Stidham murder case still a mystery

Editor’s note — This story originally was published in March 2015 by The Weekly Vista. It has been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

Dana Stidham-2 (The Weekly Vista)(1)Dana Stidham would’ve turned 44 on March 8.

Instead she died at age 18, the victim of an unsolved murder that continues to haunt detectives more than two decades later.

“I still think about it all the time. I just run it around in my head,” said Mike Sydoriak, a retired captain with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office who was a detective in Bella Vista when Dana’s murder happened. “I keep thinking, we talked to all these different people, why didn’t somebody see something?”

Stidham was last seen alive leaving Phillips Food Center (now Harps in Town Center) on July 25, 1989. Two months later, her remains were discovered in a creek bed in far eastern Bella Vista, near the Arkansas-Missouri border.

Sydoriak partnered with Bella Vista detective Danny Varner to investigate Stidham’s murder. They worked the case for nearly 20 years. For every lead uncovered, the detectives always found themselves lacking sufficient evidence to make an arrest.

In 1998, Sydoriak and then-Benton County Sheriff Andy Lee told reporters that they believed they knew who killed Stidham. They just didn’t have enough evidence for an arrest. The evidence “pointed to one man,” they said, a former high school classmate of Stidham’s.

“He never dated her. He always tried but never could,” Sydoriak says now. “She didn’t want nothing to do with him.”

Failed polygraphs, dubious alibis and other oddities further implicated the man. But it was all circumstantial evidence, Sydoriak said.

“We even had the FBI try and come up with something. They would make profiles, kind of like what you see on TV,” Sydoriak said. “They send out a questionnaire, we fill it out and send it back. They reached the same conclusion as we did.”

“I remember that night (she disappeared),” Sydoriak added. “Everyone was saying that she’d run off. But her mom knew right away that something was wrong.”

In August 2013, Benton County Sheriff Kelley Cradduck announced that he wanted to take a “fresh look” at the Stidham case.

He told reporters that his office was combing through old files and that they planned to digitize the items box-by-box.

“There’s new technology that exists that might help us uncover some clues that maybe were missed before,” Cradduck said. “We are going to keep looking and sooner or later, I do believe we will find a way to solve that case.”

Sgt. Hunter Petray is currently overseeing Stidham’s case for the Criminal Investigation Division of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.

“This case is certainly not forgotten, but it’s kind of on the back burner because of other cases we’re working on right now,” Petray said in January. “That’s not to say that this case is any less important, but we’re going to go back and start from the beginning.”

Tips can be reported anonymously to CID at 479-271-1009 or sent to the Vista at weeklyvista@nwadg.com or calling 479-855-3724.

A life cut short

dana2Dana was preparing to embark on the next stage of her life when she disappeared. She graduated from Gravette High School in June, and had moved to an apartment in Centerton with her brother, Larry, and a few friends.

“She had the world open to her,” said her mother, Georgia Stidham. “She just had to decide what she wanted to start out with.”

A well-known, popular girl, Dana was relatively petite. At 5-foot-2, she weighed just over 100 pounds. She had a dark complexion, with shoulder-length brown hair. Sydoriak remembers seeing her often at local dances.

“They used to have weekend dances at the Civic Center in Gravette,” Sydoriak said. “They’d hire me to stand inside as the chaperone. Dana was always there. All the kids knew her and a lot of kids liked her.”

Georgia remembers a teen who loved “babies and old people.” Dana often babysat for young couples and was heavily involved with her family. She and her brother, Larry, were close, so much so that they often covered for each other at school.

“Dana was a freshman when Larry was a senior,” Georgia said. “I remember I got a call from Larry worried that he had missed too many days of school. I said, ‘but I have to sign a note when you’re absent,’ and then Dana said, ‘Well … I signed a few of those notes, Mom.’”

Home in Hiwasse

Dana was thinking about enrolling at the University of Arkansas. That was one reason she was back in Hiwasse on July 25, Georgia said. Dana needed to do a load of laundry and was contemplating moving back home to save money for school.

“She was looking into courses,” Georgia said. “She was very artistic. She could draw and paint — she could do anything.”

Dana’s father, Lawrence, was home while she did her laundry that day in 1989. Feeling ill, he asked Dana to fetch some medicine for him. She agreed to the errand, departing in the late afternoon for Phillips Food Store in Bella Vista. She was wearing white shorts, a white top with red lettering and red socks with white tennis shoes.

After stopping for gas, Dana arrived at the store. She purchased Alka-Seltzer, dish-washing soap and sugar. A receipt found later by investigators listed her checkout time as 3:17 p.m.

Sydoriak said that at first he was perplexed that Dana didn’t just stop at the convenience store in Hiwasse, which was only a few blocks from Georgia and Larry’s home. He later discovered why Dana avoided it.

“(The suspect) sat at the store a lot, because his parents owned it,” Sydoriak said. “He was there all the time.” They sold the store years ago.

When Sydoriak asked Georgia about avoiding the nearby Hiwasse Dairy Freeze — what residents called the “Hiwasse Hilton” — Georgia told him “Dana didn’t want to deal with (the suspect). He was always around.”

Dana had worked part-time at Phillips for about three years, and stopped to visit with a few friends inside the store. She also visited briefly with an older employee in the parking lot. Sydoriak said investigators interviewed a witness who was landscaping nearby. The witness said he saw Dana drive off, but wasn’t sure which way she went.

Which direction Dana traveled after leaving Phillips was critical to establishing a time line, Sydoriak said.

Later that evening, when Dana didn’t return home, her parents started to worry. They went out looking for her, and so did Larry when he got off work. Dana’s parents contacted Varner, a family friend who went to high school with Georgia, to tell him Dana was missing.

