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Tip in 1982 cold case leads to excavation in Largo

The body of Retha Hiers, who disappeared after going out to the store, may be at the site, her daughter said.

LARGO, Fla. — A forensics excavation is ongoing at a construction site for a new home after the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office received a tip about a 1980s cold case.

The agency responded Wednesday morning at a location adjacent to the Pinellas Trail and Gooden Crossing and continued digging up the site on Thursday. 

During day two, crews focused their attention on a slab of concrete for hours. After a lot of drilling and hammering, they did not find anything significant inside. 

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

Dana Hiers – whose mother, Retha, disappeared in 1982 after going out to buy laundry detergent – said the sheriff's office received a tip in recent days that her mother's body may be at the site. She credited 10 Tampa Bay coverage earlier this year that highlighted the case for someone providing a tip.

"Nobody can replace mom," Dana said. "Nobody. Nobody I just miss her. I just pray they do recover something up here."

Dana described Retha as a mother with a beautiful smile and laugh. She loved to cook, Dana recalled.

"I just pray we find something," Dana said. "It’s been too long. Too long. I’ve worked on this for over 30 years myself...I’ve never given up."

An aerial view from the Sky 10 helicopter showed several sheriff's office vehicles, including a forensics unit, responded to the scene. Much of the grass in the lot was overturned with dirt as Habitat for Humanity planned to build a home at the site.

The sheriff's office confirmed detectives and forensics are following up on cold cases from the 1970s and 1980s regarding three missing women: Retha Hiers, Margaret Dash and Donyelle Johnson. The suspect, Cleveland Hill, is dead, it added.

Clearwater police, however, later clarified that detectives have no reason to believe Dash is connected to Wednesday morning's excavation.

"[We] received a call couple weeks ago from the sheriff’s office," Mike Sutton, president and CEO Habitat For Humanity said. "They received a tip that during that time period in the 80s when that gentleman owned the property, there was some concern that he potentially buried some bodies on the property."

10 Tampa Bay recently profiled the Retha Hiers case in an episode of "The Missing" with anchor Carolina Leid. 

Retha Hiers left her Largo home in 1982 to go to the store and never returned. 

“None of it adds up. It is a mystery. I can remember the day at the age of 14 when she disappeared...I can remember her standing at the door waving goodbye that was my last time seeing her,” Dana Hiers told 10 Tampa Bay's Carolina Leid.

Retha's car was found four months later in Clearwater. Investigators say she had an affair with Hill, an asphalt contractor and former minister. Detectives say two other women he dated also disappeared: Dash in 1974, Retha Hiers in 1982, and Johnson vanished in 1989. 

Hill was never charged with a crime in the women's disappearances; he was later sentenced to drug trafficking in 1992. Hill was released from prison in 2008 and later died in Virginia.  

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