Let’s talk about it: Leigh Marine Occhi

I wasn’t sure whether I should bring up this case, because I blogged seven years ago about Leigh Occhi‘s disappearance and even ventured a possible theory as to what happened. But I’m sure plenty of readers haven’t read every entry I’ve ever written, so here goes.

On the day 13-year-old Leigh disappeared, Hurricane Andrew had struck Mississippi and was causing some violent storms in the area. This was before the school year would have started, but Leigh did plan to attend an Open House at her school with her grandmother and was home waiting to be picked up. Her mother tried to call her a few times but no one ever picked up.

When Leigh’s mother came back home, there was a violent crime scene: blood everywhere and indications of a struggle.

All of this sounds like it could have been a fairly ordinary abduction; Evelyn Hartley‘s 1953 disappearance was much the same way. Yet, in this case there’s a very peculiar detail: a month after Leigh’s disappearance, her glasses were mailed to her home. Just the glasses. No note. The envelope was addressed to Leigh’s stepfather, but he and her mother were separated when Leigh disappeared. The mailed eyeglasses were the last trace of Leigh, who would be 37 today.

I have NEVER heard of any case where someone abducted a person from their home and then mailed one of their belongings back to the house with no other message.

So what happened here? Let’s talk about it.

25 thoughts on “Let’s talk about it: Leigh Marine Occhi

  1. Kim October 13, 2016 / 7:13 pm

    The glasses being mailed is chilling. Poor girl and her family. Was anything lifted from them Luke DNA or prints?

  2. Medea October 13, 2016 / 7:37 pm

    Maybe some sort of retaliation against his stepfather? maybe the assailant didn’t know that the mother and stepfather were seperated and he took revenge on the girl? I don’t see why they would mail the glasses to him otherwise. It looks like some kind of message. Unless it was a kidnapping by a particularly sadistic creep who wanted to torment the parents.

  3. Becky October 13, 2016 / 8:53 pm

    She was waiting for her grandmother to pick her up, so I wonder, did the grandmother ever arrive? If so, what time was that? or maybe she never showed up I guess that’s curious in itself. just wondering what grandma saw or why she didn’t come.

    • Meaghan October 14, 2016 / 6:41 am

      I’m not 100% sure, but from what I can see, it looks like Mom came home to check on Leigh before Grandma was supposed to arrive there.

  4. Lauren October 14, 2016 / 9:32 am

    So some how even though there is blood all over the place (on the clothing and stuck to the walls along with hair), the glasses some how remain in tact to be mailed back home? She obviously wasn’t wearing them during the struggle but who beats someone up like that and then on the way out the door with their victim thinks “oh wait, let me grab their glasses!” That’s just plain weird….

    It was the first time she was ever left alone at home and it was a fairly short amount of time too for something like this to happen. What are the odds of that happening? Her mom failed a polygraph 3 times??

    • Meaghan October 14, 2016 / 4:37 pm

      Well, regarding the glasses, I know it’s possible to get punched in the face and not have your glasses break or even fall off. I know it’s possible because that happened to me. This incident may be an outlier, though, because I’m reasonably sure the man doing the punching wasn’t trying to really hurt me, only to frighten me, assert dominance and keep me from running away. The violence stopped the second I stopped struggling. And clearly whoever attacked Leigh meant to hurt her.

      Another thing about glasses — again, just speaking from my own personal experience: I always wear my glasses whenever I go out anywhere (except for maybe when I take the garbage to the curb or collect the mail), but when I’m at home I usually don’t wear them unless I need them to see. If I’m watching television, or at the computer, for example, I need my glasses. But if I’m doing something like reading a book or doing stuff on my smartphone or tablet, I usually don’t wear them, because I can see things well enough at that distance. This is because the lenses are pretty thick and the glasses are relatively heavy. I really wish I’d paid extra for super-light lenses and/or frames instead of getting standard issue ones. Michael also wears glasses; he paid extra for lighter ones and his seem to weigh barely more than a feather. My glasses are heavy enough that they get uncomfortable after awhile. By evening they’re often VERY uncomfortable and I actually switch to my old, less effective but lighter weight glasses.

      Now that I think about it, regarding Leigh’s glasses — I have no idea whether they were intact or broken when they were mailed to her house. I’m pretty sure I never encountered that information in any of my sources; maybe it hasn’t been released to the public. If they were intact you’re right, that’s pretty weird/suspicious.

      • Lauren October 15, 2016 / 2:33 am

        Wow! I’m sorry you were punched in the face. That’s awful! I’m glad you brought up your glasses not breaking though. I have never worn glasses and always assumed them to be extremely fragile, but given that people wear them throughout the day they must be way more durable than I have given them credit for. You brought up a good point too though – maybe they were broken when they were mailed home? This case is a really interesting one.

