The mystery of “Tent Girl” began on May 18, 1968, when a Ky. well digger decided to take a walk in the woods, with traumatic results. On his walk, Wilbur Riddle stumbled upon the nude and badly decomposed body of a young woman who had been wrapped in canvas similar to the type used by carnival workers of the time for their tents. This discovery sparked a lifelong obsession with uncovering Tent Girl’s true identity not only for Riddle, but also for his future son-in-law, Todd Matthews.
Wilbur Riddle told Todd Matthews the story of Tent Girl when Matthews was only 17 years old and was dating Riddle’s daughter. After Matthews married Riddle’s daughter in 1988, his obsession with solving the mystery of Tent Girl’s identity and death grew exponentially. Through Matthews’ diligence, several breakthroughs were made in the case, eventually leading to a positive identification of Tent Girl.
The first step in Matthews’ quest was combing through old FBI reports on the case, from which he learned that a cloth draped over Tent Girl’s shoulder had actually been a diaper, rather than a towel as was originally thought by local authorities. This evidence led Matthews to the logical conclusion that she must have been older than the teenager that she was originally assumed to be, and was most likely also a mother. Then, after years of chasing leads that only led to dead ends, Matthews was introduced to the latest technology of the time in 1997- the Internet.
Matthews spent countless hours browsing the Internet for missing personswebsites, searching for even the smallest clue to Tent Girl’s identity. Finally, in Jan. of 1998, Matthews hit pay dirt. He found a missing persons post made by an Ark. woman searching for her sister who had been missing since 1968. The description of the missing woman was eerily similar to that of Tent Girl, and so Matthews decided to contact the woman who posted the information, Rosemary Westbrook of Benton, Ark.
Matthews provided Westbrook with the contact information for the Ky. medical examiner, and Westbrook forwarded the necessary information about her missing sister to them. According to Carol Smith of the Seattle Post, “DNA testing confirmed that Tent Girl was Barbara ‘Bobbie’ Ann Hackman-Taylor, who had drifted from her family after marrying young”. Her family had never known that Hackman-Taylor had relocated to Ky. and had a young daughter.
With Rosemary Westbrook and Matthews working together, the two discovered that Hackman-Taylor, who had married a carnival worker, disappeared from her restaurant job in Lexington, Ky. at the age of 24. Interestingly, and quite unfortunately, Hackman-Taylor’s husband, Earl Taylor, who died before the body was identified, never reported his wife missing and was thus never questioned about the murder. When questioned by Bobbie’s family, Taylor claimed that Bobbie left him and never contacted him again.
Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor received a proper burial in the spring of 1998 in Georgetown Cemetery, located in Georgetown, Ky. Attending the service, among many others, were Matthews; his father-in-law, Wilbur Riddle, who discovered Bobbie’s body; Rosemary Westbrook; and two more of Bobbie’s sisters. However, although Bobbie’s identity is now known and she has received a proper burial, the mystery of her murder remains.
Many who knew Earl Taylor are convinced that he most likely killed his wife in a rage during an argument, as Taylor was known to be a violent and impulsive man. Additionally, Bobbie’s body was dumped near I-75 North, the interstate that leads from Ky. to Ohio, which is where Earl’s family lived. Not to be forgotten is the fact that Bobbie was wrapped in a canvas tent of the type used by carnival workers during the time of her murder, and Earl Taylor was a carnival worker.
Unfortunately, with Earl Taylor’s death, the answers to the mystery surrounding Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor’s brutal slaying may never be known. And, even though Bobbie has finally been properly laid to rest, Bobbie’s family may never receive the closure that justice would provide them.