Courts & Crime

A Georgia mother remembers when missing became gone

MACON, Ga. _ On a June afternoon in 1972, Carlene Tengelsen took the family station wagon to Westgate Shopping Center. She was 16, a rising junior at Southwest High. It was her first time driving anywhere alone.

The station wagon surfaced that night at the mall, but Carlene never did. Macon police turned up nothing. Thirty-seven years later, her vanishing is as unsolved as ever. For her mother, Joan, living four decades of every parent's worst nightmare has meant torment and heartache and, in the end, salvation.

"In the first hours, you think of everything," Joan recalls. "As a mom, you think of every single thing that could happen to a young, beautiful girl. The most horrible thing you could think of, you’ve thought about it. You’re praying that it's not happening.

"That takes a while to get out of your mind.

"I slept in my clothes for six weeks. I'd get my shower and everything, but I always wanted to be ready, so that if I ever got a phone call I would be ready to go.

"You kind of reach at straws. There were times when I would think I heard somebody in a car throw her out on the lawn. People behind Westgate had said they heard screams. I thought about that a lot, too.

"It’s unimaginable. You hear about it and you think it's never gonna happen to me. Then all of a sudden, whammo, it does. You find out a lot about yourself.

"I felt so guilty. I'd think, "Why did I let Carlene go to Westgate?" You find out that you're not in control like you think you are. It's what you do with learning these things that determines how you're going to come out of it.

"I was 39 when she went missing. I’m 76 now."

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