In January 1978, the sleepy town of Ocala in Florida was shaken by the disturbing murder of an 8-year-old. Trisa Thornley had left her school as usual but never reached home. However, about two months later, her body was found in a plastic bag. Ocala, with all its picturesque horse farms and meandering rivers, became national news three years before Ottis Toole kidnapped and murdered 6-year-old Adam Walsh in 1981, forever changing the nation’s treatment of missing children cases.
Investigation Discovery’s ‘On The Case With Paula Zahn: Terrifying Calls’ dives deep into the abduction and murder of Trisa and presents the various complexities of the case minutely. If you want to know the case details, the identity of the perpetrator as well as his current whereabouts, we got you covered. So let’s dive in, shall we?
How Did Trisa Thornley Die?
Trisa Gail Thornley was a free-spirited 8-year-old, who lived with her parents, James and Ann Thornley in the town of Ocala in Marion County, Florida. She was also quite close to her sister, Tracy or Traci. The third-grader was well loved by her friends and teachers, with her friend, Kelley Harriss reminiscing the last day she had spent with her. The two girls had slipped into one of the large closets of their classroom and played school.
Kelley said she played the student while Trisa posed as the teacher. She recounted that day as a happy and vibrant one, with Trisa even rewarding her with a comic and a gum machine ring on the pretense of Kelley earning good marks. On January 23, 1978, Trisa left school that day at around 2:30 pm to return home but never made it. With the missing complaint filed, a search party was launched. After weeks of scouring, Trisa’s body did not turn up.
However, over 50 days later, Trisa’s remains were found in a wooded area of the town. On March 15, 1978, three gopher hunters came across a naked and tied-up body of a little girl in a plastic bag in the forest area near Ocala Airport at Southwest 60th Street in Ocala. They informed the authorities, who arrived at the scene and identified it as little Trisa’s body. The medical examiners determined that the body was mutilated and she had been strangled.
Who Killed Trisa Thornley?
Initially, the police could not come up with any evidence or suspect who had been involved in the brutal murder. However, the parents of Trisa had received an obscene phone call that taunted them and asked them whether they wanted their little daughter back. The police were able to trace this call to Aubrey Dennis Adams Jr., who served as a correctional officer at Marion Correctional Institution at the time. As per reports, he was also a friend of the Thornley family.
Shocked and in tears, Trisa’s mother, Ann, stated, “She would have gone anywhere with Dennis.” The family also revealed that Adams and his now ex-wife also visited their residence more than once. The investigators were also able to obtain physical evidence from Adams’ vehicle and house that matched the evidence found at the crime scene. He was arrested in March 1978 based on the incriminating statements he made to the officers and circumstantial evidence.
In his written statements, Adams admitted he had offered Trisa a ride home that fateful day in his car. However, when he went off in a different direction, Adams said he remembered “being stopped somewhere and she was screaming and I put my hand over her mouth and she quit breathing.” His verbal confession also stated that he removed Trisa’s clothes and tied her hands with a rope he kept in his car so that her body fitted in the plastic bag. He denied engaging in any sort of sexual relationship with Trisa, saying he had considered it but could not bring himself to do it.
How Did Aubrey Dennis Adams Jr. Die?
In October 1978, Aubrey Dennis Adams Jr. was convicted of the first-degree murder of Trisa and was sentenced to death in January 1979 by a trial judge. He appealed, but the Florida Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and sentence. His motions for post-conviction relief and petition for writ of habeas corpus were declined by the Florida Supreme Court. Finally, on May 4, 1989, Adams was executed by electrocution in Marion County, Florida.
Aubrey Dennis Adams Jr. was reportedly the 21st person to die in Florida’s electric chair since it resumed executions in 1979. Trisa’s mother was present along with Trisa’s sister and other relatives outside the State Prison, where Adams breathed his last in the electric chair. She said, “He finally got what he deserved. Why did they drag this out like this? It’s just a relief. I’m so glad it’s over.”In his final statement, Adams wrote, ″I hope and pray that all the new and reopened wounds will be healed quickly after my passing.”