365 Days of Texas True Crime: Dessie
I was going to cover a story out of Dallas today but it just didn't feel right. I like to keep any interest that anyone reading this may have focused on our area, or as close to our area as possible. So, with that in mind, let's get started.
Any kind of research on things like missing persons, homicides and other true crime related events can prove difficult in and of themselves simply due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter and the added issues of legalities that come along with them. When you add in the difficulty of finding information out on something that's occurred almost 50 years ago it's almost impossible. However, regardless of how little information I found on this case it has still managed to stick with me ever since I first ran across it years ago. I think of Dessie Holt every time I read about a missing child in west Texas, which isn't all that often actually (we're talking cold case missing child not recent missing child). If you do a search, as I often do, on an archival newspaper site for the words "missing child" within this area of west Texas, you won't find much, at least not compared to other parts of the state. For whatever reason either there just weren't many cases to report about or many went un-reported. The later I can easily believe, considering there are unsolved homicides that I hear about through word of mouth fairly often that won't be found in any old newspaper articles.
It was July, 1974 and Dessie Holt, with her blonde hair and freckles was all smiles, she was out of school for the summer. Dessie went to school in Fort Stockton her first grade year for seven weeks and finished out the rest of the year in McCamey. Her mom worked long hours but during the day she had her brother to keep an eye on her. On the evening of July 19th, 1974 Dessie’s brother walked her to a street she would need to cross. She was just seven years old and she needed to cross that street to get to the apartment of some friends where her older sister Marsha was playing around 9:30 p.m. Her big brother walked her part of the way. Dessie’s brother walks her to the edge of the street and turns around to go home. That’s the last time anyone see’s Dessie May Holt alive again.
Dorothy Holt gets out of work at 10:30 p.m. and finally makes it home at 11 p.m., it’s raining outside. It isn’t more than 30 minute before she realizes that Dessie never made it the apartments where her older sister was playing. She does what every mother would have done, she alerts authorities and then quickly organizes a neighborhood search. A massive search begins.
Police send out teletype messages seeking help from any and all nearby law enforcement agencies. The message that get’s sent out says that foul play is in fact suspected. Saturday morning the Pecos County Sheriff’s deputies, members of the Fort Stockton Volunteer Fire Department, members of the Sheriff’s Posse, the Fort Stockton Jaycees and other volunteer searchers begin the search for Dessie Mae Holt. According to her brother she was wearing a wine, green and yellow plaid shirt with light green shorts when he left her at the edge of the street. It was raining on Friday night when she disappeared so much of Saturday morning was spent looking in trash dumpsters. It was thought because of the rain she may have ducked into a dumpster to avoid the rain. Storage buildings, backyards, vacant buildings and the grounds of gas plants outside the city were all searched.
The Ector County Sheriff’s department jumps into action, they dispatch a helicopter on Saturday afternoon. Pecos County Sheriff Bruce Wilson jumps into the bird with pilot Merlin Hanley to help in the search from the air. Mike Hill, Chief Pecos County Deputy Sheriff and search effort coordinator has 10 civil air patrol planes called in to search as well along with well over 100 people who are searching on the ground. They searched on foot and on horse back the entire city and surrounding areas. Crash dumpsters, under bridges, culverts, abandoned houses and buildings are all searched but nothing is found. The Sheriff says the search goes all the way out to Sheffield, up and down the Pecos River, in the Imperial Reservoir and in creek beds, everywhere a small child might be able to hide.
Early on they discover through the canvas of the area near her home, that a clerk at a drive-in grocery store thinks Dessie came in and bought some candy.
The only problem is when authorities ask her mother, Dorothy, about this and she tells them Dessie didn’t have any money and she didn’t know where would’ve gotten any. It’s possible that Dessie veered off her path to her sisters and ventured into the grocery but where did she come up with the money to buy candy? Authorities fear that someone may have given her the money for the candy and that someone might also be the reason she’s missing.
The FBI and Texas Rangers are called in. Texas Ranger Alfred Allee of Alpine joins the investigation and an FBI agent from Midland get’s on board as well. Pecos County authorities reach out to anyone they think could help them find seven year old Dessie Holt.
Dessie’s family reaches out to anyone they think can help as well, that includes some non-conventual avenues as well. The brother-in-law of Dorothy Holt, Dessie’s mother, steps in to do what he can. Jim P. Lacy of Midland, organizes a reward for information leading to the safe return of his niece and he starts reaching out to a well-known Dallas psychic. The psychic, Ann Jensen, worked with Ector County officials back when they were looking for missing secretary Mrs. Gloria Sue Nix Green. The pretty secretary was part of a hand full of similar disappearances in the area at the time. She was abducted from the office she was working in on June 17th, 1971. After searches yielded nothing and in desperation they reached out to Mrs. Jensen who predicted that Mrs. Green would be found before July 24th, 1971 in South East Ector County. January 20th, 1972 skeletal remains found belonging to Mrs. Green were found 10 blocks from the spot Jensen predicted months earlier, despite the discrepancy in the time frame it seemed to validate Mrs. Jensen’s abilities, to some.
