Article Last Updated: Monday, July 14, 2003 - 11:49:53 AM EST
Lack of leads or arrest in Dracut woman's death frustrate father
By DANA WILLHOIT
, Sun Staff
DRACUT On the last day anyone saw 45-year-old Donna Whiteside alive, she left the Mammoth Road house she shared with her father to check up on some people who were staying at her boyfriend's Lowell apartment.
She promised to call before she came home that evening, to see if her father needed anything from the store.
That was Feb. 13, 2000. The call never came. Neither did Donna. Months later, her decomposed body was found at Tide Mill Creek in Hampton, N.H.
"I knew she was dead," her father, Lionel Drouin, said. "She would have called me; if she went to stay with a friend, if she were going somewhere, she would have called."
What he does not know is why, three years after police pulled her body from the water, no one has been arrested for her murder.
Drouin believes he knows who killed her. His daughter had fallen in with a rough crowd, he said. At the time of her disappearance, her longtime boyfriend was in Middlesex County Jail on charges of receiving stolen property, according to news reports.
Her boyfriend had allowed people he knew to stay at his Lowell apartment, but according to Drouin, he thought they might be stealing things from the apartment, and kept asking Donna to go check up on them.
"I kept telling her, I don't know why you're going over there," Drouin said.
Without getting into specific details that might harm the investigation, Drouin said he believes that Donna died in Lowell that evening, although her body was not recovered until June 25, 2000 "on a Sunday afternoon," Drouin recalled.
Lowell police ultimately were given jurisdiction over the case but Drouin feels that as time has passed they've all but forgotten about it.
He said his repeated calls to detectives, and the district attorney's office, have gone unanswered over the past few months. "I've called at least five times in the past three months, and they haven't called me back," he said recently, sitting at the kitchen table of his Mammoth Road home.
Newspaper memorials with headlines reading "In loving memory" are scotch-taped to the television set on the table. Pictures of Donna, a petitie blonde with a solemn expression, are scattered across the tabletop. Drouin preserved her room exactly the way it was the day she disappeared. The maid goes in there once a week to dust and vacuum, carefully lifting up Donna's slippers off the floor to clean under them and then replacing them exactly where they were.
Despite having been through some difficult times, Drouin said, his daughter was a sweet girl and a homebody who always looked after him and helped him out whenever he needed it. She took him to the hospital to get his pacemaker checked and ran errands for him whenever he asked. "Anything I asked her to do, she never said no," he said.
His eyes were dry, but his hands shook as he pulled a stack of carefully folded newspaper articles about her case from a manila envelope.
Drouin is frustrated by the amount of attention cases like Molly Bish and Laci Peterson get, while he feels that to local police, "My daughter is a nobody."
"My daughter, they don't seem to want to bother with her," Drouin said.
Lowell police say that is not the case. They said the investigation is still active, and they arrested two people in connection with the case on charges of intimidating a witness last year.
Lt. Mark Buckley declined to say why.
"We don't want to jeopardize the investigation," he said. There are specific people being looked at, but "we'd like to have a good case before we go to trial. We need more to bring it to a full indictment and arrest and prosecution."
Buckley said he sympathizes with Drouin's desire for answers, but he is not being ignored. "I know my detectives talked to him numerous times. He wants the particulars of the evidence, and that's something we're not inclined to give him, not because we don't want him to know, but again, because we don't want to jeopardize the investigation."
Drouin, who is 79, is impatient. He is thinking of hiring a private investigator to look into his daughter's death. "I turn 80 this year, and I don't want to go to my grave not knowing," he said.
Dana Willhoit's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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