Police seek answers in 22-year-old homicide

It’s been more than 22 years since Paula Rankin of Pine Bluff was reported missing and then found dead, but police have not forgotten and are hoping for that one piece of information that could put those responsible behind bars.

Rankin was reported missing on March 20, 1991, two days shy of her 21st birthday. Her mother, Elaine Trimble, filed the report. According to police, Rankin was last seen with Norris Howard, now 50, who resides in the Pine Bluff area.

Police said Rankin had withdrawn a substantial amount of money from her bank account a couple of days before she was reported missing to buy a car and Howard was supposed to take Rankin to Memphis to get a deal on a car.

“Rankin never made it to Memphis or back home,” Detective Lt. Terry Hopson said in a synopsis of the case sent to The Commercial.

On March 21, 1991, Howard was questioned by Hopson and former detective James Bacon. After police conducted a search of Howard’s residence and vehicle, he was released pending further investigation.

On April 16, 1991, Rankin’s body was found in a drainage ditch in West Carroll Parish, La., and an autopsy was performed April 29, 1991 in Bossier City, La.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Jay P. Mashburn ruled that the death was caused by multiple gunshot wounds, and the body was positively identified as Rankin’s on May 1, 1991.

According to the case synopsis from Hopson, multiple interviews have been conducted since the discovery of the body, and numerous pieces of evidence have been processed through various labs, including but not limited to the Arkansas State Crime Lab, the FBI Crime Lab and the Pine Bluff Police Crime lab.

Anyone with information that could assist police in their efforts to bring Rankin’s killer to justice should contact the Detective Division Office at 730-2090. All calls will be kept confidential.