Left and Center: Tiffany circa, 1980￼
Right: Age Progressed to age 46
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: June 13, 1980
Missing From: Maple Heights, Cuyahoga County, Ohio
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: July 2, 1971
Age: 8 years old
Height and Weight: 4’0″ and 58 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian Female, Brown hair, Blue eyes, Tiffany has a scar on her right knee and has previously fractured her collarbone, she has a gap between her upper front teeth and her ears are pierced, she has facial dimples, some agencies spell her name as “Tiffiny” and she may use her initials T.J
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A red/blue t-shirt which has the phrase “Let’s face it, I’m cute”, a pair of shorts, and blue tennis shoes or sneakers
NCMEC Number: 603389
Details of Disappearance
Tiffany was last seen in Maple Heights, Ohio on June 3rd 1980. She left her residence on East Glen shortly before 3:00 pm and was heading for the Convenient Food Mart nearby. She did in fact make it to the store and purchased hamburger buns for an upcoming camping trip. Her family was scheduled to leave for the trip at 6:00 pm that day. Tiffany paid for the buns and left the store at approximately 2:45 pm. She never arrived home and was never seen again.
Tiffany’s father, Frank Papesh, attempted to file a missing persons report on his daughter when she initially didn’t show up but he was told he would have to wait 24 hours before Tiffany could be declared missing. But her family began to search for her immediately afterwards, they couldn’t locate her or any possible trace of what happened to her. Tiffany was only a half a block away from her residence when she disappeared.
Investigators questioned Frank, he was at work when his disappeared and was cleared as a suspect. Her stepmother, Debbie Papesh, was also questioned regarding Tiffany’s disappearance. She had raised the child ever since she was 4 years old. She was also cleared in the investigation. Authorities and her family suspect Tiffany was abducted by a non-family member. Searches of the area turned up no sign of Tiffany and no one reportedly saw anything after Tiffany left.
After her presumed abduction, investigators told the local media that they were searching for a woman who was at the store at the same time as Tiffany. According to witnesses, Tiffany allowed this woman to pass her in the checkout line. According to witness statements, Tiffany and the woman left the store at the same time. The woman is described as being approximately 50 years old in 1980. She stood at 5 feet 4 inches and weighed 160 pounds. She had short brown hair at the time and might’ve possibly driven a blue car. Investigators are unsure if she had any involvement in the case but would like to question her about the case.
Frank immediately began to point out the mistakes made with his daughters disappearance in 1980. He searched relentlessly for her and attempted to get her name into the National press. Local media outlets were more than happy to help and they posted various newspapers articles regarding Tiffany’s abduction. Various news articles covering Tiffany’s case were shown in newspapers throughout the state of Ohio.
National media outlets were difficult and would more than often times refuse to distribute her photo and details around. Frank became heavily involved in the legal system and the political system at the time. He started a committee called “People for Justice” which was dedicated to lobbying for stiffer jail sentences and the reinstitution of the death sentence for capital crimes. Frank also requested and urged that the state of Ohio should toughen up the sentences for those who commit kidnappings against children. At the time, Ohio law stated that kidnapping was punishable by charges in the first degree and could be punishable with up to 25 years in prison.
Investigators have considered the possibility that Tiffany was taken by a child predator. Days after she went missing, authorities announced that they created a composite sketch of a man they thought might’ve had some involvement in her presumed abduction. The man sought allegedly attacked a 12 year old girl a year before Tiffany went missing. It’s unclear if anything came as a result of the sketch and the man was never identified.
Investigators haven’t stated whether they believed the man was involved in Tiffany’s abduction or not. Investigators believe, however, that Tiffany is deceased and was probably murdered the same day she was abducted. Her family has kept hope over the years that she might turn up alive since there’s no proof of her being deceased and there were also reported sightings of her after she disappeared. The state has also refused to issue a death certificate for her in the case that she turns up alive.
In July of 1983, prison inmate Brandon Lee Flagner wrote a letter in which he admitted to kidnapping, killing, and dismembering Tiffany in 1980. He also has the given name of Chico Virgilio Tenorio. He was serving time in a Palestine, Texas prison for four counts of child molestation at the time he admitted to Tiffany’s murder.
