On May 9, 1985, Brenda Louise Johnson Dunham, a 26-year-old rural Thomasville wife and mother of an infant and toddler left her job at the now defunct International Shoe Factory in West Plains and was never seen again.
At Dunham's family's request, on Jan. 21, a team of cold-case experts and local law enforcement authorities searched an old cistern on an Oregon County farm for clues about Dunham's disappearance almost 27 years ago.
"There were rumors for years about that well, but there was only one way to find out for sure, and that was to dig it out," Oregon County Sheriff George Underwood said Feb. 6.
Underwood, who is originally from the area, but working at a Florida penitentiary when Dunham disappeared in 1985, said he had little knowledge of the case until recently when Dunham's family contacted him.
Dunham's family members asked the property owners if the well, which had been filled in with soil and debris many years earlier, could be uncovered. The property owners agreed, Underwood said.
Joe Marcello of Cabool and his cadaver dog, Missouri State Highway Patrol forensics expert Darren Jones and Oregon County sheriff's deputies searched the site, recovering a few items that are being studied.
A home on the farm burned many years earlier, and the well was filled with junk, including a lawnmower frame, household garbage and a bone that turned out to be from an animal.
Clothing found in the well was sent to the patrol's crime lab for DNA testing.
After the search, the hole was refilled with soil, Underwood said.
"There were a couple of things, but we're not sure yet if it will lead to anything," Underwood said.
No suspects were charged in conjunction with Dunham's disappearance, which drew little media attention. If Dunham died or was killed, her body has not been found.
The patrol's online "active missing adults" list states Dunham was listed missing from Alton on May 10, 1985. The site does not include a photo of Dunham.
Dunham's younger sister, Debi Redricks of Owasso, Okla., spoke with authorities and television reporters at the dig site, saying her family "needs closure" regarding Brenda's disappearance.
According to one report, Redricks said it was rumored that the cistern was filled with gravel a few weeks after Dunham disappeared.
Redricks, who was given up for adoption at birth, never met Dunham and was found by an investigator six months after Dunham's disappearance. Redrick's and Dunham's birth mother hired the investigator to find Redricks, hoping Dunham was with her, according to posts made by Redrick on an online forum.
"I have mixed emotions about digging this back up," Redricks posted. "I truly want to know what happened to my sister and give her a respectful burial."
Redricks said she has mixed emotions, however, because she does not want to hurt Brenda's son and daughter, who are now adults.
Results of the DNA tests from the clothing taken from the well are not yet available, Underwood said.