It was the evening of February 4, 2015 when Donna Chatterton’s home went up in flames.
“I just remember getting a call from my mom saying the house had burned to the ground,” Rhonda Whitney, Donna’s sister, told Dateline. “I asked, 'Well where is Donna?'”
Donna, 46 at the time, lived in the home in Lee County, Florida with a roommate, an acquaintance Rhonda says Donna was helping out at the time. The man, Matt Albritton, who had lived with Donna for two months leading up to the fire, told police Donna was not home that night.
No remains were found in charred leftovers of the house, and after a few days without Donna showing up or contacting her family, her mother and siblings began to worry. Most of the family lives within blocks of one another.
“She never really went anywhere so it’s odd,” said Rhonda. “She was such a homebody so the idea she wasn’t there and has been gone for almost a year is really not good.”
Authorities ruled the fire accidental, most likely started by a space heater that was left on. The Chatterton family has their doubts though. “I do want it known that this fire seems to be no accident to us as her family, regardless of what the fire department says,” Rhonda told Dateline.
Police have said they believe Donna met with some type of foul play, but say they cannot release much information about the investigation, as the case is ongoing.
Rhonda says police came close to charging someone in connection with her sister’s disappearance, but that person was never prosecuted. “They don’t tell us too much but I know they are working on it,” explained Rhonda. “We just need some solid evidence, then maybe they can know for certain what happened to her.”
Donna had struggled with drug and alcohol problems in the past, but never simply disappeared, according to family members. She was also glued to her cellphone and was rarely seen without it.
Without a definitive path to follow, Rhonda and Donna’s other siblings continue to look for answers. The family hired a private investigator last year. He hasn’t found any solid leads. Donna’s mother is also rebuilding the home that burned down and hopes to have it complete by the one-year anniversary of Donna’s disappearance.
And for Rhonda, the search for her sister is very personal. “She and I butted heads and were not really talking at the time she vanished,” said Rhonda through tears. “Because we weren’t talking, I feel like I owe her. I’ve been trying really hard to get some answers and we’re never going to stop.”
Donna Chatterton is described as 5’2” tall, weighing 100 lbs. with blonde hair and brown eyes. If you have any information regarding her whereabouts, you’re asked to call the Lee County Sheriff’s Office at (239) 477-1810.
The family also helps run the Facebook group ‘Help us bring Donna L Chatterton home’.