Bethany Markowski was born on 1 February 1990 to parents Jonnie Carter and Larry Markowski. Bethany’s mother and father had separated in January 2001, and following the separation Bethany moved to Nashville with her mother. Her father had been granted court-ordered visitation rights however, which meant that Bethany would travel to visit him in Gleason, which is approximately a two-and-a-half drive from Nashville. In early March 2001, Bethany went to visit her father following her parents’ separation. The divorce was supposedly very bitter, and as a result it was agreed that following visitation with her father, Bethany would be dropped off with her aunt, as Jonnie had a personal restraining order against Larry. Larry picked up Bethany at 5pm on Friday 2 March 2001, supposedly to take her skating with a friend that evening. Instead, Larry took Bethany on a five hour trip to Little Rock, Arkansas to visit a friend of his, Harold Roberts.
Bethany and Larry stayed with Harold until the evening of Saturday 3 March, where they had a cook-out and then left to head back to Gleeson at approximately 9pm. Hauntingly, the last thing that Larry said to Harold before he left was that he was going to take his van down to Mexico and leave it there, and that Harold was welcome to take it. Harold told Larry that he could not do that; because of the custody battle over Bethany, the FBI would trace him to Mexico and come and get Bethany. Larry repeated that he would call Harold to let him know where to collect the van.
Larry was due to leave Bethany at the scheduled drop off location at 5pm on Sunday 4 March 2001, and Jonnie spoke to Bethany that morning at approximately 9.38am. Jonnie recalls that the conversation sounded like Bethany was on speakerphone, and her voice was shaking. Bethany told Jonnie “Mama, daddy knows you have a boyfriend.” When Jonnie told Bethany that she didn’t know what she was talking about, Larry could be heard in the background shouting, “Tell her!” Jonnie told Bethany that she would see her at 5pm that evening and ended the call.
Prior to meeting Bethany’s aunt for the scheduled drop-off at 5pm, Larry took Bethany to a shopping mall. There is some discrepancy over what time Larry and Bethany arrived at the Old Hickory Mall in Jackson, Tennessee, but it seems to have been at approximately 1.20-2.30pm. Larry allowed Bethany, who had turned 11 just a month earlier, to enter the shopping mall by herself. He wanted to take a nap in the car, and she was familiar with the layout of the mall, so Larry felt comfortable allowing her to enter it alone. Sometime around an hour later, Larry woke to find that Bethany had not yet returned to the vehicle, so he entered the shopping mall to find her as they were already late to meet her aunt.
Larry entered the Old Hickory Mall and searched for Bethany for hours. He was unable to locate her and contacted the mall security, who got in touch with law enforcement. However, Larry did not ask mall security for help in locating his daughter until 5.15pm, and the law enforcement were only called at 6pm when the mall had closed. The first step that law enforcement took was to examine the security footage of the mall in an attempt to confirm that Bethany entered the mall, and possibly show her leaving the mall. However, the security footage showed no trace of Bethany- it cannot be proven that she ever entered the mall. At this stage, law enforcement took Larry to the local police station in an attempt to obtain further information from him. Without any video footage of Bethany entering the store, Larry’s version of events cannot be corroborated. Meanwhile, Larry informed Bethany’s aunt that she was missing who subsequently told Jonnie who was understandably distraught. They travelled to the local police station near the Old Hickory Mall. As there was no footage of Bethany which proved she was ever at the mall, law enforcement could not rule out nor point to a stranger abduction. The only information they had to go on was Larry’s story.
Old Hickory Mall in Jackson, Tennessee.
Larry was questioned by law enforcement for most of the evening. His version of events changed several times and law enforcement reportedly told Jonnie that his story was inconsistent. Due to their recent separation and the current custody ‘battle’ over Bethany, law enforcement questioned Larry as a suspect in her possible abduction. Larry and Jonnie were both questioned several times individually, and because police could neither confirm nor deny that Bethany had entered the mall, her disappearance was ruled as a potential stranger abduction. Jonnie however spoke to the media in the days following Bethany’s disappearance, and confirmed that she had taught Bethany how to act if a stranger ever approached her, telling her to ‘scream and fight’. Jonnie believes that Larry is not telling the truth about what happened on 4 March 2001.
Larry was reportedly abusive to both Jonnie and Bethany, and when Jonnie left with Bethany and fled the matrimonial home while Larry was at work one day, he did not take their departure well. Following Jonnie and Bethany’s move to Nashville, Larry tracked them down and turned up at Bethany’s new school. He forced his way into her classroom and began to drag Bethany out of class. When her teacher intervened, Larry physically shoved her out of the way and forced Bethany into the school hallway. Bethany was loudly crying at this stage, and thankfully other teachers held her cries and were able to intervene. Shockingly, even after this incident was reported to the family judge, Larry was granted unsupervised visitation with Bethany, something which Johnie regrets to this day. This incident took place on 31 January 2001, just over a month before Bethany would be reported missing.
