Why did ex-Disney Mouseketeer Dennis Day die? If police know, they aren't saying



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A body has been found at the home of original Disney Mouseketeer Dennis Day, who has been missing since July 2018, according to USA Today. Susana Victoria Perez has more. Buzz60

As a little boy, Dennis Day enchanted millions as one of Disney’s original TV Mouseketeers; now, as an elderly man, dead under still-obscure circumstances, he is a poignant mystery for more millions: Why did he die and why did it take  nearly a year to learn his fate?

Fair warning: This case could remain a mystery, joining the backlog of cold cases growing chillier by the year, says James Alan Fox, professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston, an expert on homicide in America and author of “The Will to Kill.”

So far, the public has been told that Day, 76, is dead but not whether he is a homicide victim. Oregon State Police, who are in charge of the investigation, might know but spokesman Capt. Tim Fox (no relation to Professor Fox), isn’t saying. How come?

“As with any investigation, it takes time,” said Capt. Fox in an email to USA TODAY. “Due to the nature of this investigation (and any investigation), police release what they can at the time to not compromise the integrity of the investigation.”

Day’s closest relative, his sister Nelda Adkins of Coalinga, California, is following the advice of police.

“We are deeply appreciative of all that has helped us bring Dennis’s disappearance to an end,” she told USA TODAY in an email. “But because of the on-going investigation, I am unable to discuss any part of it.”   

Professor Fox says it’s not unusual for police to be tight-lipped about an investigation.

“Sometimes they want to keep information under wraps that they know only the killer would know,” says Fox. “Sometimes, they’re trying not to embarrass or ‘show up’ the local police, if there is information (about the case) that is embarrassing to the early investigators. Sometimes it’s both.”

Either way, Fox says, the police don’t have to share. 

“It’s easier to say ‘we’re not prepared to reveal information at this point in an open investigation,’ ” Professor Fox said. “They don’t have to reveal the details or what happened or what they found. If it ever went to court, then obviously that would come out but not until someone is charged.”

Just for comparison, Professor Fox said, about 65 percent of homicide cases nationally are solved, and two-thirds of those that are solved are solved within two to three days. What that means, he said, is that the colder the cold case, the harder it is solve. 

The mysterious Day case is now nearly a year old. Theoretically, “it could remain a mystery forever,” he said. “It happens. A lot of cold cases are so cold they’re frozen, and it takes a stroke of luck to solve.”

The Oregon State Police confirmed Thursday that a body found on April 4 at Day’s rural home in Phoenix, Oregon,  is in fact the long-missing Day, the former Mouseketeer who sang and danced on millions of black-and-white TV screens across the nation back in the mid-1950s, dressed in a mouse-ear beanie and a sweater emblazoned with his name. 

The identification by the Oregon Medical Examiner’s office came two months after the body was found and 11 months after Day vanished from his Phoenix home in July 2018. . 

He left behind his beloved cat and dog and his husband/partner of more than 45 years, Ernest Caswell, who was hospitalized after a fall the day Day disappearedand has dementia-related memory problems, according to Lt. Jeff Price of the tiny police department in Phoenix who initially investigated the case in 2018.

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Because of his memory issues, two weeks went by before the hospitalized Caswell became aware that Day had not visited; only then were Phoenix police notified of his disappearance. The only thing Caswell could remember was that Day planned to visit some friends on the day he vanished, Price told USA TODAY.    

But there are still more questions than answers about what happened to Day.

How was the body identified? It was too decomposed to be recognized or to use DNA or dental records, police said. So what other method was used? 

“I have no idea if there is any other way,” says Professor Fox. “But it’s strange to identify a body by a method other than DNA or teeth. Circumstantial evidence maybe?”

Where precisely was the body found? Price said the Day home and property, and nearby countryside, were searched several times early in the investigation after July 2018.  Why wasn’t the body spotted then? Was it in water, such as a creek, lake or well?

What was the cause of death? So far, that’s still secret, with no word on whether it was an accident, suicide or foul play. If his death was an accident or suicide, why wouldn’t investigators say so upfront?

Why were there delays in notification of the family? Price said Phoenix police did not know how to contact his family and Caswell, by this time in assisted care, could not help. Six months later, after the search proved fruitless, an Oregon TV news station ran a story on the case. That’s when Day’s niece, Janel Showers, who lives in Oregon, learned of his disappearance and notified his sister. 

Why was Day’s car found 200 miles away in the possession of two strangers? The occupants of his car, who have not been named, claimed Day let them borrow it. It was impounded on July 26, 2018,by Oregon State Police and later searched, but there was no sign of foul play and the couple were released, Price said. What was their role, if any, in Day’s disappearance and death?

Why did the Oregon State Police take over the investigation? “It’s not all that unusual for a local case, if it’s floundering, to be taken over by state police, particularly if a small-town police department lacks resources or experience,” says Professor Fox.

Meanwhile, Adkins said funeral arrangements for Day are still pending, and Caswell’s welfare is being taken care of.

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