Woman had strained relationship with daughter who disappeared from Highland Park area in 1991
The last time anyone saw Terri Slaugenhoupt, she was on her way to a CoGo's convenience store two blocks from her Highland Park apartment.
She never made it.
Slaugenhoupt's disappearance on Jan. 6, 1991, did not get the attention of a lot of missing person cases, but it still haunts her mother, Charlotte.
In the 27 years that Terri has been missing, there have been virtually no sightings or leads. Her mother hopes that renewed attention will finally answer the question of Terri's whereabouts.
“I've always felt that her case ... fell through the cracks,” Charlotte Slaugenhoupt said. “It just sort of started slipping away.”
Slaugenhoupt, 79, keeps a file on Terri in her small Springdale apartment, but the dates are old — everything from a 1991 edition of a Pittsburgh Crime Stoppers magazine to a 2006 email from the producer of a TV show called “Missing.” The last time she talked to a Pittsburgh police detective was two years ago.
“The only reason (the case) is open is because I won't close it,” she said.
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Terri Slaugenhoupt grew up in Aspinwall, the third of four children, and attended Fox Chapel Area High School. Charlotte was divorced and often worked long hours to provide for her children.
Terri did well in school until the 10th grade, when alcohol started to become a problem.
“When she was not drinking, she was my normal little girl,” her mother said. “I have to blame some of it on me because I wasn't there all the time.”
Terri spent time in rehab, in counseling and in Alcoholics Anonymous, but her periods of sobriety were always followed by relapse, Slaugenhoupt said.
During the 10 years Terri lived away from home, the mother and daughter had a fraught relationship. Terri stayed in touch — calling on birthdays, Mother's Day and Christmas — but kept her distance.
“Terri and I were not on the best of terms because of the alcohol and her lifestyle,” she said. “But she would call me. Whether it was good or bad, she'd let me know.”
Terri lived with a succession of boyfriends, but by the time of her disappearance, she was living with a woman named Jamie, a single mother of two young children. The last time Slaugenhoupt saw Terri was on Christmas 1990, when Terri and a friend named Steve came to her Sharpsburg home.
Slaugenhoupt talked to her by phone around New Year's Eve, when Terri was planning to go to Seven Springs Mountain Resort with a friend named Roy, and again on Sunday, Jan. 6, when Terri asked to speak with her younger brother, Jim. They were planning to get together two days later.
But when Jim showed up that Tuesday, Terri was not there. Her roommate told him that she had not seen his sister since Sunday.
Later, Slaugenhoupt learned Terri had been on a date that Sunday and had returned to her apartment around 10 p.m. Her roommate heard her talking on the phone with a friend — later identified as Steve — making plans to be picked up the following day for a job interview.
Terri then left for the convenience store, never to be seen again. She was 28.
Terri's mother did not learn of her disappearance until that Thursday, when Jim mentioned not meeting her on Tuesday.
“I asked him, ‘Have you talked to Terri lately?' He said, ‘No, she's missing.' I said, ‘What do you mean, she's missing?' He said, ‘She's missing, mom. She's gone.' That's when I called the police,” Slaugenhoupt said.
Slaugenhoupt contacted the missing persons division, and a search commenced. She drove around the neighborhood. Police questioned Terri's roommate, family members and several male friends, including a former boyfriend named Fred, Slaugenhoupt said.
Fred and Terri had dated for about a year, but since their breakup, he had been seen around her apartment, Slaugenhoupt said.
“He knew where she lived. I kind of think he was stalking her,” she said.
Although her children are less optimistic, Slaugenhoupt has a mother's hunch that her daughter is still alive. She can't reconcile Terri's disappearance with the fact that Terri wouldn't voluntarily just leave.
“That wasn't Terri, because she always let me know what she was doing, where she was going,” she said.
Not knowing, she said, is the hardest part.