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More than 4 decades later, North Carolina man searches for closure in his sister’s 1980 Texas murder

26-year-old Laura Pippin Danka vanished from a parking lot in Corpus Christi, Texas, on April 6, 1980. Her body was found three days later about 11 miles away.

No matter how much time has passed, John Pippin Jr. will never stop thinking about his younger sister Laura who was murdered 44 years ago in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“We were close,” John said. “We both were in 4-H together. We grew up on the farm and everything.”

Laura Pippin Danka
Laura Pippin DankaJohn Pippin Jr.

The Pippin children, four in all, were raised in North Carolina. Laura was the second eldest. “She was always outgoing. Anybody that would be around her --. She was very, very friendly,” John said. “So willing to help anybody do anything. 

After graduating from high school, Laura headed off to study at North Carolina State, which is where she met a man and fell in love.

“She met her husband at North Carolina State when she was there, and he joined the Navy, I think it was,” John said. “I think they stayed in, if I’m not mistaken, Arizona, and a couple other places, and so on, before they wound up in Corpus Christi.”

Of course, the Pippins missed Laura when she left North Carolina. “We missed her terrible,” John said. “But life carries you different places sometimes.”

The couple settled down in Corpus Christi and started their family. “She had a boy and a girl,” John said.

Laura got a good job in the area, too. “She worked with one of the insurance companies, a major insurance company,” John said.

But the marriage didn’t work out.

“I didn’t realize she was divorced at that time. Daddy and Mother kept a lot of --. It was kind of, I reckon, a stigma,” John said of divorce back then. “Didn’t talk about those things.”

John told Dateline that he wishes he stayed in touch with his younger sister more. “We stayed in touch, but not as close as probably we should have,” John said.

Laura Pippin Danka with her parents and her two children
Laura Pippin Danka with her parents and her two children John Pippin Jr.

He never would have imagined the fate his sister would meet in April of 1980.

“Well, we got a telephone call,” John said. “[Laura’s] ex-husband was on the phone and said something about, ‘Laura was missing.’” 

John explained what he learned about the day Laura disappeared. “It was Easter Sunday, and she went by and picked up some work that she was going to do that afternoon at home, and then she was supposed to run by and pick up the kids,” he said. “But she had stopped off at the store.” 

That’s when 26-year-old Laura Pippin Danka vanished.

Dateline spoke with David Cook, the Chief Deputy of Operations for the Nueces County Sheriff’s Office, about the case. “April 6, 1980, was the last time our victim was seen alive,” he said. At the time, Cook was a rookie police officer with the Corpus Christi Police Department in Nueces County. Cook worked there for 40 years, before retiring. “After being out a year, the sheriff asked me to come and work for him,” he said. “I’ve been here with the county for three years.”

Chief Deputy Cook has not worked directly on Laura’s case, but studied the case file before speaking with Dateline. “The last place she was seen was a grocery store parking lot,” in Corpus Christi, he said. The grocery store was located in the 4900 blk of South Padre Island Drive. Cook believes the store was an Albertsons at the time.  

“We kept praying that, you know, she’d be found and everything,” John Pippin Jr. remembered of the days following his sister’s disappearance.

They didn’t have to wait very long for answers. “It was three days later that we got the call that she had been found,” John said.

“Her body was discovered in Nueces County,” Chief Deputy Cook said, at approximately 3 p.m. on April 9, about 11 miles from the parking lot where she was last seen. She was found “on Country Road 26, 1 mile east of Weber Road in a drainage ditch by some little boys who were riding their bicycles.” Laura’s body was “dumped outside of the city limits, but still within Nueces County,” Cook said. The Nueces County Sheriff’s Office took over the investigation.

“The autopsy indicated a homicide,” Cook noted. He said the medical examiner’s report stated that Laura’s death was caused by “nine stab wounds to the left chest.”

“Clearly, to us, there was foul play, with the stab wounds that she succumbed to. But as far as anything else to follow up on, there just isn’t—there’s nothing,” Chief Deputy Cook said.

Cook told Dateline that not long after the murder, a person of interest was arrested in connection to the case. “The person of interest that was arrested was the last person who supposedly saw the victim,” he said. “Apparently there were some witnesses who were spoken to and they identified the gentleman.” However, due to a lack of evidence, “he was never charged with the homicide and it appears he was released shortly after,” Cook said.

After Laura’s body was found, her two children went to live with their father. “They grew up -- finished growing up -- with their dad and their stepmother,” brother John told Dateline.

Laura Pippin Danka
Laura Pippin DankaJohn Pippin Jr.

Despite the pain of finding out Laura had been murdered, John recalls telling his wife that he was relieved they at least had closure. “So we didn’t have to keep through life wondering, you know, where she was,” John said. But now -- 44 years later with the case still unsolved -- he realizes that sense of closure was fleeting.

Chief Deputy Cook told Dateline that Laura’s case will remain open, despite there being limited information to investigate at this time. “There’s absolutely no additional information, no additional leads, nothing that we can follow up on to pursue any additional information in regard to this case,” he said. “If somebody were eventually to come forward or, by chance, there was some evidence that came to our attention that we had not originally looked at or addressed, we would certainly do that.”

The sheriff’s office does not have a dedicated cold case unit. “When this case was brought to my attention, my next question was, ‘Oh, my gosh, how many cold cases do we have?’” Chief Deputy Cook said. “And I believe the count was seven.”

Cook said the Nueces County Sheriff’s Office is now pulling the files for those seven cases and will be following up on any leads that they can.

Over the last 44 years, John Pippin Jr. has thought about what happened to Laura that April day in 1980. “You can come up with all these different theories,” he said. But at the end of the day, he has no idea what happened to his sister.

Four years ago, on the 40th anniversary of his sister’s murder, John wrote a letter to the Nueces County Sheriff’s Office. “I was hoping we might get some closure one day before I pass that Laura’s killer might be found,” John wrote. “If not, I take peace that the good Lord knows.” 

If you have any information about the murder of Laura Pippin Danka, please call the Nueces County Sheriff’s Office at 361-887-2222.

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