      • Meaghan October 15, 2016 / 1:31 pm

        Eyeglasses aren’t as fragile as they appear. Depending on the material they’re made from (either metal or plastic), the frames are flexible to a certain degree. Over the years I’ve accidentally sat on mine several times, and occasionally even stepped on them (albeit barefoot and on carpet) and not broken the frames — just warped them — and I’ve never broken or done damage to the lenses. (I did have a pair where every few months the screw on one side would come loose and the lens would fall out. Because I didn’t have a screwdriver small enough to make repairs, I kept having to go back to the optician’s place and have them put the lens back in and secure the screw. I was glad when I was finally able to afford a replacement pair.)

        As for the man who punched me, he did so twice, and I think part of the reason my glasses were unharmed and undisturbed is he hit me on the forehead and on my mouth and lower nose area, not in the center of my face — which is where the glasses are. Maybe he his fist didn’t even touch the glasses, I dunno. I wound up with a bruised forehead and a bloody nose.

  5. Brian Lockett October 14, 2016 / 11:43 am

    I had a thought about the glasses coming back addressed to her stepfather, but I don’t know how realistic it is. Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since 1992 and I don’t know if it could even be done today.

    Could a serial number or some kind of identifying info have been on the glasses be traced to their owner somehow?
    My glasses have a long series of numbers on the inside of the left earpiece (or whatever they’re called). Maybe someone looked that number/code up and it came back with her stepfather’s name due to him being responsible for the family’s insurance? Again, I have no idea if that can be done even now.

  6. Amy October 14, 2016 / 1:18 pm

    It sounds to me as if it could be either the stepfather himself and the glasses were sent to himself at Leigh’s address to throw people off (however, he has been ruled out) or an acquaintance of the stepfathers. This person may not have known that the stepfather no longer resided there or could at the very least be making a statement. As if to say, I did it, you may not know me, but I want to make it known it was due to some dealings with the stepfather.

    Although her mother failing all the polygraphs is troubling. It may have been someone she and the stepfather were acquainted with. Maybe she is afraid to actually name someone as it would lead to her illegal (if any) activities. She did name a suspect though that is currently incarcerated. I wonder if he has been ruled out or if there is any type of a relationship with this individual and the mother.

    • Meaghan October 14, 2016 / 4:33 pm

      Whoops, I accidentally replied to the wrong post. Sorry. I will delete it and move it to the correct post.

  7. Natalie October 15, 2016 / 3:03 am

    A few things bother me with this case.
    The first time mum leaves her home alone she just happens to be abducted within the hour….. Also, why attempt to clean up in the house? I Can’t find any recent publicity from the mum. I’m not saying she did it but I think she probably has some knowledge of what happened.

    • Meaghan October 15, 2016 / 10:44 am

      Well, for what it’s worth, Etan Patz disappeared the first time he was allowed to walk to the school bus stop alone, and his parents definitely weren’t involved.

  8. Alice October 15, 2016 / 11:36 am

    Perhaps she asked her abductor to give her family confirmation she was all right? Maybe she said if he did that, she wouldn’t try to escape.

    • Meaghan October 15, 2016 / 12:12 pm

      The glasses being mailed is hardly any indication that its wearer is alive. I think if an abductor mailed such an item to the family it would be just to torment them — but in that case, why not include a nasty taunting note?

      In the case of a ransom kidnapping, I think one of the following two are good ideas to indicate the victim is alive. (And no, I didn’t think of either on my own; I read about one in a news article and one in a true crime book.)

      1. Include a photo of the victim with a copy of a current day’s newspaper, the date clearly visible, in the shot. Best if he/she holds the paper.
      2. A handwritten letter from the victim, giving details about something only the victim and her parents (or husband, or whoever it is that’s supposed to pay the ransom) would know about. This is a bit tricky, in the age of social media when people share so many aspects of their lives with the public. For me, I think I’d write something like “In my dresser drawer in the front room, second from the top, is a pair of socks I was given as a gift years ago but never wore. They are ankle socks and striped in pink, white, purple and possibly yellow also.”

      The bit about the letter reminds me of a story I read in a memoir, an event that actually happened to the author’s uncle. The family was considering moving from Europe to deep inside the Soviet Union, one of those Central Asian republics with names that all end in “stan”. They’d heard wonderful things about the life there, but they thought the reports might be propaganda and they were concerned that the situation there could actually be terrible and maybe the mail was censored and the residents weren’t allowed to tell the truth about it in letters back home because there would be reprisals.

      So the family asked the author’s uncle to move there and settle, with the idea that they could follow him later if things were actually as good as the USSR was saying. As a precaution, they told the uncle to do this: in his letters home, if the situation was good, write in blue ink, but if the situation was bad, write in red ink. The uncle resettled in Central Asia and a few months later the family got a letter from him. It was gushing with praise about life there: he’d found a job really easily, the work wasn’t hard but he got paid well, there was plenty of food, and the rest of the family should come join him as soon as they were able. The letter was written in blue ink.

