Disappearance of Donald James Cavanaugh and David Virgil Neily

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Donald James Cavanaugh (b. 26 July 1941) and David Virgil Neily mysteriously disappeared in 2005 and 2006 respectively. In 2004, 63-year-old Cavanaugh was working on his nephew's horse ranch in Westport, California. After disagreements with his nephew, Cavanaugh vanished in March 2005 after apparently returning to the Westport ranch. During 2005, 69-year-old Neily was working on the ranch while angling for the opportunity to set up a copper plating shop there. On December 27, 2005 the horses were removed from the ranch during a heavy winter rainstorm. Neily left the ranch, but returned to the ranch on April 14, 2006, to retrieve his automobiles and property, and was never heard from again. Pet dogs belonging to both Cavanaugh and Neily were found on the ranch after their owners' disappearance. There has been no trace of either man since the disappearances, but the missing person investigations are ongoing.

Disappearance of Donald James Cavanaugh[edit]

Until the early 2000s, Donald James Cavanaugh was a reputable ranch owner and horse dealer in Elgin, Illinois. However, heart disease led to quadruple bypass surgery. During the resulting illness, Cavanaugh lost his ranch and business.[1]

In 2004, Cavanaugh's nephew offered him a chance at starting over in the horse business. The nephew owned a 20-acre ranch in tiny Westport, California, population 60. He asked his uncle to come run a horse ranch there. The nephew, along with employee Ryan Neily, drove back to Illinois to move Cavanaugh to coastal California. Cavanaugh had personally selected 14 horses to take with them to start the new business on a ranch in an area reportedly rife with illicit marijuana cultivation.[1][2]

Ryan Neily was already employed on the ranch. He noted that there was friction between uncle and nephew from the beginning. Ryan Neily said things came to a head about Christmas 2004 and related the following to journalists. According to Neily, Denoyer accused Cavanaugh of theft, and dropped his 63-year-old uncle in the San Francisco Airport. Cavanaugh was then picked up by a friend, who carried him to his home in Laytonville. After a few weeks, the friend drove Cavanaugh down to a homeless shelter in Ukiah. Cavanaugh told people at the shelter that he was going to retrieve his three dogs, horse saddles and other property from the Westport ranch. Cavanaugh was never again seen or heard from after leaving the shelter[1] at 12:48 p.m. on March 1, 2005. He was reported missing on May 9, 2005.[3]

Disappearance of David Virgil Neily[edit]

While Cavanaugh was on his Northern California hegira, Ryan Neily was told that the elderly man had returned to Illinois. Ryan Neily was allowed to live at the Westport ranch while working for the ranch owner's construction company. Ryan's 69-year-old father David was discussing setting up a copper plating business on the ranch.[1]

On 27 December 2005, during a heavy winter rainstorm, the horses were moved off the ranch. Four dogs were also removed from the ranch; three of them belonged to Donald Cavanaugh, including two pedigreed American bulldogs. Ryan Neily then moved off the ranch to his father's home in Albion, California.[1][2]

On April 14, 2006, David Neily went to the Westport ranch in a 1976 Ford Thunderbird to arrange removal of his vehicles. That is his last known action.[1] However, Westport residents reported hearing five shots at 2 to 3 a.m. the morning of April 15, 2006.[4] Ryan Neily later went to the ranch seeking his father. He discovered his father's constant companion, a dog named Justice, at the ranch. Ryan picked up the dog and left for home.[1]

The following day, Ryan returned to the ranch. He penetrated further onto the property, and found both the Thunderbird and the Mustang. David Neily's wallet and glasses were on the Mustang's seat.[1]

Sergeant Jason Caudillo of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office followed up on Neily's disappearance with a search of the Westport ranch with cadaver dogs. They alerted on a pet's grave, but nothing else. Caudillo admits he found no direct witness or physical evidence of a crime on the Westport ranch.[1]

Aftermath of the disappearances[edit]

Ryan Neily staged a rally in Mendocino, California on behalf of his father in 2012. At that time, Ryan Neily stated that when he had quit his job feeding the 40 horses on the Wesptport ranch, the ranch owner took retribution on the two elderly men. Ryan Neily said he had never been interviewed by the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office concerning the disappearances.[2][4]

These disappearances are classified as active missing persons cases.[5] There have been no further sightings or contact with the missing men, nor has there been any activity in their financial affairs.[1][6]

See also[edit]

Other articles of the topic California : Adventist Health Hanford, California, Ger Ger, Overlook Park (Murrieta, California), Carl Marino, Statue of Christopher Columbus (Chula Vista, California), Adventist Health Howard Memorial Hospital
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  • List of people who disappeared mysteriously


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 "Donald Cavanaugh And David Neily: Two Missing Men, Two Unsolved Mysteries", Huffington Post, 21 November 2013. [1] Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Bruce Anderson, "Where Are They, Jimmy?", Anderson Valley Advertiser. [2] Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  3. NamUS Missing Persons Data Base webpage, entered March 17, 2010, [3] Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Tony Reed, "Missing persons: Connected cases invoke family's suspicions", Fort Bragg Advocate-News, 6 February 2014, [4] Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  5. Mendocino County Sheriff's Office website, http://www.mendocinosheriff.com/missing/index.html
  6. Missing in America webpage, "Missing in America: Donald Cavanaugh & David Neily", published 16 June 2014, [5] Retrieved 30 August 2016.

External links[edit]

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