Varner worked at the the Bella Vista division of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office (which was the law enforcement agency for Bella Vista until Bella Vista became a city and formed the police department). Other officers joined the search as well. No one could find any trace of Dana. At about 9 p.m., a be-on-the-lookout was issued and broadcast by law enforcement agencies in the region.

The first clue

Dana Stidham-1 (Benton County Daily Record)(1)At 6:30 a.m. July 26, BVSO Sgt. Karen Myers was driving southbound down U.S. Highway 71 on her way to work. She was nearing Wellington Road, north of Town Center, when she noticed a vehicle on the side of the highway. After getting to Bella Vista and hearing the briefing about Dana’s disappearance, she decided to give the car another look.

It was still there when Myers returned. After running the plates, authorities found the car belonged to Dana. Her 1984 gray Dodge Omni had been abandoned and was sitting in the southbound shoulder opposite Wellington Road.

Investigators thoroughly examined the car, but it was only the first in a litany of frustrating clues.

The keys were still in the ignition, the driver-side window was halfway down and the rear tire was slightly deflated, but still driveable. There was no sign of a struggle. Dana’s purse was missing. The driver’s seat also had been adjusted for a much taller person, indicating that Dana likely wasn’t the last person to operate the vehicle before it was abandoned.

“Nobody saw the car there and then all of a sudden it shows up the next morning,” Sydoriak said. State troopers were running radar in the area until close to midnight. “They didn’t see the car.”

Further complicating the matter was that Dana’s family had been scouring the area for her all evening, and they had a plan in place if she was in trouble.

“We were protective. We had a route to take if Dana got stranded or didn’t contact us,” Georgia said. “And when she didn’t come home that day, we went all up and down (U.S.) 71 and never saw the car. So to see it the next day seemed strange.”

A primary suspect

Not long after investigators found Dana’s car, they found some of her laundry scattered near Eling Circle — 1,700 feet up Wellington from where the car was found. Authorities retained a private tracker and used a police-trained German shepherd to search the area.

It was about that time that Varner decided to interview Dana’s high school classmate.

“People had seen (the suspect) riding around that night at around 3 a.m.,” Sydoriak said.

When questioned by Varner, the suspect told police he was out driving his dad’s pickup truck. The suspect added that a girlfriend would provide an alibi for him. But, Sydoriak said that girlfriend denied knowing the suspect’s whereabouts. The suspect selected another girlfriend to back him up, but her story fell apart as well, Sydoriak said.

As July rolled into August, investigators were starting to think Dana’s disappearance pointed towards an abduction. She had a date waiting for her the night she disappeared. She also planned to pick up some boots from a friend in Missouri. But neither heard from her.

Meanwhile, her clothes and other personal belongings remained untouched at her Centerton apartment.

An unsettling theory

Dana Stidham-2 (Benton County Daily Record)(1)On Aug. 5, authorities got an important tip. A resident near Hanover Drive and Chaucer Drive alerted investigators after their dog brought a purse home after being let out to run. The purse turned out to be Dana’s denim purse. Investigators swarmed the area, finding Dana’s checkbook, driver’s license and photos strewn in the weeds. Because the items were discovered along the roadside, investigators suspected that they were thrown from a moving car.

That area is little more than a mile north of where Dana’s car was parked.

Sheriff Lee gave reporters a grim prognosis.

“(The) new evidence … has given us a bit of a scare,” Lee said at the time. “We know when she left the car, she took her purse with her. But we don’t believe she would be throwing personal items out.”

Investigators began scouring Bella Vista for more evidence. They searched a former gravel pit in Missouri that is just north of Hanover Drive, Lake Norwood (which is directly behind the grocery store where Dana worked) and a remote party spot near Newburn Drive. By mid-August, authorities were offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to Dana’s whereabouts.

Meanwhile, Dana’s parents told reporters that they thought she was alive and well nearby. The grieving parents waited by the phone day and night, hoping for good news, refusing to believe Dana had run away.

“After we found some of her stuff that was thrown out, we had volunteers on horses … to search the woods,” Sydoriak said. “The search was slow as we worked our way through the woods. But we didn’t go far enough.”

The tragic breakthrough

Summer turned to fall; the investigation languished. Authorities had little evidence to move forward.

Then, in mid-September, a local hunter discovered Dana’s remains in a seasonal creek bed about 100 feet from Beal Lane, a cul-de-sac off Newburn Drive.

The remains were skeletal, but approximately 90 percent complete. Her skull was found intact, along with most of the jaw. Her bones were scattered about 50 feet along the creek. Investigators discovered a T-shirt with duct tape on it and pieces of jewelry. They found the clothes she was wearing the day she disappeared buried nearby.

“(The case) has taken on a new appearance,” Lee said a few days later. “Before we were working on a missing-person’s case with a suspicious nature and now we’ve got a homicide.”

A cause of death

Dana Stidham-1 (The Weekly Vista)(1)There was evidence of a nick on Dana’s left shoulder blade, but any conclusive determination of death hinged on her missing sternum.

“We couldn’t find it. The most important bone we never could find,” Sydoriak said. “Without that, that little notch could’ve been taken out by an animal.”

Dana’s parents were distraught when they heard the news.

“They took my baby. It’s like someone took my whole reason for being alive,” Georgia said at the time. “The hardest thing is to wake up in the morning and face this all again. It would be a blessing not to wake up. But that would be giving in to (Dana’s killers).”

The pain of finding Dana dead was amplified by their belief that she was still alive somewhere nearby.

“I wasn’t looking for a body,” Lawrence said in a newspaper account. “I was looking for Dana.”

A new lead

Despite little progress, Dana’s case remained open during the early 1990s. Still believing Dana’s murder to be solvable, Sydoriak and Varner in 1996 tracked down the truck the primary suspect was driving the night Dana vanished.

