Birmingham's coldest case: what happened to Carla Corley?

Birmingham's coldest case: what happened to Carla Corley?

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An undated family photo of Carla. An undated family photo of Carla.
Carla's sister, Cat Poe, has never given up the search for her younger sister. Source: WBRC video Carla's sister, Cat Poe, has never given up the search for her younger sister. Source: WBRC video

Today, it's known as La Quemada but in the summer of 1980, everyone knew the area as the Eastwood Projects. It was a public housing project located at the corner of the airport where Carla Rebeca Corley lived with her mother.

That August, the 14-year-old was looking forward to her 7th grade year in junior high school.

"Carla was very intellectual, sweet, giving. That's the greatest thing I remember about Carla is her being so giving," Carla's older sister, Cat Poe, said.

The two sisters were close, even though Poe had moved out of the house by the time Carla was a teenager. She says every night Carla would call her at a certain time.

So on the night of August 8, when Poe's phone didn't ring she called her mother's house and asked to speak to her sister.

"I was told she wasn't there, she was at a friend's house," Poe said.

When Carla didn't call the next day, Poe says she called back and the next day as well.

On the fourth day, she was confused and frustrated when she finally called police and met a detective at her mother's house.

"Carla's mother explained that she and Carla was there. They had just washed some dishes and Carla's mother went to bed and Carla was up watching TV," Sergeant Sam Noblitt said.

Carla's mother told police that a few hours later the sound of the TV having gone off the air awakened her.

When she went into the room Carla had been in, the girl's shoes we still there but Carla was gone. Chairs were overturned as was a soda bottle and the door was standing wide open.

Poe remembers hearing her mother explain the story.

"It was very traumatic experience. I was wondering where she was. What I was feeling was Carla's gone. She's dead. I knew something bad had happened to her because there's no way Carla went that many days without talking to me.

"I believe I have the truth of what happened to Carla and no I don't like it. It was injust. It was injust. She wasn't deserving of those things. No one is deserving of that," Poe said.

Police took a report and began investigating. Poe began doing the same. 

"I contacted jails, I would call hospitals, I went door to door in the neighborhood. I started there," Poe said." Knocking on doors asking people questions."

It wasn't long before she began hearing stories that a few days before Carla went missing, a group of men had kidnapped her, taken her to Lake Purdy and raped her before bringing her back home.

Investigators thought that when Carla went missing a second time, that she had been kidnapped and raped again, but this time, killed.

They were investigating several other cases throughout the city that had a similar scenario

"Why would someone have done that to her? What I was told is it's because of what she seen. I was told Carla seen something that could get these people convicted," Poe said.

For three years she searched for clues, continuously calling police about Carla's case but had no concrete answers until one day a new investigator was assigned to the case.

Yhey'd never heard of Carla Corley or her case and it took a week to find what turned out to be a one page incident report half hidden in a closed case file.

"It's my understanding info had come in that the person was seen around green track in south alabama and she was well and she was doing what she wanted to do and was just a runaway," said an investigator close to the case, but who did not want to give their identity.

"And when I got a call that this case was closed I was like there's no way. Who, what, when, where, how?" Poe asked.

It was another jerk on the emotional roller coaster Cat Poe had been on for several years. As police reopened the case, she continued trying to find answers on her own.

A few years later, Carla's mother had her declared legally dead and few years after that, a would be suspect told investigators he knew what happened to Carla but later recanted his story.

Based on tips, police have conducted several excavations, hoping to find Carla's remains, the most recent was from 2005.

But now, almost 32 years since Carla Corley went missing, there are still no suspects in the case.

"I have a suspect in mind however, I lack sufficient evidence to file charges or make a public accusation," Sgt. Noblitt said. "We know there are people out there who could close this case for us and find Carla but they're either afraid to come forward and in some case, they may be culpable in her disappearance."

To those who are afraid, Cat Poe sends this message.

"Set yourself free. The truth is what's really going to release them and let this be over for Carla."

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