Cold Case: The Murder of Melissa "Missy" Witt
December 1, 2020 will mark twenty-six years since the abduction of 19-year-old Melissa Witt.
Melissa was working at a local dental clinic at the time of her abduction. Melissa aspired to go to a dental hygienist school and further her education. She was described as a "hard worker" and "very friendly and kind-hearted." No one could imagine something so gruesome happening to someone who never had any enemies.
What happened to Melissa Witt in the winter of December of 1994 still haunts the town of Fort Smith, Arkansas...
Photos of Melissa Witt Photo credit: Do South Magazine.
The "X" I have drawn on the map marks the approximate location where Melissa's abduction occurred. The "X" marks the parking lot of Bowling World in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
On December 1, 1994, Melissa Witt parked her car in the Bowling World parking lot of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Her mother, Mary Ann Witt, was a member of the bowling alley's bowling league. Melissa frequently met her mother at the bowling alley so they could get dinner together.
According to Jay C. Rider, an investigator and former Fort Smith police chief who was assigned to her case for eight years, stated that "Melissa was abducted from the Bowling World parking lot. She was struck in the head." Evidence found at the scene shows signs of a struggle. Blood was found in the parking lot along with her keys and one earring.
On January 13, 1995, only six weeks after Melissa's abduction, two hunters were making their way through the Ozark National Forest. Around the Turner Bend area, the men discovered the naked body of a young woman who would later be identified through dental records as 19-year-old Melissa Witt.
Her body was placed near a headstone-like rock. Her clothing was missing from the crime scene, including her jeans, undergarments, purse, an earring, and her Mickey Mouse watch. She had been strangled to death and sexually assaulted.
According to investigator Jay C. Rider, "her body seemed to have been moved from its intended resting place." Did Melissa's murderer come back to the location and move her body? Was she killed in another part of the forest and moved to where she was found? Or is this just a theory?
Rider also stated that a day or so before the discovery of her body, a voice recording was left with the local police department. The voicemail contained the voices of what seemed to be a young man and an older woman. The woman was urging the man to let the police know what he had discovered. The man stated "I can't" and the call ended. Did the young man have something to do with Melissa's murder? Does he know something that could lead to the apprehension of Melissa's murderer?
The photo above shows the location of Bowling World in Fort Smith, Arkansas (where Melissa Witt was abducted) and a route to what is known as Turner Bend (the approximate area where Melissa's body was found).
People have formed their opinions on who could be responsible for Melissa's murder. Two names come up in conversation when talking about Melissa's case.
1. Larry Swearingen
A photo of Larry Swearingen. Photo credit: Innocence Project.
December 8, 1998 was the last time anyone saw 19-year-old, Montgomery College student Melissa Trotter alive. Only 25 days later, Melissa Trotter's body would be found in the Sam Houston National Forest in Lufkin, Texas. She was strangled with her pantyhose and had been sexually assaulted. The last person she was seen with happened to be Larry Swearingen. He had been spotted with her in the community college library. Swearingen was eventually convicted of Melissa Trotter's murder and sentenced to death.
According to Death Penalty Information Center, his attorney stated that his conviction should not be upheld because his conviction is "grounded in junk evidence including false testimony regarding pantyhose used to strange trotter, blood found under his fingernails, and the time of her death."
The prosecutor maintained a different opinion "asserting that there was a more than enough evidence" against Larry Swearingen. The prosecutor mentioned that a pair of pantyhose used to strangle Melissa Trotter matched a pair of pantyhose found near Larry Swearingen's home (note: From the research I have done, facts differ. Some articles say that the pantyhose were found in his home and others say that the pantyhose were found near his home).
Larry Swearingen maintained his innocence until his death by lethal injection performed by the state of Texas on January 27, 2009.
Photo of Melissa Trotter. Photo credit: Texas Public Radio.
Many find the similarities between Melissa Trotter and Melissa Witts' cases uncanny. Both girls were 19 years old at the time of their deaths. Both girls were murdered and their bodies found in large national forests. Larry Swearingen, Melissa Trotter's murderer, was also known to be in the area around the time of Melissa Witt's abduction.
2. Travis Dale Crouch
Photo of Travis Dale Crouch. Photo credit: "Who Killed Missy Witt?" Facebook page.
Travis Dale Crouch is an Arkansas native and no stranger to the prison system. According to Aymag.com, Crouch is currently in prison for the rape of a woman who he happened to meet at a mall parking lot. He has a history of drug abuse and violence against women. But what makes him a suspect in the Witt case?
Crouch is known to have been in the Fort Smith area at the time of Melissa Witt's abduction. He has knowledge of the surrounding area and the Ozark forest where Melissa's body was found. Crouch lived only miles away from the location her body was found, and he attended a church camp nearby when he was a child. He was also working at the church camp at the time of her abduction. Crouch has never given law enforcement an alibi for the night of Melissa Witt's murder.
Unfortunately, no one has been convicted in the murder of Melissa Witt. Many have their opinions of who is responsible, but no individual has come forward.
The documentary Uneven Ground: The Melissa Witt Story, a film documenting Melissa's life and murder investigation, is set to be released on January 13, 2021. The "Who Killed Melissa Witt?" Facebook group has been active since its creation in late 2015 and continues to document updates in her case.
It is important to shine a new light on these cold cases in the hope that someone who has any helpful information will come forward. If you have any tips regarding Melissa Witt's case, please contact 1-800-440-1922 or contact the "Who Killed Missy Witt?" Facebook group.
Would you like to donate to honor Melissa Witt? Visit https://www.whokilledmissywitt.com/donate for more information on how you can donate to keep her memory alive and bring awareness to her case.