They sent the vehicle to a lab in Texas for testing. From there the results were forwarded to the Arkansas Crime Laboratory in Little Rock. Reports indicate both labs found the hair samples closely matched Dana’s.

Sydoriak and Varner followed the revelation by organizing an interview with the suspect. He denied any wrongdoing and submitted to a polygraph test, but issued a cryptic statement: “sometimes I think I did kill Dana, but I know I didn’t.”

The detectives sought more evidence as the year wound down, asking the suspect for additional hair samples in September 1996.

His attorney, Brad Karren — now a circuit judge in Benton County — objected on the grounds that there was lack of probable cause and that the detectives were out of their jurisdiction. Karren added that no evidence linked his client to the crime.

Thanks to a court order signed by Terry Crabtree, then-Benton County chancery judge, Sydoriak and Varner were able to obtain more samples from the suspect.

Despite the samples and other circumstantial evidence, then-Benton County Prosecutor Brad Butler declined to move forward.

“The hair didn’t have the follicle at the end, and it wasn’t a 100-percent match,” Sydoriak said. “Nobody saw them together that night.”

“No one could really say he was with her,” Sydoriak added. “When (Dana) left the grocery store, that was it.”

That was the last major breakthrough in Dana’s case. Still, investigators who stuck with the case over the last two decades believe they’ve got the right suspect.

Keeping hope alive

Dana Stidham-1 (KNWA)When Sydoriak and Lee met with the reporters in 1998, they divulged more oddities about the primary suspect, including that he kept a photo of Dana in his wallet years after her murder, stole the grave marker from her headstone after she was buried and that a former girlfriend said he visited the cemetery at midnight and wept.

He joined the Navy soon after Dana disappeared. That also was peculiar, Sydoriak said, because investigators knew he’d been thwarting pressure from recruiters all year.

Georgia, who has given several interviews in the decades since her daughter’s murder, says she remains hopeful that her daughter’s killer will brought to justice. Her husband, Lawrence, passed away in 1999.

“I say a prayer each night that this will be the last day for me not to know what happened to Dana,” Georgia said in 2003.

On what would’ve been her 44th birthday, Georgia and Larry took balloons to her grave at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.

“We just spent some time with her,” Georgia said.

While Cradduck vowed to pursue the case, the year and a half that’s since passed has made Georgia doubtful of getting a resolution from Benton County’s criminal investigators.

“I want them to wake up, to show interest,” she said. “I want them to act like they care.”

Georgia, who said she sometimes feels like a failure because she wasn’t able to keep Dana safe, hopes to see an arrest before she dies.

“But I want them to arrest the right person, I don’t want them to go out there and (make an arrest) just to get us off their back,” she said.

“An arrest will never bring closure,” she added. “I’ll never get her back. But I’d like to see her killer caught so it wouldn’t feel like I just let my daughter die and I walked away.”

Curtain Call: Historic Movie Theaters & Drive-Ins of Arkansas

For a state as small as Arkansas, its residents have been blessed over the years with an abundance of unique movie houses and drive-ins. This pictorial-essay highlights some of the more regal theaters that graced Arkansas’ down towns and roadsides from the roaring 1920s to the New Millennium.

100 Things I Hate About College Football

Stockfootball
Editor’s note — This article was originally written for Yahoo! Voices in September 2013. It has been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

Gene Wojciechowski’s ode to college football is a great read. The only problem is that it’s written as a love letter; he was (mis)guided by his emotions.

And don’t get me wrong, I love college football.

But let’s be realistic about this. While Wojciechowski does point out that college football has its shortcomings, simply giving them a passing mention isn’t enough.

As the Summer of Manziel has shown, it’s astonishing how college football has weathered so many scandals without serious blemish. The players and even the sport itself seem practically untouchable.

So why would someone who claims to be a fan find so many reasons to hate a sport they care so deeply about?

In hopes of fixing it, of course.

Wojciechowski got a lot of things right in his article. College football is an awesomely inspirational sport that’s uniquely American.

But it’s time to stop looking at it through rose-colored lenses.

Why? Here are 100 reasons.

1. I hate universities that make football a priority over education.

2. That in my home state of Arkansas, the football coach makes more than the medical school’s Chief of Surgery.

3. I hate the over-commercialization of the game.

4. Naming rights.

5. That places like TCF Bank Stadium and Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium exist.

6. Fields with corporate stains on them.

7. The sheer number of bowl games. We’re up to 35 and counting.

8. 6-6 teams qualifying for a bowl.

9. And that nearly all the bowl games have names that sound like advertising slogans.

10. I hate that winning the Heisman Trophy has become a beauty contest.

11. Tim Tebow finishing as a Heisman finalist in 2008, while Graham Harrell missed the cut.

12. The stigma toward defensive players. If Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh couldn’t win one, what hope is there?

13. The fact that there are 125 schools competing in the FBS this year and no player outside of the Power Six has a chance to win the Heisman.

14. Stadium expansion while the rest of campus crumbles.

15. And the belief that having a bigger stadium equates having a better team.

16. Houston Nutt. We put up with this guy for a decade. How?

17. I hate pay-for-play proponents.

18. Writers who claim the NCAA treats [football] players like slaves.

19. Senior seasons. And the stigma that comes with it. Because in today’s game it usually means the player has no football prospects after college. Either that, or he’s a reserve.

20. The players who don’t care about the tradition or the pageantry of college football.

21. Knowing that they wouldn’t stick around campus any longer than they already have to.

22. I hate the BCS. Even now that it’s gone. I hate, hate, hate it.

23. Remember in 2003, when Oklahoma lost in the Big 12 Championship Game but still got to play in the BCS Championship Game?

