UPDATE Nov 12, 2018: one of my readers sent me some newspaper articles with more details and pictures identifying each girl, just scroll down.
Hazel Juanita Hanna and Cynthia Lorraine Bell were murdered in Missouri, 1976. There is shockingly little online. If you have links to more newspaper articles about this case, please contact me.
On Aug 10, 1976, Helen Whitlock found the badly decomposed bodies of Hazel Juanita Hanna and Cynthia Lorraine Bell on her farm.
The girls’s hands were tied up with a belt, partly undressed, and both shot dead. Hazel was 15 years old. Cynthia was 16 years old. Their bodies were found in dense underbrush near the Cedar-Polk county line. According to Polk County sheriff Kay Williams, there are no new leads.
Helen Whitlock told police that on the evening of Aug 4, around 1015pm, she was cleaning up in her home, near Humansville, off Mo. 123, Missouri. She was sure about the time because the television was on. The weather forecast called for storms the next day. She heard four gunshots within a time frame of about 30-60 seconds. Her husband, Frank, was outside tending to the cows. He was just moving his trucks when in the distance, he heard a girl laugh. Then about 15 minutes later, he heard gunshots. He also heard four shots but places the time frame closer to 1-2 minutes.
Frank finished his chores. Then he took his shotgun and got into his truck. He drove around his farm and saw a car parked in a hayfield in a brushy area near his gate. It is in this area that much later Hazel and Cynthia were found dead. When he saw the car he thought it was just another groups of partying teens as the area was known for that. He continued driving, returned to that spot, but then the car was gone.
I wonder how much time went by. The driver must have seen the farmer and when the farmer drove on, they must have quickly left. This makes me wonder about tire tracks and any other dragging signs that were left that night. Frank and Helen only went back to that spot on Aug 10 (six days later) because neighbors were complaining about a foul smell.
Hazel Juanita Hanna (Feb 24, 1961 – Aug 5, 1976) and Cynthia Lorraine Bell (April 25, 1960 – Aug 5, 1976) had the reputation to be difficult girls. Apparently both led hard lives. From what I gather there may not have been a strong family life. Both were high school-aged but I cannot find if they finished high school. How did these two meet? I did find a quote that by the summer of 1976 “both were runaways.”
Hazel was known as “having a big mouth with smart remarks.” According to the papers, she was pregnant and was planning to leave town. If this was true, her autopsy should show her pregnancy. That means, if fetal blood was preserved, we could try to separate the paternal from the maternal line. Ancestry databases might lead us to the father. Not accusing but he might know something that can help police solve this case. If she was pregnant, it would be an aggravating circumstance if we ever get to charge her killer.
Cynthia was apparently the kind of girl to get into fights. She told friends that she was being abused. This would explain her hard life. Who abused her and was this person questioned? According to the paper, Cynthia too got pregnant. “She fled to Texas, where, according to friends, she gave birth to a child and gave the baby away before returning to the Humansville area.”
How did this teen finance going to Texas? If she gave birth somewhere do we have records of the hospital or the Resource Center? If she gave up the baby for adoption, do we have the paper trail? Here too, if we have the baby’s blood we should be able to track down the father. Again, not accusing but curious if he remembers anything that can help police solve these murders.
The girls were never in one spot for a long time. They were seen throughout the summer of 1976 in various cities, houses, and with various friends. If they had no place to go they used vacant buildings or even sheds for shelter. But they did have a plan. The plan was to leave.
The girls met a friend and he had plans to move to Joplin, Missouri, to find work. Hazel and Cynthia planned to tag along. However, the friend got scared that he might get in trouble for having two female teens with him. He left alone. Hazel and Cynthia were so keen on leaving Humansville that they took a bus and tried to find him. When they failed, they hitchhiked back to Humansville.
The Truck Drivers
Authorities were told that the girls were picked up by a pair of truck drivers who “gave them a hard time.” Both girls got uncomfortable with them and asked to be dropped off. They were dropped off on an unknown piece of highway. To get to Humansville, they went back to hitchhiking. That’s when a Polk County deputy officer saw them. He picked them up, and took them to the county’s juvenile office. This was on July 30, 1976. That night, they were placed in foster care, in a home in Morrisville. But they didn’t stay. That wasn’t the plan. They left July 31, 1976. The family reported them missing Aug 1, 1976. In the days that followed they were seen hitchhiking in Humansville so somehow they did get back. Were did they stay? They were seen until Aug 4, 1976 around 930pm. The next time anyone saw the girls, they were murdered.
Law enforcement found dragging signs so the girls were not killed where they were found. In fact, the girls were not even identified when they were found. Both girls’ hands were tied and each had been shot. Hazel had been shot once, Cynthia had been shot twice. They bodies were across from each other.
Police “found a spent .25 caliber shell casing at the scene, among several personal artifacts belonging to the victims.” Cynthia was eventually identified by her dental records. Hazel was identified by a relative who was willing to check the personal belongings.
“A lead sheet in the case’s investigative report file includes notes on interviews and witness statements after the murders, but these tips come to a stop with the last lead sheet entry date Aug. 27, 1976. Then, abruptly, the lead sheet starts again with new entries starting over a year later, Sept. 27, 1977 — under the lead of then-sheriff Simmons.”
The Jailhouse Snitch
New hope to solve this case came when the authorities spoke to a jail inmate who had just been arraigned for an unrelated 1977 murder. He said he knew who killed Hazel and Cynthia. Then-Sheriff Simmons considered the man a reliable informant. His name is withheld.
The informant’s story is this: he was driving around with the men who committed these murders. They said they picked up Hazel and Cynthia on Aug 4, 1976. They drove down a gravel road to “find a spot to hang out and make out. At one point, the inmate said, one of the girls became upset because one of the men got rough with her. She fled, screaming, from the car they were in, and threatened to turn the two men in for rape.”
According to the informant, one of the men ran after the girl, dragged her back, the other man got out a gun, and they shot both girls. The men then drove to a spot to dump the bodies. At that spot they shot the girls again to make sure they were dead. They then dragged the bodies into or underneath bushes and just left them there. The two men said they traded the gun at a pawn shop in Butler.
Simmons tried to find that gun. “We drove over there, went into the pawn store there,” Simmons said, “and this guy opened the drawer, pulled a pistol out of the drawer, and handed it to us.” It was the wrong gun. The alleged murder weapon was long gone, and never recovered. Simmons believes the pawn shop owner had been tipped off about the gun, and got rid of it.”
Simmons still believes the informant’s story because he knew the two men implicated. After this in 1977, no more new leads came in.
Anyone with information on the case can contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at (417) 777-9020.
Find A Grave Hazel Juanita Hanna
Find A Grave Cynthia Lorraine Bell