Overview of Phyllis O'Brien Carson
Did a young mother innocently befriend her killer, or did she know him all along?
Phyllis O'Brien Carson was 32 years old with four children when she disappeared on Oct. 24, 1970, after visiting a popular bar called Francis Truck Stop in French Camp, California, a close-knit community 77 miles east of San Francisco.
French Camp is a small rural town 6 miles south of Stockton; 50 miles south of Sacramento, CA at the hub of State Route 4 and Interstate Highway 580. In October of 1970, Highway 5 was just being built. The Stockton area was host to numerous trucking outfits, as well as the Teamsters’ Union Hall, and construction workers were in the area building the new highway. It was common for locals and transients to frequent the bars; there wasn’t much to do in this rural area at that time.
While out at the bar with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, Phyllis called home to check on her children and told relatives she was getting a ride home from a person who she did not name. That call was the last time anyone heard from Phyllis. Her body was found by pheasant hunters four weeks later. No suspect or motive was ever identified, according to detectives. Phyllis’ remains were so badly decomposed that a cause of death could not be determined.
Melissa Carson is looking for peace for her soul.
“I remember her like it was yesterday. … So I can’t give it up, hon. I just can’t. … I just miss her.”
It was October 24, 1970, when 8-year-old Melissa’s mother, Phyllis, went missing from French Camp, CA after a night out at the local bar with her sister, Laurel, and sister’s boyfriend, Cyril (Cy). Phyllis’s husband, Ed, had not yet returned home from a boating trip when the trio had departed for Francis Truck Stop, the local bar. Cy and Laurel, Phyllis’ sister, left the bar at about 10:30 pm because Cy was unable to shake the ill feeling which had lingered all day. Phyllis phoned home to let her eldest daughter, Lorraine, know she was staying a while longer and that she had a ride home. Phyllis never arrived home, nor was she ever seen again by Melissa, her siblings, or anyone else.
An unknown gentleman had joined Phyllis, Laurel, and Cy at the bar that night, talking and playing games. Numerous patrons had seen him at the bar, and many later recognized the composite drawing, but no one admitted to knowing him or his name. The bartender claimed that he and Phyllis left together after the man purchased two 6-packs of beer. Police have never made an ID.
It was November 21, 1970, four weeks after Phyllis went missing, when hunters discovered her body in a ditch on the north side of the banks where construction of the new Highway 5 was underway, only 2 miles from the bar where Phyllis was last seen. Her body was so badly decomposed from weather and animal predation that the cause of death was undetermined.
Police immediately launched an investigation, which led them through a number of rumors and stories, some of which were made up by Ed Carson’s best friend Al “Tuffie” Sullivan. Most of “Tuffie’s” stories proved to be lies, just as he was famous for. Police found his behavior - including his nervousness over taking polygraphs - odd; however, Tuffie left the area before they could get to the bottom of it. Ed, Phyllis’ husband, cooperated with the police and even tried to track down sources of some of the other rumors.
Where is the case today?
In June of 1971, the case was suspended, with the claim that all investigative leads had been exhausted. DNA results to date had also come back negative. There are, however, a number of open questions:
- The construction worker that Phyllis and her friend, Mary, had danced with on October 17th (the week before she went missing) was never fully investigated despite Police noting the similarity in facial features, but not build, to the explosives driver who was a person of interest.
- The explosives driver, who was buying Mary and Phyllis drinks on October 11, was never interviewed. After three failed attempts to locate and interview him, the police gave up.
- A large, light green sedan with a dark green top was never tracked down, despite being mentioned by numerous witnesses. The make, Chrysler/Pontiac, and year 68/69 was also never defined.
- Police never established the whereabouts of anyone from the bar, nor Ed Carson's friend Tuffie, that night, especially after it closed down.
- No vehicles were submitted for trace evidence examinations.
- The times given by individuals interviewed were off, yet never investigated, and a case timeline was never established.
- Despite a number of bar patrons and barmaids having spoken to the person of interest and some acknowledging the composite looked familiar, no one could or would identify him by name or offer any further information on him. The unknown bar patron from the composite drawing was never identified, located, or interviewed.
- A close friend of Ed’s, Phyliss’ husband, was never questioned about why he was so nervous that he was unable to take the polygraph, nor why he so quickly left town.
Melissa, Phyllis’ daughter, has been working tirelessly since 2002 to persuade police to do a full investigation. However, to date, they have only investigated her specific question(s), whether they involved DNA testing or a possible suspect. From 1973 to 2002, the case was idle, except for forensic testing. It was inactive again from 2003 to 2011. From 2011 to 2020, the agency took no further action other than responding directly to the family’s inquiries.
Learning of Genetic Genealogy, in 2020, Melissa requested law enforcement reach out to CeCe Moore, who is renowned in the field. Law enforcement stated, "there was no DNA extracted from any pieces of evidence." Because of this, CeCe was not able to assist with the investigation.
Soon after authorities formally closed the case, claiming there were no further probative leads, most of the witnesses are no longer living, and the case is 50 years old.
The family believes that new DNA methodologies may prove this false and requested DNA testing yet again in October of 2022. The Sheriff's department responded that there is nothing suitable for testing. The family has since reached out to another organization that is now doing a full case review.