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2011 – Portage, Indiana, USA. A 19-year-old woman named Amanda A.B. was reported missing by her father on the morning of September 16 after her car was found abandoned and disabled in a rural area. A road deputy had been dispatched to the location at Dean’s Store on a report of a disabled vehicle and discovered the victim’s car on the road. The deputy observed that the vehicle had a flat tire and that the hazard lights had been activated. He also noted that the front left door was open and that her purse and other personal items were inside the vehicle. The deputy prepared a routine report of a disabled vehicle and notified Amanda’s father after checking the owner’s registration to ascertain who might have been in the auto. The father told the deputy that his daughter Amanda had left the house at 10:00 p.m. on the evening of September 15 and was going to meet up with an acquaintance named Dustin.

Fig.1 A photo of Amanda in life as remembered by her family

The deputy obtained Dustin’s cell phone number and called him regarding Amanda. Dustin told the deputy that he and Amanda had been at his house from 11:00 p.m. till 1:30 a.m. and that Amanda had left in her car and had driven northbound on CR 625W at 1:30 a.m. Dustin told the deputy that he would call around to their friends and see if he could find out where Amanda was. The deputy then provided his cell phone number to the father and made arrangements for a tow company to retrieve the auto and bring it to Amanda’s home.

Fig.2 Amanda was only 19-years-old.

The deputy never notified detectives regarding the suspicious circumstances under which the car was found. The deputy never considered that the car may have been a crime scene and that the owner may have been a victim. The deputy never initiated a missing person’s report. The vehicle as well as the location where it was found was never photographed. This became an issue during the trial. The deputy allowed Amanda’s vehicle to be towed back to her father’s home by the tow operator. The deputy, the tow truck driver, and Amanda’s father actually entered the vehicle before it was processed. The father actually commented on the fact that the driver’s front seat had been moved back for a much taller person to drive.

Fig.3 Friends and family helped search for Amanda.

Amanda’s father contacted the police later the next morning to advise them that he had located a witness when he went back to the neighborhood that his daughter had been to the evening before. He reported that a neighbor of Dustin had heard a male voice in the early morning hours state, “Get up Amanda! Get up!” That same neighbor also heard a female voice say, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Investigators responded to the location and met with the father. An official missing person’s case was initiated by Porter County, and Captain Jef Biggs directed his detectives to formally interview the witness that the father had located.

Fig.4 The victim’s car was found abandoned in this rural area in the early morning hours.

A crime scene was established where Amanda’s vehicle had been located and a request was made for a Porter County helicopter to conduct an aerial search in the vicinity where the vehicle had been recovered. Investigators coordinated a search involving hundreds of people including friends and family as well as concerned citizens who had come out to look for Amanda. The search continued throughout the day and into the evening. The search would continue the next day, September 17, when Amanda’s body was found.

Fig.5 The car’s front left tire was cut and the four-way safety lights were flashing. The vehicle represented an additional crime scene.

The recovered vehicle, which was also treated as a crime scene was brought to the police station for processing and recovery of any evidence. An examination of the flat tire indicated that someone had cut into the sidewall with a single-edged blade and that the front driver’s seat had been moved back for a taller person than Amanda to have driven the car.

Fig.6 Amanda’s body was found in a heavily overgrown area near the railroad tracks.

Captain Biggs established a crime scene in the area of Dustin’s home and directed that a neighborhood canvass be conducted around Dustin’s residence since Dustin had reportedly been the last person to be with Amanda. During that canvass, a neighbor was located who reported hearing three gunshots in the early morning of September 16.

Fig.7 This aerial view of the crime scene shows an ATV parked just outside the brush where Amanda’s body was found.

Amanda was a 19-year-old female who recently graduated from Portage High School in May 2011. She lived at home with her mom, dad, and younger sister. Amanda worked as a hostess at a local Quaker Steak & Lube in her hometown. She had plans to start college the following year. Her family and friends described her as happy and outgoing. Family and friends described Amanda and Dustin’s relationship as “on-again, of again.” They also indicated that the couple frequently had loud verbal arguments and that Dustin had anger issues. Amanda was planning on telling Dustin that evening that she wanted to end their relationship. Amanda was starting a new relationship with Dustin’s friend Brandon. Amanda had recently told Brandon that she wanted to be a couple with him and they began dating.

Fig.8 These areas were thoroughly searched by investigators who were able to locate additional pieces of evidence spread over a large area.

Dustin was the last person to see Amanda before her abandoned and disabled car was found in the early morning hours 2 miles away from his house. Dustin told the deputy that he would call around to their friends and see if he could find out where Amanda was. However, a later review of cell phone records indicated he only tried to call Amanda’s phone twice 21 minutes after the officer talked with him at 4:36 a.m. Dustin never tried her phone again. At this point in the investigation, Dustin was considered a possible person of interest in the missing person’s case and Captain Biggs directed detectives to do a complete background and information workup on Dustin.

Fig.9 An excellent example of portraying for the court the various crime scene locations involved in this major case investigation.

