Did he Really Vanish from the Mall?: D’Wan Sims

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25th May 2024  •  6 min read

On 11 December, 1994, four-year-old D'Wan Sims vanished from a mall in Livonia, Michigan. However, surveillance doubted his mother's story..


Did he Really Vanish from the Mall?: D'Wan Sims

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D’Wan Sims was a four-year-old boy living with his mother, Dwanna Harris, and her boyfriend, Victor Jackson, in an apartment in the west side of Detroit, Michigan. He was described as your average little boy, who loved the Power Rangers and watching cartoons on the television.

December 10, 1994, began like any other day for the small family. Dwanna had a hair appointment at a local salon, and she took D’Wan along. They paused for a quick lunch at a fast food joint before heading back home. With plans to go out that evening, Dwanna and Victor arranged for D’Wan to stay at a family friend’s house overnight.

The next morning, around 10AM, Dwanna picked up D’Wan. Their day was filled with errands, starting with a trip to the laundromat for five loads of laundry. They then visited her mother’s house before returning to their apartment, where Victor was still asleep. Not wanting to disturb him, Dwanna decided to take D’Wan along for some Christmas shopping at the Wonderland Mall in Livonia, Michigan.

According to Dwanna, she and D’Wan arrived at Wonderland Mall around 1:45PM. They parked and entered through a Target store, but finding it too crowded, she decided to skip her planned shopping there. Inside the mall, they briefly stopped outside a toy store where D’Wan, captivated by the Power Ranger figures, asked if he could go in. Dwanna declined, and they continued on.

Dwanna then headed towards a perfume store, passing it and then a clothing store. It was around this point that she realised D’Wan was no longer by her side. Panicked, she began searching for him frantically. By 4PM, after nearly two hours of searching with no success, she approached a mall security guard and reported her son missing.

A comprehensive search of the mall ensued, but D’Wan was nowhere to be found. As time passed, the situation grew more urgent, and the police were called to assist in the search.

Just days after D’Wan was reported missing, news outlets began reporting that Dwanna had failed two polygraph examinations. Despite the well-known unreliability and inadmissibility of these tests in court, rumours started circulating, casting suspicion on her involvement in her son’s disappearance.

On the 15th of December, she appeared during a press conference and staunchly denied any involvement, stating: “My only concern is finding my son. Whoever has my baby, I know he’s safe and I know you’re taking good care of him, but just bring him home.”1

Dwanna claimed that detectives were focusing on her as a person of interest largely due to the recent and highly publicized Susan Smith case in South Carolina. Smith had initially claimed that her two sons were kidnapped in a carjacking, only to later confess to drowning them.

Did he Really Vanish from the Mall?: D'Wan Sims
Wonderland Mall.

However, there were other reasons that detectives doubted Dwanna’s version of what happened that afternoon at the mall, and they publicly announced their suspicions on the 21st of December. Lt. Pete Kunst announced: “Evidence from the tapes at Wonderland would indicate that D’Wan Sims was never at Wonderland.”2

Detectives meticulously reviewed surveillance footage from inside and outside the mall but found no trace of D’Wan. The videos showed Dwanna entering the mall alone, and no witnesses could corroborate her account of visiting the locations she mentioned with D’Wan that afternoon. Lt. Kunst commented on the baffling nature of the case: “A child does not vanish in a vacuum. There are circumstances that surround an event. We’re trying to put those pieces of that puzzle together.”

After D’Wan was reported missing, extensive searches had been conducted. Scores of detectives and volunteers scoured the mall and then expanded their search to the surrounding areas, including the family’s home. D’Wan’s picture was widely circulated in newspapers and fliers across the country, and he was listed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Despite the exhaustive search, no sign of D’Wan could be found. “We feel that we have searched every area that makes sense to search,” said Lt. Kunst, as he called off the ground search on December 22.3 By now, Dwanna had hired a prominent criminal defence attorney.

While the ground search was called off, the investigation still pressed on with 50 police officers assigned to the case. They continued following up on tips and interviewing people who knew the family. When they spoke with Dwanna’s mother, Beverly, she said something that further implicated her daughter as a suspect.

