Austin teen Sheila Cooks missing since 1979, family seeks answers

An Austin teen disappeared more than 35 years ago. Her family has been in agony, wondering what happened to her.

35 years have passed since Fredia Butler last heard from her sister Sheila Cooks.

"It's been, a long time," Butler said. "May 16, 1979, I was an employee with the City of Austin. I was a dispatcher."

Fredia remembers getting a call from Sheila around lunch time.

"My sister told me she needed a ride," Butler said.

Sheila, who was 18 at the time, had an appointment with her probation officer. The building still stands on the corner of Airport and 381/2 Street in East Austin.

She typically walked to the meetings with her older brothers. That day, her only option was to set off by herself. At the time, her favorite meal was on the stove. Fredia says her mother tried to get Sheila to eat before she left the house.

"Sheila said, 'no, I can't wait to get back here so I can eat momma. I'm going to eat those beans when I get back.' She never came. She never came," said Butler.

Eight hours later Fredia's mother was on her doorstep.

"She said 'Fredia, Sheila is not at home.' Immediately it was like I was hit by thunder. We jumped up. We knew that was not normal," she said. "We knew something happened, so we walked the way she would have walked, scan that area and start looking for Sheila on foot. I'll never forget that."

Sheila left her mother's home located at 1193 1/2 San Bernard. Her destination was two-and-a-half miles away at 1825 East 38 1/2 Street.

After re-tracing those steps, the family called police. Neighbors and church groups also searched.

Austin police investigated and learned that Sheila made her appointment. What happened after she left is a mystery.

"Something happened to Sheila. Something happened to her. Someone hurt her," said Butler.

Sheila was born in 1960, the fourth of ten children.

"She loved to dance, she really danced," said Butler.

She was fairly petite, standing 5'3" tall, but Fredia says her sister did not mess around. She was straight forward and tough.

"I'm thinking it could've been someone she knew, 'cause she wasn't an easy person. You just couldn't pick her up," said Butler.

So many years have gone by. Sheila's mother and father have since passed away. Fredia, the oldest sibling, is more determined than ever to find out what happened on that hot summer day in 1979.

"All we want is closure. We want a memorial. To bury our sister," she said. "I know she's out there. Somebody seen something, and I don't care how old they are. I want justice for this girl."

If you can help police solve this case call the APD Cold Case/ Missing Person Unit at 512-974-5250.