Ara Denise Johnson

Above: Ara, circa 1986


Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: April 2, 1986 from Big Sandy, Texas
  • Classification: Non-Family Abduction
  • Date Of Birth: March 26, 1981
  • Age: 5 years old
  • Height and Weight: 3'0, 39 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: African-American female. Black hair, brown eyes. Two of Ara's lower front teeth were missing at the time of her disappearance. She has a silver filling in her back right molar. Ara's nickname is Neecee (sometimes spelled "Nicee" or "Niecie"). Her middle name may be spelled "Denice."
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description: Orange panties.
  • Bar

    Details of Disappearance

    Ara was last seen in her bedroom in her family's mobile home in the 300 block of Boulder Street in Big Sandy, Texas on April 2, 1986 between 1:00 and 2:30 a.m. Ara disappeared from the home sometime during the overnight hours and has not been heard from again. Her parents discovered the back door to the residence standing open and Ara missing at approximately 6:30 a.m. There was no sign of forced entry to the home, and no one heard anything unusual that night.

    In 2007, authorities announced they considered David Elliot Penton a person of interest in Ara's disappearance and in the disappearances and murders of several other young girls, including Amber Crum and Angelica Gandara. 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.

    Ara was last seen wrapped in a dark orange bedspread which was later found to be missing from the home. Foul play is suspected in her case. Authorities believe she was abducted by someone who knew her family's habits. Her case remains unsolved.

    Penton 1 Penton 2
    Above: David Elliot Penton, circa 2007


    Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    Upshur County Sheriff's Office


    Source Information
    The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children
    Child Protection Education of America
    Texas Department of Public Safety
    Vanished Children's Alliance
    The Tyler Morning Telegraph


    Updated 4 times since October 12, 2004.

    Last updated December 29, 2016; clothing/jewelry description updated.

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