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Tonetta Carlisle

What happened to this student on her short walk home from school?

  • Last updated: May 3, 2023
  • Chattanooga, TN
  • March 16, 1989

Overview of Tonetta Carlisle

Tonetta Carlisle's abducted was witnessed by a few people, yet police didn't connect her "missing person" profile to her for 2 whole days. What happened to Tonetta Carlisle?

Age Progressed Photo of Tonetta

On March 16, 1989, 15 year-old Tonetta Carlisle was walking home from school on Hamilton Avenue. A woman and her husband glanced up the hill on Ruth Avenue and saw several people jump out of a tan and yellow vehicle with the Tennessee license plate: "LKH-920". They watched as multiple people pulled Tonetta into the car and sped away. Over 30 years later, her case remains unsolved.

Tonetta Yvette Carlisle was 15 years old and a freshman at City High School when she was abducted in Chattanooga, Tennessee on March 16, 1989. She was a bubbly and friendly teenager who loved listening to Bobby Brown and making everyone around her laugh. Tonetta ran track at her school, and she had good grades. She always helped elderly neighbors, and she sang in the choir at First Baptist Church of Washington Hills, where her mother still sings today. Tonetta's brother, Darrell Stewart, remembers her as being an intelligent, kindhearted young lady. "She was smart, and she was just a lovable person - had a good spirit about herself," he said. Tonetta was a big fan of pizza and fast food at the time of her disappearance, and she had a job through a youth program that she genuinely enjoyed. She was looking forward to her paycheck and thinking of different ways to spend it, but she never got the chance.

On March 16, 1989, Tonetta left Chattanooga City High School around 2:30 pm, like she did every school day. Her home was just a 20 minute walk from the school along Hamilton Avenue, and she had made the journey many times before. Sadly, less than 30 minutes after Tonetta was last seen, she was abducted.

Tonetta was last seen just a block away from her home at 2:55 pm by a couple tending to their garden on Ruth Avenue.

The couple glanced up the hill when they heard a loud screech from tires braking abruptly. They noticed Tonetta walking down the street as several unidentified individuals emerged from a yellow and tan vehicle; the individuals grabbed Tonetta, forced her into the vehicle, and drove away. The couple immediately got into their car and tried to chase the vehicle but eventually lost them in traffic. The couple did call 911 while in pursuit of the vehicle and provided the license plate "LKH-920" as well as descriptions of the individuals.

Tonetta's mother Nonie Sturdivant, who was usually greeted by her daughter when she arrived home from work, came home to an empty house that afternoon. She was not yet aware of Tonetta's abduction as the witnesses, and police, did not know the identity of the girl who had been kidnapped. Tonetta's mother thought that maybe she had stopped by a friend's house after school, but when 10:00pm passed with no word from Tonetta, Ms. Sturdivant decided to call the police to report her daughter missing. She told the police that Tonetta had no history of running away and that Tonetta did not have a boyfriend. Despite this, authorities initially considered Tonetta a runaway and did not connect her case to the reported abduction on Hamilton Ave until 2 days later.

On March 18, 1989, detectives traced the Tennessee license plate to Jeffrey Jones, a convicted felon.

Jones, the owner of the vehicle, had been released from prison a year prior to Tonetta's abduction after serving 8 years for rape and aggravated sexual assault. It was later determined that he had raped a woman in his apartment complex 2 months before his death and Tonetta's abduction, but there are still few answers in this case; the other individuals involved, as well as Tonetta's whereabouts, are still unknown.

In the search for Tonetta and her abductor, authorities located the vehicle involved parked on the side of a wooded area with the suspect still inside. Jones, who was dead upon their arrival, had died from an apparent suicide; it was later determined that he had died two days after the abduction from carbon monoxide poisoning, on March 18. He left no note or indication of what might have happened to Tonetta, and Tonetta has not been seen since. That weekend, hundreds of police officers and volunteers, along with bloodhounds, conducted a massive search for the missing teenager. They spent hours combing through wooded areas and the land surrounding Jeffrey’s apartment, but found nothing that led them closer to Tonetta.

Where the Case Stands Today:

While there have been unverified sightings of Tonetta across the United States, and some theories suggest that she may have been forced into a trafficking ring in California, most believe that the answers lie with Jeffrey Jones. Nonie Sturdivant, Tonetta's mother, believes that Jeffrey Jones murdered her daughter on the same day she was abducted and thinks her body is most likely buried somewhere in Chattanooga. She also believes that there are people in the Chattanooga area who know exactly what happened to Tonetta, and she has made several public appeals for them to come forward. Former Chattanooga DA Neal Pinkston reopened Tonetta's case in 2019 with a specific focus on Jones, and investigators requested new DNA samples from Nonie Sturdivant and Darrell Stewart to aid in their search. The DNA has been resubmitted into the database, but there have been no leads reported thus far.

Tonetta Carlisle has curly hair, large almond-shaped eyes, and several caps or fillings on her teeth. She was last seen wearing a pink and white striped blouse, a denim skirt, and white sneakers.

If you have any information on the disappearance of Tonetta Carlisle or the crimes of Jeffrey Jones, please contact the Chattanooga Police Department (423) 698-2525 or Crime Stoppers (423) 698-3333.


  1. Date Missing:March 16, 1989
  2. Birthday:August 28, 1973
  3. Current Age:50
  4. Age at Incident:15
  5. NAMUS Number:MP5929
  6. Race:African-American / Black
  7. Gender:Female
  8. Height:5'1"
  9. Weight:95 lbs
  10. Hair Color:Black

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