24. Or when the Sooners got in again the next year instead of Auburn, and got thrashed by USC?

25. An inept and out of touch NCAA.

26. That high-profile schools and players often escape harsh punishments.

27. Terrell Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, and Solomon Thomas playing in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

28. Also, we are two years removed from the Nevin Shapiro scandal at Miami (Fla.). Remember that? I guess a handful of suspensions was enough to satisfy the NCAA.

29. People who feel sorry for Joe Paterno and Penn State.

30. That for a few months, the fate of Penn State’s football program and Joe Paterno’s legacy was more talked about than Jerry Sandusky’s victims.

31. I hate that the Southwest Conference, one of college football’s premier leagues for more than 80 years, collapsed.

32. And the domino effect of conference realignment that it started.

33. West Virginia being in the Big 12.

34. Syracuse moving to the ACC.

35. Missouri joining the SEC instead of Florida State or Clemson.

36. The idea of Connecticut, South Florida, and Tulsa all being in the same conference.

37. I hate that most teams schedule an absolute dog on homecoming.

38. The fact that Florida hasn’t played an out of conference opponent on the road in nearly 25 years.

39. Indiana being a football-member of the Big 10.

40. That schools have cut down on playing in neutral site locations across their state.

41. Alabama and Auburn moving the Iron Bowl out of Legion Field.

42. Ole Miss and Mississippi State moving the Egg Bowl away from Jackson, Miss.

43. I hate the kitschy announcers.

44. Gary Danielson and Verne Lundquist.

45. Pam Ward.

46. Brent Musberger.

47. Bob Griese.

48. This guy.

49. Can’t forget Mark May and Lou Holtz, either.

50. I hate that the Oklahoma-Texas game changed its name to the “Red River Rivalry.”

51. That Arkansas and Arkansas State won’t play each other.

52. The SEC crackdown on cowbells at Mississippi State games.

53. Boise State’s “Smurf Turf.”

54. Eastern Washington’s red turf.

55. The University of Central Arkansas’ alternating purple and gray turf.

56. I hate the ridiculous number of terrible uniform combinations.

The Maryland Terrapins have got to be the worst offenders.

57. People who think Bedlam is a premiere rivalry game. C’mon, Oklahoma holds an 75-17-7 all-time advantage. The Sooners only lost one game between 1967 and 1994.

58. AP writers who give No. 1 votes to undeserving teams.

59. The terrible officials that permeate every conference.

60. The terrible officiating that seems to haunt every big Arkansas game.

61. I hate how ESPN only gives intense coverage to the established programs.

62. The completely undeserved hype a high-profile program gets if it starts the season 2-0.

(Looking at you, 2009 Miami Hurricanes.)

63. And remember when good coaches used to stay at one school for an extended amount of time?

64. I hate that fans are dissuaded from storming the field.

65. That it happens too often now.

66. And that you might get arrested if you do it.

67. Oh, and the SEC will levy a serious fine against your school as well.

68. I hate that a pizza and a coke at Razorback stadium costs more than $20.

69. That Arkansas made student tickets harder to get.

70. Let’s not forget, they also stopped guaranteeing students seats.

71. And U of A’s eagerness to build a new practice facility while the campus runs out of space for its students.

72. I hate the “facilities arms races.”

73. Which happen while a majority of college students and athletes of less popular sports wallow in debt that will haunt them the rest of their lives. (Marble floors imported from Italy, are you kidding me?)

74. The people who believe football players “go pro” in something outside the world of football.

75. The people who believe a majority of college football players are “student athletes.”

76. And people who think the football players live in a dorm and eat in a cafeteria similar to anything like that of a normal student.

77. That students are forced to move their cars from student lots before game day and have to pay out of pocket to park it somewhere else. (Often far from their dorms.)

78. That Matt Leinart got to play one more season at USC because he took Ball Room Dancing as his only class.

79. Athletes who get free (expensive) textbooks and sell them back at a profit.

80. That Arkansas’ beautiful video replay board has most of its picture obscured by AT&T ads.

81. I hate how football players are treated differently than their fellow student athletes.

82. When authorities look the other way when a member of the football team is involved in a quagmire.

83. Case in point: Michael Dyer.

84. Coaches who get a slap on the wrist.

85. Jim Tressle at Ohio State.

86. And that Tressel actually believed Pryor’s promise that he would return for his senior season.

87. The rap sheet for Urban Meyer’s players.

88. And many (Leach), many others.

89. The depressing notion that steroids might have infiltrated the college game.

90. I hate that the Arkansas-Texas rivalry is dead.

91. And the Hogs will no longer play LSU at the end of the season.

92. Instead we’ll play Missouri. The Hogs have played the Tigers five times. Five. Now it replaces the LSU game. Yippee.

93. Even though I won’t miss LSU’s Les Miles mispronouncing Arkansas.

94. This pass interference call against Arkansas in the 2010 Florida game.

95. That Bobby Petrino will coach a major Division I team again.

96. The fact that the immortal Bear Bryant (an Arkansas native) potentially was taking a job in Fayetteville when World War II broke out.

97. Coaches who abandon their schools because of an oncoming scandal. (Looking at you, Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly).

98. Razorback fans who think winning a national title makes or breaks the season. (We’ve only appeared in three SEC Championship Games since leaving the SWC in 1991)

99. That tons of scholarships go to football, leaving the rest of the athletic programs to fight over the scraps.

100. And lastly, I hate that there are so many egregious problems with a sport I love so dearly.

10 Plausible NFL Conspiracies

NFL-conspiracies-1

With the 2014 NFL season upon us, Enter the Razorback decided to take a different approach in covering kickoff week. The list below profiles  some of the league’s most noteworthy — and plausible — conspiracy theories.

10. Jimmy Hoffa was buried under Giants Stadium

The infamous union activist disappeared in 1975, around the same time construction was underway on Giants Stadium. Based on accounts from hitmen allegedly involved with Hoffa’s death, they dismembered his body before dropping the remains inside a concrete drum located at the construction site. Mythbusters investigated the rumors and came up empty. But if Hoffa’s body wasn’t there, how else do you explain Jerry Rice’s fumble in the ’86 playoffs?

