Dana Stidham, who was 18, no longer lived with her parents, but she had only moved 10 minutes away and often went back to their home in Hiwasse, Arkansas, to do her laundry. Dana packed up her dirty clothes and left the Centerton, Arkansas, flat she shared with her brother Larry in the afternoon of July 25, 1989. She went to live with her parents. Georgia, her mother, was at work when she got there, but Lawrence, her father, was home.
While Dana was still at the house, Lawrence asked her to go to the store and get some medicine for him because he hadn’t been feeling well. Dana concurred. In the afternoon, around 3:00, she got in her 1984 Dodge Omni and drove to the nearby grocery store. The medicine was never brought back by her.
Dana had gone to the store more than two hours ago and hadn’t come back when Georgia got home from work. This made Georgia nervous. Dana, Dana was a very responsible teen who always went the extra mile to help others. She would never have let her dad wait so long for his medicine. Gavin and Lawrence decided to drive around and look for her because they thought she might have had car trouble. They looked in all the possible ways Dana could have gone to the store, but neither she nor her grey Dodge were found.
In Bella Vista, Arkansas, Georgia checked at Phillips Foods. This is about four miles from the Stidhams’ home in Hiwasse. The store employees confirmed that Dana had been there earlier that afternoon. She bought medicine for her dad and then left, probably to go straight back to her parents’ house. It was unknown what happened after she left the store’s parking lot.
When Dana’s parents got home, they called all of her friends in the hopes that one of them would know where the teen was. They hadn’t talked to Dana that day, which was a shame.
Her parents didn’t want to get too upset, even though Dana would never go somewhere without telling someone where she would be. Legally, she was an adult, and they were sure she would come back soon with a good reason for being away. It was 9 pm, and they still hadn’t heard from her. They began to worry that something very bad was happening.
Georgia asked her son Larry to confirm that Dana hadn’t come back to the flat that she and her siblings shared. Larry called the Benton County Sheriff’s Office to report his sister missing because no one had heard from her in more than six hours. In less than 30 minutes, the sheriff’s office told all patrol cars to keep an eye out for Dana and her car. Overnight, there were no reports of sightings.
Around 6:30 am the next morning, a Bella Vista police officer was on her way to work when she saw Dana’s car parked on the side of Highway 71, about a mile from Phillips Foods. The police officer didn’t know at the time that the car had anything to do with a missing person report; she thought it had just broken down. She didn’t find out about Dana’s disappearance until she got to the police station. She told her boss right away what she had seen.
Investigators were sent to the scene and found that Dana’s car was there. They saw that the keys were still in the ignition and the driver’s side window was only half down. Even worse, the back tyre on the left side was flat.
There were none of Dana’s personal items in the car, but a Phillips Foods receipt was found in the backseat. On the receipt from the day before, it said that Dana paid $3:17 for her dad’s medicine, dish soap, and a bag of sugar. This made it seem like she did go straight to the grocery store when she left her parents’ house, but no one knew what happened next.
The police were worried when they found the abandoned car, and Dana’s parents were scared. Nothing in the car or nearby suggested that there had been a fight. It was more likely that Dana had stopped to check on her tyre and then willingly accepted a ride from someone else. Family and friends were not sure what was going on because they knew Dana would never have left her car without locking the doors and rolling up the window. Without a doubt, she wouldn’t have left her keys in the ignition.
A police officer who saw Dana’s car at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday was one of several people who said they saw another car pulled up behind hers in the early morning. At that time, none of them could give a detailed description of the mysterious car.
Police searched the area around where Dana’s car was found very thoroughly in order to find clues about what happened. Tracking dogs were brought in to try to find Dana’s trail, but they couldn’t figure out which way she had gone. Police searched several areas of Bella Vista on horses in an effort to find Dana more thoroughly. They did not find her, but they did find some of her personal belongings. There was no reason to be hopeful.
When Dana’s purse was found, it wasn’t in her car. Police thought she had taken it with her when she left the car. Things she usually kept in her purse, on the other hand, started showing up on the side of the road north of where her car had been found. Her chequebook, driver’s licence, and pictures of family and friends were all found. It looked like she had thrown them from a moving car. A few pieces of clothing that were in her car were also found.
Investigators said that finding Dana’s thrown-away belongings had scared them a bit, but they also said that they still didn’t have any solid proof of foul play. It’s true that dozens of people said they saw Dana in the first month of the investigation, but none of them could be confirmed. Dana’s family didn’t think she was hiding out in the area on purpose; they were sure she would have called them if she could.
Dana’s family and friends were determined to find her. They looked for hours and hours in the area, both by car and on foot. Kristy, her cousin and one of her best friends, spent all of her weekends handing out flyers about missing people all over Arkansas and the states nearby.
On September 17, a squirrel hunter said he found human remains northeast of Bella Vista, close to the Missouri border. This ended the search for Dana. The 21-year-old hunter had actually found the body parts the day before, but he didn’t call the police because he was afraid it would delay a squirrel hunt he had planned for the next day. He didn’t call the police until the hunt was over. He later said that he didn’t think the bones were new, so he didn’t think the extra day would make a difference.
