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Dawnia was last seen in San Antonio, Texas on December 14, 1985. Her twelve-year-old son stated he woke up in the morning and his mother was gone. She left behind her keys, car and purse. She has never been heard from again. She was recently divorced at the time of her disappearance and lived alone with her two children. She had a history of drug use and an arrest record for alcohol-related offenses, and her loved ones stated it would not be uncharacteristic of her to leave without warning, but they did not think she would have abandoned her children entirely.
Dawnia's ex-husband, Richard Clinton Howard, moved into her home after her disappearance and took care of her children, but did not report her missing. A photo of him is posted below this case summary. Dawnia's father filed the missing persons report on December 27. Richard stated he believed Dawnia was on a trip to see her sister in Europe when she disappeared. However, Dawnia's sister was not in Europe at the time.
On the same day Dawnia was officially reported missing, Richard's brother, Roger Howard, went to the police and said Richard had confessed to causing Dawnia's death. According to Roger, Richard went to Dawnia's house and attacked her while she was asleep on the couch. He beat and choked her to death and disposed of her body by flushing the flesh down the toilet and putting the bones in a trash container south of Braunig Lake. Richard was charged with Dawnia's murder in 1986, but less than a week after his arrest the charge was dropped for lack of evidence. A search of his trailer turned up no indications that a dead body had been there. Authorities did, however, say they believe Roger's statement about the confession was true.
Richard married again later in 1986, and he and his new wife, Cora Jean Howard, moved to Michigan. In July 1999, Cora disappeared without a trace. Richard gave an explanation for her disappearance that was very similar to his account of Dawnia's disappearance: he stated Cora had taken a bus to Texas to visit her aunt, but Cora did not have an aunt living in Texas. Authorities suspected Richard was involved in Cora's disappearance and they were about to arrest him for her murder in January 2003, when he turned himself in voluntarily and confessed. Richard led investigators to Cora's body in August of that year; he had buried her in the basement of his barn. He was sentenced to life in prison for second-degree murder.
Dawnia graduated from East Central High School in 1973. She has never been located and her ex-husband was never convicted of any charges in her disappearance. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.