|This case has remained unsolved for 12 years, 0 months, and 20 days.|
November 17, 2011 was like any other day for 33-year-old Michelle Parker. She spent some time with her family, then was planning to work later that evening. First though, she had to drop her 3-year-old twins off at their father’s home, which she did around 3:30 PM that day.
Later, Parker didn’t show up for an evening shift at a local bar — something that was unlike her. Her older son couldn’t get into contact with her, either, and soon Parker’s mother called police to report her as a missing person.
During the search, Parker’s car and phone were located, but she has never been seen or heard from since. Suspicions swirl around her ex-fiancé, but he’s never been charged in her disappearance. And now, over a decade later, her family still has few answers. Where is Michelle Parker and what happened to her?
Table of Contents
About Michelle Parker
Michelle Parker was born on November 20, 1978. She graduated from Winter Park High School in Winter Park, Florida, and went on to work several jobs as an adult to support her children.
By 2011, Parker (32 at the time) had three children — a pair of 3-year-old twins and an 11-year-old son. The older son was the result of a previous relationship, while twins were had with Dale Smith Jr. (41), Parker’s ex-fiancé. The two broke it off before they went through with the marriage, with Parker making some allegations of abuse against Smith.
Parker worked as a bartender at the now-closed Jesse Black Saloon and she had her own company, a mobile air-brush tanning business. She also filled other bartending shifts at other restaurants in order to earn extra money, like she was planning on doing on the day she vanished.
The Day of the Disappearance
On November 17, 2011, 32-year-old Michelle Parker was at her family’s salon when she realized it was time for her to pick up her 3-year-old twins from daycare. According to Yvonne Stewart, Parker’s mother, she was planning to head home for a nap after dropping the twins off with Dale Smith Jr., their father and Parker’s ex-fiancé.
Before Parker left the salon, Stewart spoke to her daughter. She recounted the conversation in a TV documentary on Parker’s disappearance:
“When she left the salon, she ran an errand for me. I needed color. She went to the store, brought it back, went out the door, turned around, and I said to her, ‘It’s almost 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock. I think that People’s Court thing is airing today.’ And she said, ‘I don’t ever want to see it. It was the most humiliating thing of my life. I don’t care.’”Yvonne Stewart (Source: WFTV Channel 9)
The People’s Court Episode
Incidentally, Parker and Smith appeared on an episode of The People’s Court, a show where a judge hears and decides on small claims cases. The episode aired on November 17, 2011 — the same day Parker went missing — and the couple were arguing about a lost engagement ring.
During the episode, Parker alleged that Smith had been abusive and violent. She also alleged that Smith had been cheating on her with multiple other women during their relationship. “He gets pretty malicious and vindictive, especially when he’s been drinking… He shouldn’t have put his hands on me and shouldn’t have put his hands on me prior,” she stated on the show.
After the couple split, Smith had asked for the engagement ring back and Parker threw the ring at him, where it fell over the edge of a hotel balcony and was lost. The judge ultimately ruled in Smith’s favor, ordering that Parker pay half the value of the lost ring at $2,500.
Parker Left the Salon
Before leaving the salon, Parker texted her boyfriend at the time some messages around 3:15 PM before she left to pick up her twins. Parker then left the salon to pick up the children, and that is the last time her mother saw her.
Parker is last known to have been alive at the time she dropped the twins off at Smith’s home, and this said to have been around 3:30 PM. We know that the twins were in fact dropped off with Smith, but this is the last reported sighting anyone has of Parker.
A One-Word Text Message
When Parker’s brother reached out to her around 4:30 PM asking where she was, she responded with only one word: “Waterford.” What this meant isn’t clear; it could’ve meant that she was at Waterford Lakes on Orlando’s east side, but that didn’t make much sense given that she had work that night. Some speculate that someone else aside from Parker sent that last text message.
Parker was scheduled to work a shift later that night at a local place called The Barn in Sanford. She didn’t show up for that, either, which was unusual for Parker.
No Further Contact
When it started to get dark out and his mother still wasn’t home, Parker’s oldest son contacted his grandmother, Yvonne Stewart, asking where his mother was. Stewart was surprised to hear that Parker wasn’t home yet and she began calling her daughter’s phone — but no one answered.
Stewart tried reaching out to Smith several times, but she was unable to get in touch with him right then. When no one could be reached who had seen Parker that evening, the police were contacted.
The Search Begins
At first, Stewart had trouble getting a hold of Parker’s ex-fiancé, Smith. She eventually spoke with him and asked when the last time he’d seen Parker was.
Smith replied he’d last seen her when she dropped the twins off earlier in the day. After that, he thought she went “shopping or something,” perhaps down by “Waterford.” Stewart found this response suspicious given the earlier, one-word text message received by Parker’s brother that said the same thing.