9. Dome teams pump in crowd noise

Now that domed stadiums are ubiquitous across the NFL, accusations that teams pump in artificial noise have increased tenfold. Numerous coaches and players complain about the nuisance, which dates back to the late 1980s when the Minnesota Vikings’ Metrodome drew unwanted attention for its ear-splitting cheers.

More recently, the Indianapolis Colts, were charged with pumping in noise during the 2007 season. Despite the peculiar sounds coming through fans’ TV screens, the Colts were cleared of any wrongdoing on the dubious explanation that it was a technical glitch inside the RCA Dome.

8. Pro football is rife with Adderall abuse

nfl-conspiracies-2The Seattle Seahawks have taken the brunt of negative headlines regarding NFL players testing positive for Adderall. The drug, which is primarily used to treat attention deficit disorders and narcolepsy, can also serve as a “cognitive enhancer.” It’s become a popular supplement for players looking to gain an “edge” on game day.

Recent busts involved two of Seattle’s high-profile defensive stars, Bruce Irvin and Richard Sherman. Both players took Adderall looking for the upper-hand over the competition. Trying to deflect attention, Sherman claimed that “half the league uses Adderall.” A ominous statement for sure, but there have been a significant number of suspensions tied to the use of similar amphetamines over the last five years.

7. Does the NFL “hate” the Oakland Raiders?

Talk to any Raiders fan and you’ll hear endless stories about how the NFL has a grudge against Oakland. And evidence suggests that Raider Nation has a legitimate gripe.

For starters, there was a well-known rivalry between longtime Raiders owner Al Davis and former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. There were endless stories (usually one-sided) that Rozelle did everything in his power to undermine Davis, which culminated in a heated legal battle when Oakland tried to move to LA. But Davis didn’t make things easy. The abrasive owner drew the ire of the NFL in the late 60s, when he spurred a bidding war between the rival leagues. There’s also the issue of the 1983 NFL draft, when the Raiders failed to land John Elway and Davis blamed it on meddling by league officials.

More recent accusations have been hurled thanks to the infamous “Tuck rule” and examples of questionable officiating that have hindered Oakland’s success.

6. Super Bowl III was fixed

nfl-conspiracies-3It would be a travesty if the biggest upset in NFL history was actually a well-crafted ploy to drum up support for the AFL-NFL merger. But over the last four decades, Super Bowl III has been the target of several conspiracy theories, namely that it was rigged.

Colts fans often point to the bizarre interception(s) thrown by quarterback Earl Morrall, as evidence of foul play. Morrall, who was the MVP of 1968, missed a wide-open Jimmy Orr, who was waving his hands in the end zone late in the first half. Former Colts players have chimed in as well, claiming that the New York Jets needed to win to keep the AFL afloat. Bubba Smith, Baltimore’s Pro Bowl defensive end, possibly referring to the looming merger, that there was too much money at stake for the Jets to lose.

There’s also allegations that Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom bet against his own team and that Jets quarterback Joe Namath was urged by the mafia to throw the game.

5. The NFL orchestrated the “Blackout Bowl”

The Baltimore Ravens put a stranglehold on the San Fransisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. And with the Ravens leading 28-6 early in the second half, a Baltimore victory seemed to be little more than a formality.

Then the unexpected happened.

The Louisiana Superdome suffered a power outage, resulting in a 34-minute delay. The break revitalized the 49ers, who scored 17 unanswered points. San Fransisco’s incredible comeback turned the game from a blowout into a nail-biter. This sudden shift in momentum kept the NFL from losing viewers, and thus billions in advertising dollars — or so one theory says.

While Baltimore held on for a thrilling victory, current and former Ravens players contend the NFL was plotting against them. Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis said the blackout happened to make the game more competitive; meanwhile, teammate Terrell Suggs claimed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell used “parlor tricks” because of a personal bias against Baltimore.

Other theories cast a large net of blame, citing everyone from irate New Orleans Saints and 49ers fans, to Bane and Beyonce as the true culprits.

4. LA is just a bargaining chip

When the Raiders and Rams departed Los Angeles in the mid 1990s, the possibility of SoCal recouping a pro football team has been a never-ending saga of letdowns. It seems every other season a well-established franchise is on the brink of moving to LA.

Usually, the threat is spurred by the team wanting a new stadium (with a lot of help from the taxpayers). Over the past decade, cities routinely caved and agreed to help fund new facilities. But do these stadium deals really just serve to keep teams in their original or current cities. In fact, what if moving to LA is just a threat that owners agreed could be used to hold cities (and their taxpayers) on the hook for construction expenses?

Some writers are convinced the NFL has left LA for good. Empty threats from owners (the last franchise to relocate was the Houston Oilers, which moved from Houston to Nashville in 1997 to become the Tennessee Titans), the NFL’s unapologetic plans to put a franchise in Europe and Goodell’s reticence to commit a team to the region give this theory credence.

3. Spygate was worse than we thought

nfl-conspiracies-5Not long after Goodell took over as commissioner, news broke in fall 2007 that the New England Patriots had videotaped the New York Jets’ signal calls during a recent game. Those who viewed the tapes said it gave the Patriots an unfair advantage, but the real news stemmed from complaints that the Pats had been videotaping their opponents for years, including the St. Louis Rams’ practice ahead of Super Bowl XXXVI, which New England won.

Since the NFL destroyed the notes and videotapes associated with Spygate not long after its investigation, some have charged the league with covering up rampant cheating by the Patriots. Another theory says that the scandal is more complex. Supposedly, this type of behavior is so widespread that New England coach Bill Belichick sent Goodell tapes from other teams videotaping their opponents’ practices. The commissioner, fearful to clamp down on systemic cheating, chose only to punish New England and protect the NFL’s image.

