friend during a search for Michelle Parker ? Source: The Dish

At 3:20 that afternoon, surveillance video captured her driving into the Carter Glen Condominiums in southeast Orlando, where Dale Smith lived, to drop off their three-year-old twins. Michelle?s vehicle was pretty hard to miss. She drove a black 2007 Hummer with large ?Glow Mobile Airbrush Tanning? decals ? the name of her tanning business ? on the side windows. [5]

Image for postA photo of Michelle Parker?s Hummer

Just ten minutes later, Michelle?s other son from another relationship arrived home from school to find an empty house.

At 4:26, Parker?s brother, Dustin, texted her to find out where she was. [6] She responded with one word: ?Waterford.? It is assumed the text referred to Waterford Lakes, a neighborhood in Orlando. Michelle?s reply gave Dustin a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He claims that Michelle never responded with a single word and was known for sending lengthy texts. He immediately suspected that something was wrong, and now believes it was not Michelle who texted him at all.

Image for postMichelle?s mother and brother, Yvonne Stewart and Dustin Stewart, respectively, plead for the public?s help in finding Michelle ? Source: MSNBC

At 6:50, Michelle?s oldest son called Michelle?s sister, Lauren Erickson, to find out if she knew where his mom was.

Michelle?s friend, Angela Launer, told ABC News: [7]

?I?m here to tell you for a fact that she would never not come home to her 11-year-old son. She would never have taken off, done that to her brother, sister, or mother.?

Launer agreed with Dustin that Michelle would not have responded to a text with a single word.

She stated:

?She would never have texted back ?Waterford.? Her texts are a book. In every text that she would send, she would have xo?s, smiley faces, hearts. I personally do not think that was from her, not at all for one second, because she wouldn?t have said that.?

At 7:30 that evening, when Michelle failed to show up for her bartending shift at The Barn, it was clear that she had not simply lost track of time. [4] Something was amiss, and her friends and family started to panic.

Image for postThe bar where Michelle Parker worked as a bartender ? Source: TheBarnInSanford.com

At 8 p.m., Michelle was reported missing. Unfortunately, since adults have every right to leave of their own accord, the police typically must wait 24 hours to investigate a disappearance. It was up to Michelle?s family to get the ball rolling.

The Investigation

The following day, on November 18, Michelle?s Hummer was found near the Mall at Millennia in Orlando, approximately eight miles from the Waterford Lakes area. [7] The decals on the windows had been removed. [6]

If the Mall at Millennia sounds familiar, that?s probably because another missing woman, Jennifer Kesse, lived across the street from the mall. Jennifer disappeared in 2006 and has never been found. The working theory in the case is that she was abducted and killed by construction workers that were doing renovations at her condominium complex.

Image for postMall at Millennia ? Source: Malls.com

Searchers had little else to go on, but Michelle?s cell phone pinged in the area of Oak Ridge near Belle Isle, some seven miles from where she was last seen, at 8 p.m. on the night of November 17, and then the phone was apparently turned off. [6]

Michelle?s family had hoped she would be at home in their loving embrace by Thanksgiving, but the holiday came and went with no sign of their loved one.

Then, on December 8, a tip led to the discovery of Michelle?s phone. Divers located the phone under a bridge at Lake Conway in Belle Isle, not far from the last place it pinged. The site was also close to Dale?s home, as well as his parents? home.

The discovery was a heartbreaking one for Michelle?s family, who knew in their hearts that it indicated foul play. [10]

Between sobs, Yvonne, Michelle?s mother, said at the time:

?I just feel like it?s not going to end well now. Maybe we?d find her and she?d be alive and I just don?t think it?s going to happen now.?

Fingers Point to Dale Smith

Image for postDale Smith ? Source: WDBO

In the early days of the investigation, Michelle?s family believed Dale Smith?s claims of innocence. [7] Despite the bitter breakup, he seemed to be crushed that his former love was missing and likely in danger and appeared heartbroken that his children were missing their mother. The family stated that Dale was an excellent father, even when he didn?t get along with Michelle.

But from the very beginning, Dale was only willing to cooperate with the investigation up to a certain point and refused to take a polygraph test. [12] Shortly after Thanksgiving, Orlando Police Chief Paul Rooney announced during a press conference that Dale Smith was the sole suspect in Michelle?s disappearance.

Image for postYvonne Stewart (L) and Orlando Police Chief Paul Rooney (R) ? Source: Orlando Sentinel

Speaking to the cameras and news reporters, Yvonne said:

?If you could have avoided this, Dale, if you had cooperated with the police and took a polygraph test when they asked you, you could have avoided a lot of stress. So, unfortunately, you bought this on yourself. We?re not going to stop until we find out who did this.?

On the weekend after Thanksgiving, SWAT teams raided the home of Dale?s father, which sat just two miles from the search command center as well as the area where Michelle?s cell phone last pinged.

On November 29, Florida?s Department of Children and Families filed a petition to remove the children from Dale?s custody due to his history of violence against women. [6] The twins were placed in the care of Dale?s parents.

The separation was short-lived, however, when a judge ruled the very next day that there was no cause to grant the department?s petition and returned the twins to Dale.

The Parker family was understandably nervous about the children remaining in Dale?s care. After Utah wife and mother Susan Powell disappeared, her husband, Josh Powell, was named the lone suspect in the case. He was awarded custody of the couple?s two children after a custody battle with Susan?s parents, and he ended up brutally murdering them and killing himself.