Authorities too didn’t hold back their suspicions of Smith, calling him their “prime suspect” on a news interview at the time of the disappearance. Although Smith was named a suspect, he has never been charged in relation to the case.
Despite the allegations of abuse, Stewart had stated early on that Smith “is a great father” but just couldn’t get along with Parker. She also said that she “didn’t know” if he could have had anything to do with Parker’s disappearance. Later on, her opinion on Smith would change.
It’s not clear if and when Parker’s boyfriend at the time of the disappearance was investigated, although I assume that he was and had an alibi for the time of her disappearance. The last time he saw Parker was supposedly on the morning she disappeared when they had coffee together. He also received a text from her in the afternoon before she picked her twins up, and that was reportedly the last time he heard from her.
Because Parker was seen alive and well by her family at the salon in the afternoon after getting coffee, it stands to reason that her then-boyfriend was not involved in her disappearance.
Authorities never named the boyfriend as a suspect or a person of interest, leading me to believe they have information that rules the boyfriend out. However, it’s possible that they’re withholding some information that points to the boyfriend.
Troubling History of Domestic Violence
A more focused lens was put on Parker’s ex-fiancé, Dale Smith Jr. in relation to her disappearance. According to news sources, he has a criminal record and has been arrested several times on domestic battery charges. He pleaded guilty to felony battery charges in 1997.
In 2001, when he was in the Marines, he was court-martialed and convicted of domestic battery charges as well as drug charges. He ended up being dishonorably discharged from the Marines in 2003.
In 2009, Smith and Parker were in the middle of a custody dispute over their twins. Parker requested a domestic violence injunction at that time, claiming that Smith had gone off on a violent tirade in front of their children. Ultimately, that request was denied due to lack of evidence.
Parker’s Vehicle Found
On November 18, just a day after Parker’s disappearance, authorities announced that they’d found her vehicle (a black Hummer with her business’s logo on the back) on the west side of Orlando. Oddly, the business logo had been scraped off.
Search Warrants Executed
Also on November 18, authorities conducted a search of Smith’s condo in Orlando. They were tight-lipped on if they found anything of significance. Notably, another search warrant was executed on November 26 for Smith’s parents’ home in Orlando. Again, it’s not clear if anything of note was found.
Children Removed from Smith’s Custody
In the wake of Parker’s disappearance, the twins were temporarily removed from Smith’s custody on November 29. According to Stewart, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) had initiated the investigation without her prompting them. The twins were turned over to protective custody.
However, a judge ruled that the twins were to be returned to Smith’s custody, finding no evidence of abuse toward the twins. “I don’t think incidents that happened years ago constitute a pattern,” the judge stated. Custody of the twins was returned to Smith.
Parker’s iPhone Recovered
Later, in December, Parker’s phone pings were traced to a lake south of Orlando. Divers recovered the iPhone under an Orange County bridge and it’s speculated that whoever discarded the phone threw it off the bridge into the water while they were driving.
When asked recently if Smith is still a suspect in the case, Orlando Police Chief Rolon stated, “He is someone of interest during this investigation, but ultimately I think there may be someone out there who has some specifics that will help us close this case.”
That’s All, Folks
And that’s it. That’s all the information we have on the case since Parker’s disappearance. She has never been seen again, nor have her remains been located. Over a decade later, we still have few answers.
Theories on What Happened
There are a few theories in this case with perhaps the strongest theory being that Smith had something to do with Parker’s disappearance. However, it’s possible that a criminal organization or other nefarious people decided to take Parker against her will, or even that Parker left on her own.
Smith Did Something to Parker
Perhaps quite obviously by now, the predominant theory in this case is that the ex-fiancé, Dale Smith Jr., did something to Parker when she went over to drop the twins off on November 17, 2011.
Some people have suggested that the airing of The People’s Court episode is what set off Smith. However, the judge did rule in his favor in that case, so perhaps it wasn’t so much the outcome of the case that would have set him off as much as Parker making public accusations about him.
The fact that Smith has a record of domestic violence also doesn’t bode well for his innocence. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Smith was able to get help for his violent tendencies and reform himself, although there isn’t any evidence pointing to this being the case. The fact that he is the last known person to have seen her alive is also suspicious.
Smith’s attorney, Mark NeJame, says that there is no evidence pointing to the idea that Smith had anything to do with Parker’s disappearance:
“There is nothing that links Dale Smith to the murder or the disappearance of Michelle Parker. If facts existed, if evidence existed, he would have been arrested, there are none.”Mark NeJame (Source: Wesh)
Parker was Taken By Traffickers
An early theory is that Parker was taken hostage, perhaps by traffickers or those who wanted to extract ransom money from the family. However, no evidence has been found that points to this outcome. What’s especially odd is that her valuable Hummer was left in a nearby neighborhood, something the abductors could have sold to a chop shop for a good amount of cash.
