Tami Lynn Leppert didn’t seek out fame, it sought out her. The winner of some 280 beauty pageants by the time she 16, she was competing from the age of just four and appeared to be on a track to stardom, whether she liked it or not.
Guided by her theatrical and modelling agent mother, Linda Curtis, Leppert’s big break finally came as an 18-year-old, when she was cast in Brian De Palma’s Scarface remake starring Al Pacino.
It was a small part, with Leppert’s character essentially on hand to distract Steven Bauer’s Manny whilePacino’s Tony Montana was beset by chainsaw-wielding Colombian drug dealers.
Yet it could have led to bigger and better things for Leppert. Ultimately, we’ll never know. On July 6, 1983, Leppert disappeared.
Retracing The Steps
To try and make sense of Leppert’s sudden disappearance, you have to go back a year to July of 1982 and the comedy Spring Break. Leppert had landed a part in the movie, a by-the-numbers sex comedy that nevertheless proved a box office success.
When filming wrapped, the 17-year-old Leppert headed off to a weekend party, unchaperoned and eager to bask in the success of completing work on her first major motion picture. But when she returned, it was clear to those around her that something had changed.
“Sometimes I’d ask her, what was on her mind, if anything was bothering her,” close friend Wing Flannagan recalled. “And she’d usually change the subject or she’d say oh, nothing you know and then try to laugh it off.”
There was nothing funny about Leppert’s behaviour though, with the youngster cutting an increasingly edgy, paranoid figure. Her mother, Linda, recalls one particularly unnerving conversation between the pair:
“She said Mom, what would you say if I told you somebody was trying to kill me. I just took a deep breath, and I said, do you think somebody’s trying to kill you, Tami? She said, yes.”
Leppert isolated herself at home, with friends and family alike struggling to separate her apparentparanoid delusions from any real fears.
Then, out of nowhere, she was offered a small part in Scarface and the chance to head out to Miami for filming. It represented the ideal opportunity to force Leppert out of her shell and while out there, she could also stay with Walter Liebowitz, a close family friend living there.
Initially, everything was going well with Scarface. Then, out of the blue, four days into shooting Liebowitz received a phone call from the casting director on set. Leppert had had a breakdown on set during a scene in which someone is supposed to be shot, prompting artificial blood to spurt out.
“They said when Tami was watching the scene, she started crying hysterically and it got so bad that they had to take her to a trailer,” Liebowitz recalled. “She was in a tremendous state of fear, anxiety… What it was that caused this great fear in her I don’t know.”
Leppert was allowed to leave the project early with her character, one some claim originally had lines, reduced to little more than an extra in the finished version of the film.
The Last Days
Leppert returned home and, at the insistence of her mother, spoke to a local sheriff. She made no mention of her paranoia though and soon return to the house and the same cycle of fear and confusion commenced.
Some days she would behave like the old Tami fun and carefree, while other days saw her run rampant with paranoid claims that someone was trying to poison her. Was she suffering from some sort of mental disorder or simply covering for something more dark and disturbing?
Things came to a head on July 1 when Leppert began smashing all the windows in her house and attacking friends and family. Her mother, Linda, checked her in to a mental health centre for psychiatric evaluation and over the next 72 hours was was carefully assessed..
However, the authorities could find no evidence of drug or alcohol use and, with little reason to hold her against her will, Leppert was released. A day later, she disappeared.
According to Detective Jim Skragg of the Cocoa Beach, Florida Police Department, Leppert had hitched a ride to the local beach earlier that day on July 6. The two soon began arguing though and Leppert eventually asked to be dropped off.
Left five miles from her home, barefoot and carrying no purse, it remains the last time Leppert was seen alive, with multiple theories surrounding her disappearance.
Several high profile serial killers, on the loose at the time, were linked with her disappearance in the years that followed.
Christopher Wilder was responsible for the deaths of several young women in the region and was being sued by Leppert’s family before being killed by police in 1984.
Convicted kidnapper and rapist John Crutchley, who was suspected of killing up to 30 women, was also in the frame for the crime but committed suicide in prison back in 2002 without confessing to the crime.
There were theories that claimed she may have been three months pregnant, or was murdered due to her knowledge of underground trafficking rings operating in the local area with rumours abound that she may have even filed a report to the police.
Friends saw otherwise, claiming that Tami confided in them that her home life was difficult.
Yet the police and Leppert’s family still have no answers. Though her DNA profile remains on file, her dental records have been lost. Several computer-led age progression images, showing what Leppert might look like today, have also been developed but to no avail.
Tami Lynn Leppert’s case remains unsolved and looks increasingly likely to stay that way.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.