On the morning of Monday, September 13th, 1984, Debbi Carlson gave her 8-year-old daughter, Vicki, permission to ride her bike to the mailbox to mail her aunt a birthday card. This was the first time Debbi had allowed any of her children to go anywhere on their own without using the “buddy system”.
After approximately 20 minutes, Carlson had sent Vicki’s 11-year-old sister, Stephanie, to look for her. Instead, what Stephanie found was Vickie’s bike lying on the side of the road, a few blocks away from the house, about a block from their elementary school. Carlson took the bike home and called the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
Detective Gary Dhaemers responded to the Carlson household, with a commander center set up a few hours later.
After interviewing a number of possible witnesses, Detective Dhaemers, met with a coach at the elementary school, Sam Hall, who noticed a suspicious looking vehicle parked in an alley behind the school that fateful day, while supervising a bunch of students playing. He noticed the driver was making strange gestures and struggling with the stick shift in his vehicle. Hall memorized the license plate until he was able to write it down on a notepad to report it later. He gave the plate number to the police as soon as he heard Vickie went missing. Another interview said they observed the vehicle back into a telephone pole, and a little girl had witnessed the same driver making obscene gestures to her as he cruised by her house.
The plate number led to 28-year-old, Frank Jarvis Atwood Jr., of Los Angeles. After running a background check, police found he was previously convicted of kidnapping and child molestation charges, and currently on parole in California. Police arrived on the doorstep of his last known residence, the home of his parents, Frank Jarvis Atwood Sr., a retired Army brigadier general, and his wife. Within a few hours Atwood Jr. called his parents, asking them to wire him some money to fix his car while stranded in Texas.
His mother wrote down the exact address in Kerrville, Texas where her son awaited to get his transmission fixed. His father drove down to a nearby payphone and reported his son’s whereabouts to the FBI. On September 20th, 1984, agents from the FBI’s Texas bureau, swarmed the small desolate mechanic shop where Atwood, and his traveling partner, James McDonald were waiting, and impounded the car.
During questioning, Atwood admitted to investigators that he was in Vickie Hoskinson’s neighborhood, the day she went missing and stayed at a nearby park. He mentioned buying some drugs at about 3pm, and returned to the park about 5p, but didn’t account for what happened in that two-hour gap. McDonald corroborated Atwood’s story of when he left and returned but mentioned that Atwood had returned with bloodstains on his hands and clothes. Atwood told McDonald he had gotten into a fight with his dealer and stabbed him. Investigators found two men, one known as “Mad Dog”, who claimed Atwood stayed with them for two nights in their trailer. He also witnessed Atwood’s blood-stained hands and clothing, suggesting getting rid of them. Atwood also told them that he stabbed a double-crossing drug dealer.
With no physical evidence inside the car linking Vickie’s disappearance to Atwood, investigators noticed a small detail on the front bumper of Atwood’s vehicle, a small pink paint transfer, matching the color of Vickie’s bike. Accident reconstruction experts were able to confirm the paint was a match, as well damage to the vehicle’s gravel pan to one of the bike pedals. Traces of nickel plating from the bike were also found on the bumper. Investigators also returned to the scene where Vickie’s bike was found and found damage to the mailbox consistent with the height of Atwood’s sports car, and believed this where Vickie was allegedly struck at a slow speed. The bloodstained clothes Atwood allegedly wore that day, were never recovered.
Ten days after Vickie Hoskinson’s disappearance, Frank Jarvis Atwood Jr. was formally charged and arrested with one count kidnapping. A month after the disappearance, Atwood was returned to Arizona to stand trial. The trial was moved from Tucson to Phoenix due to the publicity that had formed in the the wake. Jury selection took six weeks, and bail was denied. On December 23rd, 1984, Atwood pleaded “not guilty” to kidnapping.
On April 12, 1985, just shy of seven months since Vickie’s disappearance, a hiker in the Tucson desert found a small human skull about 20 miles from where the bike was found. Animals had scattered the remains. Dental records confirmed it was the missing girl, but due to their conditioned state, the cause of death, nor any evidence of sexual abuse could not be determined. Traces of adipocere found on the skull placed the body’s time in the desert within 48 hours since the disappearance.
Atwood was indicted, found guilty of first-degree murder, and sentenced to die on May 8th, 1987. While on death row, Atwood had been baptized, gotten married, obtained two associate degrees, a bachelor’s degree in English/pre-law, and Master’s in literature. He has written six books, five of which were published. As of 2012, he was one of the longest seated prisoners on death row. He maintains his innocence, claiming police tampered with the evidence found on his car, and no physical evidence was ever found. Atwood has repeatedly appealed an official review of his case, which have also repeatedly been denied.