BURLEY — May 16 marked two years since Tiffani Streling’s family last saw her.
Tiffani’s absence isn’t the result of a joyous mission for a church, trek to college or a move across the country to start her own family.
Instead, her family suspects foul play — but so far, their questions remain unanswered.
The vibrant 22-year-old stood 5’4” tall, weighed 130 pounds and had chunky blond highlights in her chin-length-brown hair. She loved the color pink and talking on the phone.
For those who loved her, she just ceased to exist.
The family held vigils, sold shirts, posted fliers and billboards searching for someone with clues. They even hired a private detective to find out what happened to their daughter.
“It drives you nuts. It’s an emotional rollercoaster,” Tiffani’s father, William Streling, said about getting up every day to face another round of the same unanswered questions. “It’s a good thing that we tend to have our roller coaster days on separate days.”
May 16, 2015
The last family members to see Tiffani were her father and stepmother, Stephanie Albert. Tiffani was living with them and went to their home to get her belongings so she could move in with her new boyfriend, James McLaws.
As a young woman, Tiffani struggled to find her place in life. She’d had some minor scrapes with the law but she was holding down a job, despite suffering from bouts of anxiety and depression.
The depression had set in after the death of her 1-month-old daughter, Saphire, in November 2013.
Tiffani and her baby’s father, Jordan Defilippis, had broken up but remained emotionally close. That day as she gathered her things at her father’s home, Tiffani found Defilippis hiding in her closet where she kept Saphire’s belongings.
“It was odd that he was in the closet,” Albert said about Defilippis, who had dated Tiffani for several years and was well-known by the family. “But, we’d never known him to have a temper, and there was never any physical fighting between the two.”
Neither McLaws nor Defilippis could be reached for comment by the Times-News.
McLaws asked William Streling if he wanted him to “handle” Defilippis that day.
But Defilippis left peacefully, walking away from the home.
When Tiffani and McLaws left the house at 3:30 p.m. she told Streling and Albert that she and McLaws would be back at 5:30 p.m. for dinner.
“No one could get a hold of her after that,” Albert said.
At 10:30 p.m. McLaws came back to their house upset and said Tiffani was missing.
He said Defilippis had followed him and Tiffani to his house and Defilippis confronted him. He said Tiffani told the two men to work it out, and she went to take a shower. McLaws said he and Defilippis drove to a boat dock on Bedke Boulevard where they talked about Tiffani’s relationship with Defilippis. McLaws said he then dropped Defilippis off at Storybook Park.
At the Streling’s home that night, McLaws told them “I didn’t mean to hurt her,” Albert said, and that Tiffani had left his home to walk a few blocks to her best friend’s house.
“If she really walked a couple blocks to Ashley’s house, how come nobody saw her?” Albert said.
Streling and Albert went to the Cassia County Sheriff’s Office the next day to report Tiffani missing but were told that McLaws had already reported her missing within hours after her disappearance.
“There were a lot of holes in the story and the times were messed up,” Tiffani’s mother, Melissa Belt, said.
Afterward, Belt and Tiffani’s stepfather, Don Belt, asked McLaws to their home for dinner so they could question him about their daughter’s disappearance.
We were scared of him, Don Belt said, and they kept a gun close by when McLaws came to their home.
“He over-explained himself,” Melissa Belt said about McLaws’s rendition of events that occurred during his drive with Defilippis to the boat docks.
“He told us the exact route they drove including the street names,” Belt said.
Defilippis told the Belts that during the drive McLaws kept asking him questions, like whether he was sleeping with Tiffani.
“Every time James would ask a question, he would turn the stereo up like he didn’t want to hear Jordan’s answer,” Belt said.
At one point, McLaws’s former attorney Dave Haley said McLaws was considered “a person of interest,” in Tiffani’s disappearance, but George Warrell, Cassia County undersheriff, said no suspects can be named at this point in the investigation.
“We are actively working this case,” Warrell said. “We realize this is somebody’s daughter and without a doubt we are following up every lead.”
Warrell said investigators “have worked every day on this case,” since her disappearance.
Often, he said, it’s frustrating for officers not to be able to tell family members everything they know about a case.
“Hopefully, it will pay off down the road,” he said.
Warrell said the case was investigated “for the worst possible scenario,” and pieces of evidence that were collected will be used when an arrest is made.
In cases where an adult is reported missing, it can sometimes be difficult for investigators to determine whether a crime has occurred, he said. But Tiffani’s disappearance prompted immediate action from the office and was investigated from the beginning as foul play.
Bring Tiffani home
Tiffani and her cousin Miranda Thomas were close growing up.
“She loved music and hanging out with her friends. She was funny and she was always looking for the latest fashions,” Thomas said.
Tiffani also enjoyed being outdoors.
“She was family-oriented,” Thomas said. “Her family meant a lot to her. We miss her dearly.”
Tiffani’s sister, Christina Tolman, said it is hard some days to force a smile to her lips and face the world.
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about her,” Tolman said.
For Tiffani’s father, the memories and sadness also visit daily.
His eyes reflect a moment of despair when his thoughts turn to a small stuffed Peanuts “Snoopy” dog — pink, her favorite color — that sits on his headboard. Tiffani chose the stuffed animal as the final resting place for her small daughter’s cremains after her death.
For Streling, it reminds him morning and night of a daughter he misses and what could have been.
In Melissa Belt’s quiet moments watching television, the wall of family photos is out of her direct view — and that’s a good thing, because the photos remind her that her family is incomplete.
Tiffani’s old bedroom, painted a pale pink, is now a playroom where grandchildren romp, the sights and sounds offering a momentary relief.
Belt does not keep in touch with family or friends on social media sites and was shocked when she Googled her daughter’s name, and all kinds of information popped up.
Everyone has a theory, she said. Tiffani just walked away or that she was murdered and by whom.
Her daughter, Belt said, would not have simply walked away, never contacting family members or friends again.
Tiffani had hopes and dreams for the future. She was learning to bake and would get recipes on her phone and take pictures of food.
Belt chuckled at the memory of one photo she saw of Tiffani’s efforts at baking cookies, which had melted together.
Just as quickly as the happy memory flows a darker thought replaces it. The thoughts about what may have happened to her daughter never leave her alone, Belt said.
“They’re always there,” she said. “There is no peace.”