Dustin McMillan told Dateline he has many fond memories of growing up with his family in Corning, California.
“My dad always took me and my brother out hunting for squirrels and snakes,” Dustin said about his father, Rowdy. “He was a very outdoorsy guy. Always doing stuff with me and my brother.”
Dustin told Dateline that his mother was not involved in her son’s lives, so they were raised by their paternal grandmother, Karen, in her Corning home. Their father Rowdy lived nearby, Dustin said, and often spent time with his sons.
“He did the best he could for us, his family,” Dustin said about his father. “He always helped my grandma, and he was he was very warm once you got to know him. I’ve heard nothing but good things about him -- he was an honest, good man.”
On January 5, 1998, Rowdy told eight-year-old Dustin that he was going to his cousin’s house in Clear Lake, California, about 100 miles southwest of Corning in Lake County.
“I asked him, ‘Hey, Dad. Let me go, too?’” But he said no, Dustin recalls. “Something felt wrong. My dad always let me go with him on trips, so it was weird that he told me not to.”
According to Dustin, his father was supposed to get to his cousin’s home by the following day. But Rowdy never arrived.
“I guess the cousin called my grandma and told her that Rowdy never made it,” Dustin told Dateline.
About a week later, on January 11, Rowdy’s mother Karen and Dustin went to his apartment in Corning to see if he was there.
According to Dustin, Rowdy’s car was not at the apartment, but all of his belongings were there. Rowdy’s mother started to worry, Dustin said.
“Sometimes he would disappear, but never for more than a couple of days,” Dustin explained. So Rowdy’s mother Karen decided to wait a few weeks before reporting her son missing.
According to Tehama County Sheriff's Department Detective Eric Patterson, Rowdy’s mother Karen reported her son missing to the Corning Police Department on January 26, 1998. Detective Patterson told Dateline that shortly after Rowdy was reported missing, his car was found abandoned in Butte County. Though detectives could provide few details on the car due to “vague records,” they did confirm to Dateline that no evidence of foul play was found in the car. Butte County, which is southeast of Corning, is not on the direct route that Rowdy would likely have taken if he were traveling to Clear Lake, as he had told his family he was.
Since Rowdy disappeared, Dustin says he has only heard rumors about what may have happened to his father.
“I do fully believe that something bad has happened to him,” Dustin told Dateline. “But, at the same time, I can't help but wonder if maybe he took off. His disappearance ruined my childhood.”
Detective Patterson told Dateline Rowdy’s case is an open and active missing persons investigation, but there haven’t been any solid leads in the two decades he’s been missing.
“I’ve been [at the Tehama County Sheriff’s Department] for 25 years. There’s never been any good, solid evidence of what happened to him, other than his vehicle popping up in Butte County,” Det. Patterson told Dateline. “There has been a lot of rumors and speculation, though.”
The Tehama County Sheriff’s Department has provided familial DNA to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) in the hope of identifying Rowdy if a body is found.
Karen, Rowdy’s mother and Dustin’s grandmother, died in 2008. Now, Dustin says he wants to continue the fight to find answers in his father’s disappearance.
“I don't even want a conviction. I just want his remains, so I can put him to rest the right way,” Dustin told Dateline. “This has been so hard. There are so many things that are hard to describe.”
Rowdy McMillan would be 50 years old today. At the time of his disappearance, he was described as being 6’2” and weighing 180 lbs., with blond hair and green eyes. If you have any information on Rowdy’s case, please call the Tehama County Sheriff's Department at (530) 529-7900.