The Other Amber
by Kanon Beltran
Edited by Scott Matthews
Amber Nichole Crum was a two-year-old Dallas girl who vanished on December 26th, 1983 from her family's truck, parked in front of McDonald's Grocery at 1016 Murdock Road located in Southeast Dallas County. The business was a mere two blocks from the home where the girl, her mother Stephanie and her mother's live-in boyfriend James Britt Monroe lived. What happened next was a trial that ended in a whodunit, a possible break, and a family whose lives were ultimately destroyed. This is the story of Amber Crum.
December 26th, 1983, was like any other day for those who lived in Dallas County. For the most part, stores were closed with it being the post-holiday season. James Britt Monroe, a live-in boyfriend of Amber Crum's mother Stephanie and Stephanie's daughter Amber, stopped at McDonald's Grocery. James left the truck, leaving Amber alone inside the truck while he made his way into the small grocery store. After purchasing paper towels and soft drinks, within five minutes Monroe exited the business and made his way back to the truck. It was then that he noticed Amber was missing. James contacted the Dallas police. A search of the area was initiated, which lasted around two days. On December 28th, according to Dallas police and the FBI, both departments believed the former husband of Amber's mother, named Larry Crum (who lived in Carrollton, Kentucky at the time) had the girl This was considered their best lead; however, Larry later called Amber's mother Stephanie Hughes and told her he did not have the girl,. he FBI and the Dallas police then dismissed him as a person of interest.
On December 29th Dallas police were convinced the girl had been kidnapped. Though no new leads had surfaced since Larry Crum was dismissed as a person of interest, three days previously, it should be noted that a Dallas police Investigator named Paul Royak said there didn't appear to be any sign of a struggle and that the door on the truck was shut when they searched for clues. This information left the family heartbroken and, along with Dallas Investigators, dumbfounded. Amber’s parents and extended family had a hard time thinking of anyone who would want to take or hurt the girl. Search dogs, a police helicopter and door to door searches of Murdock Road were conducted, again to no avail. Amber's mother Stephanie said she thought the girl was safe On the other hand, Investigator Paul Ronyak told journalists that he wasn't going to speculate further. This leads me to believe that he either thought there was more to the story, or that he thought it was stranger related. I don't know how he came to that conclusion though if he did.
On December 30th, with little hope, the family of Amber Crum decided to talk to a psychic to see if they could gain more information in regards to Amber's whereabouts The psychic told the family that he thought the girl was unharmed, and that she was probably more confused and scared. However, take this with a grain of salt; whatever you believe about psychics is your right. For the family at least it brought them hope that Amber was safe and secure.
On December 31st, Dallas police searched a nearby rendering plant after child-size footprints were found on the property. After a further search of the grounds, no evidence that the child had ever been there was found, so the plant was dismissed. Also, a description of what Amber was wearing at the time she disappeared (a purple Cowboys snow jacket) was released. It seems this was a first, as photos used of Amber showed completely different clothing.
On January 1st of 1984, the only thing Dallas investigators/police announced was "No new progress had been made." a familiar quote that was sounding like a broken record, although it wasn't their fault. January 2nd, and January 3rd yet again the same statement was made. It seemed that investigators were at a stalemate. The days following were just the same, even as far as January 9th, with news articles from The Dallas Morning News just repeating the same information over and over. It seemed that Dallas police/investigators had exhausted all of their leads.
Then on January 14th, Dallas police announced a sudden new development in the case: James Britt Monroe the person who had been with Amber the day she disappeared, was arrested and charged in connection with the possible slaying of the child. He was transported to Lew Sterrett Justice Center and was held on a $50,000 bond. According to Dallas police, Monroe repeatedly told them the child had been abducted the day she went missing from the truck in front of McDonald's Grocery. W.F Gentry of the Youth Division said, i "In the last 48 hours, we have gathered some additional information There was someone with information that was valuable to us." Although he wouldn't elaborate any further, nor did he comment on how police believed the child was killed, according to Gentry they had also contacted Amber's mother, although he didn't disclose anything that was discussed. A polygraph test was conducted on James Monroe, but the results were also not disclosed. When Monroe did not show up for a meeting on the 14th, Dallas Police issued a warrant for "Probable Cause" in order to initiate the arrest.
On January 15th, Dallas police searched Monroe's home in Pleasant Grove but failed to locate any evidence. On the 16th, Dallas police searched a different Pleasant Grove home after they received a tip from a caller who said they thought they saw James Britt Monroe leaving the home. However, Dallas police reportedly again found nothing. James Britt Monroe was jailed as late as the 18th of January. The prosecutor was granted extra time to present evidence against Monroe, however, I honestly don't know what they were expecting to find.
