Robertson County: Morgan Violi

Feb 26, 2018 at 12:00 pm by Michelle Willard

Morgan Violi

In July 1996, Morgan Violi was one of three girls abducted from Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky.

Morgan was playing in the parking lot of her apartment complex in Bowling Green, Kentucky when she was snatched in broad daylight by a man in a van.

Three days later the van was found in Franklin, Tennessee and three months later her body was found just over the state line in a barn in White House, Tenn. Both her home and where she was found are close to Interstate 65.

The other girls who were abducted were 4-year-old Lucy Meadows from Madison and 9-year-old Jackie Beard from Clarksville.

Investigators do not believe the disappearances are connected. Mostly because Beard's killer, William Glenn Rogers was arrested three days after her disappearance on July 8, 1996. He was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to death.

But Morgan's killer has never been found.

An interesting fact, brothers Brad and Matt Schultz from band Cage the Elephant lived in the same apartment complex at the time of Morgan's abduction and have said it impacted them greatly. The song “Sweetie Little Jean” is based on her disappearance. 

The Victim

Morgan Jade Violi, 7, was nearly 4 feet tall with brown hair and hazel eyes July 24, 1996, when she was abducted.

Her mother described her as "always smiling." Her sister Heather Coleman called her "beautiful, friendly, smart" and "the best part of me" in an interview with WBKO in 2016.

In the same interview, her father Glen Violi said his daughter's disappearance has left an indelible mark on his brain. "Days like that you don't forget," he said, adding Morgan knew she was loved.

Heather said the kidnapper took more than her sister that day. "He took how we were supposed to be mothers, and sisters, a daughter. He took a lot," she said.

The Crime

Shortly after noon on July 24, 1996, Morgan was brazenly snatched from the parking lot of the Bowling Green apartment complex where she lived with her mother and sisters.

According to news reports at the time, Morgan was outside playing with a friend when a man in a burgundy or dark red van from the late 1970s or early 1980s pulled up.

First he tried to grab her friend. Then he grabbed Morgan, tossed her into the van and drove off.

"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," Morgan's oldest sister Heather Coleman said in an interview with WBKO. 

The abduction launched an intensive search by the FBI that included tracking dogs, the family erected billboards and the community came together to try to find the missing girl. But Morgan wasn't found until Oct. 20, 1996, in a different state.

Her skeletal remains were found in what was described as both a ravine or a ditch about 15 miles south of the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Items and hair found at the scene were consistent with Morgan, according to news reports at the time.

Evidence suggested the remains had been "in the field for some time," investigators said.

The Suspects

The man driving the van was described in two different ways. The first description was a white man in his 20s with short blond hair. The second was a white middle-aged man with short curly hair.

The van used in the abduction was stolen from a home in Ohio and found abandoned three days later at a truck stop in Franklin, Tennessee. The TBI didn't publicly connect it with Morgan's kidnapping until March 1997.

Police are stilling looking for a second van that was spotted July 25, 1996, near the old barn in Robertson County where Morgan's remains were found. It is described as a late 1970s white Ford van with a slatted window on the side, according to the Robertson County Sheriff. It had a stolen Ohio state license plate. 

The van was parked about 100 feet from the ravine where her remains were found Oct. 20, 1996, for about four hours.

While evidence points in a different direction, others still believe Morgan's father had a hand in her disappearance.

The abduction happened the same day her mother, Stacey Violi (now Pulliam), was awarded custody of Morgan and her two sisters in a divorce from Morgan's father, Glen.

He was supposed to be in court for the custody hearing at the time of the kidnapping but didn't show, which made him a person of interest. Glen Violi explained his divorce attorney had told him he didn't have to be in court that day.

The timing made investigators suspicious but Violi passed a polygraph. This kept him from being named a suspect.

Even though more than 20 years have passed, the FBI, TBI and Kentucky Department of Criminal Investigation continue to investigate the case.

"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," FBI Special Agent Dick Glenn told WBKO in 2016.

Anyone with information on Morgan Violi's abduction and murder can reach the FBI at 270-781-4734. Tips can also be submitted to Robertson County Sheriff's Detective Don Bennett at 615-384-7971 or the Bowling Green Police Department at 270-393-4244.