Cover Story: The search continues

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After seven months, police are still investigating the disappearance of Dorothy Heard

For the past seven months, officers from the Noblesville Police Dept. have been working intensely to find missing Noblesville woman Dorothy Heard. NPD Spokesperson Lt. Bruce Barnes said the investigation into Heard’s June 13, 2011, disappearance is still underway and police are still pursuing tips.

“Every single day it comes up,” he said. “The day starts with us asking, ‘Have we heard anything new?’”

Barnes

Barnes estimates thousands of hours have been spent looking for Heard, and the investigation is an agency-wide effort.

“Our No. 1 priority is to find her and get her back to her family,” he said. “Our No. 2 priority is to criminally prosecute those responsible for this.”

Barnes, who has been the department’s liaison with Heard’s family, said these cases are tough because the NPD hasn’t had very many missing person cases – Heard is the only Noblesville resident currently reported as missing in the city.

“What makes this case different is we don’t have much information to give them. We always let them know before anybody else finds out about it,” he said. “The family wants closure and we want that for them. It’s not the long hours, the pay or being tired – we want to make the family as right as they can be moving forward. We deal with them on a daily basis and will continue to deal with them until we find her.”

NPD investigators have submitted pieces of evidence to the state lab for DNA analysis. Barnes said a maximum of 20 items are allowed in one submission. While analyzing, if the lab dismisses any item, the submitting organization can replace it with another item. Once the maximum number of items is analyzed, a law enforcement agency may submit more, but are placed at the end of the line.

“A missing person case or otherwise, it takes no precedence,” Barnes explained.

Barnes said the NPD has received some information back from the lab, but would not comment on it, saying it was part of the ongoing investigation.

“We don’t have a clear path, every little thing matters to us,” he said. “It’s like a puzzle and we have an assortment of pieces – if and how they do fit.”

Since the investigation into Heard’s disappearance began on June 14, police have searched for her in Hamilton, Tipton, Madison, Grant and Wabash counties. One location of particular interest, the Mississinewa Reservoir in Grant County, includes 15,000 acres.

“We are considering every place in terms of location,” said Barnes. “The area presents some possibilities because there are so many small, one-lane roads. We’ve spent hundreds of hours up there working with the Grant County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Natural Resources.”

Burns

Heard’s nephew is still a “person of interest” in her disappearance. Donald Burns, 47, of Elwood, was caught on surveillance video footage using Heard’s credit card to purchase hundreds of dollars in jewelry at a Wal-Mart store in Marion, just hours after she was last seen by other family members. Barnes said Burns also tried to pawn Heard’s wedding ring at EZ Pawn in Marion the same day. On Jan. 17, Burns was charged with two counts of forgery and two counts of theft for the alleged actions on June 13. However, Burns has not been charged in Heard’s disappearance.

“She would not have given him the ring and credit card willingly,” said Lou Ann Sylvester, Heard’s daughter. “I would like to know how he got them.”

Police officers wanted to ask Burns questions about Heard’s disappearance, but were unable to because he refuses to cooperate in the investigation. Barnes said police believe Burns might have been one of the few people to have last seen Heard.

Heard is described as a 74- year-old white woman with gray hair and blue eyes. She is 5 feet 2 inches tall, and weighs 137 pounds. Those who may have tips on Heard’s disappearance are encouraged to contact NPD investigators at 776-6370 or may make an anonymous tip online at the department’s Web site, www.cityofnoblesville.org/department/?fDD=11-0, or by e-mailing dorothyheardcase@noblesville.in.us.

“We haven’t had anything that has been significant. Unless someone provides us with info, we’ve exhausted most of our leads in the case,” said Barnes. “At this point we’ll take anything that a person tells us,” he said. “Quite a few phone tips. Still get the occasional phone call, not shut down, but slowed down considerably.”

 

Timeline

June 13, 2011 – The last time Dorothy Heard is seen or heard by any family members is 8 a.m. Heard’s nephew, Donald Burns, 47, of Elwood, sells a wedding ring matching Heard’s at 5:23 p.m. in a Marion pawn shop. Burns’ right thumb imprint and photo ID were used at the EZ Pawn Store to sell the merchandise. Surveillance video shows a man matching Burns’ description buying jewelry worth $378.78 from the Wal-Mart at 5:40 p.m. About 15 minutes later, another $698 transaction was denied from Heard’s credit card company.

June 14, 2011 – Family members report Heard as missing around 2:42 p.m.; NPD begins investigation. Burns is arrested around 5 p.m. by Elwood Police after fleeing from officers and causing a chase. Elwood Police went to contact Burns on behalf of the NPD.

June 15, 2011 – The family holds a press conference asking for assistance in finding Dorothy.

June 16, 2011 – Following a tip, Noblesville Police officers and Hamilton County Sheriff’s canvassed the area around 266th Street at Overdorf Lake Fish-Pond-Camp in Arcadia. K-9 dogs and rough terrain vehicles were used to help search the park, which includes a pond and wooden area. A prayer vigil for Heard was held at Forest Park that evening.

June 17-18, 2011 – The search for Heard moved north to Mississinewa Reservoir in Wabash and Grant counties. Missing posters for Heard begin appearing throughout Noblesville.

June 27, 2011 – Heard’s family uses a press conference as a “call to action” and to thank everyone for their support and the work by various law enforcement agencies. Since the investigation began, police have searched in Hamilton, Tipton, Madison, Grant and Wabash counties.

Aug. 30, 2011 – Heard’s home in the 1500-block of S. 16th St., Noblesville, is broken into around 9:30 p.m. Police said several pieces of jewelry were stolen and evidence tape on the front door was busted. The case remains unsolved and while officials believe the robbery to be unrelated to Heard’s disappearance, they have not ruled it out.

November 2011 – NPD begins to receive the results of the first set of evidence sent to the Indiana State Police Lab for analysis. More items were sent and investigators wait for their results, which are expected in the coming weeks.

December 2011 – Burns enters a guilty plea in Madison Superior Court 5 on a felony charge of resisting law enforcement following his arrest on June 14. Madison Superior Court Judge Thomas Clem sentenced Burns to one year on the resisting law enforcement conviction and credited him with six months of time served. Burns was transported to the Pendleton Correctional Facility to serve the remainder of his sentence from Tipton County on a Class A felony conviction of child molesting.

Jan. 17, 2012 – During his parole board hearing at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, the Marion Police Dept. charged Burns with two counts of forgery for allegedly using his aunt’s credit cards at Wal-Mart and two counts of theft for allegedly taking items out of Heard’s house. Burns has not been charged in Heard’s disappearance and his parole request was denied.

 

By Robert Herrington
robert@youarecurrent.com

Robert is the managing editor of Current in Noblesville.

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