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Burns used her cellular phone to call her mother from Huntington, West Virginia at 9:45 p.m. on November 11, 2002. She said she had been visiting friends at Marshall University Court Yard Apartments and was on her way home. Burns lived in East Hamlin, West Virginia at the time. She never arrived there and has never been heard from again. The call to her mother was the last one Burns made on her phone. After her disappearance the phone was discovered to be turned off, which is uncharacteristic of her.
Burns's burgundy 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier, which has a tiger sticker in the back window on the driver's side and the license plates number 5X9326, was found abandoned in Wayne County, West Virginia at 3:30 a.m. on November 12. The vehicle was discovered in a secluded area at German Ridge and Haneys Branch Roads, near the Cabell-Wayne county line. It had been set on fire and was still burning when police found it. There was no sign of Burns near the vehicle.
Within a few days of Burns's disappearance, police identified two suspects in her presumed abduction, Chadwick E. Fulks and Branden L. Basham (sometimes called "L. Branden Basham"). The two men escaped from Hopkins County Jail on November 4, a week before Burns's disappearance, and embarked on a multi-state crime spree, including numerous robberies, car thefts, and at least one burglary. They were recaptured after Burns vanished.
Basham confessed to abducting and murdering Alice Louise Donovan, who disappeared on November 14, 2002 in Conway, South Carolina. Her dark blue 1994 BMW 318i was found in Goshen, Indiana. Basham says he only helped kidnap her and it it was Fulks who raped, stabbed and strangled her. Both men were charged with carjacking resulting in death and kidnapping resulting in death in connection with Donovan's case; they were convicted in separate trials and sentenced to death. In January 2009, bone chips later identified as Donovan's were found in Horry County, South Carolina.
In June 2003, Basham and Fulks were also charged with carjacking resulting in death in Burns's case. Her body has not been found, but authorities believed they can prove the case with circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors stated that the men abducted Burns and, before killing her, held her at gunpoint while they drove her car around and tried, with some success, to withdraw money at various (ATMs. Basham pleaded guilty to murdering Burns in July 2005 and was sentenced to life in prison. He confessed in court to his involvement in the crime, and apologized to Burns's family. The case's outcome for Fulks has not been determined. Both men are on death row in South Carolina. Burns and Donovan's families filed wrongful death lawsuits against them and against the Hopkins County Jail. The suit against the jail was settled for an undisclosed amount in August 2008.
At the time of her disappearance, Burns lived at home with her parents and younger brother. She was enrolled in Marshall's Community and Technical College, in the physical therapy assistant program. She also worked part time at a J.C. Penney department store in the Huntington Mall.
Burns remains missing. Foul play is suspected in her disappearance due to the circumstances involved.
West Virginia State Police