Deputies from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) arrived to an empty lot at 1201 Gooden Crossing in Unincorporated Largo on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.
Heavy equipment was brought which began to dig and move large amounts of dirt which are being sifted through and examined.
It is believed that his search may be connected to three woman reported missing decades ago; Margaret Dash, Retha Lee Hiers, and Donyelle Johnson. Despite not knowing each other, all three missing woman knew one person in common, Cleveland Hill Jr. He was a local minister and asphalt contractor.
Retha Lee Hiers was last seen in the morning hours of December 19, 1982 leaving her Largo apartment to buy laundry detergent. Retha never returned.
Deputies investigating decades old disappearance of local woman
Retha Heirs and her boyfriend had six children during their 25 year long relationship. They did marry shortly before her disappearance when her boyfriend found out she was having an affair with a family friend, Cleveland Hill, Jr.
Cleveland Hill, Jr., was an asphalt contractor and himself married. Retha reportedly attempted to kill herself when her boyfriend found out about the relationship. He instead agreed to marry her when she swore her relationship with Hill Jr. was over.
A few days after her disappearance, her husband received a letter. The letter was supposedly from Retha stating she was leaving him, wanted to be with Cleveland Hill Jr., and wanted the children to stay with her husband.
Four months later, her two-door white 1976 Ford Elite was found on Gulf To Bay Blvd in Clearwater, Florida.
Donyelle Johnson went missing on April 4, 1989. She was last seen leaving the campus of the St. Petersburg Junior College in Clearwater. Her vehicle was later located abandoned behind a restaurant at Belcher Road and East Bay Drive in Largo. A male called a towing company to report the vehicle was having trouble and needed to be towed. That man was never identified. The vehicle reportedly had a loose battery connection but otherwise fully operational. Johnson’s father received a letter two days after her disappearance. The letter, supposedly from Donyelle, stated she was involved with drugs and moving to Orlando to “straighten out her life.” Handwriting experts examined the letter and concluded that it was written by Donyelle.
Johnson was in a relationship with Hill Jr.. He had showered her with money, expensive gifts, and even a car that her parents made her return to him. Johnson reportedly became scared of Hill Jr. and tried to end the relationship. She told her parents that Hill Jr. threatened her and told her that he would “make people disappear.”
Margaret Dash was last seen on June 14, 1974 when she left her home off Wildwood Street in Clearwater. She was borrowing her daughter’s car to pickup medication for a sick relative. The vehicle was later located in a abandoned parking lot in St. Petersburg. Dash was married but also dating Cleveland Hill Jr. at the time of her disappearance. Hill told Dash’s husband about the relationship and continued despite the relationship continuing for many more months. Dash eventually decided to end the relationship with Hill threatening to kill her.
Hill served a prison sentence after shooting his wife and mother in law in 1968. In 1992, he was convicted of drug trafficking and returned to prison. He was released from prison in 2008 and reportedly died in 2018. He denied any knowledge or involvement in the disappearance of these woman.
Nothing was located during a previous operation to search the lot in 1993.
Detectives say they received several tips of possible human remains being buried on the property which was formerly owned by Cleveland Hill Jr. Hill was a suspect in the 1982 disappearance of 43-year-old Retha Hiers. No remains were ever recovered. Hill died in 2018 at 70 years-old and maintained his
innocence up until he died.
Detectives began the excavation of the property on June 28, 2022 and completed the excavation on July 6, 2022. According to detectives, no evidence related to the case was located at the scene.
The investigation continues.