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Stolen In The Night
Jody Ewing is planning to write a book about about the July 1955, kidnapping and slaying of Donna Sue Davis of Sioux City. She is shown in her Onawa, Iowa, home with some of her research material. (Staff photo by Tim Hynds)

Donna Sue Davis never sang in cowgirl costumes, modeled bathing suits or won trophies for her beauty.

Unlike JonBenet Ramsey, Donna Sue never reached her sixth birthday. She did not even live long enough to celebrate her second.

The 22-month-old Sioux City girl was abducted Sunday, July 10, 1955, from her home at 715 Isabella St.

A farm family from South Sioux City found the toddler's half-naked body in their cornfield the next afternoon. Donna Sue had been raped and sodomized. Cigarette burns covered her bottom. Her left jaw was fractured. Bruises covered her petite, 21-pound frame.

The cause of death was a massive brain hemorrhage resulting from a severe blow to the head -- an injury Donna Sue suffered before her body was tossed out of a moving vehicle.

Donna Sue Davis' killer has never been found in the 51 years since her death. But with a break in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case nearly 10 years after that crime, Sioux City residents are hopeful that it's not too late for Donna Sue.

Maybe, just maybe, her killer can be brought to justice.

"Do I believe her killer is still alive? Yes, but that's because I believe I know who her killer is," said Lt. Lisa Claeys of the Sioux City Police Department. "Can I prove it? No."

'Darling of the neighborhood'

"Three to get ready, and four to go -- to bed," Mary Beatrice "Bea" Davis told her youngest daughter at about 9:30 p.m. on July 10, 1955.

It was a sweltry night, and Mary Davis had given Donna Sue a bath before dressing her in pink pajamas and tucking her into her crib.

Mary Davis kissed Donna Sue good-night. She left a window next to the toddler's crib open because the night was so hot and humid.

Donna Sue drifted off to sleep with a teddy bear, her rubber doll and a favorite red purse.

The little girl was known as "the darling of the neighborhood." With bright blue eyes and a crown of golden locks, Donna Sue liked posing for family photographs in her favorite rocking chair, according to newspaper accounts at the time.

She loved playing with her older siblings, Mary Claire Davis, 11, and Timothy Davis, 7. The two older children were already asleep in a separate bedroom when their mother tucked Donna Sue into her crib.

Mary Davis went into the kitchen to read that Sunday's Sioux City Journal, while her husband, James "Don" Davis, a clerk for Chicago and Northwestern Railway, watched television in the living room.

James Davis thought Donna Sue was clowning around, hiding beneath her covers, when he went to check on his daughter at about 9:40 p.m. But when he looked closer into the darkened room, there was no child in the crib.

"Where's Donna?" he bellowed to his wife.

Then James Davis saw the screen to Donna Sue's window had been removed. His daughter had disappeared.

'We're dead-ended'

In the 51 years since Donna Sue was killed, there have been numerous suspects and even more speculation.

But no killer has been convicted, despite one of the most complete kidnapping investigations in the history of the United States and the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is still open, but cold.

"Different people have their own theories about what happened," Claeys said. "We had some information about three years ago and went and interviewed somebody, and my experience tells me that we were on the right track. But unfortunately, we're dead-ended."

Claeys confirmed the department has DNA and blood samples from Donna Sue, but did not comment further on any other DNA samples, which could compromise the investigation.

The killer is most likely still alive and in his 80s, she said.

The Davis family has steered clear of the media spotlight since the very beginning, rarely granting interviews and choosing to grieve in solitude.

Donna Sue's mother, Mary Beatrice "Bea" Davis, died at the age of 87 on Feb. 13, 2006, in Redding, Calif. Donna Sue's father, James "Don" Davis died on Feb. 1, 1996, also in Redding.

Her funeral was at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Sioux City and burial was in Calvary Cemetery, where Donna Sue also was buried.

