A promising lead about the whereabouts of Phoenix Coldon turned out to be a cruel hoax, causing the missing Missouri woman's family additional pain, their entire life savings and their home.
"Unfortunately, we will now be losing our family home," the missing woman's mother, Goldia Coldon, told The Huffington Post. "We have tried to explain the situation to our mortgage company but they don't care."
A tip that led the family to Texas came from a man who claimed to know Coldon's whereabouts and provided her family with very convincing details, Goldia Coldon said. The family already had invested much of their money to search for Phoenix, she said, but spent the remainder of their savings on private investigators to follow up on the lead. It was not until after the family's money was gone that the man who provided the tip admitted he fabricated the story, Coldon said.
"They said he made it up to get attention," she said. "It cost us dearly and it led absolutely nowhere. It was just his idea of a joke."
"The authorities said there is nothing they can do to the man. In my opinion, he impeded the investigation. He took money, time and energy that we could have been using to follow other leads because he wanted to perpetrate a joke."
Phoenix Coldon, 23, was last seen in the driveway of the family's St. Louis County home at about 3 p.m. Dec. 18. Her mother said she was sitting in her vehicle one minute and the next, she was gone.
Coldon said she initially thought her daughter had gone to the store but when she did not return that night, Coldon said she reported her daughter and her black 1998 Chevy Blazer missing to police the following morning.
According to Coldon, her daughter's disappearance is highly out of character.
"She is very responsible, very sweet, very athletic and very intelligent," she said. "Phoenix is a regional fencing champion. She plays the piano and (is) in the handbell choir at church. Phoenix is loved. Her name stands for a beautiful, unique person of distinction -- that's Phoenix."
On Jan. 1, Coldon's family found out the missing Chevy Blazer had been impounded at 6:23 p.m. the day she disappeared. It was discovered about a 25-minute drive from her home, at Ninth and St. Clair in East St. Louis. The keys were in the ignition with the vehicle running and the driver's door open.
The car had been towed and entered into the police computer as an abandoned vehicle.
"I just wish those police had done what they were supposed to do by running those plates and seeing that the vehicle was registered to me," Goldia Coldon said. "All they had to do is call and say, 'do you know where your vehicle is?' And, look where it was found. Why didn't they check around the area to make sure somebody was not injured or passed out nearby? Why did we have to learn from someone else where our vehicle was?"
Coldon said police also did not complete an inventory sheet when the vehicle was found. "According to the officer, he did not do an inventory sheet because there was nothing in the car," she said. "That was not true. When we checked the vehicle at the impound there (were) lots of things in it, including her glasses, her purse with her driver's license and her shoes."
It remains unclear why the family was not told about the vehicle sooner or why police allegedly missed the items found inside. The East St. Louis Police Department has not returned calls for comment from HuffPost.
According to Coldon, her family had to complain to the mayor's office to get the impound bill -- in excess of $1,000 -- waived. While police conducted searches in the weeks following Phoenix Coldon's disappearance, the department has remained tight-lipped about the case. According to the family, they have not heard from police since February.
Phoenix Coldon's mother said the family also has had a difficult time getting media attention for the case. The Huffington Post learned of the disappearance in January and covered it, but few other outlets have reported on it.
Coldon said she believes her daughter's case is being ignored because she is black.
"They don't say it, but I know it's because she's black. It's terrible," she said. "Phoenix is a beautiful young woman. She's smart. She's talented. She's a champion fencer. Phoenix has a lot to offer to this world and her life is just as valuable as anyone else's. It's a shame that black people never get media coverage."
The disappearance of Phoenix Colden is similar to the December 2011 disappearance of 36-year-old Stacey English in Atlanta. English was last seen alive on or about Christmas Day. On Dec. 27, English's disappearance was reported to police. Her vehicle, a 2006 Volvo S60, was also reported missing. It was later discovered English's vehicle was impounded around the time she is believed to have disappeared. When it was located, the vehicle was found abandoned 20 miles from English's home with its engine running.
On Jan. 23, English's decomposing body was found under a tree in a heavily wooded area roughly a mile from where police found her car. The Fulton County Medical Examiner has ruled the death accidental, saying it was likely caused by exposure. English's family members, however, among others find it unlikely she crawled under a tree and laid there until she died.
Goldia Coldon said there also is a similar case in St. Louis.
"A young lady (was) snatched out of a car in East St. Louis a few years ago, while at a stoplight. They left her car running in the road and took her to a house in Illinois where a group of guys drugged, beat and raped her," Coldon said. "They wanted her to work as a prostitute for them. She waited until she was left with just one of her captors. He passed out from drinking and she managed to escape. The circumstances -- the running car in the street -- are very similar."
Because of the possibility her daughter could have been forced to work in the sex trade, Goldia Coldon and other family members have visited exotic dance clubs and interviewed local prostitutes. Phoenix Colden's father, meanwhile, has taken on the task of leading searches in other areas.
"There are so many vacant lots and abandoned buildings in East St. Louis," Goldia Coldon explained. "My husband keeps going over there and searching them. I can't do it. The thought of that -- of our daughter being there -- I just can't do it. I'm not strong enough for that."
PHOTOS OF PHOENIX COLDON (Article Continues Below)
Unfortunately, the recent hoax has not been the first cruel prank the family has had to endure. There have been others, including one by a young woman who called the home and pretended to be Phoenix Coldon.
"People can be so cruel. It has cost us dearly emotionally, physically and financially," Goldia Coldon said.
Despite the fact that the Coldon family will soon be homeless, Coldon said she and her husband have no regrets and will continue to do whatever it takes to find their missing daughter.
"It is just money and it is just a house," she said. "We did what we had to do for Phoenix. She will be 24 years old on May 23. We are desperately hoping she is still alive and we can get her home to celebrate."
Anyone wishing to contribute to the search for Phoenix Coldon can make an online donation via PayPal, PhoenixMissingFund@Hotmail.com, or by sending a donation to Goldia Coldon, c/o: Missing Phoenix Coldon, P.O. Box 38645, Saint Louis, Missouri 63138.
"We need to raise awareness because we have not found Phoenix and we just need people to know that she is still out there somewhere," Coldon said. "Any help anyone could give us would be greatly appreciated."
Phoenix Coldon is 5 feet 6 inches tall, and weighs about 125 pounds. She has reddish brown hair and pierced ears. She was last seen wearing gray sweatpants with the word "UMSL" printed vertically down one pant leg, a dark hoodie and tennis shoes. Anyone with information on the case is asked to call St. Louis County Police at (314) 889-2341. The family has a group about Phoenix's case on Facebook.