The Morgan Violi Case: 19 years later

Published: Feb. 17, 2016 at 5:03 PM CST
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"It's a haunting case because it's such a horrific tragedy. I think we all put ourselves in the place 'what if it were my child' and as a community, it just drilled down to the core that this could actually happen in Bowling Green, Kentucky."

That's how former Bowling Green Police Chief, Bill Waltrip described Morgan Violi's case. It all began just after noon on July 24, 1996.

"Morgan and another little girl were walking from a play area that they had just inside some woods back towards Morgan's apartment when the perpetrator grabbed Morgan, put her in a van, and drove off with her," said FBI Special Agent Dick Glenn, the agent assigned to Morgan's case.

"I heard the scream, I came around. He was just sitting in the van. He smiled and the other little girl was running through the apartment buildings and I didn't ... I thought they were playing," said Morgan's oldest sister, Heather Coleman, who saw the kidnapping occur.

7-year-old Morgan Violi had been taken from the yard in front of her Bowling Green apartment complex in broad daylight.

"I'm the oldest. I told her go put on her shoes. And that was the last time I ever saw her," Heather told WBKO.

It was the same area her two older sisters were playing in at the time.

"When it first happened I just went to bed on my own and thought it was a bad dream, but you wake up and there's cops everywhere, strangers," Heather said.

Nikki Duff, the middle sibling between Heather and Morgan, agreed.

"I remember the exact same thing. I went to bed and thought it was a dream and when I woke up it obviously wasn't. "

The memories the family had before July 24, 1996 are good ones. Stacey Pulliam, Morgan's mother, remembers one thing in particular.

"Her smile. She was always smiling."

"She was beautiful, friendly, smart, and she was the best part of me," Heather added.

But in an instant, their world changed.

"I remember that like it was etched in my brain. Almost every minute of it. Days like that you don't forget," said Morgan's father, Glen Violi.

"She knew that she was loved. She knew her family loved her. She knew I did, those were my last words to her. I told her how proud I was to be her mom, those are the last words I said to her," Stacey recalled.

"We had to grow up at that point. There wasn't a whole lot of playing during that time," said Nikki.

The ongoing weeks and months left Morgan's family with lots of questions. Many of them still have no answers.

"There had to have been two. He drove. I mean I don't see her just … there had to have been two," Heather said, referring to Morgan's kidnapper.

"The van used in the abduction was stolen from a residence in Dayton, Ohio the day before the abduction and then it was abandoned at a truck stop in Franklin, Tennessee shortly thereafter. We recovered it 3 days later; 3 days after the abduction but we weren't able to forensically tie that van to the abduction until March of the following year," said Special Agent Glenn.

The family was left with an array of emotions.

"I'm afraid I've looked that person in the eye since then. I'm afraid that person might be a part of my life now and I don't know it. I mean I saw him, but I don't remember what he looked like," Nikki explained.

"It's hard to think about the good times because I was just so angry, because the face of a man that's imprinted in my brain, I can't ... he's changed me, he's changed my family. And it's the not knowing for three months, and still not knowing," Heather added.

"Responding to these type of calls, that's not anything out of the ordinary. But as it went on, the length of time, that was different," Waltrip said grimly.

3 months after the abduction, there was a break in the case. It was October 20 of 1996 when Morgan's body was found near a barn in White House, Tennessee, just across the state line. Today, the barn is gone, but the pain of those days is still very present.

"He just left her there," Morgan's mother said while crying.

"Obviously you wanted to find something. You did not want to find that, you know, you just keep your hopes open and that it wouldn't be that way," added Waltrip.

Glen Violi said from the moment he found out, he knew in his gut the outcome wouldn't be good, "I knew right there and then I was never going to see her again. You know? It was just a feeling."

To this day, no one has been arrested in connection with the abduction and murder of Morgan Violi.

"He didn't just take her. I mean, he took how we were supposed to be mothers, and sisters, a daughter. He took a lot," Heather said.

Stacey says every day since then has been a battle to get up and go on without Morgan.

"Some days I win that battle. Some days I don't. And it's a hard battle to fight. Every. Day."

Heather and Nikki are now parents to two children each. They say sometimes the realization that they've had to continue on without Morgan is difficult.

"It's hard to not know what her kids would be like. You know, we didn't get to see her grow up," said Nikki.

"As the years have gone by, it's a part of me. It's another entity and I've come to terms with that and it will always be a part of me," Stacey added.

"I just had my daughter. She's 37 days old today, I think. Her name is Charlotte Morgan; she's pretty," said Glen. He named his newborn after her older sister that she will never meet.

"Sometimes it feels like it was a completely separate life; it was a movie, a book, but there are a lot of times it feels like it was yesterday, where it feels so real," Nikki added.

But her family refuses to let Morgan be just another sad story.

"We want people to remember her. But we want people to remember her not just for what happened. She was a person," Nikki said.

"She was a beautiful little girl. And something very bad happened to her. And we miss her all the time. It doesn't get easier," Heather added.

"I lost faith, I lost the humanity part. But in this journey that I've got, that I'm in, I've met a lot of wonderful people," Stacey said.

Morgan's mother says one of those people was Special Agent Dick Glenn. He was assigned to her case in 1996, and nearly 20 years later he's still working to solve it.

