Two Arizona Sisters Vanish: The Case of Cynthia and Jackie Leslie
Cynthia “Cindy” Ardina Leslie, 15, and her younger sister, Jackie Lynn Leslie, 13, vanished on July 31, 1974, after leaving their home to go to a babysitting job. The two beautiful sisters vanished without a trace, but things were different back then.
They lived at a time when Phoenix and the surrounding areas were still quite rural. You could smell the sweet orange blossoms drifting from the acres of orange orchards, families still sat outside their homes chatting, and backyard BBQs brought families together. It was a time when your kids could go out and parents weren’t concerned about murderers wandering the streets preying upon our children.
That evening, the two girls were seen walking down Baseline Road away from their home at the Desert Sands Mobile Home Park, near Baseline and Sossaman Roads. They had left a note for their parents saying they were going to babysit at the “same place,” referencing a family’s home where they had babysat before.
Little did anyone know it would be the last time Cynthia and Jackie would ever be seen.
Night of Their Disappearance
Their parents, Jack and Erma Leslie, had been at church and their grandmother was home at the time the girls left. She later told police Cynthia had received a phone call just before leaving, wrote a note to her parents and left with Jackie. That evening, when the girls didn’t arrive home, Erma worriedly slept on the couch waiting for them.
Erma later learned that the girls had planned on going to a party about three blocks from their residence on Power Road. Cynthia wanted to see a boy that her parents had forbidden her to see. It is not clear if they ever arrived at the party. Some who attended said they never arrived; others who went said they did attend.
The party was in a desert area back in 1974, with cotton fields and orange groves that surrounded the neighborhood but has since been built up with businesses and homes. At that time, the area was searched by police but no evidence that the girls had ever been there was ever found.
At the time, deputies at Maricopa County Sheriff’s believed something criminal had happened to them and continue to suspect foul play. However, the case has been baffling because there has never been any evidence ever found.
At the time of the girl’s disappearance, the Leslie family was new to the mobile home community. They had moved there from Page, Arizona. Jack Leslie, their father, had terminal lung cancer so they moved to be closer to his doctors. Jack passed away seven months after his daughter’s disappeared.
Erma says the girls would have never left during their father’s illness as they were very close. 44 years later, despite the lack of evidence and decades since the Leslie sisters have not been seen, their mother Erma Leslie and their sister continue the search.
During the time when the sisters went missing, their older sister Linda Herring lived in Tucson with her husband and two daughters.
Linda told KGUN-9, “The girls liked to go bowling, they liked roller skating, we were just really the normal American family,” she said.
Erma and Linda now believe the girls fell into the wrong crowd. Many of the friends that had called frequently all stopped calling after the disappearance. Cynthia and Jackie had not yet attended school after moving, so their circle of friends was small, nonetheless.
“It seems like a million years ago and seems like sometimes that it isn’t,” Erma said. “So, I keep looking and Linda does too.”
Erma, now in her eighties, now lives outside of Vegas so she can be close to Linda. In her hallway are portraits of the girls. Underneath hang age-progressed photographs of what the girls might look like now, sent to her by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
A box of missing person flyers never far from sight, Erma carries a few in her purse everywhere she goes. A few years ago, a detective from Maricopa County came to Nevada to collect DNA samples from both Linda and Erma, but they haven’t heard anything since then. Linda said, “I do believe they did as much as they possibly could.”
Alone in Their Search
In 1974, Linda said her family felt alone. At that time, NCMEC didn’t exist and there was no such thing as AMBER Alerts. The deputies at the time would not file a police report until 48 hours later. They could only sit by the phone and wait.
Back then, there were no posters hanging in stores or announcements on the local news. Police didn’t communicate with other jurisdictions, the FBI wasn’t called in to investigate, and no national hotlines to call if someone were to see the girls. They were on their own.
“I was sure that they would call me and tell me to come to get them,” Erma told KGUN. “But it didn’t happen. It still hasn’t happened.” Erma has suffered from the ambiguity for decades, with no information that could help ease her heart. "I’ve tried to keep the story of their disappearance alive, so nobody forgets about it,” said Erma. “I think there is someone out there who knows what happened to them but never came forward.”
As police have run out of leads, that didn’t deter Erma. She began bringing fliers to sheriff’s departments in Arizona and southern California. Desperate, she consulted with a psychic who told her the girls were alive and near water. Erma drove up and down the California coast searching for them.
“There has never been a day that I don’t say a prayer where I’ll find out what happened to my daughters,” Erma told the East Valley Tribune in 2010. Now, Erma’s age had slowed her, but she refuses to give up and most of all, she refuses to give up hope as long as her daughters are out there somewhere.