Details of Disappearance
Amber was seated inside of a pickup truck in Dallas, Texas on December 26, 1983. The truck belonged to her mother's live-in boyfriend, James Britton "Britt" Monroe. It was parked outside of McDonald's Grocery in the 800 block of Murdock Road, two blocks from their home, at approximately 9:45 a.m. that morning. Monroe says he went inside the store to purchase soft drinks and paper towels and left Amber in the truck alone for two to five minutes. When he returned, she had vanished. Amber has never been heard from again.
Three weeks after Amber's disappearance, police filed murder charges against Monroe in connection with her case. There was evidence that she was abused before her disappearance; various people saw bruises on her and there's a photograph of her with a hand-shaped bruise on her face. Amber's mother, Stephanie Hughes (also called Stephanie Crum or Stephanie Hughes Crum), initially told police 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 she believed Amber was dead. Hughes subsequently recanted and said Amber had been alive on Christmas night and the police had pressured her into making her previous statement. Another witness said he spoke to Monroe on the phone on the morning of December 26 and heard Amber talking in the background.
A judge dismissed the charges against Monroe a short time later on grounds of insufficient evidence, and they were never refiled, although police said he gave inconsistent statements about the events leading up to Amber's disappearance and they didn't believe he disclosed everything he knew. Monroe maintains his innocence in Amber's case. He and Hughes parted ways after Amber disappeared and Hughes moved to Indiana. She and Amber's father had separated in 1982 and their divorce was final on December 1, 1983. He was in Kentucky at the time. He had never been very much a part of his daughter's life and was quickly ruled out as a suspect in her disappearance.
In 1986, investigators checked the fingerprints of a girl who was abandoned in California that same year. The girl matched Amber's general physical description and was about the right age. Their fingerprints did not match, however.
In 2007, authorities announced they considered David Elliot Penton a person of interest in Amber's disappearance and in the disappearances and murders of several other young girls, including
Angelica Gandara and
Ara Johnson. Photographs of Penton are posted below this case summary. He is has been incarcerated in an Ohio prison since 1987. He also signed a plea agreement admitting to the murders of three girls in Texas. The Texas victims disappeared over a period of 18 months in the Dallas area, and ranged in age from 4 to 9 years old. Penton was also convicted of manslaughter in the child abuse death of his own infant son in 1984; he fled while free on bond pending the outcome of his appeal, and remained at large until 1987, when he was charged with the murder of a friend's 9-year-old niece in Ohio. He was later convicted of this crime.
Penton's cellmates went to investigators and claimed he had implicated himself in the disappearances of Ara, Amber and Angelica. He has not been charged in connection with any of these disappearances, however. All the cases, including Amber's, remain unsolved.
Above: David Elliot Penton, circa 2007