      At the bottom was a postscript, though. The uncle wrote, “There’s really only one problem here, and it’s this: I can’t find any red ink.”

  9. michael w. October 15, 2016 / 2:04 pm

    I really like the new “Let’s Talk About It” feature. Although I haven’t commented on every case due to time constraints, I have enjoyed all the cases selected thus far.

    Awhile back, I read that Unsolved Mysteries filmed a segment for this case, but it was never aired. That’s unfortunate, and I have no idea why, or when the segment would have aired. I can only imagine what valuable, unknown information could have been in that.

    Anyways, I always thought the mother was involved. There’s nothing concrete to tie her to Leigh’s disappearance, but there’s a lot of things that are just “off” for me:

    1) I’m really not sure a 13 year old girl would be terrified of thunderstorms so much to the point that they sleep in their mother’s bed (?!), but if it were true, why in the world does the mother leave her home alone during a freaking hurricane? Either the mother is guilty of murder or neglect, either one isn’t pretty.

    2) I guess it’s possible an intruder could have been responsible, but they would have likely had to know Leigh was home alone at that time, which seems highly unlikely. Plus, most home invasions don’t happen during the daytime hours.

    3) The lack of visible signs of forced entry and the mom failing 3 polygraphs bothers me.

    4) The crime scene attempting to be cleaned up bothers me. A family member being responsible will most likely clean up the crime scene because they don’t want the police to know the crime happened there, and for them to believe the crime happened elsewhere, a la she was kidnapped and taken some distance away,etc. An intruder is more likely to not clean it up.

    5) The fact that mom was not at work for very long is also suspicious. It’s like she went to work just long enough to plant herself there, be spotted or leave some evidence she was at work that day, started calling home and when she didn’t get an answer, left. It’s like she’s trying to establish an alibi.

    6) I think the glasses were another attempt by the mom to thwart suspicion elsewhere. They came from some distance away, so I think she wanted authorities to believe she was kidnapped and taken somewhere. But I certainly know what I believe.

    7) The mom probably wanted to get rid of the body so that a time of death could not be determined. I’m betting Leigh’s murder occurred sometime during the night or the previous evening, which the mom would know would cast suspicion on her.

    Meaghan mentioned Etan Patz likely encountering foul play the first time he was alone and the parent’s weren’t responsible, but there are a lot of differences there. He was out in public, in very crowded New York City, and unfortunately would have been an easy mark for some creep for various reasons, including Ramos, who actually knew his bus route.

    This case also reminds me of Annie Laurie Hearin, also of Mississippi and also from Unsolved Mysteries. She was alive for some time after her disappearance (she wrote a letter to her husband, which the perp mailed). Given the circumstances and her age (she’d be about 100 or so at this point), I fear she is no longer with us.

    • Meaghan October 15, 2016 / 3:09 pm

      My guess is that if Annie Laurie was not, in fact, sealed up in someone’s basement with a little water and nothing else, or otherwise murdered, that she may have died from lack of medical care. She suffered from ileitis. The internet says ileitis is often caused by Crohn’s Disease (a dreadful condition, even now) but sometimes has other causes. The internet also says it’s usually treated with surgery nowadays. Nearly thirty years ago, though, perhaps that wasn’t an option.

      Annie Laurie was taking some kind of medication for the ileitis, and it doesn’t say whether she was carrying any of it when she disappeared — and if she was she would have inevitably run out. The condition (at least back in 1988, not sure now) is potentially fatal without treatment.

    • Natalie October 15, 2016 / 4:38 pm

      Michael W, excellent points. Sums up how I feel about it. Plus no comments from her mother in the intervening years. I agree with all you have written

    • Lauren Q October 16, 2016 / 11:37 am

      1) Hurricane Andrew actually wasn’t a hurricane by the time it got to northern Mississippi. It was a tropical depression by that point. It’s not child neglect to leave a 13-year-old home alone. Some 13-year-olds are babysitters.

      2) They could have been stalking the family and seen her mom leave the house but her remain inside.

      3) She could have let the intruder in (if the intruder had posed as someone who had a legitimate reason to come to the door). Polygraphs are so unreliable that they are not permissible in court.

      4) The intruder could have attempted to clean it up to prevent fingerprints and other forensic evidence from being collected.

      5) It makes sense that her mom went home after not hearing from her because it was the first time she had been left home alone and she was probably a little paranoid.

      • michael w. October 17, 2016 / 12:04 am

        @Lauren Q

        1) The point being that if Leigh was scared of thunderstorms, then certainly she would be terrified of a hurricane that turned into a tropical depression (if what you claim is true). Considering the widespread devastation Andrew caused, I cannot imagine a parent leaving a child barely into her teens home alone for the first time under the circumstances.

