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Cynthia was last seen in Russellville, Arkansas at 5:30 p.m. on December 2, 1976. She disappeared from her home in the Fairview Estates neighborhood. and was never seen again. That same day, two other girls vanished from their residences in the same neighborhood: Teresa Williams, 13, and Crystal Donita Parton, 14. Authorities assumed the girls were all runaways, but none of them ever returned home. Teresa and Crystal's remains were found ten years later on a dead-end road near Brock Cemtery in northern Pope County, Arkansas. They'd been stabbed in the neck.
In October 1998, a woodcutter named James B. Grinder was charged with murder in Teresa, Crystal and Cynthia's deaths. He was already serving a prison sentence in Missouri for burglary at the time, and earlier that year, he had been charged with the 1984 rape and murder of Julie Helton, a 25-year-old Missouri woman. Grinder admitted he knew the Russellville girls and initially said he had only given them a ride from Russellville to Pottsville, Arkansas the day they disappeared. He said he gave them $20 and left them on the interstate.
Grinder later admitted to the murders. He said he'd picked up the three girls on the outskirts of Russellville, drove them to Morrilton, Arkansas, bought them alcohol and then took them to the Brock Cemetery, where he raped Crystal and Teresa, strangled and stabbed them to death and covered their bodies with brush. Afterwards he took Cynthia to another location in Ozark National Forest, raped her, beat her to death, and left her body there without trying to hide it. Grinder was charged with only a single count of capital murder because the crime in Arkansas in 1976 was defined as the premeditated killing of two or more people.
Grinder pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. He later asked for his sentenced to be reduced, claiming he was forced to confess to his crimes and other, unnamed individuals had been involved in the murders, but his petition for clemency was denied.
Cynthia's body has never been found.
by Katherine Ramsland