LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Little Rock police are following a new lead in a 10-year-old cold case after Patrice Smith disappeared in 2012— never to be seen again.
Now detectives hope answers will come soon, as the family continues their search for closure.
The very first word Patrice's family used to describe her, was loving.
Patrice's younger sister, Maria Hairston, explained that Patrice was always herself.
"Patrice, she was something else. Beautiful, beautiful young lady. Loved. Life of the party. She thought she could sing and dance," Maria said.
Maria said that Patrice shared her love of life with her dad, sisters, and daughter— along with her new boyfriend, Michael Robinson.
Maria added, “She wanted to show him, in her own words, this is not just me speaking, ‘Maria, I'm gonna show him what it feels like to be truly loved.’”
The two dated for a few months in 2012, until things changed after a family barbecue.
According to Maria, “it's like her whole demeanor changed," after Michael was found waiting for her in front of Maria’s home.
"We were just singing together on the way there and for her just to get quiet and jump out the car with me. That was horrible," Maria described.
Maria said that Patrice wasn’t quite herself and explained, "Something was telling me something was wrong with my sis. And ever since that day, that night, March 24, 2012. I'll never forget it. It just all went downhill from there."
It would later turn out that Michael didn't just pick Patrice up for the night because Maria said that was the last time she saw her sister— The next day, the couple, along with Michael’s truck, were both gone.
Patrice’s family reported her missing the very next day— but Little Rock Detective Bruce Maxwell explained that it would be another three days before Michael’s family did the same.
"On the 28th, his mother reports him missing…. [Michael] failed to appear in court on the 28th and subsequent warrants were issued," Maxwell said.
Michael was being charged with assaulting and kidnapping Patrice the month prior— which was an attack that sent her to the hospital.
"My sister’s eye was sealed shut. Her arm, it was broken and she was holding it. And the only thing she said was ‘Ria, Look what he did to me.’" Maria said.
Michael had a history of battery charges that dated back years before Patrice, with the courts having labeled him as a habitual offender.
Maria explained, "Patrice believed in fixing people. And that is how she attracted a sociopath."
As shown in court documents, Michael was a psychologically diagnosed sociopath.
Eventually, 5 months after the couple’s disappearance, Michael turned up.
"He is not heard from until the first week of August of 2012….he was arrested on those warrants on in the first part of August," Maxwell added.
Michael was found in a North Little Rock apartment— but there was still no sign of Patrice.
While the two had a history— that included Michael going to court for attacking her the month prior and was last seen with Patrice before disappearing for five months himself— Maxwell said that this particular case never went to court.
He also added that an interview at the time didn't add much to the investigation at the time.
The unresolved disappearance of Patrice and lack of judicial action have left her family devastated.
"I became a hermit… Within the last 12 months, I became strong enough to travel the freeway, you know, I’d go through a patch of woods or be in a wooded area it would trigger something you know, is my sister over there?" Maria explained.
Maria said that the family has been desperately searching for answers, and added that she still needs justice.
Once Michael was found, he went to court and was sentenced to 5 years in prison for assaulting Patrice the month before her disappearance.
However, the more severe charges from that same attack, like kidnapping, were dismissed— even though Patrice was still actively missing.
Today Michael is back behind bars for stabbing another woman in Fort Smith in 2020.
We reached out to speak with Michael, but the Department of Corrections declined.
During the Fort Smith proceedings, Michael claimed to forget why he was ever sent to jail in the first place.
"Everyone that has came into contact with this guy has something to grieve about has something they now have to fix. And now it's time for closure," Maria said.
The new assault stirred up emotions for Patrice’s family and prompted Maria to call Little Rock Police and ask them to take another look at Patrice’s case.
Maxwell explained, "We got a phone call. We got a case and started looking at it. And you know, a couple of us looked at it and said, We thought there was something there that we could do something with."
A new lead emerged from fresh eyes on the same case.
Maria said that back in 2012, "I was told her phone was pinging off the Arkansas River."
And now Maxwell added, "The lead that we have, we've got, we're gonna exhaust it, and then see if that develops anything else."
Police have also continued the search for Michael's missing car.
"We have an old Ford Ford Explorer that's missing. I want to know where that’s at. What happened to it?" Maxwell said.
Officers and family hope someone with information will call in.
"Help our family gain closure with this part, so we can start with the true grieving," Maria asked.
Maxwell added, "I would be surprised if someone else didn't know about it."
They all hope this will bring closure not just for Patrice’s family but also to send a wider message that condemns violence against women
"It's about women in a whole. It's about people in a whole. Because it's going to be someone else's sister, sitting here talking with you, or someone like you. It’s going to be someone else's mother grieving is going to be someone else's family. Crying…it's about everyone. This is for everyone that has had to encounter this," Maria said.
Michael Robison will be eligible for release from jail in 2026.
If you have any information about what may have happened to Patrice Smith, you're asked to call the police.
This is still a very active case and we will continue to follow up for any updates.