As soon as the report came in, a lot of detectives rushed to the scene. A lot of the skeleton was found in a dry creek bed, and they were able to get it back. The crime scene was about 100 feet from a lonely cul-de-sac, which made detectives think that the kil*ler probably knew the area very well.
Even though officials told the press not to guess who the bodies belonged to, investigators knew right away that they were Dana’s because clothes found near the bones matched what she was wearing when she was last seen. The medical examiner confirmed what they already thought: Dana had been found.
Investigators thought that her body had been buried in a shallow grave at first. They came to the conclusion that heavy rain and animal activity were what brought her body to light. Near the bones, a T-shirt with duct tape on it, two underwear, and a pair of white sandals were found buried in a small hole. Some knotted twine that was found near Dana’s body showed that she may have been bound at some point. Because Dana’s body had been out in the weather for a long time, it was hard to figure out exactly what k*illed her. Some of her bones had marks on them that looked like they had been stabbed, which is what the state medical examiner thought caused her de*ath.
Dana’s case of a missing person had turned into an investigation into a m*urder. Detectives thought someone she knew had taken her and k*illed her, but they had a hard time finding a suspect. They talked to many people who said Dana was a nice young woman who didn’t have any enemies. Not a single person said anything bad about her.
Police looked into Dana’s past to see if there was anything that could have made her a m*urder target. She graduated from Gravette High School not long before she went missing. She wanted to go to college and get a business degree someday, but she didn’t have any plans to do that right away. She worked at the same grocery store for three years and was happy to stay for now because it saved her money while she made plans for the future.
The first part of the summer, she and her cousin Kristy lived together in the same flat. Then Dana moved in with her brother. She was excited to venture out into the world and live on her own, but she stayed close to her parents and visited them often. It was her mother who said she was “just like sunshine” and the kind of daughter every parent wished they had. She could not think of anyone her daughter might have had a problem with.
But some of Dana’s friends told police about a classmate from Gravette High School named Michael McMillan who they thought might have had something to do with her de*ath. It looked like Michael was a little obsessed with Dana, but she didn’t seem to be interested in him. People in her class thought he might have k*illed her, even though she had never said she was afraid he would hurt her.
Michael denied all of the charges right away. He told police he had been driving around in his dad’s pickup truck on the day Dana went missing, but he didn’t have a real excuse. He cooperated fully with the police. The detectives were still interested in Michael because of a few things.
Not long after Dana went missing, Michael joined the US Navy and left Arkansas to start training. He wasn’t able to go home for Dana’s funeral, but he made sure to visit her grave when he got back to town. He stole Dana’s temporary grave marker while he was at the cemetery, which was strange. He later admitted that he had stolen it and was charged with misdemeanour theft. Brad Karren, Michael’s lawyer, tried to play down what he did by saying that Michael knew the plastic marker was only temporary and would be thrown away once the permanent headstone was finished. He just wanted something to keep in mind about her.
Since Michael made a mistake, he was a leading suspect in Dana’s mur*der, but there was no physical proof that linked him to the crime. Even so, the police kept an eye on him and talked to him many times over the next few years.
Dana’s case was closed for good in 1996. The police found Michael’s father’s old pickup truck and had it processed for forensic evidence in an effort to get the investigation going again. Since Dana’s mur*der, technology had come a long way. Investigators were hopeful that they would finally be able to show that Dana had been in the truck the night she died. Hair samples that looked like Dana’s were found in the truck, but none of them had their roots attached, which meant that DNA couldn’t be taken from them. They might have come from Dana, but there was no way to be sure.
Soon, Dana’s case went cold again, but detectives kept looking at it every so often to see if they could find any new clues. At one point, they thought that Dana might have been killed by an unknown serial killer who worked in the Ozarks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but they were never able to prove this.
Mitchell Goodwin, 62, was arrested in 2013 for shooting a woman in the face and leaving her to die in a Bella Vista creek bed. This brought Dana’s case back to the attention of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. The woman miraculously lived and was able to identify her attacker. She was dating Mitchell at the time, but she had just inherited a lot of money that Goodwin apparently wanted for himself. Investigators named him as a possible suspect because he left the woman about 10 miles from where Dana’s body had been found.
Soon after Mitchell was arrested, Benton County Sheriff Kelley Cradduck said that the police were hoping that new developments in forensic technology would help them connect him to the mu*rder. However, they were still looking at other possible suspects, such as Michael McMillan. As of July 2022, no one has been caught yet, and the case is still open.
In 1989, Dana Stidham was only 18 years old when she was taken from her home and k*illed. She was a nice teen who had lots of friends and a family that loved her. She was just starting to enjoy life after high school. Someone she knew may have taken away her future, but the ki*ller has not been found yet. Investigators still think the case can be solved even though Dana’s de*ath happened more than 30 years ago. They hope that someone will finally come forward with the information they need to get justice for her. Please call the Benton County Sheriff’s Office at 479–271–1008 if you know anything about Dana’s de*ath.