On January 17th Dallas Police filed a murder charge against James Britt Monroe in regard to the purported "death" of the missing two-year-old girl, even though, according to the Dallas Morning News, the department was unable to locate the body of the missing girl. This was only the second time in the department’s history that murder charges in a case had been filed ( where a body had yet to be found. Dallas police's reasoning behind this charge was that they believed Amber Crum was killed in Monroe's home, despite the fact they found zero evidence of such a crime in a search of the home. They also stated they had enough proof to charge him; however. I don't know if that information was from a witness who saw something Christmas day or the day after. Dallas Police and a private investigator hired by Amber's grandparents named Bill Dear refused to explain what evidence they had to substantiate the charge of murder, Monroe's attorney Kevin Clancy filed in response a writ of Habeas Corpus hearing for the day.
On the same day as the murder charge, Dallas police reported that Monroe failed to complete the polygraph test because he attempted to control the outcome of his test by altering his breathing patterns, although as many of you know polygraphs are inadmissible in court. Dallas police Captain William Gentry also said the department believed that the story of Amber vanishing from the truck was bogus, Paul Ronyak also mentioned that the department believed drugs played a role in the girl's disappearance.
On January 18th, a court hearing was held at the Dallas County courthouse downtown. Stephanie Hughes Amber's mother in a statement said that she believed Amber was alive Christmas night when she went to bed. According to the Dallas police, this contradicted her initial statement to them. She initially told investigators that her daughter had been very cold with her eyes open and unblinking when she checked on her at 9:30 P.M on Christmas night and that she believed Amber was dead at that time. This reveals that Amber's mother was the unnamed witness who came forward to Investigators. It seems that as early as the previous Thursday, Amber's mother told Dallas police that she believed the child was dead Christmas night, saying that the child was turned towards the wall in her crib and that the child's eyes were open and that Amber felt "chilled." However, she maintained that she went to bed with the mindset that the child was alive.
Stephanie Hughes's testimony from Tuesday the) also contained information that said James Britt Monroe stripped Amber's crib and washed her blanket, sheets, nightgown, and pillowcase. Amber's mother noted this as odd as Monroe never washed anything in the seven months he had been living there. In the same testimony, Stephanie Hughes told her sister Lynn that according to her, Monroe had beaten Amber. She noted bruises on Amber's back, legs, and ear, but she said she did not personally witness anyone strike the child. She also noted that another family member, an unnamed aunt of Stephanie and Lynn, who took the girl from Monroe's house the day after Thanksgiving per request of Stephanie, also said the child appeared to have been beaten. We now know that Stephanie changed her statement to be that she believed Amber was alive Christmas night. This was the end of January 18th's court hearing.
On January 19th, Stephanie Hughes took the witness stand. In another surprising statement, Hughes admitted that on Christmas day, she and Monroe had used "illegal drugs." However, she said she didn't believe that Monroe was under the influence of drugs that day. She also testified that Amber disappeared at 9:30 AM, which was before she woke up. Hughes then referenced the missing items from the crib, saying again and again that they had been washed by Monroe, something Hughes called "unusual." She also said Monroe told her that he was just helping. Hughes also testified that on Christmas night, she heard Monroe yelling at the child while he was bathing her because Amber hadn't swallowed some food that he had given her. Also, according to the prosecutor, on Wednesday the day before the second trial, private Investigator Dear was told by Monroe that he spanked Amber after she tried to crawl into the clothes dryer at his Pleasant Grove home. Monroe's attorney Kevin Clancy later noted that he had sought the hearing to gain details on the state's case against Monroe and to attempt to reduce his client's $50,000 bail.
January 20th was day three of the trial against Monroe. A shocking decision was made. Charges were dropped against James Britt Monroe in connection with Amber's disappearance, due to a lack of enough evidence tying him to the incident. Monroe was then released from jail. According to District Judge Don Metcalfe, Monroe’s release was also due to Stephanie Hughes' statement contradicting her sworn statement. Metcalfe did plan on referring the case to the Grand Jury in hopes for an indictment. According to Stephanie's aunt, Hughes was confused about the entire hearing, the whole trial was very stressful for both sides, and while James celebrated the non-guilty verdict, Amber was still missing. The question was still open: What happened to the two-year-old, and where was she? Vada Hughes, Stephanie's aunt, maintained that Amber was dead, however, Stephanie maintained hope just as any parent would.
