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No human remains found in Largo cold case excavation

Pinellas deputies searched the former property of Cleveland Hill Jr., a suspect in three cold cases involving missing women.
Dana Hiers, 54, of Largo, back, holds her cellphone while Pinellas County deputies and forensics dig through an empty lot on June 29 in Largo. Hiers mother, Retha Hiers, disappeared in 1982, and officials searched the site for possible evidence in the case. They said Thursday they didn't find anything.
Dana Hiers, 54, of Largo, back, holds her cellphone while Pinellas County deputies and forensics dig through an empty lot on June 29 in Largo. Hiers mother, Retha Hiers, disappeared in 1982, and officials searched the site for possible evidence in the case. They said Thursday they didn't find anything. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Jul. 7|Updated Jul. 7

An excavation of a Largo property in search of evidence in a 1982 missing person case did not turn up any remains, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office reported Thursday.

Sheriff’s officials said they received several tips that human remains were buried at 1201 Gooden Crossing in Largo. Investigators excavated the scene from June 28 until Wednesday, but their search did not yield any evidence connected to the disappearance of Retha Hiers.

Hiers, 46, was last seen on Dec. 28, 1982, leaving her home to buy washing powder and bleach. Months later, her white two-door 1976 Ford Elite was found abandoned in Clearwater.

“I can remember her standing at our back door, waving at us, telling us she loves us and goodbye,” her daughter, Dana Hiers, told the Tampa Bay Times at the excavation site in June. She hoped to give her mother a proper burial.

Authorities believe Cleveland Hill Jr., an asphalt contractor and former minister who died in 2018, is a suspect in Hiers’ disappearance. Hill had once owned the property that was being searched.

Hill was also a suspect in cases involving two other missing women from Pinellas County: Margaret Dash, who disappeared in 1974, and Donyelle Johnson, who hasn’t been seen since 1989. There was never enough evidence to charge Hill in the cases, and Hill maintained his innocence on his deathbed, according to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Dana Hiers said Hill was having an affair with her mother and the two other women at the time of their disappearances. Hill denied any romantic involvement with the women in a 1993 Tampa Tribune story.

According to the story, Hill also had faced charges of assault with intent to commit murder. Authorities said four days after his wife filed for divorce in 1968, he shot her and her mother. Both women survived. Hill was found guilty of a lesser assault charge and sentenced to five years of probation, which he violated. He was sent to prison about a year after the conviction and then paroled in 1971.

Hill also served 19 years in prison on federal drug charges and was released in 2008. He died at the age of 70.

Times Staff writer Natalie Weber contributed to this report.

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