Dawn Donaldson, Crissy Campbell: Missing California Teens Found Dead Along Dirt Road By Sam Strange On ‘Nightmare Next Door’

Dawn Donaldson and Crissy Campbell were found dead in California, more than 20 years ago. Tonight on Investigation Discovery, viewers will see the case re-enacted on the documentary crime series Nightmare Next Door. Prosecutors say that the two missing teens vanished from Grass Valley, and their badly bludgeoned bodies were later found in an isolated area. Their killer was 21-year-old Sam Strange, a local waiter and dishwasher. Today, Samuel Arola Strange is doing 30 years to life in a California correctional facility. The Nightmare Next Door episode chronicling the story is “A Strange Trust.”


Nightmare Next Door: “A Strange Trust” on Investigation Discovery

When two 16-year-old best friends vanish, friends and residents of the small town hear various rumors about what might have happened to the teens. However, for the girls’ families, sheer panic sets in and hopes are shattered when their badly beaten bodies are found on a remote dirt road.

Best Friends Vanish

Crissy Campbell, real name Christina Maria Campbell, disappeared in July 1994, along with her best friend Dawn Renee Donaldson. The two 16-year-old high school students were reported missing after they failed to return to their homes in Grass Valley.

As the days passed, some people in town speculated that Crissy Campbell and Dawn Donaldson had runaway. Crissy Campbell was sad about a recent break-up with her boyfriend, and she didn’t like the small town of Grass Valley. Both girls were last seen at a home on Retrac Way, according to The Union. The home belonged to a the parents of a local 21-year-old named Sam Strange.

A Strange Connection

Sam Strange, who was working as a dishwasher and waiter at the time, also told police conflicting stories. In one story, he stated that Crissy Campbell and Dawn Donaldson wanted him to give them a ride to Grass Valley. But, the story he ended up sticking to was that he had witnessed the double murders and was told to clean up and dispose of the bodies.

Police found the body of the girls on South Ponderosa Way, almost two weeks after they vanished. An autopsy report revealed that they died of blunt force trauma. Basically, someone beat them in the head with a heavy object. They had to be identified by dental records.

To get a feel for the area, take a look around here.

When the bodies were discovered, several more stories emerged about what could have happened to them. Some believed that the girls were killed while they were hitchhiking. There were also rumors that a Satanic group might have murdered them.

Fingerprints that were found on some garbage bags were traced back to Samuel Arola Strange. He continued to deny that he was the killer, stating that two other men—Allen Pettus and Dameon Graham—had committed the double murders, instead.

The judge was not convinced. Sam Strange was found guilty in the killings, as reported by the San Francisco Gate.

Grass Valley, California Community Divided

The case split the community right down the middle, leaving some believing Sam Strange’s version of events. Others believe that he was the sole killer. One of Sam Strange’s most fervent believers was his mother, Kathy Strange Morales, who died of cancer in 2001. Before she died, she wrote a manuscript on the case. Some say the manuscript was good and compelling. Here is what Doug Campbell, Crissy’s father, told The Union.

“What he had to say at the hearing was very believable. It is what his mother stated in her book that she wrote 20 years earlier. Sam was hanging out with a group of losers in 1994 and had just been allowed to move back home. He knew if he screwed up again, his parents would no longer allow him in the house.

“Sam was there when these two young girls were murdered and he was the one who dumped their bodies and cleaned up his house. He was scared and very stupid that night and should be in prison, but there are two other very guilty buddies of Sam that killed the girls … Sam was a friend of Dawn and had no motive to kill her. I believe there are people in Grass Valley that know what happened that night but are afraid to come forward. To think that Sam did this alone is ridiculous.”

The sad part about the tragic murders is how both families have had to deal with their deaths. Crissy Campbell’s siblings loved her dearly and were shocked when they found her dead. The most that her sister thought would happen is that they would find Crissy alive, and that she would be in big trouble for not coming home. When she finally heard that they found his sister’s body, she dropped to his knees in anguish.

Crissy’s family members decided not to take part in the Nightmare Next Door episode. Her part of the story will be told by two close friends.

More on the Case of Crissy Campbell and Dawn Donaldson

  1. Grass Valley is located in Nevada County in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
  2. The foothills were supposed to be a safe place to raise children, the parents of both victims believed.
  3. Dawn Donaldson was a wonderful singer who had the voice of an angel.


Don’t miss this dramatic story as it is played out on Nightmare Next Door tonight at 9/8 p/m. Central on Investigation Discovery. Last week, the story of Jimmy McClain debuted on Nightmare Next Door.

[Featured Image by AP Photo/AP Files]