Murder of 8-year-old schoolgirl Trisa Thornley by Aubrey Adams in 1978: Paula Zahn investigates

Mugshot of Aubrey Adams
Aubrey Adams was executed for strangling 8-year-old Trisa Thornley. Pic credit: Marion County Sheriff’s Office

On January 23rd, 1978, Trisa Thornley left her school in Ocala, Florida, to walk home and disappeared forever. A desperate search was launched for the 8-year-old girl; however, on March 15th, three hunters discovered her body. Her mutilated and naked body was found in a plastic bag; she had been strangled.

Police were at first baffled by the case, but then an obscene phone call placed to Trisa’s parents led them to Aubrey Dennis Adams, who was working as a correctional officer at the time. Adams had phoned the Thornley’s and taunted them by asking if they wanted their daughter back. Luckily officers were able to trace the call.

Adams later admitted to offering Trisa a lift home. He said he remembered being “stopped somewhere” with Trisa screaming; he put his hand over her mouth until she stopped breathing.

He removed her clothing and tied her up with some cord. He then placed her in a plastic bag and left her in secluded woods. He stated that he attempted to have sexual relations with her, but was unable to go through with it.

Physical evidence found near the body matched evidence found in Adams’s home and car. This evidence, coupled with the confession, led to him being charged with the murder.

A jury found Adams guilty of strangling Trisa Thornley, and a sentence of death was recommended.

Adams’s lawyers launched a series of unsuccessful appeals to rescind the death sentence arguing that the evidence against Adams was mostly circumstantial and that the defendant’s mental competence was also in question. However, all appeals failed.

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He was executed by electric chair on May 4th, 1989. At the time, Trisa’s mother, Ann Thornley said, “It’s a decade too late, but we finally got justice today.”

Watch On the Case with Paula Zahn at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.

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