Darla Harper's car
Searching for Darla Harper in 1986
For 25 years, Harper made Mel Nixon proud.
Nixon told Today's THV in 2003, "She was just a joy to be around. She just made life fun."
As mother and daughter, the two shared a special bond.
"I mean, all I had to do is if I needed her was pick up the phone and no excuses she was just here for you," adds Nixon.
But the bond was broken in early March 1986.
Nixon recalls, "It was just a good close family weekend with her, and nothing to indicate that there was a problem."
Harper got home to her Sherwood apartment and was last seen by a neighbor.
Nixon considered calling her daughter that night but at 11 p.m., she decided it was too late.
She remembers, "So I didn't and ironically that's the exact time that the neighbor described hearing moans and noises in the apartment."
When Harper was a no show for work the next morning, co-workers began the search.
They found her apartment door open and Harper's two-year-old daughter alone inside.
Nixon says, "When I heard that, I just was devastated because I knew that there was no way short of somebody taking her away that she would've left Leslie alone. So I knew something was really terribly wrong."
Today Leslie Bourne is 27.
Bourne told THV in 2003, "I feel like I saw what happened that night, and I feel like maybe I could remember."
But Bourne is unsure if her memories are dreamt up, suggested or based in reality.
She says, "I just remember seeing, I can't remember how many but people in black and ski masks coming up the stairs."
Nixon says, "In the beginning she said things like, 'Mommy is in a bag. Mommy's feet were broke,' like she was witnessing somebody carrying Darla out, maybe limp."
Just in case, detectives took Bourne's statements.
Sgt. Mike Blain is in charge of the cold case division at the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office.
He explains, "It is our belief that the scene was cleaned up."
The day after she vanished, Harper's car was found at a Crystal Hill commuter lot and six years later, police were lead to believe her body might be buried under her ex-husband's home. However, nothing was found.
Then in February 2009, Sherwood police dug up what appeared to be a human grave. The only known missing person in the area was Harper. Again though, detectives found nothing. So far, no one is linked to her disappearance.
But hard evidence may be coming.
Blain says, "I think we are closer than ever than we've ever been at this very moment."
Blain believes they have the killer's DNA. Right now, it's being re-tested at the state crime lab.
He explains, "It is my belief that we have that critical piece of DNA evidence to at least make identification. Not so much show direct guilt or fault but certainly have that person known."
Until that day, Nixon keeps every shred of information she finds.
"It makes me feel like I'm doing something and that's real important," she says.
Still nothing replaces the hole left in the family since 1986. While a memorial stands for Darla, she has yet to be laid to rest.
Bourne says, "What did they do to her? Where did they put? I would like to know."
If you have any information on Darla Harper's disappearance, you're urged to call the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office at 501-340-8477.
Our Arkansas Cold Case series airs every Wednesday on the "THV 10:00 Difference."
If you have an unsolved murder or missing persons case you would like us to look into, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.