x
Breaking News
More () »

WTOL 11 Exclusive: James Worley and the disappearance of Claudia "Sissy" Tinsley

Anchor Melissa Andrews uncovers link between convicted kidnapper and killer, and missing Toledo woman.

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Editor's note: Scroll to the end of this story for bonus clips.

In 2016, most northwest Ohioans remember that James Worley abducted 20-year-old Sierah Joughin as she rode her bike along a country road in Fulton County and killed her in his barn near Delta.

Now on death row, awaiting a 2025 execution date, Worley began reaching out earlier this year, sending letters to WTOL 11, claiming he was framed.

But in those letters we uncovered information that may be able to answer the question that many in the community have been asking since Worley was sentenced to death in 2018 -- Did he have other victims?

In September 1996, James Worley was 37, a convicted kidnapper back on the streets after serving just three years for abducting Robin Gardner in 1990. Worley had used his vehicle to knock Gardner from her bike on Obee Road in Whitehouse, then restrained her. She managed to flag down a motorcyclist to get away.

Also in 1996, Claudia "Sissy" Tinsley was 24, a mother of three and a sex worker in north Toledo.

"Sissy, she was my big sister," Chris Tinsley said. "I was her little brother. I mean, we always had a close relationship."

He said the family was unaware Claudia was working as a prostitute, but they did know she lived a dangerous life, using drugs and dancing in strip clubs in Detroit, he said.

"My mom was saying, 'The things she's doing is getting worse," he said. "It's gonna catch up to her."

A known connection

Worley and Claudia would cross paths on the night of Sept. 8, 1996. She would never be seen again.

"He admitted being with her," said Toledo Police Detective William Goodlet, who works in the cold case unit.

"He said he had picked her up somewhere around the Summit and Cherry area after a festival. She got in the car, they made several stops, then drove around for a little while," Goodlet said.

Worley detailed their meeting in a 105-page document he sent WTOL 11 in April. He claims Tinsley's case is what prompted police to begin harassing him, leading up to what he calls a "frame job" for Joughin's murder.

When WTOL 11 met with Worley on death row at Chillicothe Correctional Institution, he wanted to talk about his manifesto. We wanted to talk about Claudia Tinsley.

Worley said that he met up with Tinsley after leaving the German American Festival. Then we asked about going to her mother's home -- the place she was last seen alive.

He described driving around with Tinsley, about stopping for her to talk to friends, and about eventually stopping at her mother's home.

"She said, 'Well, come on in,' and so I went in with her, and her mom's there and there were some kids there and maybe a couple other adults and we were there for maybe no more than 10 minutes or so and we left. It was at that point in time as you read, that she, the mother, wrote down my license plate number. And that's how I got involved in this whole thing."

Worley knows Tinsley's mother wrote down his license plate because the woman gave it to police, who then questioned him about Tinsley's disappearance.

For police, the fact that Tinsley felt compelled to tell her mother to write down the plate number is meaningful.

"It sounds like it wasn't typical at all, that she did have some sort of suspicion. Her mother did ask her, you know, 'Don't go with this guy.' Maybe she gave it to her mom, maybe just to calm her mind. They (previous investigators) were able to talk to a witness who saw Worley and Claudia together," Goodlet said.

For Tinsley's family, it is heartbreaking to know that moment was the last time they would see her.

"I don't know if my sister had told her that she had a bad feeling or my mom had a bad feeling but she pretty much begged her not to get in his car, not to go," said Chris Tinsley. "She just watched her get in the car and drive off. And that's the last thing she had in her mind, was her leaving and she had a feeling she was just never gonna see her again."

A suspect and a search warrant

Worley said in our prison interview that the Sept. 8 incident was the first and only time he ever saw Claudia Tinsley. He claimed the two had a consensual sexual encounter and then he dropped her off, though he does not remember where.

Toledo Police said Worley was driving a 1995 Chevy Beretta on Sept. 8 with same license plate number Tinsley asked her mother to write down.

"Investigators followed up with that plate, found out it came back to a leasing company, and that leasing company gave them the person it was rented to, and that was James Worley," said Goodlet. "He is the last person we know of that's seen her."

Since his 2018 conviction for Joughin's murder, questions have lingered about whether Worley could be responsible for other attacks on women in the years between his release from prison and Joughin's death in 2016.

In our interview, he denied having any violent encounters with women in the intervening years and he denied having anything to do with Tinsley's disappearance.

Goodlet said Worley's strange behavior with Tinsley is what makes him stand out so prominently as a person of interest in her case file.

"We were able to verify the fact that he did drive around with her, which would be a little unusual," he said. "If you're simply gonna engage a prostitute, he was with her roughly 40 minutes, making several trips. Seems a little unusual to me that if you're simply out for sex that you're going to drive around with this person, making different stops throughout the north end. It's just not common. It wouldn't be, it wouldn't be regular. It seemed he was interested in more than just a sexual encounter."

Worley was questioned and authorities tested the car he had been driving, but there was no sign of Claudia.

The case dried up until 2000, when Worley was again brought in for questioning.

"I never thought about her until detectives were at my door four years later," Worley said.

This time police had a surprise for him. "They informed him they were going to execute a search warrant at his house," Goodlet said.

Detectives scoured Worley's property in Fulton County for Tinsley. It's the same place he would kill Sierah Joughin 16 years later.

"They never explored the possibility that he had taken her out there, so I think they thought we probably should consider that and let's do that," Goodlet said.

Authorities found nothing connecting Worley to Tinsley during that 2000 search. They did find some marijuana plants he was growing and Worley served another two years in prison for that.

A fresh start denied

Since then, 22 more years have come and gone and there has never been enough evidence to charge Worley for Tinsley's disappearance. Authorities have no body or witnesses.

Successfully prosecuting Tinsley's killer will require a break in the case.

"It takes somebody that this person has talked to and told, 'Hey this is what I've done' and we don't have that," Goodlet said.

Tinsley's mother died of cancer in 2018 without finding her daughter.

"I think she probably knew in her mind she was never gonna come home and we were never gonna find her," Chris Tinsley said.

Claudia Tinsley would have turned 50 on May 22, 2022.

Her brother believes if she would have returned home after leaving with Worley that night in 1996, she could have had a fresh start from her dangerous life.

"I think maybe if they would have found her alive or something, it would be a turning point. Maybe it would have scared her straight, but she never got that chance," he said.

More on WTOL:

Paid Advertisement