Bella Vista murder mystery remains unsolved after more than thirty-one years
On July 25, 1989, 18-year-old, Dana Stidham was last seen alive leaving the Phillips Food Center (now Harps in Town Center) in Bella Vista.
Two months later, her remains were discovered in a creek bed in far eastern Bella Vista, near the Arkansas-Missouri border.
The June before Dana disappeared she had graduated from Gravette High School and had moved to her own apartment in Centerton with her brother, Larry, and a few friends. Dana’s father, Lawrence, was home while she did her laundry the day she disappeared in 1989.
He wasn’t feeling well, so he asked Dana to pick up some medication for him. She agreed to run down to Phillips Food Store in Bella Vista to purchase what he needed.
After stopping for gas, Dana arrived at the store. Before she purchased the Alka-Seltzer, dish-washing soap and sugar, she stopped to visit with a few friends that worked in the store. A receipt found later by investigators listed her checkout time as 3:17 p.m.
As Dana left, she also visited briefly with an older employee in the parking lot. A witness who was landscaping nearby said he saw Dana drive off, but wasn’t sure which way she went.
Later that evening, when Dana didn’t return home, her family began to worry, so they began searching for Dana. Eventually, when Dana still had not returned home, the authorizes were notified.
At 6:30 a.m. July 26, Sgt. Karen Myers was driving southbound down U.S. Highway 71 on her way to work. She was nearing Wellington Road, north of Town Center, when she noticed a vehicle on the side of the highway.
After running the plates, authorities found the car belonged to Dana. Her 1984 gray Dodge Omni had been abandoned and was sitting in the southbound shoulder opposite Wellington Road. The keys were still in the ignition, the driver-side window was halfway down and the rear tire was slightly deflated, but still drivable. There was no sign of a struggle. Dana’s purse was missing.
The driver’s seat also had been adjusted for a much taller person, indicating that Dana likely wasn’t the last person to operate the vehicle before it was left abandoned.
The case stalled until August. 5 when authorities received an important tip. A resident near Hanover Drive and Chaucer Drive alerted law enforcement after their dog brought a purse home after being let out to run. The purse turned out to be Dana’s denim purse.
An extensive search of the area ensued and authorizes found Dana’s checkbook, driver’s license and a variety of photos. It is believed that these items were thrown from a moving car. Summer turned to fall and then it happened: a local hunter discovered Dana’s remains in a seasonal creek bed about 100 feet from Beal Lane, a cul-de-sac off Newburn Drive.
The remains were skeletal, but approximately 90 percent complete. Her skull was found intact, along with most of the jaw. Her bones were scattered about 50 feet along the creek. Investigators discovered a T-shirt with duct tape on it and pieces of jewelry. They found the clothes she was wearing the day she disappeared buried nearby.
Despite continued efforts over the years, this is where Dana’s story (at least to date) ends: In 1998, authorities told reporters that they believed they knew who killed Stidham. They just didn’t have enough evidence for an arrest.
A classmate was questioned who had given unusual statements to investigators, and the man later stole a metal the temporary marker off her gravesite. According to authorities, failed polygraphs, and dishonesty implicated the man, but it was all circumstantial evidence. Authorities also insist that, even the “FBI reached the same conclusion.”
Another suspect by the name of Orville Mitchell Goodwin, surfaced in 2013, but he has not been officially connected to the Stidham murder.
Anyone with information connected to the Dana Stidham case is asked to call the Bella Vista Police Department at (479) 855-3771 at or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.