Did Samantha Tapp simply run away from her Texas home, or was there foul play involved in her sudden disappearance in 2004?
Law Enforcement quickly designated Samantha’s case a runaway, but her older sister would beg to differ—keeping the same telephone number for the last 18 years in case she calls home and petitioning to rule her disappearance a “missing person” rather than an “endangered runaway” in order to garner more attention and support for finding her sister.
Samantha Leighann Tapp was 16 years old when she went missing from Burleson, Texas, on October 12, 2004. She and her older sister, Kendale, came from a difficult family situation and spent time in foster care as children. When their foster mother could no longer care for them, the girls split up to stay with different relatives (Samantha with an aunt and Kendale with their grandparents), before Samantha eventually joined Kendale with their grandparents in Burleson.
Kendale described her relationship with Samantha (Sam) as being very close, stating that they were always there for each other before Samantha disappeared. According to a close friend named Vanessa, Sam was “... fun, funny, loved to laugh, loved to make crazy faces and make other people laugh.” She walked everywhere, preferring to be outside, and she enjoyed auto racing and being around people.
The day Samantha disappeared
On October 12, 2004, Kendale remembers that Samantha came to visit her at her boyfriend’s house (Kendale had previously moved out of their grandparents’ house to live with her boyfriend at the time). Sam was upset over something that Kendale can’t remember now (in her words, it was “probably something silly”). Sam wanted to stay with Kendale, but Kendale refused and told her to go back to their grandparents’ house. When an angry Sam left, Kendale assumed she would go somewhere to blow off steam and calm down. She didn’t realize that would be the last time she saw or heard from Samantha.
At the time she disappeared, Sam’s physical description was: white female, age 16, 5’4” – 5’6” tall, approximately 120 pounds, brown hair and eyes, possibly wearing glasses or contacts. It is possible she would have used an alias such as Samantha Vandiver (last name of her foster mother) or Samantha Brown (name of a relative).
Still classified as an endangered runaway after nearly 18 years
Immediately following Sam’s disappearance, friends and family assumed she had temporarily run away, as she had done multiple times before, always turning up after a few hours or a day. Partially underscored by the fact that shortly before her disappearance, Sam took her aunt’s car without permission, landing her on probation. When Kendale didn’t hear from Samantha for several days, she attempted to report Sam missing, but to no avail. There was no evidence to suggest any foul play was involved, so police believed instead that Samantha had left of her own accord, and they never conducted a search or an in-depth investigation into the circumstances surrounding Samantha’s disappearance.
Because Sam’s case was designated as a runaway situation, there was little to no reporting or media coverage of the fact that Sam mysteriously disappeared, and Kendale has had to carry the torch for her little sister mostly alone for almost two decades. In the past few years, Kendale has begun working with private investigator Lou Barry and family acquaintance / case advocate Jason Watts to explore the details of Sam’s disappearance and the time since she went missing. While the details and timelines in this case are fuzzy, several clues suggest that Samantha may still be alive and either doesn’t know anyone is looking for her or doesn’t want to be found.
Within a week of Sam’s disappearance, Kendale and her grandparents found unexplained cigarette butts and rearranged furniture in the grandparents’ backyard. Kendale believes Sam might have gathered there with some friends when she knew her grandparents wouldn’t be home. The family reported the information to police, who merely advised them to change the locks on their house.
One report indicates that Sam’s name was run by the Columbia County / St. Helens Police Department in Oregon in 2011, but there are no longer any records on file regarding the details of the original inquiry. A separate report states that “Samantha Tapp” was a name run by the Dallas-Fort Worth airport (30-40 minutes away from Burleson) customs department in 2013, but no record of that inquiry exists either. Kendale asserts that Samantha did not have a passport at the time of her disappearance, so there is speculation that maybe someone else was using Sam’s name. Strangely, it does not appear that Samantha’s original Social Security Number has been used at all since she disappeared.
In 2015, the Burleson Police Department called in the Texas Attorney General to investigate, classifying Samantha as a fugitive due to the fact that she was on probation at the time of her disappearance, but nothing came of that either.
Where the case stands today
Kendale submitted a successful FOIA request in 2021 for information related to Samantha’s case, and she was able to obtain reports from the Texas Attorney General. Kendale, Jason, and Lou continue to follow up on leads from the Texas AG’s reports in hopes of locating Sam or convincing her to make contact with Kendale. To that end, Kendale has kept the same phone number for the past 18 years in case Sam does decide to call at some point.
In addition, Kendale hopes to convince authorities to change Sam’s case classification from “endangered runaway” to “missing person” in order to garner more attention and support for finding her sister. If Samantha is still alive, she would be 33 years old and might resemble the woman in the age-progressed photo produced by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Kendale likes to think that Sam simply wanted to get away from a traumatic childhood and start a new life. If she could talk to Sam today, she would want Sam to know that she’s not in any trouble, there are people who love her, and she doesn’t have to be afraid to come home if she’s in a position to do that. And if she’s not free to make contact or is in a bad situation, Kendale says she would tell Sam, “Hang in there—I’ll find you eventually.”
Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Samantha Leighann Tapp can contact the Burleson Police Department at 817-426-9903; the Texas Department of Public Safety Missing Persons Clearinghouse at 512-424-5074; or Private Investigations for the Missing at 866-331-6660 or PIFTMtips@gmail.com.