2. The ’99 Browns were “set up to fail”

In 1995, the NFL expanded to 30 teams when it added the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars. Both teams quickly found success, reaching their respective conference championships the following season. Their meteoric rise — unprecedented for expansion teams — allegedly rankled owners of more established clubs. So when Cleveland regained a franchise in 1999, established NFL owners conspired to curb the Browns’ efforts to field a competitive team.

The theory, postulated by former Cleveland sports writer Terry Pluto, is one of the most well-researched entries on the list. Backed up by loads of peculiar evidence, which includes numerous examples of roadblocks the Browns faced thanks to the league’s other owners, the theory’s implications are startling. It serves as an explanation as to why the Browns have struggled mightily since rejoining the NFL. And while it doesn’t totally absolve the Browns of their failures since returning to Ohio, it certainly explains some of their early hurdles.

1. Who was New England’s “man in the trench coat”?

NFL fans would have a hard time recognizing the New England Patriots in their formative years.

Known as the Boston Patriots for the first decade of their existence, the club only made one playoff appearance between 1960-1970. The Pats wouldn’t appear in a Super Bowl until the 80s, and nearly 20 more years would pass before they became one of the dominant franchise of the modern era.

One thing those early Patriots teams did have going for them was sterling fan support. Playing inside the constricted confines of Fenway Park, fans were often right on top of the action. It wasn’t uncommon for fans to stand along the sidelines during a game or pat players on the back near the team benches. And in 1961, one fan took advantage of that unfettered access, helping the Pats pull off a much-needed victory.

The unknown fan, identified only by his trench coat, was standing directly behind the opponent’s end zone during the game’s waning minutes. With New England leading the Dallas Texans 28-21 late in the fourth quarter, the Texans were threatening at the Patriots goal line. But as Dallas’ Cotton Davidson dropped back to pass, the overzealous fan sprinted onto the field and deflected the ball. As soon as the ball hit the turf, the crowd stormed onto the field.  No one, not even the officials, realized what happened until the film was reviewed nearly a week later by coaches.

The gentleman became known in Patriots lore as the “man in the trench coat.” Rumors were rampant that the fan was actually Patriots owner Billy Sullivan, who was often spotted in a similar trench coat. Sullivan embraced the publicity, never denying the rumors.

The War At Home

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Criticism of the militarization of local police forces is commonplace in the post-9/11 world, but the issue has been amplified by the recent events in Ferguson, Mo.

In the wake of a controversial shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, the small town of about  20,000 has been besieged by riots, looting and instances of police brutality. While neither the protestors or police can be exonerated for their behavior over the past month, one take away has been the perplexing amount of military equipment utilized by law enforcement.

As various media outlets reported, Ferguson police responded to the riots with snipers, combat vehicles and a general approach toward protestors — peaceful or not — as enemies of the state.

In Arkansas, a state vastly similar to Missouri regarding culture and race relations, would an similar police response occur? In light of the equipment that the authorities have at their disposal, it’s a chilling thought.

New York TimesThis website, which emanates from a frightening report by the New York Times about the proliferation of military-grade equipment in several police precincts across the country, allows users to research the various hardware used by law enforcement, and is sortable by state and county. Arkansas, a state with just over 2 million people, possesses a shocking array of firearms and vehicles that seem more appropriate on the battlefield.

For example, Pulaski County, home to the state’s largest and most metropolitan city, Little Rock, owns several weapons that seem excessive for urban crime. Amid the usual provisions like firearms, utility trucks, and flash lights, police have a grenade launcher, a mine-resistant vehicle and a combat/assault/tactical vehicle. According the website, the total value of those three items — designed specifically for modern warfare — are valued at just north of $1 million.

Even the rural counties aren’t immune. Randolph County has a cargo plane. Baxter, Faulkner, and Mississippi Counties each have an “observation helicopter.” Meanwhile, Benton County, which has 160,000 fewer people than Pulaski County, has two mine-resistant vehicles.

Police simply being in possession of this equipment doesn’t mean they’ll use it. But like John Oliver noted on Last Week Tonight, the dissemination of military-grade weapons, combined with untrained police units, make for a volatile situation.

5 Iconic Stadiums That Didn’t Get A Proper Farewell

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Dozens of iconic American stadiums have come and gone over the last two centuries. Unfortunately, some of them weren’t spared the agony of decay and neglect. The five stadiums on this list were once sanctuaries for their teams and landmarks in the community. Sadly, their legacies were tarnished thanks to years of abandonment.

5. Metropolitan Stadium — Bloomington, Minn.

Known affectionately to Minnesotans as “the Met,” Metropolitan stadium was the original home of the Vikings and the Twins. Built on a farm in 1956 for the minor league Minneapolis Millers, the stadium eventually lured the Washington Senators to Bloomington, and later, the NFL expansion Vikings.

Minn. Star TribuneDespite its disjointed seating — the outfield bleachers weren’t even connected — the Met (1961-1981) proved to be indispensable for its tenants.

Only four years after leaving D.C., the Twins won the American League pennant by seven games before losing a hard-fought World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Earlier that summer, the Met hosted the annual MLB All-Star Game, which saw six Twins make the American League squad. And while the brutal Minnesota winters were great for the Vikings, they were anathema for their opponents. The Purple People Eaters reached four Super Bowls during their 20-year tenure at the Met, largely thanks to the decisive home-field advantage.

Even The Beatles dropped by the Met for a concert. It was the group’s lone gig in The Gopher State.

But during the 1970s, the Met fell into disrepair. The stadium was notorious for its dilapidated facilities, poorly maintained field, and considered one of the worst venues in professional sports.

