Deanna Denise Howland was 35 years old when she went missing in May 2004. Her remains were found dismembered at a Missouri rest stop late the next month.
Nearly two decades later, police say they’ve found her killer.
Mike Anthony Clardy, 63, is accused of murder in the second degree and abandonment of a corpse.
According to an indictment filed by the St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the defendant admittedly killed Howland around June 26, 2004, and then dumped her corpse in various locations, St. Louis-based CBS affiliate KMOV reported.
The indictment was announced by the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis on Thursday.
The discovery was made on June 28, 2004, by maintenance workers down a slope at a rest stop off Interstate 70 in Warren County, Missouri. The woman’s hands, legs, and head had been removed. She was found wearing only a black bra.
Police noted at the time that her body had not decomposed – meaning she had likely been killed just hours before.
A knife in a nearby sewer was also recovered from the crime scene.
There were a handful of other clues: witnesses told police they saw a white utility van in the area the day before the torso was found; a series of scars showed that the woman had undergone an appendectomy and a Caesarean section at some point in her life.
But the case quickly went cold.
Howland’s head and her limbs were reportedly never recovered, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
It would be over a decade before police were able to identify the woman whose remains were scattered in two counties.
The victim was from Alton, Illinois. She was a mother of four who lived a transient life and battled drug addiction. Most of her children, from various fathers, never knew her.
Brian Barker, Howland’s brother, went to the Warren County Sheriff’s Department in April 2006 to say he thought the torso was his sister’s. Along with his insistence, he provided DNA, the Dispatch reports.
Two months later, lab experts with the Missouri Highway Patrol sent him a letter that said his sample was “found to be inconsistent with any of the previously developed DNA profiles.”
Barker, as it turned out, was a crooked cop – formerly with the Edwardsville Police Department in Illinois. He was charged with multiple crimes and ultimately took a plea deal on six charges. During his discussions with investigators, he brought up his long-missing sister and the DNA sample that failed to make the connection.
In September 2015, a missing persons report was filed by police in Illinois. Warren County SD Lieutenant Matt Schmutz decided to follow up. He asked a second lab to use Barker’s DNA as a connection in case Howland’s DNA ever turned up anywhere – and for their lab to check the results of the first DNA test.
Again, experts said they failed to find a match.
Schmutz requested another, closer, pass at the samples. The second lab said they would try and ask for additional DNA information from the torso. An expert with the highway patrol then suggested getting DNA samples from other people related to Howland. Her oldest daughter, Ashley Kinnear, and two other siblings obliged.
This time, in 2016, the Missouri lab experts found a match.
“I want to say thank you to everybody,” Kinnear said at a press conference in St. Louis on Thursday afternoon. “I’m very shocked and impressed at how many people are here. And how many people want to know. And how many people are invested in this story – because I always have been. And it’s always been, my mom.”
“And I knew that you know, something had happened,” the daughter went on. “I knew she didn’t just decide to get rid of us. And, to me, to know that there’s many other people that care, that believe that as well and that are interested in getting that side out – not just saying, you know, ‘she was a body part found.’ They’re also interested in who she was and how our life would have been different if we would have had a mom there to help teach us things that moms are supposed to teach kids.”
Clardy, police said during that press conference, met Howland through sex work – and killed her during a “disagreement.”
The defendant was identified by DNA on the torso and the knife, police alleged, in 2022 after tests that began in 2019. In a probable cause affidavit, he allegedly confessed to officers with the Maryland Heights Police Department on Tuesday – and said he spread the victim’s remains throughout St. Louis and Warren counties.
Clardy is currently being detained on a cash bond of $1 million in Warren County.
According to St. Louis County court records reviewed by Law&Crime, there is currently no defense attorney of record on the case. Law&Crime also reached out to the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney for additional information on this story but a response was not immediately forthcoming as of the time of publication.
[images: Mike Clardy via Warren County Sheriff’s Office; Deanna Howland via National Missing and Unidentified Persons database; Ashley Kinnear via Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]