This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
Over three decades ago, Barbara Ann Smith called her older sister Gloria Tyson to tell her she was enrolling in a vocational school and leaving the streets behind to provide a better life for her children.
However, a week after the good news, Barbara’s body was found in the parking lot of Van Buren Elementary School in Stockton, California. The date was August 17, 1991. Barbara was 28 years old and seven months pregnant with a little girl who would have been her eighth child.
After Barbara’s body was found, Gloria was informed by the police that Barbara was murdered. She had been bludgeoned to death with an unknown object. She had foot imprints on her pregnant stomach. She was only wearing a pair of socks and was likely killed 12-24 hours before her body was discovered.
“They let me see my sister at the mortuary. The sight of her body that day has been stuck in my head forever. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about it,” said Gloria.
Gloria had been fearful for years that she would receive a call from the police that Barbara was murdered due to the type of people associated with her. Barbara had a hard time finding a role model and turned to the streets where she found most of her friends. She was lonely and depressed at that time and her friends helped her cope with the pain by giving her drugs. “When you have no role models, you looked towards the streets. That ended up putting her on the path of drugs,” said Gloria Tyson.
Barbara was a shy girl who grew up in Stockton, California. She was a petite woman at just under five feet tall. She was a friendly and kind person who had fun playing outside with her friends and family. Barbara’s favorite genre of music was R&B, with her favorite artist being Whitney Houston. She loved Whitney’s voice and danced to her music. Barbara was a caring person who always had a smile on her face. She was the type of person who would give the shirt off her back to anyone, according to Gloria. Barbara dropped out of high school and had her first child at the age of 16.
Growing up, Barbara was unable to see Gloria every day because they had different moms and lived in different houses. Gloria was always protective of Barbara because Barbara was the baby of the family. During her times of trouble, Barbara tried to avoid Gloria because she did not want her to see she was involved in illegal activities. Gloria moved a few hours away due to Stockton’s high crime rate. At the time this article was written, according to Neighborhood Scout, Stockton has more crime than 94% of other cities in the United States. Gloria found it difficult to get in touch with her sister at the time because people did not own cell phones, and phone numbers constantly changed. Living a couple of hours away also made it hard to contact her sister.
Barbara decided to turn her life around for her children. Her two oldest daughters were the only children living with her towards the end of her life. Her other children were living in foster care. Gloria said that Barbara was proud of herself for deciding to go back to school. Barbara was hoping that going back to school would eventually lead to her being able to have all her kids living with her.
After the murder, Gloria lost contact with Barbara’s children. One of Barbara’s daughters got in contact with Gloria decades later to learn more about her mother. However, Gloria lost communication with the daughter because the daughter moved to a different state.
Gloria wants to ensure that her sister’s story does not go unheard. She does her best to stay in contact with the detective who is currently on the case. She also hopes that her sister’s story can reconnect her with Barbara’s children to form new relationships.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Barbara Ann Smith, please call the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office at 209-946-0600.
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