According to newspapers from the time, the Cleveland television station WEWS said that they had received a letter from Flagner in which he said he was turning himself in “because the guilt is too heavy to carry any longer.” He also allegedly mentioned the scar on Tiffany’s right knee that was not publicly released at the time. He was interviewed by Federal agents and told them the details surrounding the crime.
Brandon said he abducted Tiffany as she was walking alone and took her to a wooded area by a nearby school. He said he attempted to sexually abuse Tiffany but she rejected his advances and he shot her in the head accidentally as a result. Flagner stated that he dismembered Tiffany’s remains and ate a portion of them and stored some of it in a freezer. He admitted that he disposed of the rest of Tiffany’s remains in various parts of Ohio.
Authorities were initially doubtful of his admission to Tiffany’s murder. He made over 30 confessions to the crime and each one contradicted on another every time. Frank Papesh also believed Flagner was not involved in his daughters abduction. He felt that Brandon was simply seeking publicity and has discounted the letters he sent to the television station and the FBI. This was not the first time Flagner became involved in the Papesh case.
A few days after Tiffany was reported missing, Brandon showed up at the Papesh family home and offered to sell t-shirts with her photograph on it. He also helped and offered to assist in the search as well. Frank said he felt Flagner was keeping the money for himself and only wanted to help so he could know what was going on with the case. He had Flagner arrested and the police warned him to leave the Papesh family alone.
After Tiffany’s abduction, Brandon asked his wife and brother to destroy a metal box that was in the trunk of his car. According to them, the box contained children’s clothing and other objects. It’s unknown if these items had any connection to Tiffany or of the box was ever located or not. In November of 1980, Brandon told his brother that Frank hired him to find Tiffany’s supposed killer and that he thought Frank himself had committed the crime.
Flagner grew up in Elyria, Ohio which was relatively close to Maple Heights. In 1978, he was arrested for burglary and was sentenced to two five year prison terms. However, he was paroled after only spending 16 months in prison and was released from prison about three months prior to Tiffany’s June 1980 disappearance.
In June of 1984, a Cuyahoga County grand jury returned a indictment against Flagner for Tiffany’s presumed abduction and death. This occurred after the county prosecutor’s office investigated other cases that Flagner was involved in and reportedly found similarities between those cases and Tiffany’s disappearance.
He was booked into the Cuyahoga County jail in August of 1984 and was arraigned on charges of kidnapping and murder in relation to Tiffany’s disappearance. He was indicted largely based on his confessions to killing the girl. In September, Brandon recanted his confessions to murdering Tiffany. One of his court appointed attorneys, Paul Cassidy, stated that Brandon denied any connection to her presumed death.
His mental health and state were subject to debate as to whether he was competent enough to stand trial for his alleged crimes. In April of 1985, Cuyahoga County Common Please Judge, Norman Fuerst, ruled during a court hearing that Flagner was found competent to stand trial for Tiffany’s murder. He initially refused to enter a plea at the trial but a judge entered an innocent plea on his behalf.
The girls that Flagner molested in Texas all testified against him at his trial in 1985 and recalled how he threatened them with violence. In July of 1985, Brandon was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder and one count of kidnapping. He was sentenced to life in prison for killing Tiffany and an additional 25 years in prison for abducting her. He remains incarcerated for the crime.
It should be noted, however, that many people believe Flagner is innocent of the crime. Frank Papesh was always skeptical of Brandon’s confession and alleged involvement in his daughters disappearance. He has also pointed out that no body, weapon, or piece of clothing has been found to corroborate his confession. He was convicted largely based on his confessions and that he had a record for child molestation.
During his trial, Flagners lawyer told the court that his client suffers from mental fantasies and in his mind, he had planned to solve the case by being arrested for the crime himself. The lawyer dismissed the confessions and called them “bizarre and unreliable.” Prosecutors argued, however, that there was truth in the confessions and that Flagner confessed to killing Tiffany because he could not stand the thought of killing a child her age and wanted to be absolved from the crime.
