Two Thanksgivings have passed since the McDonald family shared a feast with their wife and mother.
Heather McDonald, 27, a mother of three girls, was last seen alive on Sept. 18, 2016, near the intersection of U.S. Highway 411 and Interstate Highway 75. She was wearing yoga pants and a tank top and driving a red Jeep Wrangler.
The next day, a tip led investigators to her Jeep parked in the parking lot of the Courtesy Inn, 2335 US 411 in Cartersville. The doors were wide open, her keys were on the ground and her ID and cell phone were missing.
For the next month, an army of Heather's friends, family and complete strangers combed the county looking for any sign that might be a clue to her whereabouts.
They walked in pairs down the corridors of the Courtesy Inn, knocking on every door and handing out flyers to anyone who would listen.
Most residents listened politely, took the flyer, offered empathy and shut the door.
At the time of her disappearance, her husband, Stefan McDonald, told the Daily Tribune News that his wife had been under some stress and had been displaying some erratic behavior, but “nothing that would indicate that she was just going to disappear — she wouldn’t go this long without reaching out to her kids.”
He said she left home on Sept. 19 to spend a few days with an old friend. Around noon, he said, she called him; they had a brief conversation, and that was the last contact anyone had with her.
“Everything seemed perfectly normal,” he said.
In October, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the Cartersville Police’s investigation.
The family continued the search too, distributing thousands of fliers and business cards with Heather’s information while others continued to use social media on the Facebook page “Have you seen Heather?”
On Nov. 3, a woman’s body found in Haralson County was identified by the GBI as Heather’s.
Not long after, police arrested Richard Dale Harden on a warrant for sex offender registry violation and named him a person of interest in Heather’s disappearance. He had served time for enticing a child for indecent purposes and was released from prison in 2010.
At that time, an arrest seemed imminent, but the case seems to have faded from the public eye. Once daily press releases from the Cartersville Police have dwindled to nearly nothing.
Lt. Mike Bettikofer, the department’s public information officer, released a brief statement on the investigation, saying “The information related to the case has been collected and is being prepared for prosecution at this time.”
—Several attempts to contact members of Heather’s family by telephone were futile.