Approximately one month after Bethany was reported missing, law enforcement received tips that a child matching Bethany’s description was seen in the company of a Caucasian female in her 40s, who had dark circles under her eyes and blonde unkempt hair. Some witness reports stated that the woman appeared to be suffering from a hangover, and looked as though she had not bathed for several days. Law enforcement released information that a woman matching this description attempted to enrol a child who looked like Bethany in a school in southeastern Tennessee in April 2001. When the school asked for the records of the child, the woman stated that she was the child’s aunt and her father would return with her results. The school did not hear from the woman again. Later that month, the same woman and child were seen at a restaurant for three consecutive days in Cleveland, Tennessee. It appeared that they were waiting for someone, and the woman reportedly used the nearby payphone several times over the three days. A waitress reported the sighting to local law enforcement as she found the behaviour to be suspicious, and she thought that the young girl could be Bethany Markowski. By the time law enforcement investigated, the woman and child had boarded a bus to Moline, Illinois. Law enforcement waited at the bus stop in Moline, but the woman and child appeared to have disembarked the bus at an earlier location, as they did not arrive at the final destination. It is also possible that the pair never boarded the bus at all. Unfortunately, there have been no sightings of this woman and child reported since then.
A sketch of the unidentified woman.
In 2017, a young woman aged around 30 was found passed out on a front porch in a residence in Knoxville, Tennessee. When the owner of the residence returned to the property and spoke to the woman, she claimed to be Bethany, and pointed out Jonnie in a photograph. The woman was questioned by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, but it was quickly confirmed that the woman was not Bethany Markowski.
This case has perplexed me since I first stumbled across it on a late night true crime binge. I have read countless articles and listened to numerous podcasts about this case, and I still cannot say for certain that I have a clear theory about what happened to Bethany. However, I do not believe Larry’s version of events, and the fact that he attempted to abduct Bethany from school on a previous occasion furthers my suspicions about his actions on 4 March 2001. There is evidence of his temper and history of abuse towards both Jonnie and Bethany, which leads me to think that it is possible he attempted to abduct Bethany and possibly when she resisted, he injured her so badly that she died, whether this was his intention or not. His version of events on 4 March 2001 constantly changed when he was interviewed by law enforcement, and the lack of any empirical evidence that Bethany ever arrived at the mall is a real sticking point for me.
I am not sure that I believe the sightings of Bethany to be accurate. Unfortunately, witness reports are often inconclusive, and I think the sketch of the woman is very vague and therefore could be matched to many women. A common theory online is that Larry arranged to have a woman ‘abduct’ Bethany at the mall, and when the media storm was over he would meet the woman and reunite with Bethany, as a way to prevent Jonnie having full custody. To me, this is simply too far-fetched. I do not believe that Larry was a criminal mastermind, nor do I believe such a plan would have stood firm under such scrutiny from law enforcement. This theory purports to explain that the woman attempting to enrol the child in school was doing so on behalf of Larry, who would return to confirm her school records. Again, a flaw in this theory for me is that I do not believe one would attempt to enrol their child, who they arranged to be ‘abducted’ in a school in the same state in which she was reported missing. Why would you not enrol her in a school several states away, where officials were less likely to be familiar with the case of the missing child Bethany Markowski?
Ultimately, I think that Larry was controlling and manipulative, and that he could not accept that Jonnie had left him, filed for divorce and wanted custody of their daughter. His pattern of behaviour clearly demonstrates that Larry is capable of violence, and I find it very disappointing that the family court judge awarded him unsupervised visitation despite the indication that he could harm Bethany. I think Larry lost his temper following the call between Bethany and her mother on the morning of 4 March 2001, and I think he frightened her, possibly by telling her that she was doing to stay with him permanently. We are aware that Bethany did not want to visit her father that weekend, and I think he may have hurt her on the trip, possibly striking her by accident causing her death. I think Larry disposed of her body before driving to the Old Hickory Mall, where he passed several hours before alerting mall security that his daughter was missing. This would explain why there is no evidence of Bethany ever being at the mall - I think Larry drove to the mall in an attempt to create a backstory in the hope that law enforcement would focus on the case as a stranger abduction.
Of course I hope that Bethany is still alive and may someday reach out to her mother. There have been other reported cases of abducted children being found alive years and sometimes decades after they are reported missing, and I think the only way for her mother to survive is to hold onto the hope that Bethany will return someday.
If you have any information about Bethany Markowski, no matter how small, please contact the National Centre of Missing and Exploited Children on 1800-THE-LOST.
Alternatively, please contact the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on 1800-TBI-FIND.
An age progressed image of how Bethany may look now.