However, Brandon stated he only admitted to killing Tiffany because he was about to be released from prison in Texas for the molestations and he wanted to remain in prison longer in order to receive sex offender treatment. Investigators who are currently investigating Tiffany’s disappearance also believe Flagner to be innocent of the crime and even Tiffany’s family believe he was innocent of the crime.
At the time that Tiffany disappeared, Brandon was a factory worker in Wayne County, Ohio. He specifically worked at Sta-Co in Creston which is located an appalling 56 miles away from where Tiffany went missing. According to his time card, he was at work on the day of June 13th until about 20 minutes before Tiffany disappeared. He was initially ruled out due to this very obvious alibi. Several people have suggested that one of his co-workers might’ve stamped the card for him that day.
All of his fellow employees denied having done this. His employer told investigators that while no one specifically recalled seeing Flagner at work that day, the production line that he worked at required five people, Brandon included, to function in a proper manner. There were no problems with the line that day which further proves that Flagner was at work that day. It would’ve taken Brandon more than an hour to drive to Maple Heights and take Tiffany and it couldn’t all have been done in 20 minutes.
Despite his strong alibi and his recanted admission, Flagner remains incarcerated for Tiffany’s abduction and murder. He did come up for parole in August of 2019 hut he was denied the possibility and will continue to serve his life sentence. While in prison, Brandon converted to Orthodox Judaism. He once claimed he had molested over 400 girls but investigators believe this is another one of his exaggerated statements. Several victims of Flagner believe he likely killed Tiffany.
In October of 1983, Maple Heights police named Robert Anthony Buell as a person of interest in Tiffany’s disappearance. He was arrested that year for the abduction and rape of a woman in Damascus, Ohio. The woman was kidnapped while she worked at a gas station and Buell subjected her to brutal mistreatment. He shaved her head, shocked her with a severed electrical cord, and beat her. Buell also bound her to his bed and raped her.
The woman managed to escape twelve hours later and escaped. She ran to a nearby house and contacted the police about what had happened. She did this after her captor left to go to work. Buell was arrested and indicted on nine counts of kidnapping and rape for the attack. He pleaded no contest to the charges. After his arrest, Buell became a suspect in various murder and kidnapping cases in Ohio, including Tiffany’s.
He was also the primary suspect in the 1982 murder of 11 year old Krista Lea Harrison. Krista was picking up aluminum cans in a park in Marshallville, Ohio with a friend on July 17th 1982. The park was only 100 yards away from her house at the time. Her friend told authorities that she witnessed a man force Krista into a vehicle before speeding away.
Krista’s abductor was described as a Caucasian male with shoulder length hair. He was between 25 to 35 years of age in 1982 and his vehicle was described as being a van. The van was said to be brown or dark red in color and had distinct, round windows on the sides of the vehicle which were near the rear of it. Krista was never seen again after her abduction. A large search for her commenced and people looked across Marshallville for her. Despite efforts, she wasn’t found.
Many people believed Krista had been abducted for ransom and that a phone call would come at some point for the requested amount of money for her return. No such call ever came in. Six days later, Krista’s baldy decomposed body was found in the weeds a few feet off the side of a barley used road in Holmes County, Ohio. An autopsy revealed she had been sexually assaulted with a vibrator and strangled to death.
A large plastic bag had been wrapped around Krista’s legs. Harrison’s father had to confirm the body was that of Krista due to the condition of her remains which made her completely unrecognizable. Investigators located several items of interest near the remains which included a Budweiser towel, a bloody car seat box, a wad of Krista’s hair, a pair of gloves, and a plaid shirt with jeans. The state of her body indicated that she was kept in the vehicle for a long period of time in the hot summer weather.
Investigators also found a vital clue on Krista’s body and on the towel found nearby. They found a distinct number of what appeared to be orange or nutmeg colored polyester fibers on a bed spread which was wrapped around Krista’s remains in an effort to conceal them. They were examined under a microscope and investigators concluded they were of trilobal shape and were likely from some type of carpet.
After the discovery of the fibers in Harrison’s case, it was discovered that they were similar to fibers found in another case similar to Krista’s case. On October 29th 1981, Tina Marie Harmon was dropped off in Lodi, Ohio by her father’s girlfriend. She was reportedly last seen with a man in his 20s afterwards. She was never seen again. Tina’s body was found on November 3rd 1981 in Navarre, Ohio. She was sexually assaulted and strangled to death.