Then, after weeks of finding next to nothing, there’s a break in the case. The clothing she was wearing when she went missing was found at the end of July hidden under a mesquite bush south of town. Deputies leave at daybreak in a private plane to take the clothing to the Department of Public Safety’s lab in Austin for processing. It was a Texas Highway Department survey crew that found the clothing Wednesday morning under the bush. They weren’t torn and there was no apparent blood that could be seen on the clothing at the time. The clothes were piled neatly under the bush and covered by a white towel about 20 feet from the side of the road on the Sanderson Highway just a few miles south of the city in rolling hill country. The family identifies the plaid shirt, greet shorts and a blue purse belonging to Dessie and as the ones she was wearing the night she disappeared. The blue purse contained some play money.
Unfortunately, the clothing comes back from the lab containing no blood or anything else that shouldn’t have been there.
Neighbors say that Dorothy Holt, Dessie’s mother, had been holding up really well until the clothing was found, despite the soft spoken mother’s flood of tears she was still able to keep it together and stay focused on finding her daughter. That is, until the littler girls clothing are found, the shirt, shorts, underthings and her little blue purse with the play money in it, folded up, under a white towel, hidden under a mesquite bush outside of town. After that Mrs. Holt’s emotions aren’t her own anymore, she is easily overcome the desperate state of things. Her little girl goes missing out of nowhere, after a simple trip to go play with her sister and friends, I don’t know anyone who would be doing any better.
The last person to see her alive was originally her brother, but after the questioning of anyone and everyone in the area that night they discover that it was a neighbor who recalls seeing her at the Jiffy Stop Grocery that evening. She was in the store and had purchased two jars of banana flavored baby food and two suckers. The neighbor, Terri Ryan, said that she and her older sister, Marsha (the one who was at a friends apartment playing, they one she was going to meet up with) had been eating baby food lately. Terri tells authorities that she sees Dessie pay for the items with some small change but after that she doesn’t see her again. The parking lot was fairly full of cars that day and Terri wasn’t particularly watching for Dessie so she wasn’t closely watching her movements but she did know that she didn’t see Dessie again as she left the store.
September 1974 rolls around and law enforcement has been at a stand still on the investigation since the discovery of the little girls clothes. They reach out to the public for help, specifically the hunting public. The grim reality of what could be possible has set in and law enforcement knows they have to be smart. Dove season is about to start and they ask that all west Texas hunters in the area keep an eye out for anything unusual. At this point Mike Hill, chief Pecos County deputy sheriff and Pecos County sheriff C.S. (Pete) Ten Eyck have both expressed their belief that the missing girl is dead and her remains will eventually be found somewhere near Fort Stockton.
One more story on the little girl is written up to commemorate the year anniversary of her disappearance. Dessie’s mother has moved in with another of her daughters, Terry Osburn of Fort Stockton. She still holds out that hope that perhaps her little girl is still alive, living with whomever it was that snatched her that day, and maybe she will still see her again one day.
Seven years later, on December 5th, 1981, just as authorities had surmised, skeletal remains are found by a hunter near U.S. 285, about 20 miles south of where the girls’ clothing was found weeks after her disappearance. It’s a small skeleton but it’s hard to determine if it is indeed the remains of little Dessie Holt be cause she had no previous x-rays done. It was obvious however that the remains had been there for some time. A small vending machine type ring is found next to the body. When it’s shown to her mother she says she just couldn’t tell positively if the ring belonged to her little girl or not, she says she just couldn’t remember it. Dessie is in one of the hardest age ranges for forensic anthropologists to determine factors on skeletal remains and even after the most updated (for the time) tests are performed by a very highly regarded expert in the area, no absolute positive identification can be made. Authorities suspect that these are the remains of the girl they’ve been looking for all this time, but they say there simply isn’t any way to be 100% sure. This information comes out in January of 1983 and authorities have no choice but to leave the case open. Even so, Dessie has a burial plot in the Resthaven Cemetery in McCamey, I didn’t find an obituary for the little blonde haired, blue eyed, freckled faced seven year old but perhaps the family simply needed a place to come and mourn.
Makes me wonder if with all the advances in technology today, would it be possible to once and for all identify the remains as belonging to Dessie? Did authorities release them to the family and have they been laid to rest in the cemetery there in McCamey?
These are just my thoughts and I'm not an expert, but if her mother said she didn't have any money and didn't know where she would've gotten money from, yet Dessie is seen paying for suckers and jars of banana baby food and then what are likely her remains are found with a vending machine ring (like the kind of vending machines at grocery stores) that Dorothy doesn't recognize, it's likely someone gave her the money. I think she ran into this person before she made it to the apartments her sister was at. She was given some money and she bought she and her sister some treats, had a left over coin and dropped it in a vending machine for a ring she put on before she left with her generous new "friend". The neatly laid clothing under a bath towel, hidden under a mesquite bush with no blood or DNA evidence throws me off a little. I found out that Dorothy was married, had Dessie and then divorced in 1972. The man they reported as Dessie’s father was living in Longview at the time and there wasn't much about him being involved in anyway with anything they reported in the paper. Those clothes left that way sounded like something that someone who knew her would do.
Dorothy Holt died in 2001, never knowing wha happened to her little girl.