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‘They’re still desperate for answers:’ Search for Randy Sellers continues nearly 41 years later

Detectives say they cannot rule out any theories in the case.
Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 1:55 AM EDT
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KENTON COUNTY, KY (WXIX) - There has been a confession from a serial killer, a theory that he died in a drowning and even a longstanding rumor that police officers were involved in his disappearance. But more than four decades after he vanished, Randy Sellers has yet to be found.

It was August 16, 1980, when Kenton County Police believe a fun night at the fair turned into a baffling mystery.

Detective Brian Jones says Randy Sellers, 17, was intoxicated at the fairgrounds and got into an altercation.

“Law enforcement stepped in, ended up ultimately making the decision to take him home. So the officers then drove him in the area of his home and dropped him off nearby, and that was the last time anybody’s ever seen him,” Jones said.

Almost 41 years later, Sellers’ disappearance continues to haunt his family and the detectives working the case.

“Seeing that personal side of it, it’s not just a case. It’s not just a random person that’s missing,” Jones said. “There’s an actual family, and even 41 years later, they’re still desperate for answers.”

The disappearance of Randy Sellers
The disappearance of Randy Sellers(FOX19 NOW)

In the years since, theories have continued to pile up. Detective Jones revealed that they have not ruled out the possibility that police officers were involved.

“There was some type of physical contact made between Randy and one of the officers that evening,” Jones said. “I know that there’s been efforts on our end to look into that, but mostly, anytime that we get a lead that involves officers with Kenton County Police from that day, we forward it to Kentucky State Police for transparency for them to investigate, and to my knowledge, there’s been no credible proof that they would’ve been involved with it.”

Early evidence, reports show, pointed to a potentially tragic ending - Sellers may have died by drowning in the Licking River. Jones says investigators noticed a disturbance by the water and searched the area for months, but nothing was discovered.

Another theory came to light in the early 1990s, when a man named Donald Leroy Evans confessed to 60 killings from across the country. Investigators quickly ruled some of them out as false confessions, but Sellers’ case was not one of them.

“Donald Evans had made the statement that he was driving south on Decoursey Pike, so 177, in the area where Randy’s family lived and saw him, and he was hitchhiking, so he picked him up, drove him down to Kincaid Lake State Park. They hung out for a little bit, shared some beers, and then he stated that he shot him in the back of the head and buried him in a shallow grave,” Jones said. “The unfortunate thing is that he was a notorious liar, but that being said, there are details that he had where he would’ve had to have been at the park in some point of his life to be able to give those details.”

The park has become the focus of recent search efforts. In 2019, detectives used a map that had been created by Evans, to pinpoint places of interest at the park.

They worked with a team of trained students, volunteers and cadaver dogs, looking for any disturbance in the dirt or for Sellers’ remains, but nothing came up.

Detective Jones has stated that at this point, not one theory can be ruled out or considered more plausible than another. He also added that they are actively pursuing new leads and potential theories.

Sellers’ family members are brokenhearted, but remain laser-focused on finding out the truth. Randy’s step-father John Cotton and mother Wanda Cotton lost Sellers’ younger brother only years after Sellers vanished.

Despite the pain, they have never given up on their missing son, describing him as likeable and easygoing.

“Hopefully, one day we can get some resolve, if we’re still here. If not, I’m gonna be with Randy. There’s not a doubt in my mind,” John Cotton said in 2019.

For Sellers’ parents, it seems clear that Sellers was most likely met with foul play, but Jones says that the case is not officially considered a homicide.

[RELATED: Family of Randy Sellers speaks for the first time in cold case disappearance]

Although some facts do point to something sinister, Jones calls it a “missing persons” case, until the facts prove otherwise.

“They [the Cottons] are worried that once they pass away, their fear is that Randy gets forgotten, and I can say at Kenton County, we won’t forget,” Jones said. We will always have somebody that is working this case until there is closure.”

If Donald Leroy Evans had any more information about Sellers’ case, he took it to the grave. Detective Jones said Evans died in prison in the 90s after he was stabbed in the shower.

Jones said there is one additional theory in the case that he cannot talk about.

As for Sellers’ family, his mother has worked with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in hopes of helping others. His stepfather has said the heartache and grief never fades.

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