The obituary of Mary B. Davis that ran in the The Journal on Feb. 16, 2006, did not mention Donna Sue, nor did it mention the older brother, Timothy, who was 7 at the time of his sister's death.

The only immediate family members listed as survivors were Mary Claire (Davis) Speigle of Redding, and Dawn Davis of Fall River Mills, Calif., born presumably after Donna Sue's death.

Surviving members of the Davis family declined an interview with a Sioux City Journal reporter this week.

"I really don't want to talk to you, and neither does my sister. Thank you for calling. Neither one of us has anything to say to you," Speigle said on Thursday.

Claeys said she would like to solve this case particularly to bring closure to the remaining Davis siblings.

As for the deceased parents, Claeys said, "They have the ultimate closure now -- they know."

More evidence is needed before an arrest can be made, Claeys said, acknowledging that she does have a suspect.

"I have a gut feeling based on an interview," she said.

"Sometimes, all these cases need is one break, or one piece of evidence can just rock it -- hit a homerun out of the ballpark," Claeys said.

As for an arrest in the near future, Claeys said she did not want to speculate one way or the other. She needs more evidence.

Claeys said that in her religious life, she knows justice will be served whether or not a conviction is rendered.

"I believe that there's a judge greater than any we have on earth," she said. "I believe that there will be justice."

'Someone who knew the family'

Jody Ewing investigated the Donna Sue Davis slaying for a news series about "cold cases" and could not put her notebook down.

A writer from Onawa, Iowa, Ewing is researching the case and plans to publish a book called "The Darling of the Neighborhood."

"I just couldn't get this one out of my head," Ewing said.

Like Claeys, Ewing believes she knows the identity of Donna Sue Davis' killer. But unfortunately, their suspects are not the same man.

"It had to have been someone who knew the family really, really well," Ewing said.

She believes the killer lived within the Isabella Street neighborhood in 1955 and had children who were playmates of the Davis children.

According to Ewing, the killer is still alive, and after years of moving around, has returned to Sioux City.

"People return to their old haunts," Ewing said. "It's familiar."

She bases her information on an e-mail and subsequent calls with an anonymous source she has promised to shield. Ewing has also conducted numerous interviews with people in Sioux City and from outside of the state.

Ewing said she believes an arrest will eventually be made.

'Parents should always be careful'

Sgt. Rex Mueller of the Sioux City Police Department said his department "never lets go" of a cold case.

"We never forget it," Mueller said. "We never drop it in a file and shut it away from the world. They're always right there. The fact that we're not actively working it is based on what information we have. Every once in awhile, we'll get a tidbit from somebody who heard something, somebody who thinks they have information. Very often these don't pan out, but we feel it's our duty and our responsibility to follow up on every one of them."

Mueller said he believes that his boss, Lt. Claeys, holds the Donna Sue Davis case "very close to her."

"I know Donna Sue Davis is a case that she brings up quite often to us as a case she would like to close, just by the nature of it, just the horrible nature of the homicide," he said.

In comparing the Donna Sue Davis case with the JonBenet Ramsey case, Mueller said they both likely involved a killer who had "the capacity for looking at children as sexual objects."

"Is it an illness? Is it a compulsion? Yes," he said. "In fact, we've found that pedophilia is something that the recidivism rate is extremely high. It's something that quite often these people can't control or have no desire to control. So when they are not identified and they commit crimes, and we aren't able to keep them away from the population, they are a serious danger."

Parents are the first and best defense for their children, Mueller said.

"There's no doubt that parents should always be careful and be aware of who is around their children. To the point of paranoia, no, but I think people have good instincts. I think when somebody expresses an unusual interest in their child or their child starts showing signs that they may have been abused, that's obviously something they want to investigate right away. Is it a national epidemic? Well, that depends on your definition. Is there a segment of society that is capable of this sort of thing?" Mueller said. "Absolutely."

Journal staff writer Nicole Paseka can be reached at 712-293-4276 or nicolepaseka@siouxcityjournal.com

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