Investigators still searching for leads in 20-year-old Pope County cold case

Samantha Hopper was just 19-years-old and eight months pregnant at the time she disappeared with her 22-month-old daughter Courtney back on September 11, 1998. (Photo: Pope County Sheriff's Office)

Authorities in Pope County are hoping reaching out to the public will help them crack a nearly 20-year-old cold case, involving a missing pregnant teenage mother and her 22-month-old daughter.

"This is my mom, this is Courtney my little sister and that is me," said Dezarae Carpenter, 23, pointing to a picture her mother and sister opening presents on Christmas Day in 1997.

Carpenter said all of the memories she has of her mother and sister are pictures. Her mother, then 19-year-old Samantha Hopper, had left her with her grandmother to go to a concert when Dezarae was just three-and-a-half years old. It was September 11, 1998 - that would be the last time Carpenter would see her mom and sister.

"When you go through something traumatic like that at such a young age, the way you get through with it is just to forget," wept Carpenter. "It's just easier to forget."

But Detective Erick Riggs with the Pope County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigation Division is hoping people don't forget about Hopper. He got assigned to her case about five years ago, meeting Carpenter then when he asked her to complete a DNA swab to submit to a national database of unidentified bodies. Riggs said so far, the DNA hasn't had a hit.

"We know her social security number has never been used," said Riggs. "We also know that her last employer, there was a check waiting on her to come pick up."

"There's things like that, that point to this being a tragedy - that something went terribly wrong."

"It's just so hard," wept Debbie Mayhan, Hopper's mother - trying to hold back tears while talking about her daughter.

Mayhan and Carpenter met up on Monday at the last place they saw Hopper, at their family home on Ball Hill Road just outside Russellville. The property is now overgrown with weeds after the house caught fire some years later. Mayhan said they kept the address in the hopes Hopper would eventually find her way home.

If you have any information about the disappearance of Samantha Hopper and her daughter Courtney, you're urged to call the Pope County Detective Erick Riggs at (479) 368-2558 extension 1038.

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