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Searching For Ghosts: The Case Of Nancy Lynn Blankenship

Apr 17, 2017

I’m headed to Milan and it’s a perfect day for a road trip. It’s sunny and warm, and everything is starting to turn green. As I get older, the winters get harder to take. Everything is just so drab. But if it weren’t for the  winter that I have come to despise, I probably wouldn’t appreciate the spring and summer.
In doing my research on this case, I’m amazed at the amount of criminal activity that seems to permeate West Tennessee. And it’s not just here. This is everywhere. I begin to realize that maybe I was somewhat sheltered growing up. And I start to appreciate even more, my childhood years. Not everyone had it so good.
My destination is a house in the somewhere between Milan and Jackson, Tn, the town where I grew up. As I travel the winding back roads of West Tennessee, I can’t help but think about all the secrets held in this area for over twenty years. And just by looking at it, with rolling pastures and well kept homes, you’d never know that there are some really bad people in this world. And some of them are our neighbors.
A couple of days after Episode One came out, I received a message from a woman named Dawn who wanted to meet with me. She said she knew Cayce and the family, and was very involved in the search efforts when Cayce went missing. 
She also wanted Cathy, a long-time friend of the family, to join us to help fill in any blanks. Dawn told me to carve out two days for interviews because there was just so much information. We didn’t need two days, but we did talk for over six hours.
I’m Brandon Barnett. And this is Searching For Ghosts.
Cayce was at an age when a lot of kids start to rebel. It happens. For many, it’s a rite of passage. Everything that has been made public about Cayce from friends and family over the years, might lead one to believe that she was immune to any teenage rebellion. As far as I’m concerned, there are three possible explanations for this:
1) People might be concerned about soiling her reputation, which might affect people’s opinion of her and their interest in the case. Don’t think for one moment that the image of the innocent beauty queen that was Jon Benet Ramsey didn’t fuel the public’s fascination with that case.
2) Cayce showed a certain side of herself around some, and then a totally different side to others. That’s what teenagers are best at.
3) She wasn’t going through a rebellious stage. It has happened. My parents were my best friends throughout my teenage years. I never really went through that phase. I was either fishing, playing basketball or holed up in my room with a guitar in my hands. I was pretty much a straight arrow.
But the summer Cayce disappeared, both Dawn and Cathy noticed a drastic change.
And while in 2017, the Goth look seems pretty tame, in 1996 in rural West Tennessee, this was a pretty big deal. If nothing else, it was a definite departure from the Cayce of just a few months before.
It’s been about two months since I stopped by the Milan Police Department to ask for any reports about Cayce that are open to the public. I was told that the initial report should be available for me to read. I’ve had friends and family of Cayce ask for those reports as well. But it appears that we’re being stonewalled.
And the daily paper out of Jackson, Tn, The Jackson Sun, is going through their archives to find articles about the case. But this will take some time.
So the Milan Mirror Exchange has been my main source at this point to try to piece this thing together. It is a weekly paper, so I have to do a little estimating on the exact timing of certain findings.
While looking through these reports, it appears that by September 2, 1996, police had a sketch of a possible suspect. After a little digging around, I discovered that the sketch came from a witness who alleges that Cayce was seen with this man at The Gibson County Fairgrounds in Trenton, Tn, a town about fourteen miles away from Milan.
This sketch is floating around the internet, but like so many things about this case, it is never mentioned again. So I started asking around, and the word is that the source was deemed not credible. Not one person that I talked to said that they believed she was ever at the fair in Trenton. And given that all the descriptions of Cayce by law enforcement had her in her bed clothes with no shoes, I felt that it wouldn’t make sense for her to be walking around the fair a couple of days later. So I made note of this, but pretty much dismissed the sketch myself.
But then I found an article just one month later in the October 1st edition of The Mirror-Exchange about a world-famous search and rescue dog named Valorie who came to Milan to search for Cayce. The headline read: “Cayce Left On Her Own Free Will, Smart Dog Says."
Her own free will? Again, why would Cayce leave on her own free will in boxers, a tee shirt and no shoes. The no shoes story is one of the few things in this case that keeps being repeated year after year.
I needed to know more about this smart dog and her findings.
It just so happened that I was sitting at the kitchen table of one of the people responsible for bringing Valorie to town. Dawn and her husband had even video taped the search.
Valorie had found ten people in the Oklahoma City bombing the year before. At the time, she had flown 40 times to find missing persons, had been involved in 600 cases
So I desperately wanted to read the official report of Valorie’s findings. That would definitely be something that would’ve been given to law enforcement at the time, seeing how there was at least one report in the media about it.
But I wasn’t going to get it from the Milan Police Department. I finally received word from Milan PD that they were not going to release any reports whatsoever pertaining to the Cayce McDaniel case. Damn.
So I decided to look up Valorie’s handler at the time, Harry Oakes. Valorie has passed on, but Oakes is still doing search and rescue with his organization International K-9 Search and Rescue Services. In 1996, he was working under the name Mountain Wilderness Search-Rescue-Recovery-International Response Team.
In 1996, Oakes and Valorie were brought in to Milan by Dawn and others with private funds. So I hoped that Oakes would be able to help me seeing as how this mission was not sanctioned by local law enforcement.
According to a 1998 article in The Tennessean, Billy Hale was with The National Missing Children’s Locate Center. At this time, I am having trouble finding any footprint on the internet of Billy and his organization. I only pray that the organization didn’t die with Mr. Hale. If you have any information on this please contact me on our website,
When Dawn first reached out to me, she told me a story that I had never heard before. And to be honest, it blew my hair back. And this story, in my mind, might piece together the things we’ve discussed in this episode.
There are rumors that Cayce made a phone call from the church rec center pay phone the night she went missing. Who would she have called? Her mother didn’t have a phone at the house. The grandmother reportedly never received a phone call. Her best friend was at the church social with Cayce.
Did Cayce call someone to arrange for them to pick her up after the church party?
Was Cayce going through the teenage rebellion stage that so many have denied?
Did the police investigate this alleged phone call?
Is there any way to get the phone records today from a pay phone in 1996?
Searching For Ghosts Website
International K-9 Search And Rescue Services