The Vanishing of Nan Dixon – Heather Monroe

Missing for 40 years

Nan Dixon, NamUS

Nancy “Nan” Cecile Dixon was born August 4, 1905, in Charlottesville City, Virginia. She was the eldest of nine children. Nan was tiny at 4’10”, and only 118lbs. Her family describes her as “strong and lively” even at 72 years of age. She made her home in Grass Valley, CA, with her third husband, Bob. She knew how to drive, but typically avoided it if she could. Nan was feeling lonely in her old age, and often asked her brother why he didn’t visit her.

In 1961, Nan’s brother Harry and his wife, Lula were leasing property in Seven Troughs, NV. They were some of the only residents left in the wildly remote mining community. Harry and his brother, Dan, planned to open a gold mining operation and asked the other siblings for money to fund the business venture. Nan graciously loaned $6,000. However, nothing came of the mine, and no one paid Nan back. This, understandably, caused turmoil in the family. So much so that Nan and Harry didn’t speak until their brother Paul’s funeral in 1976. After several years of arguments and hurt feelings, the Leighton’s decided to forgive the debt for the sake of keeping the peace.

Looking N-NW from Signal Peak to the ghost town of Seven Troughs, Pershing Co., NV. Courtesy QKC. The area where Nan went missing.

Nan made plans to visit her brother in the remote and defunct town of Seven Troughs, Nevada. She begged her husband to accompany her on the trip, but he refused. She asked her friend Martha to join her on the road trip, but she had other plans. September 21, 1978, Nan tossed a tote full of clothes, a hand-drawn map, and her husband’s .22 handgun into her lime green 1976 Datsun B210 Sedan, and made the trip alone. The three-hour drive was a small price to pay, as she was desperate to see her brother. Nan stopped in Boomtown, NV, to have dinner. She then purchased $4.18 of gas at a Texaco station in Lovelock, NV. Then, she vanished into thin air.

It didn’t take long for Nan’s family to realize that she was missing. Her family and law enforcement scoured the desert but were unable to locate any trace of Nan. Rumors of foul play or suicide were rampant, but there were no substantial leads. Either way, Nan was missing.

Four years passed without any developments in the case. On a crisp Thanksgiving morning in 1982, Coyote hunters discovered Nan’s vehicle on an unused area of the Eagle Picher mining property. The car was rusted and infested with pack rats. The car had a half a tank of gas in it. Scuffed tires and a burnt-out clutch indicating that the driver veered off the road into the ditch and became stuck.

Nan’s Car from NaMUS

Law enforcement found several pieces of evidence that they believed were signs of foul play. A single strand of gray hair found on the steering wheel had, what officers assumed, was human tissue on it. A roll and a single length of electrical tape found in the Datsun. This lead investigators to suspect that Nan was forcefully bound. There appeared to be stains on the car’s trunk liner, and tire rim that investigators assumed were blood. Police found several empty diet cola bottles outside of the vehicle as well as empty cartons of cigarettes that were not Nan’s brand. The missing person case was shaping up to be either suicide or homicide as far as Pershing County Sheriffs were concerned.

Nan’s remains never turned up despite extensive search and investigation. There are no suspects in the Nan Dixon case. Facts that would have helped the investigation are only now coming into light. Unfortunately, the car was auctioned off, and evidence recovered by the police lost.

The Family Did it

This theory stems from a rumor that Nan’s trip was to recover the $6000 she loaned her brothers Harry and Dan. Nan’s husband certainly would have accompanied her on such a confrontation. She was just 4’10” tall and didn’t stand a chance in a physical altercation. She brought the gun because she was vulnerable without it in the middle of nowhere. The family aided in the search, despite their advanced age and declining health. They offered a $100 reward for anyone who could produce her car. They reconciled the 17-year-old loan long before Nan’s visit. Again, Nan often talked about how she missed her siblings and desired a closer relationship with them. That was the point of her trip.

Harry’s son, Butch, has been mentioned by Leighton descendants as a potential suspect in Nan’s death. He was a shady character, to be sure. However, there is nothing concrete that points to any involvement in Nan’s disappearance.

Victim of a Serial Killer

As with any wilderness area in America, there have been bodies found in the general vicinity of Seven Troughs. Nan’s family waited patiently as DNA testing excluded Nan as a potential unidentified Jane Doe found in the area. These separate deaths were isolated incidents with no commonality other than the location of the deceased. It is in the realm of possibility, but not the most likely of scenarios.

Did Nan Take Her Own Life?

Nan’s behavior before her disappearance was not that of a woman who wished to end her life. Firstly, she asked two people to accompany her, which would make no sense if she intended to end her life. She did not enjoy driving, and this would have been a rough solo trip for an older woman. Journalists and law enforcement officials report that Nan penned a suicide note. This incomplete, somewhat cryptic letter found at the car was only partially readable at the time. Handwriting and restorative experts have been able to give a complete translation of the partial letter. What remains of the tattered note reads as follows:

Nan Dixon Note

“…keeps telling me to get the gun and end my nightmares, but this I’ll never do. God gives life, only God can take life. Committing your own suicide is the unbearable shame and I’ll never be left by a just God far from habitation with a beat in my heart…”

These are not the words of a suicidal woman. The note states that she would not take her own life.

A Survival Situation

Nan Dixon was a 72-year-old, incredibly petite, arthritic woman, with a hernia. The area where hunters found her car was searched by air and by land four years prior. This fact led investigators to believe someone planted the Datsun at the location. The remoteness of the area cannot be understated. The site is vast and desolate. The lime green car, peppered with rusty oxidation and tucked into the shadow of a hill, made a seamless camouflage into the desert terrain and missed by searchers.

Stains in and on the car tested negative for blood, according to the evidence reports. An empty six-pack of diet soda was found on the ground by the abandoned vehicle, along with four cartons of cigarettes in the back seat. To me, this suggests that Nan ran her car off the road, into a ravine. Nan tried her best to drive out, but the harder she tried, the deeper the tires burrowed in the sand. In her efforts, she burnt out the clutch. Nan was lost and decided to stay put in hopes of a rescue. She drank soda to keep herself hydrated. Nan was a light smoker. While she was stranded, she chain-smoked to prevent herself from feeling as hungry. Nan spent her time writing down her account of what happened. Eventually, Nan decided to venture out and seek help. Recently, the father-daughter YouTube team, EploreWithUs, located an empty bottle of diet cola approximately one and a half miles from the location of Nan’s car. It appears she at least made it that far, and likely passed away.

The fact that coyote hunters found her car suggests there were predatory coyotes in the area and enough that hunters would make an effort to destroy them. At the time of this writing, Nan would be 114 years old. She will not be found alive. The harsh desert and predatory animals would have reclaimed Nan’s human remains.


Nan’s family never gave up in their search. To date, they have spent over $40,000 to hire private detectives and even psychics to bring Nan home. Older women who go missing are grossly under-reported by the media. Let Nan’s story be a caution. Visit the elderly in your life, and make sure they aren’t lonely. Offer to travel with them if you are able. This case is a tale of good intentions and bad decisions that ultimately resulted in the death of a woman who was very much loved. May her memory continue to be a blessing.

If you have any information leading regarding the disappearance of Nan Dixon, please contact the Pershing County, NV Sherrif. Special thanks to ExploreWithUs for keeping Nan’s case alive.

Further Reading

Nan’s Find a Grave Memorial

Nan on The Doe Network

Nan on NamUS

Watch this video to see newly released documents pertaining to Nan’s case.

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