BURLEY • After countless searches, vigils and tips to investigators, a year has passed and Tiffani Streling is still missing.
The 22-year-old vanished May 16, 2015, and her family is no closer to figuring out what happened to her.
Streling’s mother, Melissa Belt, and stepfather, Don Belt, have remained out of the public eye largely to tune out rumors of their daughter’s fate, and to cope with the uncertainty in private. The devastation of not knowing what happened to Streling nearly destroyed their marriage and caused Melissa to suffer two nervous breakdowns. Now, she’s getting help, and she and Don are speaking for the first time about their daughter’s disappearance after staying away from the “noise” surrounding the case for the past year.
“In May when she went gone, it kind of hadn’t hit me yet,” Melissa said. “Maybe I was in shock. Then in August and September, I flipped out and had a nervous breakdown.”
The stress put a strain on her marriage, and Don was ready to leave their relationship if Melissa didn’t find help. That help came in the form of anti-depressants, which has slowed her physical anxiety but not taken away the torment of not knowing what happened to her daughter.
Inside the Belts’ home, the walls are decorated with family photos, several with Streling and her siblings. There’s also her senior photo, taken when she was 18. It rests on top of a round table in the dining room. Right next to it, Melissa keeps a binder full of newspaper clippings on her daughter’s disappearance.
The two have spent a great deal of time trying to piece together the murky details of the day Streling went missing. Their conclusion on what happened to her is grim.
“We think she went to the landfill,” Don said.
Don said the two went to Cassia County Detective Kevin Horak about their suspicions but were told that employees at the landfill in Burley check every bag.
But they weren’t sold on that.
A week after Streling went missing, there were two searches at a spot along the Snake River in Heyburn known as “the Tree.” After one of the searches, James McLaws, Streling’s boyfriend, came over to the Belts’ home for dinner.
Don used it as an opportunity to get as much information from McLaws as he could. He wanted a private investigator to meet with McLaws and he agreed, Don said.
McLaws told the Belts he went with Streling to her father’s home to take some belongings back to his apartment in Heyburn, Don said.
Jordan Defilippis, Streling’s ex-boyfriend was hiding in her closet to stop her from moving with McLaws, Don said. McLaws told them that Streling’s father, William Streling, kicked Defilippis out of the house and then the remaining three watched a movie before McLaws and Streling left, Don said.
McLaws told them that Defilippis followed him home and confronted him, Don said, and that Streling yelled for them to settle things on their own and went inside.
The two went to a boat dock along the river in western Cassia County, not far from the Belts’ home. McLaws told them that the two discussed Defilippis’ past relationship with Streling and that he then dropped the ex-boyfriend off at Storybook Park in Burley, Don said.
While Don tried to get more information out of McLaws, Streling’s sister said something that may have stopped the boyfriend from talking, he said. Don told her to be quiet and that’s when McLaws lost it and took off, he said.
“He blew up and said ‘you don’t talk to women that way,’” Don said.
McLaws went out to his car, smoked a cigarette and sped off, he said.
The Belts say they still have many questions about what happened that night between McLaws, Defillips and their daughter.
“My feeling is that she didn’t leave that apartment on her own,” Melissa said.
McLaws was at one point considered a “person of interest” in Streling’s disappearance but Cassia County Undersheriff George Warrell said he isn’t one now. Detectives are talking to everybody — no one is being eliminated, he said.
A week ago, McLaws was sentenced to up to six years in prison for a probation violation on charges stemming from a 2012 high-speed police chase. And earlier this month he was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for a Twin Falls County case where McLaws removed his ankle monitor, hit a parked vehicle and took off running into an industrial area, where officers found him and held him at gun point. He admitted to smoking marijuana and methamphetamine.
Investigators say they are still pursuing leads in the case.
“We’re doing all we can at this point to follow through with everything,” Warrell said. “It’ll stay active until we find out what happened to her.”
Many people have come to the family with rumors on what happened to Streling, some with tips on where she might be. Melissa hasn’t bought into stories of Streling being alive in other states. Unless she’s being held against her will, she said, Streling would have called somebody. Her daughter would always call her friends or her father if she was upset with Melissa and vice versa.
“I always tell everybody, ‘God forbid if we find a body, at least its something,’” Melissa said. “At least I can grieve and get on with it.”