Tiahease Jackson, age 10, went missing from Staten Island, New York on August 13, 1983.
Although a few accounts state that Tiahease was last seen in a supermarket, her family has told reporters that she was last seen leaving her home in a Mariners Harbor motel, en route to the Crown Supermarket to purchase chicken wings for another motel resident.
She is assumed by law enforcement to have been a victim of Andre Rand, a transient weirdo who was previously, and later convicted of multiple crimes against children. He is currently serving a life sentence for crimes against Staten Island girls Jennifer Schweiger and Holly Ann Hughes, and he is expected to die in prison. There is no known evidence that he was involved in Tiahease’s disappearance, but he was known to have makeshift campsites in the Baron Hirsch cemetery, and on the grounds of Willowbrook School, neither of which are too far from where Tiahease went missing.
Before I explain why I am somewhat skeptical of this theory, I would like to present some commentary from Tiahease’s mother, Gwendolyn, who obviously was closer to the case than I am. She seemed to believe that Rand was a likely suspect.
This commentary came out when a reporter from Newsday of Long Island contacted her and discussed that Rand had been named a suspect. Mrs. Jackson, now living in Georgia and outraged that law enforcement hadn’t contacted her to let her know there was a suspect, recalled to the reporter how she had pointed out some unsavory characters to law enforcement just after Tiahease’s disappearance, claiming that these ‘freaks’, who liked to hang out in a parking lot across the street from their motel, harassed the neighborhood kids frequently and had tried to lure children into their vehicles.
“Please describe him to me now. Does he have eyes that bulge out like the guy in that movie `Psycho’? About five foot ten? Stocky? Late 30s then. Weird? Because that’s one guy who used to hang around the hotel and the lot across the street before Tiahease went missing. I pointed him and a few other weirdos out to the police but they never even questioned them as far as I know. Does the guy I described to you fit the description of this guy they arrested?”
The description, admittedly, does resemble Andre Rand.
More information about Rand can be seen here.
Researching this case has taken me back through the annals of my childhood – struggling to think back to 1983, when I lived on Staten Island, not far from where this took place. Tiahease and her family had recently been relocated to the Conca D’Oro Motel (now demolished), at 2232 Forest Avenue in the Mariners Harbor neighborhood of Staten Island, after their apartment in Brooklyn was destroyed in a fire. The Crown Supermarket, where she was headed, sat right at the corner of Forest Avenue and Richmond Avenue, five or six blocks south of her home.
Forest Avenue was and is a major thoroughfare, lined with eateries, strip malls, automotive shops, and the like. On a summer afternoon in 1983, there would have been people out and about on foot, as a steady stream of cars whizzed by. It would be highly risky, and difficult, to abduct a ten year old girl on Forest Avenue, especially one like Tiahease, who her mother described as streetwise and wary of strangers.
In searching Google Earth along the route she would have taken, I was reminded of the Graniteville Quarry, a Staten Island attraction known for its rare natural rock formations. Tiahease would have passed it on her way to the store. Looking at the image of the quarry captured on Google Earth, it looks like a jungle, a prime hiding place for a would be predator to wait for a child to amble by. With all the overgrowth, I would never have recognized it as the Graniteville Quarry that I visited on a field trip in the second grade, in the late 1970’s. I wish I could remember specifically what the Forest Avenue side of the quarry looked like back then. I can only remember being inside and climbing on the fully exposed rocks. Even at its worse, though, she still would have been in clear view of passing traffic as she walked by.
It seems highly unlikely that she could have been abducted by a stranger on a bustling Forest Avenue, but in lieu of any other theories, I have to assume that somehow, she was.
As mentioned above, the only official theory seems to be that Tiahease was probably abducted by Andre Rand, and has been their theory since he was arrested in connection with the two other girls that disappeared from Staten Island – but there is a snag in this theory – a snag that may simply be a case of misinformation between law enforcement, the media, and the general public, or possibly a snag that proves that Rand is not responsible.
