New Clue in Unsolved Midwest Murder

When Amanda Tusing's fiance found her deserted car in the early dawn of June 15, 2000 on the edge of a lonely stretch of Arkansas highway, it must have seemed to him that she had vanished without a trace into the thunderstorm that had raged through the night before.

But three days later — seven years ago today — the Amanda Tusing missing-person case became a murder investigation.

It's still unsolved.

Last week, in the rare bright moment for a long-unsolved homicide case, police said they had a promising new lead from someone who claims to have overheard people talking about the murder.

After all these years, those closest to the mystery remember the night Tusing disappeared as if it were yesterday.

'She Just Vanished'

Matthew Ervin last saw his bride-to-be when she left his apartment in Jonesboro, Ark., at 11:30 p.m. June 14. She was going to drive to her parents' home, 40 miles away in Dell, Ark. When she wasn't home by 1:30 a.m., Ervin called her parents, and Ervin and Amanda's father, Ed Tusing, went looking for her, investigators and Tusing's mother told ABC News.

They each drove along the route Tusing would have taken, Ervin driving east from Jonesboro and Ed driving west from Dell. They found the car, a black 1992 Pontiac Grand Am, parked in a well-lit area along the side of the Arkansas Highway 18, about five miles east of the St. Francis Bridge.

After finding the car, Ervin met Ed in the nearby town of Monette, Ark., and the two called police to report the 20-year-old missing.

"She had a drink in the drink holder, about three quarters, half full, and it was still kind of frosted," Craighead County sheriff's investigator Gary Etter said last week. "Her wallet was still in there, and her keys were still in the ignition."

Etter said the windshield wipers had been stopped midswipe on the windshield, and the radio was turned to her favorite station. There were no signs of a struggle.

"She just vanished," Etter told ABC News.

Three days later, on June 18, a resident found Tusing's body in a rain-swollen ditch, about 12 miles from where Ervin had found her car. The body was west of Tusing's car, even though she had been traveling east when she disappeared. There were no signs of a sexual assault, Etter said.

'Girl Next Door'

Like so many conscientious homicide investigators around the country, Etter feels he's come to know the victim.

"I feel like I know Mandy inside and out," he said. "I've dealt with so much and talked to so many people, so many of her friends, I feel like I would know her if I met her."

Susan Tusing told ABC News her daughter Amanda, who had two brothers, one of them her twin, had just finished college and gotten a job at a veterinarian's office. She and Ervin got engaged three months before her death.

"She was a very active girl," Susan said. "She had a smile on [her] face all the time, and enjoyed being with her friends."

Etter described Tusing as a down-to-earth girl with a lot of potential.

"She's just one of these girls next door, you know," Etter said. "Her life was loving animals and going to school. That's what she did. She had a full life ahead of her."

Hard Rain

The hard rains the night of her death were a cruel blow to the investigation.

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