An arrest in the mysterious death of Dennis Day, an original cast-member of Disney’s ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’ who disappeared last summer before his decomposed body was found inside his home nine-months-later, was made by police on Friday.
Daniel James Burda, 36, has now been charged with manslaughter, abuse of a corpse and identity theft among a litany of other charges, police in Oregon have revealed.
Burda worked as a handyman for Day, who was 76 when he disappeared in July 2018, and his husband Henry Caswell, 88 – even living at their Phoenix property from time-to-time, undertaking tasks from yard work to maintenance as collateral.
But in addition to his various odd-job capabilities, police say he also has an extensive criminal record to boot.
Burda has been in custody at the Jackson County Jail since last week, having violated his probation in connection with an unrelated third-degree robbery conviction in 2018, Oregon Live reported.
Day is best known from his days as a childhood star on the original series of ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’, during its run in the 1950s in which he regularly tap-danced and played the banjo.
On July 15, 2018, Day allegedly showed up on the porch of his friend, Kirk Pederson, and told him he wanted to go to the police station to report that Burda had ‘hurt him’.
As it turned out, the police station was closed that evening so the pair made plans to venture out again the following day to report the purported assault.
But Day never showed the next morning, and Pederson’s encounter with him would prove to be one of the last times anyone saw Day alive.
He was reported missing a few days later and for nine-months his whereabouts remained a complete mystery, with police conducting two separate searches of his 1,800 square-foot home.
On their third visit in April, severely decomposed remains were miraculously found inside by a sniffer dog.
Oregon State Police have so far refused to speculate about Day’s cause of death or how two searches of the small, run-down North Park home failed to yield any trace of his corpse previously.
An investigation remains ongoing and police remain tight-lipped on whether they suspect foul play.
According to court records, Burda has a number of criminal convictions for sodomy, robbery and assault over the last ten years. In 2017 he even started using methamphetamine.
In January last year a girlfriend of Burda told police he had tried to strangle her, but the 36-year-old dismissed the allegations, telling officers she was ‘possessed by the spirits’.
He began staying with Day and Caswell on-and-off in May the same year, in the months leading up to Day’s untimely disappearance.
Caswell is said to have told investigators that Day didn’t like having Burda around the home, but police are yet to elaborate as to the cause of his distress.
Day went missing two weeks after Caswell was hospitalized having suffered a number falls at the home.
Burda told police the last time he saw Day, he was leaving the home to walk his dog, telling him he was off to visit friends and would be back in a few days.
His early success as a Disney star helped to draw widespread interest and attention to his disappearance.
Former acting student of Day, Sylvia McRae and Rosanne Reynolds who attended his classes in the 1970s, set up a Facebook group to aid the search.
‘I eagerly await the end of the investigation,’ McRae wrote after Burda was charged. ‘There’s still so much that doesn’t quite make sense.’
The remains found in Day’s home were official attributed to him on June 6 after an extensive effort by Oregon’s State Medical Examiner, who was unable to use dental or DNA records because of how badly the corpse had decomposed.
Police then made a double arrest on June 26, accusing two women of stealing the former Mouseketeer’s Ford Escort.
Lori Declusin, 34, and Wanda Garcia, 57, allegedly took the car taken less than a week after Day was last seen alive. They have each been charged with one count of unauthorized use of a vehicle.
Originally claiming that she had been borrowing the car from her friend Dennis Day, months later Declusin told police she acquired the vehicle after going to Day’s home with Burda.
She told officers that Burda had been acting erratically as a result of his excessive methamphetamine use, so she and Garcia fled in Day’s car.
Day was known by millions of children growing up in post-war America, but the two years he spent donning mouse ears and a white sweater with his name written on the front was a bittersweet period of his life, he told Rolling Stone in 1971.
‘I have to say I owe a lot to the experience; my whole life has been influenced by it. But now that it’s too late, I know I should never have been in television,’ he told the outlet.
‘I don’t know what else I should have done. Maybe grown up with my family like a kid.’