It has been 34 long years since Terri Lynn Fregia of Tarkington went missing. Like the families of all missing persons, every day is full of heartache and unanswered questions for the Fregia family. With each passing day, it is less likely she will return, but her family is not willing to have her declared legally dead because that would mean the end of hope.
If she is still living, Terri Lynn Fregia would be 57 today. At the time of her disappearance, she was 23 years old and lived life like a rolling stone, never putting down roots for very long in one place, according to Texas Ranger Brandon Bess, who has been investigating her disappearance for the Rangers Cold Case Division since 2018.
“We have tracked her to Mississippi and Louisiana prior to 1989. She was married in Louisiana and had a notary public license out of South Carolina,” Ranger Bess said. “We have tried to get Social Security and the IRS to cooperate with our investigation, and (U.S. Rep.) Dr. Brian Babin’s office tried extensively to help us, but we haven’t been able to cut through the federal red tape. We would like to know the last time she paid taxes or filed a tax return. The year 1989 was the last time she was seen by her family, but she might have been alive after that.”
When Fregia went missing, her family notified the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office to file a report. However, her case went dormant for years. In fact, she was not reported to the missing persons clearinghouse by the sheriff’s office at that time, which was discovered by her niece, Jamie Harness, who works for a law enforcement agency in Montgomery County.
“When I first started working there, they were training me on how to run people through the database. We were doing a soft query as a test. I said, ‘Well, my Aunt Terri is missing, so let’s check for her. She didn’t show up. There were no results whatsoever. I knew that wasn’t right because she had been reported as missing. Apparently she was originally entered into the sheriff’s office system in Liberty County, but her case wasn’t kept up with. So, technically, she wasn’t reported as missing until 2013 when I filed the report,” said Harness.
Though she was very young when her aunt disappeared, Harness has fond memories of Fregia.
“Aunt Terri was always free-spirited. At first everyone in the family thought she had just left and would be back, but she never contacted anyone, and that was not like her. She would take off from time to time, but she would always let someone know what was going on with her,” Harness said. “She had gone to my Grandma Toni’s house, her mom, and all her things were left behind – her driver’s license, her cat, her car and clothing. It was like she had gotten into the car with someone and had gone to the corner store, but she never returned.”
According to Harness, Fregia was an extremely pretty woman, super tall with dark hair and big blue eyes.
“She actually modeled for my step-grandfather’s company, Road Pro, for a little while. She lived a little bit of everywhere. She lived with my parents when I was a little kid. She was married a few times and had three kids. She lived with the father of two of her children in the Hull area for a while. When she lived with my family, she was working as a stripper at the Tonga Club in Beaumont. This was not exactly a nice place,” Harness said.
Ranger Bess believes there is a good chance that Fregia went missing while in Louisiana. When asked why the investigation originated in Liberty County, Texas, Bess explained that her disappearance was first reported here.
“I interviewed two of her ex-husbands, including one in Louisiana. They both said she had a drug problem, and when it raised its head, she would go off somewhere. My gut feeling is that something happened to her in Louisiana,” Bess said.
One of the most disheartening parts of the investigation for Bess are the false leads through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), not due to a possible link or match, but because there are hundreds of unidentified women – many murder victims – who match certain physical characteristics of Fregia, such as height, weight and hair color.
“It is unbelievable how many are out there. With modern DNA, it’s disheartening that we haven’t gotten the familial DNA for more of these people in our database to figure out who they are,” Bess said.
If you know anything about this case or others, call the Rangers Office in the Liberty County Courthouse at 936-336-4627 or contact the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office at 936-336-4500.
Bluebonnet News will continue working with Ranger Bess to feature more Cold Cases.