On February 15th, Stephanie Hughes moved in with her other aunt, Julie Briscoe, so that she could be put under "strict supervision." per request of Dallas Investigators and Stephanie's other aunt Vada. Stephanie also underwent hypnosis so that she could recall what happened on Christmas day better. I find this questionable because Stephanie later took a trip to Indiana to see her mother. Stephanie's aunt Julie, like Vada, had a feeling at the time that the child was dead. For investigators and Dallas police, the investigation was back to square one. They had very few leads and were hoping for a break in the case. Meanwhile, James's attorney Kevin Clancy argued presumption of innocence and that the media had latched onto small "insignificant" details. Interestingly, Kevin Clancy said Monroe had a witness (who Hughes said was a co-worker) who testified before a Dallas Grand Jury that Amber was alive and that he heard Amber talking the morning of her disappearance. This witness as of today has not been identified as far as I know.
Stephanie Hughes was put under several more hypnosis sessions per the request of P.I Bill Dear. Initially, these went nowhere. However, according to Dear, Stephanie later recalled an incident that had happened in the bathroom. According to Stephanie, on Christmas evening, Amber had followed Monroe into the bathroom. Amber then suddenly cried out. When Stephanie went to see what the issue was, in her words she saw Monroe shaking Amber trying to dislodge something from the young girl's mouth. Stephanie stated that Monroe told her Amber hadn't finished her dinner. He also told her he was trying to get it out. The recollection ended here. Dear said he believed this incident was key to finding out what happened, and that Stephanie was suppressing something that might have been game-changing.
It seems that Stephanie still doubted Monroe’s story. In a statement from February 15th, she said she couldn't get over the fact that Monroe was the last person Amber was with, and that whatever happened with Amber happened while he was with her., Hughes and Monroe cut contact with each other. Although Stephanie mentioned that she wanted to hear his side of the story, I couldn't find anything after February 15th. Another major announcement in the case was made on March 31st when the jury in the trial decided to no bill James Britt Monroe in Amber's disappearance. As of the 31st, there were no new leads in the case.
There was not much new development in the case, nor many news stories during the period from April to early June. On June 16th, a discovery was made in Breckenridge TX, west of Fort Worth, that gave Dallas investigators hope. Skeletal remains were found near a rural road. They were said to have belonged to a small child, although the identity remained a mystery. The next day, however, they were identified as belonging to Ryan Burton, age: 3. She was reported missing in 1981 from her family's home in Breckenridge. That case remains unsolved. Dallas police’s hope of finding Amber was yet again dashed, and the department went back to looking for leads and searching areas around Murdock road.
Later into 1984 news coverage seemed to dwindle. I couldn't find anything from late June up to early December. I did, however, find one article from December 23rd, 1984, two days before the case turned one year old. It said Amber's mother hoped that the girl was still alive and that she said she refused to believe the child was dead. Hughes insisted that the girl would return soon. Any parent would feel this way and most who have lost a child feel this way from time to time. Dallas police, on the other hand, were certain that the girl was dead; however, they still had no idea where she was.
Dallas police had many theories on the girl's disappearance, ranging from drugs due to an arrest regarding James Britt Monroe for possessing illegal drugs, to an accident involving the child. However, they did not elaborate on other theories. A longtime investigator named Konyak also noted there was the possibility of a death bed confession, something not uncommon. According to Konyak, finding the body was still a possibility. More than 70 leads on where the body of the missing girl might be were followed. However, the sites were searched to no avail. Konyak told the Dallas Morning News that even if Amber was found, identification would be impossible. The girl hadn't had any major surgeries nor distinct scars that could easily identify her. Konyak said Clothes were their only hope, and even then they only knew what Amber had been wearing from the formerly charged James Britt Monroe.
Monroe had several previous run-ins with the law, with charges ranging from processing methamphetamine to firing off a gun behind his home in city limits. The drug possession charge came up around the time questions arose about Amber's treatment at home. Despite the allegations, Dallas Police seemed to have not thought Monroe was guilty of foul play; however, they felt he wasn't telling them everything he knew. With the trial having found him not guilty, they would have to find another way to gain information from Monroe. After this, Stephanie Hughes moved to Indiana with her parents, and the last time she saw Monroe was at the trial. She told the Dallas Morning News that she missed him at the time. It seems she hoped that he could tell her something he knew. Perhaps he would feel more comfortable talking to her. Monroe, on the other hand, sold his home and moved in with another woman he knew who was also named Stephanie. She also had a two-year-old daughter. Monroe refused to comment on Amber's case, Stephanie nor his difficulties except through his lawyer. However, according to his lawyer, he hoped Amber would be found safe and alive. Also according to Monroe, the publicity of the case ruined his life, he couldn't live quietly, this also seemed to affect his family who also defended him saying he had nothing to do with the girl's disappearance.