"Does it make it harder to solve the case as time goes on? Probably. But we're not giving up on it. We hope we'll be able to catch the guy who did this," Agent Glenn said.

Once Morgan was kidnapped, speculation began about who could commit a crime like this. One of their top suspects at the time was Morgan's own father, Glen Violi.

"I lost my grip. What are you supposed to do?" Glen emotionally told WBKO.

"The amount of compassion was awesome. We also got a lot of talk ... a lot of gossip. It kind of tore us up. We constantly had to defend our parents," Heather said.

Glen and Stacey Violi (now Pulliam), were in the midst of a divorce when Morgan was taken. Glen was supposed to be at a custody hearing at the time of her abduction, which led to him becoming a person of interest in the case. Glen says it was a misunderstanding and his lawyer said he didn't have to be present for the hearing.

"I didn't realize I was supposed to be in court that day, that's not why I took off early, because I didn't even know I was supposed to be in court and that's kind of what a lot of people think 'oh he was supposed to be in court and now his kid turned up missing' and I can understand why people … especially the way it was presented to them. I pulled up in there [then Colony Apartments, now Ashton Parc Apartments] and I knew something was going on because there was police and just people everywhere. And she [Stacey] came over to me and she says 'somebody kidnapped Morgan' and I said 'what' 'they took Morgan' you know, and then she started, she was hysterical."

Violi says even though he was cleared of wrong-doing, it doesn't mean everyone believes it.

"There were a lot of people who ... there's still people that think I did it. I had members of my family thinking I was involved. My grandfather called me up demanding me to tell him where his granddaughter was."

After he was named a suspect, Glen says his life drastically changed.

"I got to the point where I was living in a building out back of my buddy’s house because I couldn't find a job, nobody wanted to work with me, nobody wanted anything to do with me because I was 'that guy'."

While some still have their doubts about Glen to this day, his daughters do not.

"I understand that people make mistakes, I know that they had problems, you know, do I blame them? Absolutely not. They didn't physically do it, I definitely know that," Nikki told WBKO. "Do I think my dad could do something to hurt her? Absolutely not. Absolutely not," Heather added.

Glen has his theories about the case as well.

"I firmly believe the only reason they didn't find out what happened was because they were too busy following me around."

The FBI is still working to try to pinpoint exactly who did kill Morgan Violi, but as time goes on, that job gets tougher.

"It gets harder and harder to establish someone's whereabouts 20 years later. It was hard enough right around the time of the crime with some people," Agent Glenn added. He says there had been progress, however.

"We've eliminated people as suspects and we continue to look at people as suspects and not just local. Whenever there's a child abduction anywhere in the United States that looks like it may have some similarities to this case then we try to take a look at it.'"

The FBI has done their share of local investigating as well. Even though Former Chief Bill Waltrip is retired, he says it's hard for law enforcement that work cases like this to let go, including him.

"You see another abduction, the incident that obviously just happened recently in Scottsville brings back all those memories, and I think most police officers do that. Do they hang on to everything that happens? No, but this is a case ... it would be difficult for anybody to let go."

"Recently something happened in our community, a community close to us [in reference to the November 2015 murder in Scottsville, KY], there was someone captured in that moment. I think that gives us a false sense of hope," Nikki said, she added that on some level, she understands what happened to that family as well. "You don't want to play the victim role. You don't want to have self-pity. But sometimes it's hard not to. Especially when you see stories and similar things have happened, I used to get obsessed with stories like that, because they're the only people that understand."

A crime that occurred in November 2015 in Scottsville raised lots of questions and comparisons to the Violi case. Morgan's two sisters looked the kidnapper in the eye nearly 2 decades ago. They don't believe the two incidents are connected.

"I did help with the sketches. And it was so much pressure to do right. I was afraid. I would remember and go back and remember and go back. There's times where I do see his face all the time. But I don't know. I can't say that if I saw him I would know him today. I mean it's been 20 years," Heather said.

"I think I want it to be [Timothy Madden, the suspect charged in the Scottsville murder]. But I don't think that it is. I pray that it is. But yeah, I don't think that we'll ever know," Nikki said.

The FBI says they couldn't ignore the similarities.

"Well I can't comment on any specific suspect, or individual that might become a suspect. Certainly Timothy Madden is someone you have to take a look at, based on the facts of the case that he's been charged with, but besides that I can't comment on the specifics of any individual suspect," Agent Glenn explained.

The family says time is not healer of all things.

"It doesn't heal anything. It's learning to adjust," Heather said.

Whether or not a suspect is ever arrested, it won't undo 19 years of hurt.

"I think there's some people that might say there's a little closure there, there's no closure, there's not. Even if someone is arrested, which I hope that that still happens," Waltrip said.

"I hope that he's living in his own hell. Because he's created hell for us," Nikki said.

But for Stacey, justice wouldn't be enough.

"There's not anything on this earth that we could do to this person so they could remotely feel how we feel. It's not going to bring her back. It's not going to make the last 19 years go away. It's not - for the rest of my life - there's no justice for that."

The FBI is still looking for the man behind Morgan Violi's abduction and murder. If you have any information related to this case, you can reach the FBI at (270) 781-4734.

 "She was a beautiful little girl. And something very bad happened to her. And we miss her all the time. It doesn't get easier."