Investigators in both cases noted the similarities between Tina and Krista’s slayings. The same fibers that were found on Harrison’s body were also found on Harmon’s body. They also found dog hair on Harmons remains. In August of 1982, testing proved there was no difference whatsoever. However, in 1982, two men were convicted of killing Harmon based on witness statements and circumstantial evidence. Ernest Holbrook Jr. was convicted of aiding and abetting Tina’s murder and Herman Ray Rucker was convicted of raping and killing Tina.
However, Rucker was granted a new trial due to inconsistent witness testimony and one witness recanted their statements regarding the men’s involvement in Tina’s abduction and murder. The fiber evidence also played a pivotal role in getting a new trial. Rucker was eventually acquitted of killing Tina in 1983 and is no longer a suspect in her case. Investigators then labeled Buell as a suspect in the case.
Harrison’s murder case remained unsolved until 1984 when Buell was charged with her kidnapping, rape, and murder. Investigators compared the fibers found on her body to the ones from his van carpeting and they were deemed a likely match. It was also found that records from Sears indicated that Buell had purchased the car seat that was once contained in the box and bag found with Krista’s body. Investigators also found paint on the jeans that were discovered in the area and found that the paint matched with the paint on the outside of his house.
The jeans were also similar to other pairs of pants that Buell owned at the time. There was also spray paint found on the box at the crime scene that matched spray paint found in Buell’s garage. Buell was tried for Krista’s murder and was found guilty. He was sentenced to death for the crime and was killed by lethal injection in 2002 at the age of 62. He was never charged with killing Tina Harmon and he denied involvement in her death.
In 2009, the investigation into Tina’s murder was reopened and investigators sought evidence that would link anyone to Tina’s case. In 2010, DNA testing showed that Buell was the one responsible for her death after a match was found to samples of DNA found on Tina’s clothing. The dog hairs found on her remains were also matched to a dog found buried in Buell’s yard via DNA testing. He could not be charged since he was dead.
Investigators believe Buell was responsible for other murders and kidnappings that occurred in the 1980s. He is believed to be responsible for the murder of 10 year old Deborah Kaye Smith from Massillon, Ohio. She disappeared from a carnival in the downtown area on June 25th 1983. Her remains were discovered near a canoe livery along the Tuscarawas River near Bolivar on August 6th. Investigators in that case found wax samples 62 feet away from her body. The wax was described as being yellow and had bodily fluids.
Pieces of wax were also found underneath the body. Massillon detectives went to Buell’s residence to search for evidence related to the case and found wax that was consistent with the wax found near and on Deborah’s body. Investigators said the evidence found indicates wax played a role in the sexual assault of Deborah and believe Buell was responsible for her abduction, rape, and murder.
Investigators haven’t found any information that links Buell to Tiffany’s case and have no evidence he was the one who abducted her. His crimes do show similarities to Tiffany’s disappearance and she matches the description of his known victims. Investigators stated they have no evidence that Buell was involved since Tiffany’s body hasn’t been found.
It’s also been suggested that Tiffany might’ve been a victim of the still unidentified Oakland Child Killer. The killer is believed to have killed various children in Oakland County, Michigan in the 1970s. The primary suspect in the killings is Ted Lamborgine and he apparently moved to Ohio right around the time that Tiffany disappeared. He settled in Parma Heights, Ohio which is just twelve minutes away from where Tiffany was abducted.
Tiffany also vanished in a very similar manner to two of the Oakland child killer victims. 10 year old Kristine Mihelich was last seen at a 7-11 store while purchasing a magazine and 11 year old Timothy King was last seen leaving a drugstore after purchasing candy. It’s also been noted that Tiffany physically resembles the female victims of the Oakland Child Killer. It’s unknown if the killer was involved.
Investigators have stated that the investigation into Tiffany’s presumed abduction remains open and they will continue to seek her whereabouts until her recovery. Her disappearance remains unsolved and foul play is suspected. Frank Papesh has since died.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Maple Heights Police Department 216-662-5884
Federal Bureau of Investigation 202-324-3000