Then again, they could have been trying to distance themselves from any evidence pointing to the missing mother. Removing the business decal from the back of her Hummer might’ve made sense if this was the case.
Of course, no ransom was ever requested for Parker’s return, so it seems doubtful that this is what happened to her. It’s still possible that she was trafficked, however.
Parker Left on Her Own
Some have suggested that perhaps Parker left of her own accord, although there isn’t any indication that she would have left her children and family behind. Although she was accused of being bipolar by Smith, I couldn’t find any evidence of mental illness on her part.
By all accounts, Parker was a devoted and loving mother. Friends and family don’t believe that she could have or would have left her children behind.
What Do I Think Happened
With all the research and evidence collected here, the most logical suspicion is that Smith had something to do with Parker’s disappearance. Both Smith and his legal team dispute this, of course. Smith’s attorney, Mark NeJame, said of Smith’s cooperation:
“When law enforcement wanted to speak to [Smith], he let them in his residence, he let them investigate from top-to-bottom, and anything they requested, he turned over voluntarily.”Mark NeJame (Source: WFTV Channel 9)
Parker’s family, however, disagrees that Smith has been fully cooperative. They think he is holding back information that could be helpful to the case.
With the evidence that we currently have, I’m inclined to agree with them. I believe Smith knows more than he’s telling authorities, and he probably had something to do with Parker’s disappearance.
She Didn’t Leave Voluntarily
Of all the theories, I highly doubt Parker left her children and went off to start a new life. Authorities also doubt this theory, especially after all their investigating and research. There is simply no evidence that Parker left of her own volition.
When Orlando Police Detective Michael Field was asked if he thought Michelle Parker might still be alive, he responded, “No. Based on what I know about Michelle Parker, she would never have left her family in a thousand years. There’s no way [she’s still alive], in my opinion.”
Can This Case Be Solved?
To this day, Parker has never been found, nor have her remains been located. At this time, I doubt the case will ever be solved unless there is a confession made or Parker’s remains are located. Someone out there has the key piece of information that can finally solve this case. We need them to come forward to get justice for Michelle Parker.
There have been several case updates in the search for Michelle Parker, although she still hasn’t been found. In fact, very little has been found since 2011, when she first went missing.
February 2012: Another Search
In February 2012, another search was conducted around a body of water near the 4800 block of South Orange Blossom Trail. However, according to the Orlando Police Department, nothing of evidentiary value was found.
2013: Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed
Parker’s mother, Yvonne Stewart, filed a wrongful death civil suit against Smith in order to try and get more information about what happened to her missing daughter.
Stewart has said of the lawsuit, “Whatever tactic they want to take legally, I’m just looking for the truth. I want to know where my daughter is, and I want to know what happened to her.” The case was eventually dismissed by a judge in 2014.
2015: Grandparents’ Rights Law
Yvonne Stewart later helped to get legislation passed that would establish visitation rights for grandparents under certain circumstances (like if both parents are dead or missing).
Unfortunately, a she was unable to get rights to see her grandchildren using the very law she helped pass when a judge dismissed her case in 2016. She wrote of her struggle on Facebook:
“I hate having to miss [the twins] growing up. I hate how hard we worked to get the law passed only to never speak one word in court. The twins are almost 10. So Taylor and Trey, we did everything we could. Grow up knowing we think of you every single day” (Facebook).
November 2019: HLN Real Life Nightmare Episode
In November 2019, an episode of HLN’s Real Life Nightmare was aired that discussed Parker’s case. The show suggested that one of the patrons at the bar Parker worked at could have stalked and abducted her. However, there is no evidence supporting this theory, although it is certainly possible.
November 2021: 10 Years Since Parker’s Disappearance
The Orlando Police Department tweeted on the tenth anniversary of Parker’s disappearance, hoping to bring more attention and tips to the case.
Do You Have Information?
There is currently a $200,000 reward for information regarding Michelle Parker’s disappearance. She is 5’6, 140 lbs., and has brown eyes and brown hair. If you have information, please contact the tip line at (386) 402–3729 or the Orlando Police Department at (407) 246–2979.
Cold Case Questions
- What do you think happened to Michelle Parker?
- Do you think Smith was responsible for her disappearance?
- Why was Parker’s phone found under a bridge?
Tell me about your thoughts on this case in the comment section below!
Thanks for Reading!
I greatly appreciate your support and engagement. If you enjoyed this post, consider liking and subscribing for more cold or unsolved case content. Be sure to follow me on social media to get notified when I post new stories, videos, or podcasts:
Thank you so much, Cold Case Explorers!