Arkansas investigators are working to determine whether the body discovered Saturday in the woods is that of a woman who vanished just before Christmas.
Dawna Natzke, 46, of Hot Springs, Ark., was last seen Dec. 21 leaving a friend’s Christmas party with her boyfriend. The police dispatcher and mother of three was reported missing two days later, when she failed to turn up for work. Her live-in boyfriend, Kevin Duck, 28, said he last saw her watching TV before he went to bed.
Her 1997 Ford Escort was discovered Christmas Eve day completely charred in a remote part of Oauchita National Forest. The body was found 5.5 miles away from her car, but authorities aren’t saying whether it is Natzke. They have, however, notified her family of the discovery; her sister says the family is convinced it is her.
“[The police] told us yes, they found a body, but it’s not confirmed to be Dawna, but we all know,” Debbie Shingler, Natzke’s sister, told the Associated Press. “They don’t want to speculate anything until after the crime lab has done their investigation. I am sure if it wasn’t [Natzke's body], they would be calling us.”
It wasn’t until two days after her torched car was discovered that police began searching the forest, a move that has been met with criticism.
“One of the keys is that the very minute you hear that someone is missing, whether they be an adult or a child, is you pull out all the stops to find them, because if they’ve been harmed, they may still be alive,” FBI expert and ABC News contributor Brad Garrett said.
The police department said it took time to get the dog teams in place for a search.
Authorities wouldn’t discuss the condition of the body but say foul play is suspected in the death. There are security gates at each of the town’s entrances, but no video cameras that might have recorded Natzke’s leaving the community.
Police have not named any suspects in the disappearance of Natzke, who had recently separated from her husband. Despite an extensive search last week, there are few clues and no other signs of her.
“She’s a fantastic mother. Her children are better behaved than most teenagers you meet, and that’s really from my heart,” Hella Cass, one of Natzke’s neighbors, told ABC News Arkansas affiliate KATV.
“We hope for a good outcome for the whole situation.”
Natzke has worked at the Hot Springs Village police department as an emergency dispatcher for the past six years. “She’s family, and we’re doing everything we can do to find her,” Lt. Ricky Middleton told ABC News.
KATV, the Associated Press, ABC News’ Kevin Dolak and Olivia Katrandjian contributed to this report.