Donna Lee Fowler
Missing since November 10, 1980, from Trinity, Trinity County, California.
Classification: Endangered Missing
Circumstances of Disappearance
Fowler was last seen on November 10, 1980, in Trinity, California. Donna was kept home from school that day and told her grandfather that she was going to run away. The grandfather helped her pack her bags, thinking she was joking, but she wasn't. She was last seen at 14.30 that day near the Joss House Historical Museum downtown, and her mother reported her missing at 23.30. Donna was not reported missing right away because she had "run away" before and had always gone to a friend's house.
In spite of an investigation that included a search with bloodhounds, hypnosis of two Redding men who thought they saw Donna, and a reward raised by a local businessman, she was never found. Investigators continued to receive tips. In August 2007 they dug up a well in Weaverville after getting a tip that Donna's remains had been placed in an old well in the area. But no evidence of Donna was located there.
In December 2008 Wayne Harvey Smith confessed to killing Donna. Smith lived near Donna's family in Weaverville and he knew them. Investigators long suspected that Smith was responsible for her disappearance. They did not have the evidence to arrest Smith or to officially name him as a suspect at the time. He left town shortly after the little girl vanished in November 1980. Investigators spoke to Smith about the Donna Fowler case after his arrest in 1985, but he denied responsibility. A break came when DNA linked Smith to a 1983 cold case in Los Angeles County.
In a December 2, 2008 interview, given as part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty in the 1983 case, Smith admitted to killing Donna on the day she went missing. Smith stated that Donna came to his 'shack' and wouldn't leave. Smith became angry and strangled Donna. Smith stated he took Donna to the Weaverville landfill and placed her body there. At the time, the landfill was an open pit that residents threw their garbage in.
Because of the time elapsed and changes at the landfill over the last 28 years, there will be no attempt to recover Donna's remains. It would be impossible to pinpoint an exact location and dig through 30 to 40 feet of dirt to locate them. It had been agreed between detectives and the Trinity County District Attorney's Office that no deal would be struck without the approval of Donna's mother. She was willing to allow the deal with Smith since Smith was already serving time in prison and would never be released.
The missing person case has been reclassified as a homicide, and the investigation has been closed. Smith is serving life in prison without parole, for another homicide.
Investigators Trinity County Sheriffs Department
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Trinity County Sheriffs Department
Agency Case Number:
NCIC Number: Source Information: Return to the Unexplained Disappearances' Index
Please refer to this number when contacting any agency with information regarding this case.
California Department of Justice
The Trinity Journal
Source Information: Return to the Unexplained Disappearances' Index
Return to the Unexplained Disappearances' Index