Larry Stidham was feeling a bit under the weather on Tuesday, July 25, 1989. He was home sick, and his wife Georgia was at work. When his 18-year-old daughter Dana came home to do her laundry, Larry asked her to go to the store to get him some Alka-Seltzer. Dana was glad to help her ailing dad.
The following day, Larry felt much worse. He had not received his medicine, but a new ailment was weighing far more heavily on him. He was sick with worry as Dana had failed to return. Larry eventually recovered from his original illness, but his worry worsened with each passing day as Dana remained missing. The illness was contagious; it spread to family and friends.
On September 16, nearly two months after she left on the errand, the worry turned to grief, heartbreak and devastation as most of Dana’s remains were found in a wooded area.
Dana had most likely been stabbed to death. Thirty years later, no one has been charged with her murder.
Dana had recently graduated from Gravette High School in northwest Arkansas, only a few miles from the Missouri border. She lived in an apartment with her older brother, Larry, and another roommate in Centerton, seven miles north of her parents’ home in Hiawese.
At approximately 3:00 p.m., Dana drove her gray Dodge Omni to get her father’s medicine at the Phillips Foods store in Bella Vista, four miles away. She had previously worked there and several store employees and customers she knew recalled seeing her. She chatted a few minutes with some of them before purchasing the medicine and a couple of other small items. Nothing appeared amiss.
When the door swung open at the Stidhman home shortly after 4:00 p.m., Larry was hoping it was Dana. It was, however, Georgia coming arriving home from work. It was the only time in his life Larry was disappointed to see his wife, as his concern for his daughter was growing.
When told of the situation, Georgia said she would go look for Dana. Larry, despite not feeling well, insisted on going with her, thinking Dana may have encountered car trouble. After searching the entire afternoon and mid-evening, the Stidhams found no trace of their daughter or her car. Calls to Dana’s friends yielded no clues as well.
Larry and Georgia reported Dana missing at 9:15 p.m.
At 6:30 a.m. the following day, July 26, a policeman making her rounds found Dana’s car in the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 71 just north of the Bella Vista Town Centre.
The keys were still in the ignition and the driver’s side window was halfway down. The left-rear tire of the car was marginally deflated but the vehicle was still operable. The driver’s side seat was pushed far back, indicating someone much taller than the 5’2″ Dana was the last person to drive the car. Dana’s purse and its contents were missing. A receipt from Phillips Foods in the back of the car, time-stamped 3:17 p.m., was consistent with the time store employees remembered seeing Dana. Some of Dana’s laundry was discovered 1,700 feet from her car.
Larry and Georgia had searched that section of Highway 71 the previous evening but found no sign of Dana’s car. In addition, Arkansas State Troopers were running radar in the area until midnight and they, too, did not come across the car. Dana’s Omni had been abandoned along Highway 71 sometime in the early morning hours of July 26.
On August 5, one-and-a-half weeks after Dana’s abandoned car was located, a dog returned to his owner’s Bella Vista home carrying a treasure in his mouth. It was not a bone or an animal, but a woman’s purse. When the dog’s owner opened the purse, he was shocked by what he found. Several items bore the name of Dana Stidham.
Investigators searched the wooded area the dog frequented, just over a mile north of where Dana’s car was found. Strewn into the weeds alongside the road they found her driver’s license, checkbook, and several photos. Authorities believe the items had been thrown from a moving car.
Fearing the worst, volunteers joined police in combing the lakes and woods surrounding Bella Vista.
On September 16, seven weeks after she was last seen, a hunter’s grisly discovery brought the search for Dana Stidham to a devastating end. Most of her skeletal remains were found scattered along a creek bed in far eastern Bella Vista, close to the Missouri border. Her skull was intact, as was most of her jaw. Several pieces of her jewelry and the clothes she was wearing on the day she disappeared were found. The t-shirt she wore was plastered with several pieces of duct tape.
Evidence of stab nicks was found on Dana’s left shoulder blade and neck, but it could not be definitively determined how she had died because her sternum was never found, probably having been devoured by animals.
Dana had also likely been sexually assaulted, but her body was too decomposed to say for certain.
Though it had taken nearly two months to find Dana’s remains, it took authorities less than two minutes to develop a suspect in her murder.
Police were initially confused by why Dana had driven four miles to Bella Vista to get her father’s medicine when she could have gotten it at the Hiawese Dairy Freeze convenience store only a few blocks from the Stidham home in Hiawase. It was soon clear, however, why she bypassed the quicker option.
The Hiawese store was owned by the parents of Michael McMillan who was often at the store. He and Dana had gone to high school together and McMillan had asked her out multiple times. Dana was not interested in such a relationship and rejected him each time. She felt uncomfortable in his presence.
Even though it meant driving a few miles, Dana was more at ease picking up OTC medicine at the Bella Vista store.
In December of 1989, three months after Dana was buried, McMillan was arrested for stealing the temporary headstone on her grave. He admitted doing so, paid a fine, and said he committed the act because he wanted the marker as a memory of Dana.
Seven years later, investigators tracked down the truck McMillan had been driving on the night Dana disappeared. Its new owner allowed them to search the vehicle, and, despite the passage of several years, hair samples were found which closely matched Dana’s. They were, however, not enough to make a definitive match.
McMillan agreed to an interview with police and submitted to a polygraph test. He failed the polygraph test and during the interview, McMillan made a seemingly cryptic statement. He seemed devastated by Dana’s murder and said, “Sometimes I think I did kill Dana, but I know I didn’t.”
The court ordered McMillan to submit his hair samples to be tested against those found on Dana’s clothing. McMillan’s samples bore similarities to those found on the clothing, but, again, could not be deemed a 100% match.
The Benton County Prosecutor declined to charge McMillan with Dana’s murder, saying the evidence was not strong enough.
Another person of interest in Dana’s murder is Orville Goodwin. In 2013, he was convicted of attempted murder after shooting a woman in the face. Police have not confirmed if Goodwin knew Dana, only saying advancements in technology have led them to investigate him.
Thirty years after her brutal murder, no one has been charged with the murder of Dana Stidham.
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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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