She said that her daughter told her a version of what she did the day D’Wan disappeared that differed from what Dwanna had told the media. However, Beverly came to her daughter’s defence, commenting: “She said for the life of her, with all this confusion, it’s hard for her to pin her times down.”4

Did he Really Vanish from the Mall?: D'Wan Sims
Dwanna Harris.

All tips received were thoroughly investigated, but none led to D’Wan, and eventually, the leads dried up, causing the case to go cold. Then, in February 1999, a gravedigger in suburban Atlanta discovered the decomposed remains of a young boy in a wooded area near a church cemetery. There was initial speculation that the boy could have been D’Wan, but DNA testing proved otherwise. The remains were eventually identified as those of six-year-old William DaShawn Hamilton. In January 2024, his mother, Teresa Black, was convicted of his death.

By the time William’s body was discovered, the investigation into D’Wan’s disappearance had been handed over by the Livonia Police Department to Detroit’s Violent Crimes Task Force, which included officers from other Wayne County municipalities. Dwanna still professed her innocence, and her mother, Beverly, commented that the five years of police scrutiny had left a strain on their family. “Just think about trying to function every day with a missing child under all of the scrutiny and everything that has been said about my family. I can’t begin to tell you how it has been, how my crying spells have not ended,” she said.5

Over the forthcoming years, age progression images of D’Wan were released in the hopes that somebody somewhere recognised him, but nobody ever could. In 2003, Detective Sgt. Shelley Holloway announced: “This case will never be closed, not until we know what happened.” That same year, it was announced that the aging Wonderland Mall was going to be demolished in the summer, and the community couldn’t help but fear that D’Wan had been all but forgotten about.

According to Detective Sgt. Holloway, detectives still believed that Dwanna had something to do with her son’s disappearance, stating: “We are confident that D’Wan was not at the mall when his mother arrived there. She is the one and only suspect. We’ve looked at other things, but it always leads back to her. We think whatever happened to D’Wan, happened someplace else. But there is a lack of evidence, and that’s why there has never been a charge.”6

In 2008, Dwanna moved to Durham, North Carolina, and spoke with The Detroit News. By now, she and Victor had separated, and she was re-married with two children. She said that the years had been “very tough” but “you’ve got to try to stay positive.” She said that she hadn’t given up hope that one day, her son would be found. She stated: “If he was deceased, I think someone would have found a body by now. I feel someone has him and is taking good care of him.”7

Towards the end of 2019, a man turned up at het Livonia Police Department and shared his belief that he was D’Wan Sims. He said he had been adopted, and was trying to trace his biological parents when he saw a photograph of D’Wan and believed that it was him. Dwanna publicly stated that she didn’t believe the man was her son, but added: “You would like to be hopeful.”8 DNA testing ultimately proved that the man wasn’t D’Wan.

On the 7th of December 2020, Dwanna passed away at home. She professed her innocence up until the day that she died, but detectives who worked on the case believe that the truth of what happened to D’Wan died with her. Police Chief Robert Stevenson stated: “I think she had that secret, she kept it back and didn’t share it with anyone, and then took it to the grave.”9

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Footnotes:

  1. The Buffalo News, 15 December, 1994 – “A Mother Pleads for Her Son”
  2. News & Record, 21 December, 1994 – “Police Beginning to Doubt Mother’s Version of Events”
  3. South Bend Tribune, 22 December, 1994 – “Police Halt Ground Search”
  4. The Southern Illinoisan, 23 December, 1994 – “Holidays Won’t Halt Search”
  5. The Detroit News, 27 August, 1999 – “Boy’s Body Puts D’Wan Sims Case back in Spotlight”
  6. The Detroit News, 13 October, 2003 – “Boy’s ‘94’ Disappearance Fades Further From Memory”
  7. The Detroit News, 18 August, 2009 – “When Kids go Missing, Families Struggle for Hope”
  8. Associated Press, 13 December, 2019 – “Mom of Boy Missing Since ’94 Doubts Claim Man is her Son”
  9. The U.S. Sun, 12 December, 2023 – “Puzzling Clues”

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Kit
Kit
29 days ago

Good article but there are a couple of typos.

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