BURLEY • The family of a Burley woman missing for four months is still holding out hope she’ll be found safe, even as new details emerge about the hours before she disappeared.
Tiffani Streling was last seen May 16. Her family organized searches, sold T-shirts to raise reward money and kept close tabs on the police investigation. But months later, there have been no arrests. The drive for reward money has stalled as the family became the target of scammers, and the family is struggling to cope.
“It’s just as hard as it was then as it is now,” said Streling’s father, William Streling. “Maybe the hole in the heart’s bigger.”
Two men were among the last to see her: Her boyfriend James McLaws and an ex-boyfriend, Jordan Defillipis, who Streling had continued to date secretly up until the day before she disappeared.
She cut things off with Defillipis on May 15, after McLaws proposed to her. The two men confronted each other the next day after Defillipis was found hiding in her closet. Defillipis, said he and McLaws took a drive to a boat dock near Bedke Boulevard to sort things out.
“He seemed pretty irritated about the fact that me and Tiffani were still talking,” Defillipis said.
He told McLaws about their relationship. The two had a daughter together who died in 2013. Defillipis said he did most of the talking and McLaws was silent.
“He dropped me off, and that’s when Tiffani went missing,” he said.
Streling’s stepmother, Stephanie Albert, said that while the two had gone off, her stepdaughter went to McLaws' home to take a shower. She was supposed to come back with McLaws for dinner later.
“We started calling them,” Albert said, “and they never came back.”
In the four months since Streling disappeared, friends and family have heard all kinds of theories.
“Part of me feels she might be dead,” said Streling’s best friend, Ashley Savage. “Part of me hopes she’s somewhere and we’re going to find her.”
McLaws has since been arrested on charges unrelated to Streling’s disappearance. Police say he was questioned about the Streling case, but they have not called him a suspect.
Family Targeted by Scam
In August, Streling’s father received a Facebook message from a Seattle woman claiming to have information on his daughter’s whereabouts.
The woman claimed Streling was involved in a sex-trafficking ring and living in Canada. She told him she’d help him find his daughter — if he paid first.
He instead informed Cassia County Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Horak, the lead detective on the case. The sheriff’s office found the Facebook account to be fraudulent.
He asked the woman for photo evidence of his daughter, but the woman from Seattle didn’t send anything. She’s contacted William Streling as recently as Sept. 17 to say she wasn’t lying about his daughter’s whereabouts.
“It is very disgusting,” he said.
Streling said he’s also seen a photo of a woman in Idaho Falls whose profile picture looks similar to his daughter. However, her jawline, hair line and piercing are different from his daughter’s.
Search Has Slowed
As leads have disappeared, the family’s searches have stopped. Albert said the family would search again if they had a solid lead that could point them in a direction.
“We don’t really know where to look,” she said. “We can’t say go search in Idaho Falls because you’ve seen a picture. Where in Idaho Falls do you search?”
Albert and Streling have held fundraisers in the past, selling T-shirts that say “Bring Tiffani Home.” They’ve received private donations from Best Western Inn, where Tiffani once worked, and from a person living in Rupert.
They’ve been able to raise just enough from those donations and T-shirt sales to put up a $5,000 reward. But those donations, which also funded the family’s searches, are down to about $2,000, Albert said.
They’ve seen the amount of money being raised for “Patches”, the Shetland pony from Rupert that was mutilated over Labor Day Weekend, and were initially disappointed. The GoFundMe account for the pony closed this week with $27,230 raised.
The Streling family hopes for more community support. They plan to raise more money to help search for their daughter with a fundraiser event in Pocatello. A GoFundMe account was created earlier in September, and the family is still selling shirts to aid in searches and reward money.
Struggle to Cope
To get through the days, the family stays active. One of Tiffani’s sisters is busy with cheerleading at her school. The family goes for drives in the mountains and spends time hunting. They also go fishing for sturgeon near the Minidoka Dam.
“It keeps us close,” William Streling said. “It helps to get away from the house to relax and clear your mind.”
However, once the family gets home, the escape is over.
Streling has been in his daughter’s room only once since she disappeared on May 16.
Her siblings struggle especially hard with the uncertainty. The only easy part, her father said, is that his kids don’t all have their rough days all at once.