Families Search for Answers in 1984 Murder Case

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FAYETTEVILE, Ark. – On March 22, 1984, Van Halen’s “Jump” rocked the charts at #1, “Police Academy” was on its way to becoming a hit at the box office, and gas cost about $1.20 a gallon.

But on that same day, a young couple from Independence County was murdered in their Fayetteville home.

KARK re-examines some of the evidence in this 32-year-old case – evidence that has families on both sides of the crime agreeing on one thing, things don’t quite appear as they did back in the 1980’s.

On a farm just outside of Batesville, Tommy Bryant watches over his family’s land.

“I laid awake many nights. Hundreds, if not a thousand nights,” Bryant says.

He never gets tired of looking through these old photos and drawings.

“She was very, very talented and full of life,” Bryant says, reminiscing about the spark of his sister, Karen.

Like most protective brothers, Bryant didn’t particularly approve of his sister’s high school boyfriend.

“But, I know I’m not going to talk you out of it because she was just head over heals in love with him,” Bryant recalls.

And in 1972, Karen married her high school sweetheart, Lee Dickson.

The couple moved to Northwest Arkansas. With new jobs and a brand new home, everything seemed picture perfect.

“She was pregnant?” KARK’s Ashley Ketz asks.

“Yes. She was eight and a half months pregnant when she was killed,” Bryant says.

Sometime in the early morning hours of March 22, 1984, Karen and Lee Dickson’s hillside house on a dead-end street would become the scene of a gruesome crime.

The couple was shot multiple times, all while their 3-year-old son slept in another room.

“These were cold, calculated, point-blank murders,” Bryant says.

Karen’s hands and legs were bound and she was found tied to a chair.

“They had a public that was scared. Something like that hadn’t happened in Fayetteville, Arkansas before. I think they were under pressure, political pressure, to close that case,” Bryant said.

Poring over potential suspects, police zeroed in on 42 year-old Dennis Flowers, a good friend of the Dickson’s who had been seen with Lee multiple times the night before.

“I said, ‘Did you find his finger prints?’ They said ‘No.’,” Bryant recounts. “I said ‘Well, how do you know it was him?’ ‘Well, he left his billfold there so we’d find it, so we’d know it was him.’ And I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.'”

Just the week before, state auditors found a shortage of drugs at Lee Dickson’s pharmacy.

“Lee was mixed up with some bad people and those bad people were mixed up with other bad people,” Bryant says.

It’s believed the quiet pharmacist was addicted to pharmaceutical grade cocaine, and began skimming from his inventory, then selling it with the help of Dennis Flowers.

The multi-agency man hunt for Flowers centered around a rural Washington County home, Flowers was believed to have broken into the morning of the murders.

Dennis Flowers was discovered dead and floating in a three-foot pond just across the road 10 days later.

“One of the law enforcement officers present when his body was removed from the pond said, ‘That man hasn’t been in that pond 10 hours, let alone 10 days’ and he also commented someone paid a lot of money for that hit,” Bryant says.

An autopsy showed Flowers had a massive amount of cocaine in his stomach. That along with what the medical examiner called convincing circumstantial evidence–his death was ruled a suicide.

“Somebody wanted it to look like suicide. Whether Dennis Flowers committed suicide or someone else wanted it to look like suicide, I can’t answer that.” Bryant says, skeptical.

Police records show Dennis Flowers called Lamar Pettus, his landlord and friend, after breaking into the residence of Oran Tisdale. In a statement, Tisdale told police he overheard Flowers admit to “killing two people.”

KARK reached Pettus by phone in November 2016. He recalled Flowers telling him “two people were murdered.” Pettus vividly remembers Flowers stating he would “never hurt a child,” but never said he killed anyone.

Pettus believes Flowers was possibly there at the crimes cene and was the scapegoat.

As Tommy Bryant sifts through piles of paper and police files, it turns out he wasn’t alone in his suspicions.

“I’m interested, and I think the Flowers family is interested too, in just what really happened,” Bryant says.

Both the Bryant’s and Flowers’ families tell KARK the police theory just doesn’t add up.

“The idea that a man would brutally murder two people, tie one of them up, and yet was dumb enough to leave a thumbprint on a 7UP can. I don’t know how you pick up a can with your thumb with no other fingerprints,” Bryant says.

The state crime lab did find 23 developed, but unidentified fingerprints at the crime scene.

While there may be more pieces to puzzle…

“You know, I really can’t answer that,” Fayetteville Police CSI John Brooks tells KARK over the phone.

Going back in time isn’t always easy for law enforcement.

Brooks says police have exhausted all leads with the evidence still available.

“It’s like reading a mystery novel and we don’t have all the pages,” adds FPD Sergeant Craig Stout.

Back in Batesville, three generations now rest side by side at Oaklawn Cemetery.F

“We found out afterwards it was a girl,” Bryant says, of what would have been his niece.

While he still grieves, Tommy Bryant believes there is no timeline for the truth.

“I honestly believe somebody knows what really happened,” Bryant says.

In 2015, at the request of the Flowers family, Fayetteville Police ran the old prints still on file at the state crime lab through the current database, hopeful they might get a lead. But it brought them to same conclusion as in 1984.

While he has reviewed the case file, Washington County Prosecutor Matt Durrett tells KARK open cases take priority. Like FPD, Durrett says its difficult looking back that far in time.

Meanwhile, Bryant tells KARK he’s looking forward to finally meeting Dennis Flowers’ daughter, Dana.

Bryant says they’ve talked on the phone, and plan to meet face to face soon.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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