The Disappearance of Tonetta Carlisle

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Tonetta Yvette Carlisle was born on August 28, 1973 and lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee with her mother and brother, Nonie Sturdivant and Darrell Stewart. Those who knew her remember her being a big fan of fast food and pizza, and note that she would often spend her time listening to rap music, with her favourite artist being Bobby Brown.

At the time of her disappearance, her family was living in the 600 block of Hamilton Avenue. Her residence was approximately a 20 minute walk from City High School, where she was a freshman.


Tonetta was last seen leaving City High School at approximately 2:55pm on March 16, 1989. Five minutes later, she was abducted, a kidnapping that was observed by a witness.

According to the witness, she’d been on Ruth Street when she heard a commotion on the street below, near 615 Hamilton Avenue. Upon looking down the hill, she saw several unidentified persons jump out of a tan and yellow van, surround Tonetta and force her into the vehicle before pulling away. Concerned, the witness and her husband jumped in their car and chased the van. While they were unable to keep up, they managed to grab the license plate number – Tennessee license plate LKH 920 – and relay the information to the authorities.

Eight hours later, Nonie called 911 to report that her daughter had not returned home from school. A missing child report was filed. Unfortunately, the report and the call about the abduction were not connected until two days later, when the authorities realized Tonetta lived just a half block away from the abduction site.


The license plate of the vehicle involved in Tonetta’s abduction was eventually connected to a man by the name of Jeffrey Jones. He was a convicted rapist who had served eight years in prison on charges of rape and aggravated sexual assault. He was released a year before Tonetta was kidnapped, and it was later determined he’d raped a woman in his apartment complex just two months before the teenager was last seen. The day investigators went to speak with him – March 18, 1989 – they found him deceased in the van, with the cause of death being suicide as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. He left behind no note.

After locating the van, over 300 police officers, bloodhounds, deputies and volunteers combed the area around Jones’ apartment complex, but found nothing related to the case.

There have been various rumours and information received around the theory that Tonetta was forced into prostitution and taken to California, having fallen victim to a trafficking network operating out of the state. The Chattanooga Police Department reached out to the area’s Sheriff’s Office, but were unable to find any evidence that Tonetta had been transported out of Tennessee.

There were numerous sightings of the missing teenager across the country, including in Minnesota, where people thought they’d saw her at different supermarkets. There were also unconfirmed reports that she’d been spotted at a housing project in Chattanooga.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has released two different age-progression images of Tonetta over the years.

In August 2019, the Chattanooga District Attorney announced that the police department’s Cold Case Unit would be reopening Tonetta’s case. He shared that investigators had eliminated some of the theories brought forward in the initial investigation and that the focus had been moved toward Jeffrey Jones. In case remains are located, new DNA samples have been taken from her mother and brother.

Nonie has criticized the police investigation, saying investigators should have started looking for Tonetta as soon as they received her 911 call, rather than waiting until the missing child report and the report of the abduction were connected. She believes her daughter was killed by Jones and buried in an undisclosed location.


Tonetta’s case was featured on America’s Most Wanted.

In August 2019, to celebrate what would have been Tonetta’s 46th birthday, her family and friends gathered in Chattanooga’s Coolidge Park to release balloons in her honour.

Nonie has never changed her phone number, in case Tonetta tries to call her.


Tonetta Yvette Carlisle was last seen in Chattanooga, Hamilton County, Tennessee on March 16, 1989. She was 15 years old, and was last seen wearing a pink and white striped blouse, a denim skirt and white sneakers. At the time of her disappearance, she stood at 5’1″ and weighed approximately 95 pounds. She had curly black hair that was trimmed short on the top and sides and longer in the back, and she has brown, almond-shaped eyes. Her ears are pierced, and it’s been noted that several of her teeth are capped or have fillings.

The vehicle involved in her abduction is a yellow and tan van with the Tennessee license plate LKH 920. It was registered to a man named Jeffrey Jones.

Currently, the case is classified as a non-family abduction. If alive, she would be 47 years old.

Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Chattanooga Police Department at either 423-698-2525, 423-643-5000, 423-698-9700 or 423-209-7470.

Image Credit: NamUs

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