CRAIGHEAD COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – Detectives with the Craighead County Sheriff's Office hope new pictures released to Region 8 News can shed light on a 12-year-old cold case.
In June of 2000, Amanda Tusing was found dead in the Big Bay Ditch, 14 miles from where her car was discovered three days earlier. Police believe she was abducted before she was tossed in the ditch.
"The medical examiner's office checked and said that she had no physical injuries other than being in the water and the (impact of the) elements," said Gary Etter, who has been investigating the Tusing case since 2000. "I think whoever did this probably did it before. That's what I'm thinking due to no evidence."
"The first thing that comes to your mind, and I'm not saying it was a law enforcement officer, (but the) first thing that comes to your mind is that a law enforcement officer would know how to conceal the evidence."
According to Etter, Amanda's car was found, abandoned at around 2:00 in the morning of June 15. He said it was storming that night, and Amanda was driving from her boyfriend's home in Jonesboro to her parent's home in Dell. Police said she left Jonesboro at 11:30 p.m.
Etter said Matt Ervin, Amanda's fiancé at the time, called her mother at 1:30 that morning.
"He asked if Amanda was home. She said, 'let me look' and she said, 'no she's not.' She's not in her bedroom," said Etter.
Etter said Amanda's father, Ed, left immediately after the phone call, heading west on Highway 18.
"He left Dell traveling towards Jonesboro. Her fiancé left Jonesboro traveling towards Dell to see if they could find her broke down on the side of the road or whatever," said Etter.
Police say Tusing's car was found by Ervin shortly before 2:30 a.m.
"We got there. Matt showed us where the car was, and the first thing we did was try to see if the car was out of gas, if it would run. We couldn't find anything wrong with the car. Mandy's cell phone was still in the car in the passenger seat. The battery was dead," said Ed. "I knew from that instant when we found her car and nothing was wrong with it, that something was going on. I didn't know that she had been murdered."
In the days after Tusing was reported missing, investigators learned a body had been found in a rain swollen ditch, approximately 14 miles west of where her car was discovered. Etter said there was no sign of sexual assault or trauma.
"Her driver's license was in her pocket and her mother says that's where she normally kept it. She never carried her billfold," said Etter. "We went through all the evidence that they had that we submitted and their (Arkansas Medical Examiner's Office) finding was consistent with drowning."
Even though evidence was consistent with drowning, Etter told Region 8 News no cause of death was officially determined.
"She had water in her nostrils, but nothing in her lungs. Well. (We asked) When a person drowns, would they have to have water in their lungs? They tell us no," said Etter.
Etter said Ervin was interviewed three separate times after Tusing was found. Ervin passed the polygraph test each time.
"I went back to her travel, the way she left, and I stopped at a quick shop on Highway 18 to look at their videos. They supplied the videos and it didn't show her or her car or anything in these time spans," said Etter. "There's somebody out over around the eastern district or in the nation that knows something about this, and we just wish they'd come forward to put closure on this thing."
The Tusing family still lives in Dell. Susan and Ed said no matter how much time goes by, they still pray justice will be served.
"I think Mandy would have wanted us to go on and live life. I told my boys that we would go on, that whoever killed her was not going to destroy our family. He would not have the satisfaction of taking down all of us," said Susan. "I just refuse to let whoever did it destroy my family."
"It's something that's constantly on your mind. I mean it's been 12 years, but there's not a day goes by or hardly an hour goes by without something about that situation or Mandy going through your mind," said Ed.
Etter showed Region 8 News pictures of the crime scene. In one picture, you can see the Coke can, which police say was still chilled the night the car was found, in the drink holder. You can also see a basketball in the floor board, her wallet and a bridal magazine in the car. Etter said aside from autopsy results, that's all the physical evidence police have.
"We found some partial (prints), but a partial is something not identifiable. In finding those and finding the hairs that we found and some more things in the vehicle, we don't think whoever did this was ever in that car due to what we found. It wasn't wiped clean," said Etter.
Both Susan and Ed believe a police officer or someone impersonating a police officer killed their girl, who they affectionately called, "Mandy."
"I've always suspected that someone stopped her, always will," said Susan. "I really figured she had car trouble somewhere and her cell phone was dead, because it was always dead. I figured she was sitting on the side of the road with car trouble."
Police said they've interviewed hundreds of people, but no useful leads have turned up. Etter said it was almost as if she disappeared. He also said the hard rain the night she went missing may have washed away vital clues in the investigation.
If you know anything about this crime that could help police track the killer, you're urged to call the Craighead County Sheriff's Office at 870-933-4551.