By 1982, both the Twins and Vikings had moved into the Metrodome. The Met was officially abandoned, and it became a breeding ground for vandalism and urban explorers. Eventually razed in 1985, the Mall of America was erected in its place nearly a decade later.

4. Tulane Stadium — New Orleans, La.

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For almost half a century, Tulane Stadium was one of the most revered football venues in America. The home of the Sugar Bowl from its inaugural game in 1935 until 1974, Tulane Stadium holds a special place in the annals of both college and pro football.

Opened in 1926 as the third home of the Tulane Green Wave football team, Tulane Stadium (1926-1980) became a household name thanks to the prestige of the Sugar Bowl. When the NFL expanded to New Orleans in the late 1960s, the Saints used Tulane Stadium for their home field from 1967-1974. It was there in 1970 that Saints kicker Tom Demspey booted a then-record 63-yard field goal to beat the Detroit Lions.

Nola.com - Times-Picayune ArchivesThanks to its seating capacity of nearly 81,000 and ideal location in the Big Easy, Tulane Stadium was a popular choice for the Super Bowl. The stadium hosted three NFL championships in a six year span, and is one of five host stadiums no longer standing.

But in 1975, on the same day that the lavish Superdome opened, Tulane Stadium was condemned. Much of the stadium was shuttered, but thanks the outcry of university officials, it remained viable for NFL practices, high school football games, and other low profile events.

A gloomy relic in its twilight years, Tulane Stadium was completely demolished by 1980. Dorm rooms and other university facilities occupy the site today.

3. Astrodome — Houston, Tex.

Postcard

Hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the World when it opened in 1965, the Houston Astrodome was the Arc de Triomphe of American stadiums. For visionary Roy Hofheinz, the Astrodome wasn’t just the center of Houston’s sports universe, but its entertainment hub as well.

The world’s first indoor, multipurpose domed stadium, the Astrodome was replete with swanky restaurants, upholstered seats, and opulent luxury boxes. Everything the modern fan (and athlete) takes for granted today was pioneered by the Astrodome.

But the dome’s influence wasn’t limited to its wondrous engineering. In 1968, the Astrodome (1965-2006) inadvertently revolutionized the sports landscape when it hosted college basketball’s “Game of the Century.” The showdown pitted No. 1 UCLA against No. 2 Houston, with the Cougars edging the Bruins 71-69 in front of more than 50,000 fans. The positive response to college basketball’s first regular season game aired in prime time nationwide was unprecedented, and the NCAA picked the Astrodome to host the 1971 Final Four. Nearly four decades later, practically every Final Four is played in a football stadium.Houston Astrodome, 1965

In the fall of ’68 the Astrodome opened its doors to the NFL’s Houston Oilers. The notion that football could be  virtually weatherproof  was groundbreaking. The dome’s affect on football can still be felt today, as evidenced by the proliferation of domed stadiums — most of which keep the roof closed all season.

Despite its extravagance,  Oilers owner Bud Adams felt that the Astrodome wasn’t enough for his troubled franchise. In the mid-1990s, Adams threatened to move the team if Houston didn’t fund construction for a new stadium. The city had already buckled to his demands before, removing the stadium’s iconic, “Astrolite” scoreboard in 1988.

City officials refused to budge this time, and the Oilers departed for Tennessee in 1997. The Astros made a similar request, but stayed put when funding for Minute Maid Park was secured. Despite voters rejecting a measure to renovate the Astrodome in November 2013, the stadium has yet to be demolished as of this writing. Its fate is still uncertain.

2. Silverdome — Pontiac, Mich.

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Once a state-of-the-art domed facility built to house a multitude of events, the Pontiac Silverdome is nearly unrecognizable today.

Originally part of a larger “urban renewal” project for Pontiac, Mich. — which included plans for a dual stadium complex — the palatial Silverdome was the only building to materialize from C. Don Davidson’s vision to revitalize the sleepy suburb.

Opened in 1975, the Silverdome was declared the world’s largest inflatable domed stadium. One of the few facilities of its era built without accommodations for baseball, it paved the way for facilities like the Hoosier Dome and the Metrodome.

Due to its cavernous seating capacity — just north of 80,000 — the Silverdome was the NFL’s largest stadium for more than two decades. Despite its short lifespan (1975-2001), the Silverdome hosted a number of prestigious events, including Super Bowl XVI, the 1979 NBA All-Star Game, Wrestlemania III, a handful of World Cup matches, the 1988 NBA Finals, and several legendary musicians. It was also the site of the Lions’ last home playoff victory.

SilverdomeBut when the Lions bolted to Ford Field in 2002, the Silverdome was left without a primary tenant. Pontiac experienced a financial crisis trying to maintain the stadium, and the Silverdome quickly fell into ruin. There dome hosted a handful of events between 2003-2005, but it closed in 2006. Auctioned off in 2009, it reopened in 2010, and its parking lot was briefly used as a drive-in.

There were plans to use the Silverdome as a stadium for an MLS team. But when that fell through, the dome again was left untended, and it deteriorated rapidly. The roof collapsed in 2012, and mother nature took over from there. Most of the field is submerged, dotted with Teflon corpses. Hallways are flooded, expensive equipment languishes, and the once glitzy luxury boxes are decrepit.

The Silverdome’s most recent owner started auctioning off parts of the stadium in June 2014. Despite the Silverdome’s likely fate, the high cost of demolition has postponed its demise.

1. Tiger Stadium — Detroit, Mich.

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Opened the same week the Titanic sank, Tiger Stadium (1912-1999) was one of Major League Baseball’s most storied venues.

Tiger Stadium’s location on the intersection of Michigan Ave. and Trumble Ave. gave rise to its nickname, “The Corner.” Its compact and intimate design allowed fans to get close to the game, especially when equipped for baseball. Despite a handful of obstructed views common to parks of its era, Tiger Stadium’s upper deck was considered one of the best in the majors for watching a baseball game.

