Missing children are always difficult cases to cover. It was at 6:30 a.m. when the backdoor of a mobile home was found to be open on April 2, 1986. The family of five-year-old Ara Denise Johnson searched but were unable to find her anywhere. They immediately called authorities in Big Sandy, Texas and reported the little girl missing. She’s never been seen again.

It’s believed that sometime between 1:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., Ara was abducted. Investigators would learn that there was no evidence pointing to a break-in. When they questioned family members inside of the home at the time of Ara’s disappearance, no one reported any strange noises. Police believed that whoever had taken Ara knew the family’s regular habits.

A man named David Elliot Penton was later revealed to be a person of interest in 2007. The alleged serial killer has been in prison since 1987, but it’s believed that he’s responsible for the deaths of Ara, two-year-old Amber Crum in 1983, and 11-year-old Angelica Gandara in 1985. In 1984, he was found guilty of manslaughter following the death of his two-month-old son. While out on bond, he fled. It wasn’t until 1987 that he was caught and then convicted of the murder of his friend’s nine-year-old niece. It’s suspected that David Elliot Penton has other unknown victims that he reportedly molested and strangled. Penton was sentenced to life in prison and is eligible for parole in 2027.

Although Penton hasn’t been charged for the disappearance of Ara, Amber, or Angelica, he did sign a plea deal admitting to the murder of three girls. His cellmates reportedly told authorities that Penton had mentioned that he was responsible for the Ara, Amber, and Angelica’s murders. However, it has gone unproven.

At the time of her disappearance, Ara was described as being 3 feet tall and 39 pounds. She has black/dark brown hair and brown eyes. She was missing two of her lower front teeth and had a filling in her right back molar. Ara went by the nickname “Neecee.” She was last wearing orange underwear and her orange bedspread was also missing.

Anyone with information regarding this cold case is urged to contact the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office at (903) 843-2541 or their local authorities.

Please share this story regarding the disappearance of Ara Denise Johnson to help her loved ones find answers. She is our sister and her life matters.


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Dark. Lovely. Journalist. Activist. Abolitionist. Diviner. Storyteller. Poet. OurBlackGirls.com | Urbanesh.com Insta: @earthtoerikamarie | Twitter: @EarthToEMarie

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