Greensboro police give up a dig for a body missing for 30 years, and the woman's former husband says they wouldn't have found anything anyway.@
Greensboro's oldest missing persons case remained unsolved Friday when police stopped excavation at the former residence of Helen Lundgren Dalton, who disappeared more than 30 years ago.
Police investigators in 1963 thought Helen Dalton might have been murdered, and her body dumped into a 100-foot-deep well behind 112 Muirs Chapel Road in west Greensboro. The dig was stopped Friday at a depth of 75 feet.Greensboro police detective Jay Whitt called off the dig about 2 p.m. Friday, fearing injury to city crews digging the hole and spectators lined on Muirs Chapel Road. Sides of the hole were caving in.
There are no plans for future digs at the site, said Greensboro police Lt. Jim Hightower.
Don Dalton predicted on Friday morning that police wouldn't find his first wife's body in the dig.
``Go to it,' Dalton said when asked about the excavation. ``I say dig, dig with all your heart. They're not going to find anything because she walked out the door and never looked back.'
Don Dalton, now 75 and living in Lewisville, said his wife left him on April 3, 1963, because she was involved in drug dealing and had grown weary of raising the couple's two children. Helen Dalton, if she is alive, would now be 81.
Detectives involved in the case now and in 1963 have their own theory.
``I was convinced then that the lady had met with foul play,' said George Seay, lead detective in the case 30 years ago. ``I haven't seen or heard nothing in the last 30 years to change my mind.'
Police have never obtained enough evidence to prove that Helen Dalton's body was in the well. In 1963, a detective tried to convince a judge to allow him to put a grappling hook in the well, but there wasn't enough evidence, a judge ruled.
The well was 24 or 30 inches in diameter, which is wide enough to drop a body in.
Dalton said he left Greensboro in 1964 and came back to Lewisville - where he bought his father's 130-acre farm - and Greensboro several times. He married a woman from Burlington in 1964 and remained with her until 1968. In 1969, he married a woman in Montana, a marriage that lasted only eight months.
He said he now lives in a house with his daughter, Bonnie Stewart, on 130 acres in Lewisville, which is in western Forsyth County. His daughter was out of town and not available for comment. Dalton didn't say where his son lives now.
In 1963, the Daltons had been married for 19 years. They had two children, Don Jr., 16, and Bonnie, 14. Donald Dalton Sr. operated a heating and air-conditioning repair shop behind the house, and Helen Dalton ran Bonnie's Beauty Shop inside.
On April 3, 1963, Helen Dalton dropped off her daughter at school and said she would be back at noon to take her to the dentist. Instead, the girl was picked up by her older brother.
Helen Dalton couldn't pick up Bonnie because she went to a convention of the Women's Christian Association in Winston-Salem with a woman named Wanda Flemming, Don Sr. told his children.
Seay said police later learned that there was no such convention and the one Wanda Flemming in North Carolina found by police had never heard of Helen Dalton. No one else interviewed by police had heard of Wanda Flemming, either.
Helen Dalton was not seen again. Her disappearance wasn't reported to Greensboro police for four months.
Helen Dalton's sister in Dearborn Mich., Edith Oberg, came to Greensboro in August 1963 after receiving two typewritten letters, dated April 12 and May 11. She was concerned, she told police, because her sister always wrote her letters in longhand.
Police say a laboratory analysis of the letters showed that they were written on a typewriter that was found in the Daltons' house after Helen Dalton was reported missing.
In 1963, Don Dalton told police his wife was involved in a lesbian affair and had run off with her lover. They took $20,000 the couple had saved, Don Dalton Sr. said.
The beauty shop, Don Dalton said, was a drop point for money from drugs and sports racketeering, he said.
Dalton said his wife, shortly before she left, told him that she was involved with illegal money and didn't know what to do about it. However, he said, she wasn't specific.
Dalton said he learned after his wife was gone that she was involved in laundering profits from a marijuana smuggling operation. Again, he wasn't specific and didn't say how he came about the information.
Hightower, a former vice-narcotics officer, said marijuana was not prevalent in Greensboro until the late 1960s.
Dalton on Friday also said that his wife was tired of raising the children.
``It was three or four days earlier (before April 3),' Dalton said. ``She came in one day and said, 'I've had enough of these two ungrateful kids. I've taken care of them this long and now you can take care of them.'
``Those are the exact words she used,' Dalton said.
Those who knew Helen Dalton say her sentiment was the exact opposite.
``Everyone said that she was too fond of her children to run off,' said D.D. Harvey, who lived near the Daltons in 1963.
In August 1963, Don Dalton allowed police to search his residence. They found her prescription glasses, her dentures, her luggage and clothes.
On Friday, Dalton said police fudged the investigation by not discovering that his wife had at least three sets of false teeth. He also said that she had gained weight in months prior to her disappearance.
``She had a stomach so big she couldn't tie her shoes,' he said.
Helen Dalton had, in months before April 1963, bought two pair of new shoes and dresses large enough for her ever-growing frame, Dalton said. That would explain why police found that all her dresses but one were in closets in the house when they searched it. It was the teen-aged Bonnie who told them that only one dress was missing, Dalton said.
Seay disagrees with Dalton's statements.
``We found her eyeglasses, and she only had one pair,' Seay said on Friday. ``The only luggage in the house was there.'
Police also learned from Helen Dalton's dentist that she had only one pair of dentures.
If Helen Dalton were killed, her body might have been dumped in the well behind the house, neighbors have speculated for 30 years.
In November, a developer began clearing land where the house once stood, which is just west of the Kmart on West Market Street. Police received two anonymous calls recently suggesting that now would be a good time to dig up the well.
Police, who were assisted by about 10 anthropologists and archaeologists from UNCG, say finding Helen Dalton's body would have solved the oldest missing persons case on the books. Evidence that might have been uncovered may have led to a suspect, police said.
Some say the dig was a waste of time and money.
``If they don't have a preponderance of the evidence, what right do they have to come here based on an anonymous phone call,' said Norm Regal, a podiatrist, whose office is across the street from the site.
That cost is about $300 per hour, the same cost that two bulldozers and an excavating shovel, along with city workers would have cost at any dig, said Greg Dingman, landfill supervisor for the city.
However, police Capt. Al Stewart said the cost to the city was minimal. The equipment and manpower would have been used for digs at the landfill anyway, he said.
Police Sgt. Fred Alley said the dig was important because police have to try to clear up missing persons and homicide cases.
``When it's a missing person or a homicide, we never quit working on it,' Alley said. ``We may not work on them for a while, but we never quit on them. You can't put a time or a dollar value on a human life.'