In January of 1983, Andre Rand paid a visit to a YMCA in the West Brighton neighborhood of Staten Island, and enticed 11 children into his van, taking them to New Jersey without their parents permission. None of the children were harmed, but Rand was arrested for unlawful imprisonment. Some reports state that he served 10 months in jail – which obviously eliminates him as a suspect in Tiahease’s disappearance. Other reports claim he was sentenced to 10 months, but speculate that he must have been released prior to August, since he was named a suspect in Tiahease’s disappearance. I have not been able to get any confirmation as to when Rand was actually released, although I have tried. I have attempted to contact three different law enforcement agencies associated with the case, as well as one private party who runs a volunteer group and has heavily investigated this case and done searches for victims remains. Not one of them has responded. Update: The private party has now responded, but as of yet has not provided a date when Rand was released.
I can remember, sometime in the early 1980’s, probably close to 1983, hearing something about a man in a red car or van. It’s vague, filed away in a corner of my brain somewhere that I can’t quite reach, and I’ve been struggling to remember more. My mother had warned me about this man, said something about him driving around near the schools. At school, there was talk about a ‘red car rapist’ or ‘red van rapist’, and I’m pretty sure I saw something on the news about it as well. I can’t find anything online about it, newspapers only go back so far – I’m really not sure if this guy actually ever did anything to anyone, or if he was just a random guy who got lost, that ultimately was blown out of proportion. I seem to recall that it was a big deal for a couple weeks or so, then it faded away and everything was business as usual. I wonder if this man was Andre Rand. If any Islanders come upon this blog and remember anything about this, please share!
In the more recent of the two articles I have been able to find which go into any detail about Tiahease, it was pointed out that there is no DNA on file to compare with any unidentified remains that may surface. The article stated that Mrs. Jackson is now deceased, and Tiahease’s siblings, who were moved to Georgia for their safety following Tiahease’s disappearance, cannot be located. According to Gerald Nance, with NCMEC, their names were not even known.
After asking a few of my old friends who lived in Mariners Harbor if they recalled anything about her, (they recalled her being missing, but didn’t know her or her family), it took me about 15 minutes to find an archived article of Newsday, which gave the names and ages of all of her siblings.
As I mentioned earlier, I have sent out four separate emails to people and departments connected to this case – one was to Gerald Nance, with NCMEC – yes, the one who, in a newspaper article, recalled how he had sent dozens of letters to addresses he thought may belong to Mrs. Jackson, made dozens of phone calls and left messages on generic answering machines. In each of the emails, I also offered to assist with information on her siblings, if this was still needed. A search of Namus shows that her DNA still isn’t on file, so I’m guessing it’s still needed – but with no response from any of them, I find myself facing a dilemma.
In writing this blog, it was my intent, initially, to include a ‘shout-out’ to her siblings, in the hope that someday they might Google their own names, or Tiahease’s name, and see that they were being searched for to obtain DNA. This, of course, was when I fully expected to get a response from at least one of the law enforcement contacts. Now, it almost seems cold-hearted to post a plea for them to contact law enforcement. I wouldn’t even know who to ask them to contact – who is even interested enough to respond. Putting myself in their shoes, I can’t fathom how I would feel if I saw such a post encouraging me to contact an anxious law enforcement regarding my missing sister, only to be met with silence, or non-chalant gatekeepers who won’t even put me through to a detective.
I idolized the NYPD in my youth, and the feeling was renewed on September 11, 2001. I am a bit disappointed – not that I expect them throw a party because I contact them with some information, but I guess I expect the courtesy of a response when someone wants to assist with a case, cold or not. Many people are afraid to talk to the police, but may have a moment of sorts where they feel up to submitting a tip… most, however, won’t pester the police until they get someone to accept their help – many will change their mind quickly when they don’t get at least a semi-warm reception to their call. Sadly, many of these ‘tipsters’ who are afraid to talk to police, are the ones who have the knowledge needed to solve these cases.