For power hitters though, it was something of an enigma. The upper deck in left field was practically two stories tall and about 340 feet from home plate. Only four players ever cleared the roof in left: Harmon Killebrew, Frank Howard, Cecil Feilder, and Mark McGwire.

The home of the Tigers and the NFL’s Detroit Lions for more than four decades, Tiger Stadium saw an incredible run of success for its two professional sports teams. The Tigers won four World Series and eight of their 11 American League pennants at The Corner.

Tigers2The Lions, meanwhile, had their most successful tenure in team history at Tiger Stadium, winning three NFL Championships in a five year span.

The Corner also hosted other monumental sporting events through the early 1970s. Joe Louis defended his world heavyweight title in 1939, knocking out Bob Pastor in what was then called Briggs Stadium. MLB also awarded three All-Star games to The Corner. The final midsummer classic in the venerable park was in 1971, when Reggie Jackson smash the longest home run in All-Star history.

In 1989, Tiger Stadium was added to the National Register of Historic Places. But by the mid 1990s, the antiquated facility started to wear on management. Plans to refurbish Tiger Stadium failed to get traction, and when construction began for a new ballpark in 1997, The Corner seemed destined for demolition.

Tiger Stadium’s sendoff was bittersweet. Detroit won its final home game, but the stadium was shuttered soon after. Efforts to save or preserve it fell on deaf ears, and The Corner became little more than a backdrop for movies and TV specials.

Unlike most American sports facilities, Tiger Stadium wasn’t demolished after its successor opened, and the new millennium offered little respite to The Corner. Its continued deterioration brought comparisons to  the urban decay sweeping Detroit. But in 2008, demolition finally began. By Sept. 2009, there was nothing left but its frayed baseball diamond. Still, the community rallied around what remained, and worked tirelessly to preserve the memory of one of baseball’s sanctuaries.

Unexplained, Arkansas

Editor’s note — This is an excerpt from a piece originally written for THV11. Parts of it have been reprinted here with the author’s permission.

The Denver Post

Mike Huckabee made an unsuccessful bid for the White House in 2008.

Huckabee’s missing files

In January 2007, outgoing Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee made a peculiar request of his staff: destroy the office computers.

Huckabee’s staff obliged, wiping the memory of more than 100 computers before smashing their hard drives beyond repair.

The reason behind the frenzied housecleaning has never been fully explained. Huckabee briefly addressed the issue in 2007, saying the hard drives were destroyed to “protect the privacy” of his staff.

But one unearthed memo referred to potential backups of the destroyed drives. The memo also says the backups were supposed to be delivered to a Huckabee aide.

As of this writing, however, the story was last mentioned in 2011.

Clinton associate murdered execution style

A well known, quasi-political figure around Arkansas in the late 1980s and early 90s, Luther Gerald “Jerry” Parks, Jr. oversaw Bill Clinton’s security detail while Clinton was governor. Parks’ security firm was later contracted to guard Clinton’s presidential campaign headquarters in 1992.

But only nine months after Clinton won the White House, Parks was gunned down in West Little Rock. Parks was leaving El Chico when he was ambushed by two men in a white Chevrolet Caprice at the intersection of Chenal Parkway and Highway 10, where witnesses said the men shot Parks to death before speeding away. The only evidence left behind were 10 9-mm bullet casings scattered on the pavement.

Clinton’s far-right critics pounced on the murder. They said it had political overtones, pointing to the untimely suicide of Vincent Foster – a childhood friend of Clinton’s and one of his closest allies – only months earlier as evidence of a conspiracy.

Parks’ son, Gary, also tried to link Clinton to the murders. He claimed that his father had collected a file on Clinton’s salacious activities and that he was executed due to its contents. The Little Rock Police Department dismissed such claims as “unsubstantiated”.

Adding another twist in the case, Gary was recently charged with the murder of his mother’s new husband, David Millstein. Police in Baxter County think Gary had help, and they believe that the unnamed suspect might also have ties to Jerry’s murder.

Despite the passing of two decades, LRPD says its investigation into the elder Parks’ murder is ongoing.

Wikipedia

The West Memphis Three were freed in 2011 after spending nearly two decades in prison.

Does a killer still roam free in Arkansas?

Damien Echols was the lead suspect in the murders of three West Memphis boys in 1993. After serving 18 years in prison, Echols, along with the two other suspects, Jessie Miskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin – subsequently dubbed the West Memphis Three – were released per a controversial Alford Plea in 2011.

In one of Echols’ many interviews while in prison, he issued a sobering notion to filmmakers of the West of Memphis documentary: “The person who killed those three kids is still out there walking on the street.”

Investigators never found any physical evidence linking the WM3 to the crime scene. Moreover, witnesses who originally testified against the trio later said their confessions were coerced by law enforcement. And thanks to improving forensic science, investigators uncovered a strand of DNA from one of the shoelaces used to subdue the victims that didn’t match any of the WM3.

Further complicating the case was the mysterious “Mr. Bojangles.” On the evening of the murders, a “disoriented” African American man, covered in blood and mud, entered a Bojangles restaurant not far from where the bodies were found.

The suspect’s race was an important factor in the case, as the hair of black male was discovered in one of the sheets used to wrap the victims.

Police were summoned to the restaurant, but officers took the report via the drive-thru window and never entered the building to interview the suspect. Blood samples taken from the bathroom were later lost by WMPD investigators before the WM3 went to trial.

Other advocates of the WM3’s innocence point to one of the victim’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, as the real killer. Hobbs had a history of child abuse and was reportedly the last person seen with three boys.

Sadly, after more than 20 years, it appears that the deaths of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Chris Byers will forever remain unsolved.