In December 2011, a custody agreement was reached between the Parker family and Dale Smith, allowing the Parker family to see the twins regularly. [15]

In January 2012, however, officials investigated the home life of the twins based on the previous allegations of abuse by Dale Smith. Officials ruled in favor of leaving the children in Dale?s custody. [16]

But at some point, Dale decided he would no longer allow the twins to visit with the Parker family. Was he simply angry at child protective services investigating him, or was he trying to shovel more dirt on a murder he was covering up? All we can do is speculate. But he selfishly decided to keep his kids from seeing the only people who had a connection to their mother and kept Michelle?s family from seeing the only connections to their daughter.

There was little Yvonne and Michelle?s dad, Brad Parker, could do. [13] In 2018, despite the passage of a law in Florida allowing grandparents visitation rights, a judge rejected Yvonne and Brad?s petition to be able to see their grandchildren.

Image for postMichelle?s father, Brad Parker, and his wife, Gayle Parker ? Source: ScaredMonkeys.net

The legislation, which granted grandparents visitation rights in cases where both parents are dead or missing, or if one of the parents are dead and the other parent is a convicted felon (which was the case with Dale), was passed in 2015. Yvonne advocated for the legislation, but in the end, it did her no favors.

When the children were initially returned to Dale?s custody, Yvonne swallowed her pride, suspicion, and grief and embraced Dale Smith outside of the courtroom to convey the message that, no matter what happened, she was willing to work together with Dale to maintain her relationship with her grandchildren. Dale, it seems, felt differently.[14]

Image for postYvonne Stewart hugs Dale Smith outside of court ? Source: Daily Mail

Matt Morgan, the Parker family?s attorney at the time, said:

?It was an out-of-body experience, standing right behind her. He?s the prime suspect in the missing person case of her daughter, [and she?s] hugging this guy and telling him she?s praying for him.?

Sadly, the judge?s rejection of the Parkers? petition means they won?t be able to see their two youngest grandchildren until 2024 when the children are 18. [13]

Not Going Away Quietly

There is no physical evidence connecting Dale to Michelle?s disappearance, and while it is assumed she is dead, there has never been a shred of evidence that definitively links Dale to a crime. But based on Dale?s past violent behavior and his unwillingness to allow the twins to see the Parker family, the Parkers were determined to hold Dale responsible for Michelle?s disappearance, even if it wasn?t in a criminal court.

In 2013, Yvonne filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dale, seeking more than $15,000 in damages. [17] In the lawsuit, Yvonne claimed that Dale was ?negligent or otherwise committed a wrongful act and caused the death of Michelle L. Parker.?

The Parkers? then-attorney, John Morgan, said his legal team was ?ready to elaborate? on the details of what they believe happened to Michelle and had text messages between Michelle and Dale that were evidence of Dale?s guilt.

?We just think that we have some pieces that when taken with testimony may tell a more full story and that testimony has to come from Dale and his parents.?

In May 2014, a judge granted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit but said the Parker family could re-file. [18] The decision to dismiss was based on Dale?s attorney?s argument that the Parker family did not provide any evidence that Michelle was dead, and no death certificate existed for her.

Just days after the lawsuit was dismissed, the Parkers re-filed. [19] In November 2018, that case came close to being dismissed after the defense argued that the case had been stalled since 2017, which was grounds for dismissal under the law. [20]

The family?s new attorney, Belvin Perry, said the case was delayed because he wanted to depose the lead investigator and have him bring all his files. One little problem: Some of that information was protected. Furthermore, the legal team was busy in 2017 with another case connected to Michelle?s disappearance: The custody battle between Dale and the Parkers.

This time, the judge ordered that the lawsuit could move forward.

I?ve been unable to find any updates as to where the wrongful death lawsuit stands, currently.

Out There, Somewhere

Image for post(L to R) Michelle?s stepfather Jeff Stewart, sister Lauren Erickson, Yvonne Stewart, Michelle, and Dustin Stewart ? Source: ScaredMonkeys.net

Almost nine years after Michelle Parker dropped her children off at Dale Smith?s house and vanished, there is still no sign of her. Numerous searches have been performed, and whenever human remains are found, Michelle?s family gets their hopes up that they?ve found her, as painful as that discovery would be. [21]

There haven?t been any new developments in the case in quite some time, but Michelle?s family is hopeful that the new Orlando police chief will be able to find the needle in a haystack that finally solves the case.

Yvonne said in November 2019:

?I?m Michelle?s voice because Michelle is not here. And Michelle is telling me to speak out find her and I?m doing it. It hurts, but I?m strong and for my grandkids.?

While the police and the Parker family believe Dale Smith likely took Michelle Parker?s life, there is also the possibility that Michelle was carjacked, which her family initially believed to be the case.

As is almost always the case with unsolved missing person/murder cases, finding the truth depends on either finding a smoking gun or finding the person who is willing to man up and do the right thing and provide answers. If Dale Smith killed Michelle Parker, it doesn?t look like he?s going to admit to it anytime soon.

What many people want to know, including me, is whether Michelle?s presumed murder was premeditated to coincide with the day the episode of ?The People?s Court? aired on television. We may never know, but it?s a coincidence that is impossible to ignore.

If you have any information about what happened to Michelle Parker, please call Crimeline at 800?423-TIPS (8477).

Image for postMichelle poses with the children she shares with Dale Smith ? Source: Daily Mail

Sources:

  1. ABC News
  2. ABC News
  3. Orlando Sentinel
  4. Court Junkie
  5. Los Angeles Times
  6. The Charley Project
  7. ABC News
  8. The True Crime Times
  9. WFTV ABC News 9
  10. ABC News
  11. News 4 JAX
  12. WFTV ABC News 9
  13. ClickOrlando.com
  14. ABC News
  15. WTSP
  16. WESH
  17. ABC News
  18. ClickOrlando.com
  19. Bay News 9
  20. WFTV
  21. ClickOrlando.com
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