Details of Disappearance
Lunsford was employed at the Walmart store in the Village Marketplace on Midlothian Turnpike in Chesterfield County, Virginia. She worked a shift during the evening hours of December 25 into the early morning hours of December 26, 1996 to prepare for the post-holiday clearance sales.
Lunsford and her ex-boyfriend, John Harvey Howard, who was a co-worker, purchased breakfast at a nearby fast-food restaurant at approximately 8:30 a.m. on December 26. She apparently went to Howard's house after that, and his children saw her, but then he sent them away on an errand. Lunsford and Howard were left alone in the house, and Howard stated she went downstairs and said she had to leave, then walked out the front door alone.
She was scheduled to pick up her three daughters from her mother's house. She never arrived and has not been heard from again. Her burgundy 1994 Nissan Sentra was discovered locked and abandoned in the shopping center's parking lot, not far from her place of work, later during the day. There was no sign of her at the scene.
Lunsford broke up with Howard three months before her disappearance; Howard later described their relationship as "rocky" and off-and-on, but said he loved her very much. They remained in touch, however, as they worked together and Lunsford was friendly with his children.
A photo of Howard is posted with this case summary. Prior to her disappearance, Lunsford had filed a sexual harassment claim against him at work, and he claimed she attacked another Walmart employee he was dating and keyed her car, although no police report was taken of this incident.
In May 2021, Howard was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in Lunsford's disappearance. He was convicted in August 2022 and is awaiting sentence. A first-degree murder conviction in the state of Virginia carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Lunsford's family members said it's uncharacteristic of her to leave without warning. She held three jobs to support her five children and other relatives. She had been amicably divorced for two years by the time of her disappearance. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.