‘She was mine. And I lost her.’ A full account of Sabrina Long’s 1991 disappearance

Cold Case: ‘Come clean,’ mom of missing Sabrina Long urges accused kidnapper

The Oct. 18, 2018, arrest of Melinda McSwain in the 1991 disappearance of Sabrina Long from Macon, Ga., prompts Long’s mother to urge McSwain to “come clean” about what she knows about the 19-year-old’s vanishing 27 years ago.
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The Oct. 18, 2018, arrest of Melinda McSwain in the 1991 disappearance of Sabrina Long from Macon, Ga., prompts Long’s mother to urge McSwain to “come clean” about what she knows about the 19-year-old’s vanishing 27 years ago.

The Disappearance of Sabrina Long

In the wake of her vanishing in the summer of 1991, her family feared the worst. Now on the heels of an arrest in the case on Oct. 18, 2018, this Telegraph story from May 3, 1992, offers a full account of events around the time 19-year-old Southwest High School graduate Sabrina Leigh Long went missing.

It was a muffled thump. Like someone was pounding on a wooden wall or slamming a car door.

Susan Land was in bed. She heard the noise. It seemed to come from the side of her house. Somewhere close.

“It beat a couple of times and then it stopped,” she recalled of the night Sabrina Long, her neighbor from across the street, disappeared.

Land sent her husband, Jimmy, to see what it was. He didn’t see a thing.

“Sometimes,” Susan Land told a Telegraph reporter a few months after Long vanished, “Sabrina would come flying across the yard and knock on our door when she got scared or something. But that was back when her sister was there and they were alone.”

Thinking back, Land wonders if the sounds she heard around 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 14, 1991, were made by the 19-year-old Long trying to elude an attacker. She also realizes it is possible that the sounds had nothing to do with the teenager’s disappearance. Land may never know for sure.

But someone does. They know if Sabrina is alive or if she is dead. They know how, why and if the 1990 Southwest High School graduate left the house where she and her stepfather lived eight and a half months ago, taking with her nothing more than a set of keys and the clothes she was wearing.

As far as her family and friends know, Sabrina’s life dead-ends there at her stepdad’s place — at 4454 Ashland Drive, three houses outside the Macon city limits.

The night she disappeared, she was staying alone.

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The house where Sabrina Long lived with her stepfather when she vanished in August 1991 as seen in a Telegraph photo in the months after her disappearance.

Her trail vanished in a three-page love note. It was written to her boyfriend, Scott Bradford, in the wee hours of Aug. 14. She wrote that she looked forward to cooking lasagna for him two nights later.

Around the same time, sometime after midnight, Sabrina called her mother and told her that she was going to see a friend who lived a couple of houses away. Sabrina said she would call her mother back in half an hour. If she didn’t call back, Sabrina said her mother should call her.

“I told her I was asleep and wouldn’t be awake then,” Sue Corley, 43, recalled in early 1992. “She was a little disgusted, but said, ‘OK.’”

Corley’s phone would not ring again that night, and Corley never called her oldest daughter back.

Sabrina’s neighbor, James Prince, was in bed next door. His bedroom window was open to the late-summer, 74-degree midnight air. The window lies less than 60 feet from the carport of the house where Sabrina and her 39-year-old stepfather, Charles Daniel “Danny” Corley, lived.

Danny Corley had been out late that night and didn’t return until after 3 a.m.

Prince and his wife, Louise, had watched the 11 o’clock news on TV and gone to sleep. They heard nothing unusual outside.

“It’s all a mystery to us,” Louise Prince said.

“And,” her husband added, “you can’t count anybody out.”

Investigators suspect the worst.

“This is like the earth opened up, she fell in it and it closed back up,” Bibb County sheriff’s Lt. Mike Smallwood said. “By her not going and picking up her paycheck or calling in sick for work, after 24 hours we felt there was foul play.”

Investigators still do.

Said Smallwood: “I’d love to know where she is.”

‘The most beautiful person’

Sabrina Leigh Long had dark hair and blue eyes. She was a voluble young woman with a big smile, but she worried about what people thought of her. Her makeup and shoulder-length brown hair had to be just right before she would go out.

Born in Memphis, she enjoyed Mexican food, horseback riding and reading V.C. Andrews novels. Sometimes she thought about becoming an elementary school English teacher. Other times she dreamed of a modeling career. Friends once took playful pictures of her posing while holding household products the way a model might.

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Sabrina Long playfully models a soft drink in an undated family photo. Special to The Telegraph

Her boyfriend, Scott Bradford, said, “She’d see people on TV making thousands of dollars and she said, ‘I’d like to do that.’ ”

She had a job cutting packaging labels for linen products at The Bibb Company. The fact that she never picked up her final paycheck is but one of the things that has puzzled Bradford.

“She had made too many plans,” he said. “She was wanting to get another car. If she’s run off, why didn’t she wait another day and get her paycheck? Why’d she leave her pocketbook and everything? I don’t know about many girls, but Sabrina Long would not even go out in the front yard and be gone for very long without her pocketbook.”

Sabrina’s mid-size 1985 GMC pickup truck wasn’t running the night she vanished. She had instead been driving Bradford’s Camaro. He had been staying at an out-of-town friend’s house and was using his friend’s truck to get around.

After work on the night of Aug. 13, Sabrina drove the Camaro to the house where Bradford was staying. It was about 11:30. Bradford then drove Sabrina home in the friend’s truck.

Bradford told investigators that after walking Sabrina to the door that “we hugged and kissed. She told me that she loved me. I told her I loved her.” Then he drove away.

It would be the last time anyone is known to have seen her.

