A waitress at a Houston strip club suddenly vanishes.
The Men's Club in Houston, Texas, is an upscale adult night spot. Tara Breckenridge waited tables there from 1989 to 1992. Tara grew up in Del Rio, Texas, and was the third of five children in a devoutly religious family. After high school, she arrived in Houston to pursue a career in photography. It wasn't long before the cost of big city living forced her to find another job. As a waitress at The Men's Club, Tara found the cash she needed. According to her friend, Gina Goldrup, The Club never fit Tara's personality:
"Tara wasn't the type of person you would think would work in a place like that. It was more just for the money, you know, she was going to school and stuff. So it made her the money that she was comfortable with and she was happy with that."
When Tara Breckenridge arrived in Houston, she was no different than thousands of small town girls with big city dreams. But for Tara, the dream may have ended in a horrible nightmare. In 1992, she vanished without a trace. The police and her parents believed Tara was murdered. And high on the list of possible suspects was Tara's boyfriend at the time, a young man named Wayne Hecker.
Wayne and Tara had met two years after Tara arrived in Houston. Even though Tara never danced at The Men's Club, Wayne was less than thrilled with her job:
"She was working before I met her in those kinds of places. And she loved the money and she loved the atmosphere and I guess that's just something you won't grow out of. And I'm not going to tell her where to work."
Despite Wayne's concerns, he and Tara moved in together. At first, they seemed happy. But according to Tara's mother, Betty, the romance did not last:
"Tara and Wayne's relationship was kind of rocky to say the least. She was always talking about moving out or thinking about moving. And we would discuss it and she would say she needed to talk it over with him and, occasionally we talked about her doing it without talking it over first."
Tara's job at The Men's Club distracted her from the problems with Wayne. But on the night of August 3, 1992, Tara did something that remains unexplained. It was a slow night and the management decided to send two waitresses home early. When the manager asked for volunteers to end their shift early, Tara volunteered to leave. According to Hal Naumann, the former manager of The Men's Club, it was strangely out of character:
"It would be a little unusual for Tara to ask to go home. She wasn't always interested in leaving. She was there until 2:00 o'clock to... make as much money as she could. Tara... walked past the doorman without saying goodbye... or without responding to his goodbye. And that would have been unusual."
The security guard at the club told police that he walked Tara to her car and that she drove off without incident. Wayne Hecker later told the police that, at the moment Tara was leaving The Men's Club, he was in a pool hall fifteen minutes away. Wayne said he called Tara earlier that evening, but never spoke to her:
"I didn't really think anything at that time and they told me that she was on the floor. I probably got home around five and I expected to see Tara either lying on the sofa or in bed and she wasn't there. So at that point... I went to find her."
At 7:00 the next morning, Wayne found Tara's car abandoned on a busy freeway:
"When I saw the car, the first thing that came to my mind was what is it doing there. Apparently she drove the car there. The car alarm wasn't even on. The flashers weren't even on, and that really surprised me."
According to Wayne, the car was locked and a can of mace was inside:
"She always carried her mace on her and when I saw the mace in the car, I thought, why is the mace in the car and why aren't the flashers on. And why was the car, we did have a car alarm, why wasn't it engaged?"
Police feared that Tara was a victim of foul play. It wasn't long before suspicion began to center on Wayne Hecker. Sergeant Brad Rudolph of the Houston Police Department, interrogated Wayne and was especially curious about his activities the night Tara disappeared:
"We have employees of the club that indicated that he left the club at approximately midnight and was next seen at approximately 1:45 in the morning."
The pool hall is located fifteen minutes from The Men's Club. Tara's car was found about three miles from the club. According to witnesses, Wayne was gone from the pool hall for a full hour and forty-five minutes. But with no concrete evidence of foul play, Tara was officially listed as missing.
When police obtained a series of love notes indicating there was another man in Tara's life, they thought there might be a break in the case. One note said, "Please don't be scared. Do what your heart tells you. I'm very excited that you'll marry me." But, then another one said, "The more you hold out, the longer you jeopardize what I feel for you." According to co-workers at the club, Tara's secret admirer was a frequent visitor who lavished her with hundred dollar tips. He apparently had intimate knowledge of her difficulties with Wayne. But according to Sergeant Rudolph, the notes seemed to indicate that Tara rejected the man's advances:
"There was nothing threatening in those notes. We interviewed the individual. Our opinion at this point is he was just an individual that had an attraction toward Tara and nothing more."
But if Tara's admirer was not a suspect, who was? Once again, a shadow of doubt was cast upon Wayne Hecker, who still maintained his innocence:
"I haven't been charged with a crime. No, not at all. I loved the woman to death. She's the best thing that ever happened to me. She's a great girl. Yeah, I do, I love her, I love her with all my heart. And I hope the whole world hears that. I did not commit a crime so I cannot be charged with one. It's as simple as that."
Other than her abandoned car, no trace of Tara Breckenridge has ever been found. Tara is 5'5" tall and weighs 120 pounds. She has a small scar under the left side of her lower lip, a scar under her left arm, and a scar on her left side.