Monday Mystery: "Momma Came Back"

When Korrina Lynn Sagers Malinoski failed to report to work on November 21, 1987, her employers got worried. She'd only worked there for about six months, but they liked her, and this was South Carolina, where concern means you go check on your friends in neighborly fashion. Her boss found her car parked, and locked, at the entrance to Mount Holly Plantation, a beautiful 6,000 acre lot where she, her husband, and their three children lived in a small cabin, acting as caretakers.

Her husband's story was that she'd driven off somewhere between 11 and 11:30 the night before, heading for Highway 52, and had never come home. Reports say he claims she "went for a drive"; I cannot find if any reason was ever given for this, but most people seem to think it's because they had an argument, and she needed to cool off. I don't know if this is true, or if it's just the most obvious conclusion to jump to if you assume she's dead and he's the obvious suspect. (Websleuths.) I don't necessarily think that's wrong, but it's also not the only possibility.

People disappear all the time, and 'no trace of wife, husband acting squirrely' is not exactly an unusual state of affairs in a missing persons case. Some of them are surely murders, some of them are suicides, some are people who went missing on purpose and don't want to be found, and some are just bizarre and tragic coincidences that ended in an as-yet-undetected accident.

Most of them do not have a strange sequel.

Almost a year later, on the 4th of October, 1988, Korrina's eldest daughter Annette set out at about 7am to meet the school bus, followed by her adoring dog. The bus arrived at 7:20. Annette never boarded. Annette's stepfather -- Korrina's husband at the time of her disappearance -- went down to the bus stop to look for her when she failed to come home from school. The only thing he found was a note, later certified by examiners as being in Annette's handwriting: "Dad, momma came back. Give the boys a hug."

The 'boys' in question were Annette's stepbrothers -- she was Korrina's daughter from a previous relationship, and the sons belonged to Korrina's husband, Thomas Stephen Malinoski. Blended families are not themselves strange, but this split in parentage has led to a long-running debate over whether, if Korrina felt she was fleeing a bad situation, she would really return to claim just one of the children she left in it. Speculation runs rampant on whether Thomas treated Annette substantially worse (or Korrina treated her substantially better) than his biological kids. A poster popped up at one point in the Websleuths thread, claiming s/he had once been Annette's teacher, and that the girl seemed unhappy... but that's an unverified rando on Websleuths, many years after the fact, so take it with a grain of salt.

Solid information on the family dynamics is pretty thin, but it's probably worth noting that 1) Malinoski moved from SC to FL after Annette disappeared (many families refuse to move, just in case the missing person magically walks back through the door one day -- parents of missing children in particular have been known to go great lengths to keep the same phone number, in the faint hope that their lost child will find a way to call it decades later), and 2) he subsequently gave the sons up to foster care. Both the WS and reddit hiveminds seem to be in agreement that the husband is generally unsettling, but there is a reason nobody asks the anonymous hordes to do criminal profiling, and 'dude gives me the creeps' is not admissible in court.

The internet is also weirdly fixated on finding out what happened to the dog. The logic generally goes that if Korrina really did come back for her daughter, she probably would have let the kid bring her beloved pet. For the record, I cannot find its fate reported anywhere.

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