On September 17 at approximately 3:45 p.m. a female’s body was located in an area heavily overgrown with brush and vegetation on the south side of the railroad tracks east of CR 675W. The body was that of a white female with brown hair and a very small build, which was consistent with Amanda’s description. The victim was lying on her back. Her arms were over her head and her upper clothing was pulled of her chest area to her wrists/hands, which exposed her breasts. Her upper torso and body were completely nude except for her panties. Her pants were missing but she was still wearing her panties and her legs had been spread open. Her feet did not have shoes or socks on them. The victim’s pants were later recovered hanging from some trees in this overgrown wooded enclave.

Fig.10 Another excellent example for the courts. This figure showed an overview of all of the locations where evidence and/or witnesses as well as the suspect’s home were located.

Captain Biggs inspected the body. He observed blood around the face and neck area. He began to feel around the head for any type of exterior wounds, which he did not locate. He then began to inspect the face and neck area and located a small hole in the neck. The hole appeared to be from a gunshot or puncture from a sharp object. The coroner arrived on the scene and took possession of the body and it was moved to the morgue. Once the body was removed, the officers searched the area for any other evidence. The victim’s pants were located just south of the victim hanging in the trees. Detectives expanded the scene and one of the victim’s flip-flops was found east of the roadway.

Fig.11 This heavily overgrown area was the only entrance through the brush into the enclave where the offender had placed Amanda’s body.

On September 17 as investigators were processing the location where Amanda’s body had been found. Captain Biggs requested Captain Sheets obtain a search warrant for Dustin’s residence. This would be an additional crime scene. The mother opened the door for the officers who proceeded up the stairs to where Dustin’s father was located. He immediately directed the detectives to a loaded semi-automatic pistol sitting on the floor of the living room. The firearm was secured and later confiscated. It wasn’t until the end of the father’s interview that he disclosed that he had a .38 caliber revolver missing from his residence. He and his wife stated that he kept the gun under the couch in the living room. They both denied knowing anything about Amanda’s murder.

Fig.12 This was how the body was presented to the authorities at the crime scene. The victim was lying on her back with her head obscured by brush and her legs spread open

Their son Dustin was already being detained at the station. After the interview of his parents and the information about the missing .38 caliber gun from the house, Dustin was held in custody pending his arrest. Porter County Sherif’s Police searched the entire house and surrounding property as they looked for additional evidence. The authorities were looking for the missing .38 revolver as well as Amanda’s cell phone. Sgt. Jones recovered bullets from Dustin’s father, who advised the detectives that the bullets were the ones he had for his missing .38 revolver.

Fig.13 The victim’s body had been dragged into the brush and was found in a face-up position with her clothing pulled up over her head.

An autopsy of Amanda was performed in Indianapolis on September 19. The forensic pathologist determined that the injury to the victim’s neck was a gunshot wound. A .38 caliber bullet that killed Amanda was recovered from the body. During the autopsy of Amanda’s body the medical examiner noted the presence of perimortem injuries on the victim’s back. According to the medical examiner, these abrasions were consistent with the body being dragged across the rough terrain where the body was found. These perimortem abrasions also indicated that the victim was still alive when she was dragged into the woods. The .38 caliber bullet was matched to the bullets recovered from Dustin’s house and the missing .38 caliber revolver. An FBI expert later testified that the bullet removed from Amanda’s neck was a Federal Hydra-Shok and could have come from Dustin’s father’s gun.

Fig.14 The offender left the victim’s panties on even though he exposed her upper torso.

Cell phone records placed Dustin around the location of Dean’s Store where Amanda’s vehicle was found at 3:00 a.m. on September 16. When the initial deputy called Dustin at 3:30 a.m. on September 16, Dustin told the officer that he would call around and see if he could find out where she was. However, detectives ascertained from the cell phone records that Dustin had lied when he said he had tried to call Amanda on her cell phone. Cell phone records indicated that Dustin had been by himself in the early morning hours. There were several text messages between Dustin and a female friend between 3:17 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. during which time she invited him over and Dustin kept giving her excuses why he couldn’t meet up.

Fig.15 The victim’s body had been sexually posed as if she had been a victim of a sexual assault. Her legs were spread open and she was nude except for a pair of panties.

On September 19 a.m. an extensive search was conducted from the area where Amanda’s body was found. The authorities were looking for Amanda’s cell phone and Dustin’s father’s .38 revolver that Dustin’s father told authorities was missing from the house. The crime scene started small but needed to be expanded to search for other evidence. Officers searched in a linear fashion through the cornfields north and south of the railroad tracks until they came upon a body of water. The fields, water, and areas surrounded by the houses were searched. This extensive search revealed Amanda’s second flip-flop and Dustin’s shirt with Amanda’s blood on it.

Fig.16 Dustin McCowan was arrested and charged with murder without bond.

The motive according to the prosecutor was jealousy. There was no DNA evidence and the police never recovered the gun. It was largely a circumstantial case. However, the cell phone and text messages clearly inculpated Dustin as the one and only person who had motive, means, and opportunity to kill his ex-girlfriend Amanda. Dustin was found guilty after trial and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. He is eligible for release in 2040.

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