        2) Possibly, but unlikely. What are the odds that the Occhi’s, not to mention everyone in the neighborhood, didn’t notice?

        3) Possible, but that ultra-narrow timeframe and makes this unlikely as well.

        4) If that was the case, they would have likely finished the job. Also, the perp must have been ultra lucky or skilled to not leave any of their own DNA, hair, blood, etc behind.

        5) But Leigh wasn’t even supposed to be home anyways. She was supposed to be at the open house. Why was the mother surprised Leigh wasn’t home when she wasn’t supposed to be home to begin with?

  10. michael w. October 15, 2016 / 3:44 pm

    By the way, I would encourage all of you to read Meaghan’s previous blog post on Leigh Occhi and the accompanying comments on it (which there are a lot of), including some from people who live or lived near Tupelo. It should definitely give you a clearer picture of how the mother is likely involved and areas nearby where Leigh’s remains may be hidden (again, throwing huge doubt that she was kidnapped and transported far away),

    And speaking of Etan Patz, jury selection is currently under way for the second trial.

    Re: Annie Laurie Hearin, I think she could have lived for a few weeks after her kidnapping, maybe a little longer, but probably not much after that. I think the perp didn’t have the foresight to anticipate that a 72 year old woman is likely to have health issues, and probably killed her because he thought she was too much of an “inconvenience.” The part about her possibly being locked up in the basement always horrified me.

  11. Drusilla Mounce September 25, 2017 / 6:36 pm

    Something bothers me. What about the reporter (neighbor) who was noted to be there when police arrive. Says he caught something on police scanner. Something doesn’t feel right about that. Was he checked out? It’s well known that criminals like to be in the spotlight of their crimes.

  12. Monica January 24, 2018 / 10:19 am

    I just want to know with all the blood and hair left, was any DNA testing done? This may have been questioned earlier; I didn’t look thru all the replies before posing my question. I wonder why they felt the mom was the one. Failing multiple lie detector tests when being questioned about your missing child is not an alarm to me. 25 years is a very long time for no answers especially nowadays with DNA being so advanced. Hmm no forced entry, could have been a neighborhood kid that she knew. She was 13 so a 15 year old boy could have done something. I wonder if she had any boys that liked her or had a crush on her. Or some boy who had a crush but wasn’t obvious with it. Shy, quiet lil guy who liked her.

  13. James Kris Carmichael May 8, 2018 / 1:19 am

    I believe the personage who committed this crime may have already been in the house before Leigh’s mother left for work. She could have let him/her in with the intent purpose of kidnapping Leigh, after she had departed. The two rings not answered was probably a signal to the party that she was on the way home from work. I’m not sure as to what relationship Leigh had with her stepfather, but from all accounts, he was abusive toward her. But Leigh may have known this person. Given it is noted that someone tried to wipe up blood in the house doesn’t sound to me like you usual felon, unless Leigh had somehow managed to write something in her own blood which could identify the guilty party, and perhaps the guilty party wiped it up, to erase it. If that is the case, she knew her adversary. I suspect this was some type of kidnapping for trafficking, in which the eyeglasses would signal the completion of the job to someone in the family which may have been a party. Just really odd this person knew Leigh was alone, knew where she lived, had to be aware of her Mothers and Grandmothers schedule, knew few people would be on the road given the Hurricane, and seemed to know the area. There is a case very similar to this one out of Australia, Ms Rhianna Barreau (about the same age as Leigh, same hair color and eye color) also disappeared from her home in Morphett Vale SA (Australia) only a month and a half apart from Ms. Occhi’s disappearance. Did Leigh’s mother blame her for the separation she was experiencing? That would have been motive, or was the mother jealous at Leigh’s love toward her biological father? If her Mother was not involved, something other than the Hurricane seemed to be making her nervous.

  14. MG March 17, 2020 / 2:09 pm

    I am from the Tupelo community, and it is a whirlwind of gossip and backstabbing accusations. What I will tell you is that Leigh was alive at 8am because she placed a phone call to my best friend. Secondly, her mother had no motive to murder the daughter and would have had to have been an expert to kill Leigh, hide the body , go to work and get back to the house in time to call the police at 9 am. Not feasible really as the scene was fresh and simply she couldnt have done it that quickly. Leigh had two pedophiles living within walking distance of her house, including her backyard neighbor. Simply put they waited until the mother left, gained entry through the garage her mom didnt close, and killed Leigh and put her in the sleeping bag that was in her room. Leigh was already dead when she was taken from the house, the investigators told us that there was too much blood loss to survive. There was a Church member and a horse trainer who were both known to the family and were already known to be perverts. Thats all I will say, but I can tell you the mother was NOT responsible. There is so much about the case that is not made public but was known in our community.

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