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Sabrina Long in an undated family photo. Special to The Telegraph

Bradford mentioned to the police that Sabrina had told him about a middle-of-the-night phone call she received from a man in the weeks before her disappearance. Bradford said the unknown caller “just started carrying on a conversation with her, you know, ‘Are you dating anybody? Would you go out with me?’ ... She said she didn’t think nothing about it.”

But that was Sabrina. She would talk to most anyone about anything.

Her neighbor, Susan Land, said Sabrina “told me everything — personal stuff that would blow your mind. She couldn’t keep things to herself.”

But Land says there was nothing Sabrina told her that points to what may have happened to Sabrina.

“We’re really hoping she just got fed up with things around here and took off,” Land said. “But when kids disappear, isn’t there a clue or something left out in the yard? Something?”

Not in Sabrina’s case.

Bradford, her boyfriend, told The Telegraph six months after her vanishing that the disappearance was an emotional struggle for him.

“To be honest with you, I lost somebody that was very dear to me. I’m not trying to sound mean or anything, but I’m trying to get on with my life,” he said. “Everybody says you’ll meet that one person in your life. She was mine. And I lost her. ... She was the most beautiful person in the world. And I’m living with the memory of the girl I had.”

‘No sign of struggle’

There was a beep on Charles Corley’s answering machine at 11:28 p.m. on Aug. 13. The caller left no message.

Corley can only wonder if there is any connection to the incoming call and Sabrina’s disappearance.

When he returned home in the small hours of Aug. 14 after visiting a friend in Warner Robins, he figured Sabrina had already gone to sleep.

“There was no sign of struggle in the house,” Corley said. “The only thing that’s missing is her keys. And the door was locked on the house.”

Nearly a full day would pass before he learned that Sabrina had not shown up at her job. But it was not out of the ordinary for him not to keep up with Sabrina. After a falling out with her mother, Sabrina had moved in with Danny Corley.

She was “an open person on the outside, with her friends,” he said, but she was “very reserved” in private.

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A front-page story published in The Telegraph in May 1992 in the months after Sabrina Long went missing.

“She had a private side to her life that I had no idea of. ... Me and Sabrina talked in passing,” Corley added. “We didn’t really sit down and talk.”

People close to her say she felt fairly comfortable living with the man her mother divorced. Danny and Sue Corley, who married in the early 1980s, split up in June 1990.

In the months before she disappeared, Sabrina had needed a place to stay after moving out of her mom’s place. Danny Corley let her stay at his place pretty much rent-free. She paid for her own telephone line and some of the groceries.

“She loved it when I would would cook something she liked like beef stew,” her stepfather recalled.

Danny Corley is a husky man with a thick black beard. He lives in a clean but cluttered one-story house at the bottom end of Ashland Drive, which runs south of Rocky Creek Road near the Bloomfield curve in deep southwest Macon.

He spent a year in Vietnam while serving in the Army and later worked as a retail manager at Western Auto. Unemployed now and on workers compensation, he says he had been in therapy for depression before and after Sabrina went missing.

That was 263 days ago.

Now Sabrina is another of the 364 people reported missing and never found in Georgia in 1991. She was last seen in a flower-print, dark-blue dress. She also had on a gold necklace. Her 20th birthday was in November.

‘Mama, are you asleep?’

The phone beside Sue Corley’s bed rang sometime after midnight.

There in the predawn hours of Aug. 14, Sue Corley answered.

It was Sabrina.

It was either 12:30 a.m. or 1:30 a.m.

But Sue Corley was groggy and can’t remember for sure what time it was.

What she does recall is what Sabrina said.

“Hey, mama, are you asleep?”

“Yeah, baby, I am.”

The talked for maybe two minutes.

Sabrina said she was going across the street to help her high school friend Keith Loyd set up some sort of birthday gift for his mother.

Sue Corley would later tell a Telegraph reporter, “I’d have been over there in my car no matter what time it was if I’d thought she was in any danger. ... I wasn’t worried about her being with Keith.”

Loyd, the friend Sabrina was supposedly going to see, says he never asked Sabrina to come over that night.

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Keith Loyd in a 1988 Southwest High School yearbook photo.

Loyd told The Telegraph, “When I found out she said she was coming to see me, it was like, ‘What?’”

Loyd, 21, a keyboard player in a local band named Scotland Yard, said he had been out that night with his girlfriend. He said he returned home between 1 and 1:30 a.m.

He figures Sabrina may have been trying to warn her mother without alarming her, that Sabrina may have been going somewhere she felt uncomfortable going and that she wanted someone to be aware she was out.

Sue Corley can only wonder.

“One week I think it’s this person,” she said. “The next week I think it’s somebody else. ... I just don’t know what to think anymore.”

Sue Corley, who is 5 feet, 8 inches tall, looks like a slimmed down version of Sabrina. Sometimes she wanders into the woods near her house in southern Bibb County. She goes there and, out of frustration, she screams.

“I can’t say, ‘OK, nobody can find her and I’ve got to give up.’ I can’t,” she said.

A love letter

Danny Corley found the love note in his living room.

The note had been left next to Sabrina’s high school yearbook.

It sounded nothing like a solemn farewell. Its words were those of a young woman in love. Investigators believe Sabrina wrote it the night she vanished, sometime after Scott Bradford dropped her off at home because in it Sabrina mentions “The Arsenio Hall Show,” which aired between 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.

She also wrote about how much she cared for Bradford. The note was for him. Sabrina said she had something special planned for him — that lasagna dinner:

I really want to cook for you Friday. I’ve also got a surprise for you. If you do change your mind, please let me know before I buy all the stuff. ... I gotta go read before I go to sleep. I love you so very much Scott!

She signed her name beneath a squiggly-drawn heart. But she never gave Bradford the letter and she never gave him the surprise. Sabrina Long disappeared.