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Brother hoping to reignite search for Harry Milligan, who disappeared 38 years ago in Albia, Iowa

The 21-year-old was last seen in the early morning of July 1, 1984, after a night out with friends, where he was dropped off at his 1977 maroon Pontiac Grand Prix.

“We were real close,” Mark said of his older brother Harry. “We were the only ones we had.”

Only two and a half years apart, Mark and Harry Milligan grew up in the small town of Avery, Iowa with their four older siblings. “They were a lot older than us,” Mark said. “When I was like two, they were 18 or 19 years old.”

Harry Milligan young with his parents.
Harry Milligan young with his parents.Mark Milligan

Mark told Dateline that he had been raised by his grandparents since he was two years old, but he was officially adopted by them when he turned 18. “That’s how me and Harry became brothers,” Mark said. He told Dateline that Harry had been adopted by Mark’s grandparents when he was just a few months old. “We don’t know who Harry’s birth father or mother is.”

According to Mark, Avery, Iowa is “in the middle of nowhere” but the brothers always found an abundance of activities to do. “Did a lot of fishing, hunting, those types of things,” Mark said. “We played high school sports.”

“It’s kind of surprising he ended up as good as an athlete as he was,” Mark said. He told Dateline that Harry was born with two club feet and had to have surgery to set them straight. Despite that, “he excelled in football, basketball -- he played golf.”

Mark told Dateline that in addition to excelling at sports, Harry was also extremely smart. “All through high school he had great grades,” Mark recalled. He said that school was easy for Harry. “It seems like he could take a look at something, and you know, get straight A’s.”

Mark told Dateline that in 1983 he joined the Marines at only 17 years old. He said that being a Marine ran in the family, “My dad -- grandfather that raised us -- was a war veteran and former Marine.”

Harry Milligan.
Harry Milligan.Mark Milligan

“Once I joined the Marines, [Harry] started looking into the benefits,” Mark told Dateline. Not long after, Harry joined the Marines to further his education. “He decided to join the reserve program so he could use the benefits of that to go to college,” Mark said.

In July of 1983, Harry headed off to boot camp in San Diego, California. “I joined first, but he went to boot camp first,” Mark said. Since Mark was 17 at the time he joined the Marines, he had to wait until he was 18 to go to boot camp. In September, Harry returned home. “He came home and then it wasn’t too long, I left,” Mark told Dateline.

In January 1984, Harry went off to college about an hour from home, at what was then known as Northeast Missouri State University at Kirksville. It has since been renamed Truman State University.

“He was living at the dorms,” Mark said. By June 1984, the semester was over and Harry returned home for the summer.

“He was just going through that period of being young,” Mark said. He told Dateline that in 1984, Harry was 21 and like many other 21-year-olds, thought of summer as a time for partying.

On June 30, 1984, Harry was doing just that. Mark told Dateline that since it was the weekend before the Fourth of July, there were many things to do in town. Harry went to hang out with friends in Albia, Iowa – which is about 10 minutes from home. “I don’t think he had any specific plans,” Mark told Dateline. He said Harry and three of his friends ended up at a local bar that night, and reportedly left the bar at midnight.

According to Mark, the friends then drove around for a couple of hours, drank a six-pack of beer, and dropped Harry back off at his car, a 1977 maroon Pontiac Grand Prix, around 4:30 a.m. “The bar that he was at is like a block or so away from the library,” Mark said. “Everybody used to park over by the library so the cops wouldn't think you were at the bar.”

1977 Pontiac Grand Prix.
1977 Pontiac Grand Prix.Mark Milligan

“The three guys dropped him off at the vehicle and say they saw him drive away,” Mark told Dateline. “That’s the last anybody ever saw him.”

Mark said Harry had plans to play in a softball game on the morning of July 1. “He was kind of the team captain,” Mark noted. He told Dateline that Harry’s best friend, Denny Hollinrake, called the house that morning to make sure Harry was on the way to the game, but Harry wasn’t home.

“My mom didn’t really think much of it,” Mark said. He told Dateline that because it was the weekend, she figured he might have stayed at a friend’s house. “At some point, she started to make phone calls just trying to figure out where he was at,” Mark said. But no one had seen or heard from Harry.

Mark said that night, their mother officially reported Harry missing.

At the time, Mark said he was still in California at boot camp but flew home when he found out his brother was missing. “I was checking around, trying to find him,” Mark recalled.

Mark told Dateline that “there wasn’t a whole lot of effort put into anything.” He said that at the time, law enforcement believed he might have just taken off. “Harry was never the type of person who would just up and leave,” Mark said. “I mean, if he was going to do that, it sure as heck wouldn’t have been a Sunday morning with none of his belongings,” he added.

Mark and Harry Milligan.
Mark and Harry Milligan.Mark Milligan

But Mark said officials didn’t listen when he said that Harry would never have just taken off without saying anything. He told Dateline “there was just nothing done” and that officials “pretty much just believed these three guys” who told them they saw Harry drive off that night. “That was the end of it,” Mark said.

Mark told Dateline that at the time of Harry’s disappearance, their parents were taking care of their older sister, who was dying of cancer. “They were a wreck,” Mark said.

He said that for “years and years and years,” their parents believed Harry had wrecked his car and he would eventually be found. He said they thought they were going to “find him piled up in a ditch or a ravine somewhere.” But they never did. Mark told Dateline that in May 1992, Harry was declared legally dead. “My dad petitioned the court to have him declared legally dead,” Mark said, while adding that their parents never gave up believing Harry was out there somewhere.

Their mother died in 1994 and their father in 2017.

Mark said about 10 years after Harry’s disappearance, a private investigator who was also a family friend, decided to look into the case and spoke to the three guys who were last with Harry. “He spoke to each one of the individuals,” Mark said. “The stories started to change. That’s when I started looking at it more.” Mark told Dateline he believes foul play is involved in his brother’s disappearance.

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Harry’s disappearance. Dateline spoke with Sheriff Daniel Johnson. He confirmed that Harry was last seen in the early morning of July 1, 1984, going northbound on Highway 137 in the city of Albia, Iowa. He told Dateline that at the time of Harry’s disappearance, he was not working in Monroe County but to his understanding, officers “searched from Albia to Avery along the ditches.” He added that “a couple of ponds” were searched as well.

Sheriff Johnson said since he became the sheriff, there have been “numerous pond searches, and searches with cadaver dogs.” He added that “they are still investigating any leads coming into the sheriff’s office.”

When asked if the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office suspects foul play in Harry’s disappearance, Sheriff Johnson replied, “The investigation is ongoing.” There have never been any named persons of interest in Harry’s case.

According to NBC affiliate WHO 13 Des Moines, on June 15, 2022, a private dive team called Chaos Divers took on Harry’s case. “They do this voluntarily,” Mark told Dateline. “They helped a lot.”

According to WHO 13, the dive team “specializes in finding vehicles underwater.” Dive team member Lindsay Bussick told the NBC affiliate that they “went through 13 ponds, 3 reservoirs, Lake Miami, and Rathbun Lake,” in Iowa. But they did not find any trace of Harry or his car.

Still, Mark hasn’t given up. He runs the ‘Harry Dennis Milligan Still Missing’ Facebook page, dedicated to finding out what happened to his older brother. “I honestly believe there are still people out there that know what happened,” Mark said. “It’s just, you know, reaching the right person.”

Mark Milligan and his wife.
Mark Milligan and his wife.Mark Milligan

At the time of his disappearance, Harry was 6’1” tall, with brown hair and glasses. Harry would be 59 years old today.

Anyone with information on Harry Milligan’s whereabouts is asked to call the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office at 641-932-7815.