Chicago, IL

In 2001, a single mom left two sisters home alone. She returned to find a bizarre note and a shocking voicemail.

Fatim Hemraj
Tionda and Diamond BradleyPhoto byChicago Tribune

Tracey Bradley, a single mother of four, lived in Chicago, Illinois with her four daughters. Her eldest child, 10-year-old Tionda Bradley, was a vibrant, sassy girl with a passion for dance and gymnastics. Tionda adored her half-sister, 3-year-old Diamond Bradley, who was shy and had an infectious smile.

Tionda was often left to take care of her siblings while their mother worked. Tracey told Tionda she was not allowed to leave the apartment or open the door for anyone, under any circumstances.

However, one summer morning in 2001, Tionda left with Diamond and never returned home.

On July 6, 2001, at 4:30 am, Tracey started getting ready for work. Her on-and-off boyfriend, and Diamond's father, George Washington, came by, spent some time with Tracey, and dropped her off at work at 6 am. The last time Tracey saw Tionda and Diamond, they were asleep in their beds. Her two other children, Victoria and Rita, had spent the night with their grandmother, Martha.

While at work, Tracey called home three times between 7 and 8 am but there was no answer. Sometime between 11 and 11:30 am, she returned home from work only to discover that Tionda and Diamond were gone. While frantically searching the apartment, Tracey found a note written by Tionda that said the girls were going to a store called Jewel Osco followed by a trip to the playground.

The note didn't clarify which playground, however, it was assumed that Tionda meant the playground at Doolittle Elementary where she was enrolled for summer classes but had not attended that day.

Tracey went to Jewel Osco and the playground, but Tionda and Diamond weren't there. She checked with neighbors and relatives but no one had seen or heard from them. Tracey and her sister, Faith, searched the neighborhood for seven hours before Tracey finally reported the girls missing at 7 pm.

What ensued was a massive search. Dogs, helicopters, and dive teams were deployed but the girls were nowhere to be found. 5,000 abandoned buildings were searched, to no avail.

Tracey later discovered that Tionda had left her a voicemail at 8:17 am that morning. Tionda stated that "George" was at the door and asked for permission to leave the apartment because he wanted to take the girls out to get them a birthday cake; their sister Victoria's birthday was coming up.

What remains unclear is whether Tionda was referring to her mother's boyfriend or a neighbor who was also named George and sometimes babysat the girls. However, the family believes that Tionda was referring to Tracey's boyfriend because the girls always referred to the neighbor by an unknown nickname. George Washington denied returning to the apartment after he dropped Tracey off at work.

A handwriting analyst for the FBI determined that the note was indeed written by Tionda, however, the family believes she was forced to write it because the spelling and grammar were perfect and did not match how Tionda usually spoke. They believe she was told what to write and how to write it.

George W. did not participate in the searches for the girls and it was discovered that he argued with Tracey shortly before they vanished; George did not believe that he was Diamond's biological father, and took a paternity test. The results arrived weeks earlier and proved he was her father.

Shortly before the sisters disappeared, George told Tracey that he was planning a camping trip for the four of them. It was supposed to take place a few days later. However, it was later discovered that the trip was fake. George had not made any reservations nor had he prepared for a camping trip.

On July 12, the authorities found a receipt in George's home for a pack of 42-gallon garbage bags, gardening gloves, neoprene gloves, and bleach, purchased one day after Tionda and Diamond went missing. 5 garbage bags were missing and the gardening gloves were nowhere to be found.

Several witnesses said they saw George burn something in a 55-gallon drum in his backyard, put it in his trunk, and drive away. Hair belonging to the girls was found in the trunk. George said he often took them to a drive-in movie theatre and had them hide in the trunk to avoid paying for their tickets. George denied owning a drum. He agreed to take a polygraph test, and it came back inconclusive.

George Washington was never officially named a POI nor was he detained in connection with the case due to the fact that all of the evidence against him was purely circumstantial.

The search for Tionda and Diamond Bradley continues. Today, Tionda would be 32 and Diamond would be 25 years old. If you have any information, come forward and help a family find closure A $30,000 reward is available.

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