Tera Smith: Strange Case of a Lost Teen Girl

From last week’s case of a bizarre murder-for-hire, we turn our attention this week to a missing persons case. As heartbreaking as homicide is, an unsolved disappearance, with its lack of closure, can sometimes be worse. Such was the case of Tera Smith, a California teen who vanished over two decades ago.

Tera Smith

In 1998, Tera Lynn Smith was a 16-year-old high school student from Redding, California. She made good grades and had a lot of friends. She worked at the Oasis Fun Center, the business near their home that her parents owned and ran. In all respects, she was a typical teenager. But, like many teens, Tera also had a rebellious streak.

Tera Lynn Smith (Shasta County Sheriff's Office)
Tera Lynn Smith (Shasta County Sheriff’s Office)

August 22, 1998 was the last Saturday before the school year started. Tera was due to work at the Oasis Fun Center at 7:00 p.m. Sometime that evening, but before she was due at work, Tera decided to go for a jog. Her sister, Sierra, admonished her, since the girls weren’t supposed to leave the house alone. Tera replied that she’d be back before her parents got home. Sierra watched as Tera jogged out of sight.

Tera Smith, Missing Person

The normally reliable Tera failed to show up for her scheduled shift at the fun center. Her parents were initially unconcerned but, when she hadn’t shown up by 9:00 p.m., they called police. What investigators found was disturbing.

Tera was due at the Smith's Oasis Fun Center when she disappeared (Google Maps)
Tera was due at the Smith’s Oasis Fun Center when she disappeared (Google Maps)

The last person known to see Tera alive was 29-year-old Charles “Troy” Zink. Zink was Tera’s Tae Kwon Do instructor. But her family found letters and journal entries that strongly suggested she and Zink had a sexual relationship. Zink denied this, although he admitted seeing Tera that August day. He said Tera called and they met near her home at 6:30 p.m. According to his story, she wanted to borrow $2,000 and he refused. At her request, he dropped her off at the intersection of Old Oregon Trail and Old Alturas Road. He then drove to Hang Glider Hill, where he claims he “prayed” until 11:30.

When police dug into Zink’s background, they found he pleaded guilty to rape seven years before Tera disappeared. Searching his home, they found several guns and arrested him for violating his parole. However, they didn’t find any evidence to connect him to Tera’s disappearance.

Charles "Troy" Zink at the time of the disappearance (Hard Copy)
Charles “Troy” Zink at the time of the disappearance (Hard Copy)

Epilogue

It’s been more than twenty years since Tera Smith disappeared. If she’s alive, she would be 40 years old. Her family, however, believes she is dead. There has been no trace of Tera since that early autumn day in 1998.

The family suspects Troy Zink is more involved in the case than he admitted, which Zink denies. Police have found no evidence linking him to the disappearance. Nor have they found anything to indicate that a crime was committed. Probably, though, Tera Lynn Smith died the day she disappeared.

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