Cayce McDaniel Missing Case: Police Finally Name a Suspect after 22 Long Years

It’s been around 22 years since teenager Cayce McDaniel went missing from her home in Milan, Tennessee. Her mother waited in vain for news of her daughter, and the police did not name any suspects. It was designated as an unsolved case until some new developments led to the case being reopened in 2018. Now there is a suspect in the case, and the FBI is searching for evidence using new technology. The Cayce McDaniel case may finally be solved after all.  

It was August 16, 1996, in Milan, Tennessee, and 14-year-old teenager Cayce Lynn McDaniel’s first day of high school at Milan High. That evening, a Friday, she had gone to a back-to-school party with her friends at Double Springs Church just outside Milan.

Later that night, at around 10:00 p.m., she was dropped off at her house by a guest who had attended the same party. The driver of the car saw McDaniel enter the house. At around midnight, McDaniel’s mother, Cindy McDaniel, and her then-boyfriend, Steve Davenport, returned home after attending a different party.

Cayce McDaniel Goes Missing

After entering the house, they found the home undisturbed. Milk and cookies sat in front of a television that was turned on, and they found the clothes Cayce had worn to the back-to-school party lying on her bed. However, the back door was open, and Cayce McDaniel was nowhere in sight. Cayce McDaniel has not been seen since that night.

Cayce McDaniel with age progressed image

Cayce McDaniel with age progressed photo Credits: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

FBI Search McDaniel’s Home for Evidence

On November 28, 2018, the cold case saw some action after spending many years in limbo. FBI agents and members of the Milan Police Department returned to the scene to conduct a thorough search of the house where McDaniel disappeared. They were looking for any fresh evidence that might have escaped notice of the team that had searched the home 22 years earlier.

Officials seem to have found something worth investigating as the FBI officers hauled away multiple bagged items, with some large enough to require two officers to carry them.

New Technology Might Help Solve Case

The Milan Police Chief Bobby Sellars said, “We contacted FBI a few months ago and got them involved in the case because they have technology we don’t have access to. So, we set up a time to come out to the house and do a search. Technology has advanced so much in the last 20 years since everything happened that maybe they could find something.”

McDaniel’s grieving mother Cindy was also present during the FBI search. Sellars said, “She willingly came and took the officers through the house and re-enacted what she and her boyfriend did that night when they got home and Cayce wasn’t there.” Her former boyfriend Davenport is currently in a federal prison in Arkansas on a felony charge of possessing a firearm.

A Suspect’s Name Is Announced

For a very long time, the police had no clue about what happened on the fateful night McDaniel went missing. Her body was never found, and the police had no suspects in the case. But in July 2018, they made a breakthrough in the case and named a suspect. It was 66-year-old Finis Ewin Hill, a man known to McDaniel’s family and whom she called “Uncle Pete.”

It turns out that the Milan police had suspected Hill of having a hand in McDaniel’s unexplained disappearance ever since she went missing back in 1996.  “From day one, he was a suspect. His name had come up about being in certain places where Cayce was and her family, so he’s kind of been on the radar of law enforcement for a long time,” Sellars said.

Finis Ewin Hill

Finis Ewin Hill Credits: Southaven Police Jail

A Trap was Set for the Known Offender

Hill was released from prison in early 2018, after serving 15 years for his attempt to kidnap a woman named Brocknie Bay from a car wash station in 2003. The Milan police immediately secured legal permission to set up a task force and join forces with the FBI to see if they could get any information from him.

A Milan city employee working with the police created a fake account on social media and added Hill. Hill started communicating with this account and was given the impression that he was communicating with a young, single mother escaping an abusive relationship. Little did Hill know that he was actually communicating with one of Milan’s police officers.

Suspect Sends out Disturbing Messages

Soon Hill started sending disturbing messages to the undercover officer. In one message, he reportedly said that he loved to rape, chase down, and beat women until they could no longer move. In another, he shared that he’d had sex with a 14-year-old girl twice. Eventually, he admitted that he wanted to have sex with the fictitious woman’s 15-year-old daughter.

Another One Bites the Dust

It was then that the FBI and the task force hit pay dirt. Hill came to Southaven, Tennessee to meet the supposed woman he had been messaging and her made-up 15-year-old daughter. The FBI was waiting eagerly. Hill was arrested, and the FBI reported that they found alcohol, marijuana, sex toys, and condoms in Hill’s car.

He was later indicted by a grand jury on charges of sexual exploitation of a minor.

Police Question Suspect in McDaniel’s Disappearance

Now that the authorities had Hill in their custody, they started questioning Hill about any involvement he might have had in McDaniel’s disappearance in August 1996. Finis Ewin Hill is now officially a suspect in the case of Cayce McDaniel’s disappearance, according to the authorities.

New Search Is Unrelated to Hill’s Arrest

Milan Police Chief Sellars took pains to point out that the November 28, 2018, search at McDaniel’s former home had nothing to do with Hill’s arrest. He said, “This search is coming to the house looking for something, anything that could tell us what happened that night. It’s not trying to connect or pin anything on any one person. We’re searching for anything that can help us find out what happened that night and where Cayce is.”

The Truth Will Bring Closure

No one wants to give up hope of seeing McDaniel alive, but 22 years is very a long time. Still, Cindy McDaniel is hoping the investigation reaches a successful conclusion and she gets definitive answers on what really happened to her beloved daughter Cayce that night.

If this happens and the person(s) responsible for McDaniel’s abrupt disappearance are identified and punished, Cindy will finally get what she has been waiting for all these years: the truth and closure. Cindy can then end the vigil she has kept for Cayce McDaniel through all these dark years and move on with her life.