Stephanie and her family were deeply affected by this whole case. Her parents refused to put up a Christmas tree and held onto a gift that Amber had overlooked the previous year. Stephanie said she would return to Dallas in hopes of finding her girl. She always seemed to maintain hope and I commend her for that, no parent ever should have to go through what these families have dealt with. Christmas day of 1984 came and went. I couldn't find any information or developments after a December 23rd article; however, I suspect that a small vigil was held for the then what would have been a four-year-old girl. Unfortunately, the case files are not public, so I have very little to go on for 1985.
As 1986 rolled around, the case seemed to have gone cold for the first half of the year, then on August 8th, 1986, a possible break in the case was made. An article suggested hat a San Bernardino detective from California contacted Dallas police after a five-year-old girl who reportedly looked like Amber was found in the city. The detective told police that the girl's date of birth fit within the range of Amber's. Fingerprints were taken which Dallas police anxiously awaited. Unfortunately, it was not to be. While the girl physically looked like Amber, her fingerprints proved that the girl was not in fact Amber. Dallas Police were heartbroken. I couldn't find any comments from Amber's family nor from James, but I suspect they felt the same way Dallas did and rightfully so. They were back to square one yet again.
August 10th, 1986 was the last (Officially Released) update on the case. From what I can tell, the case went cold, although it was briefly mentioned with several other "Abduction cases." in an August 24th, news article. Dallas investigators as far as I can tell never gave up on this case; however, it was downgraded to low priority, most likely due to a lack of new legitimate leads and failed searches. It seemed like Dallas police would never get anywhere with this case. Then in 2007, almost twenty-one years to the date, the case would take a shocking and sudden change in direction.
Although the exact date was not given in 2007, David Elliot Penton, a known serial-killer in the Dallas area in the 1980s was announced as a new person of interest in Amber Crum's case. Penton, who had already been charged for three other area murders in Mesquite, North Dallas, and Garland, may have been active in the area as early as 1983.ccording to multiple cellmates of Penton, he implicated himself in Amber's disappearance, although the details on this have not yet been released as of 2019. This may be due to investigators hoping to find evidence that ties Penton to Amber's case.
The one thing that sets this case apart from Penton's other victims is that Amber has still not been found. All three victims in the other three Dallas cases were found within two years in neighboring counties, which was Penton's modus operandi. If Amber is indeed one of Penton's victims, Dallas police will need to search neighboring counties, including fields, and check Jane Doe records from the 80s for those counties.
Lastly, could there be another unidentified victim? Penton is thought to have kidnapped six girls in the Dallas area, three of whom survived. Could there have in fact been a 7th victim whom he either let go, managed to escape or worst of all killed? We won't know until he says something. As of 2019, there have been no new developments in this case, or at least public developments, nor any new comments from Amber's parents, although I do not know if this is because they would rather stay out of the public spotlight or they are worried the very worst might become of this.
This December will mark twenty-six years since Amber vanished that cold December day back in 1983 from James Britt Monroe's pickup. I think I've found James Britt Monroe on social media recently though I can't say for sure. I assume he's changed his name due to the stigma in Dallas. I have been unable to find Stephanie Hughes or any of her family; they may have stayed away from social media like so many others who have dealt with these types of tragedies. McDonald's Grocery has since closed. It is now a residence. James Britt Monroe's home also has been moved into by another family. Dallas investigators have hopefully never given up on this case. I hope Amber's family finds peace one day. They've possibly isolated themselves due to this tragedy.
Will Amber ever be found? We do not know. Unfortunately, only time will tell. The once rural area surrounding Murdock Road is starting to be developed for homes and businesses. A concrete plant was even built nearby tearing up a big chunk of the land. As new development takes place, anything can happen. Only two people truly know what happened, and whether you believe Monroe got away with murder or Penton is behind all of this, only time will tell, and for now, we can only speculate. I highly doubt the local news like Fox 4, WFAA or NBC 5 will run a story for the anniversary of Amber's case, It's not surprising but still disappointing. In the end, Amber's family needs closure, Dallas Police need closure and the residents of Pleasant Grove need closure.
If you have any information that can lead to the whereabouts of Amber Crum (who if alive would be 38 years old in 2019,) please contact Dallas Police at 214-670-4426.
Thank you as always.
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