In honor of Black History Month I’m profiling one African-American MP every day on this blog for the month of February. Today’s case is James Eric Bess, a fourteen-year-old boy who disappeared from Ashland, Kentucky on October 4, 1984.
James lived in a children’s home. He ran away with another resident of the home, Chipley Charles Saunders, who is white and was thirteen years old at the time.
Neither of the boys have been heard from again and, given the length of time — over 30 years — you have to wonder if they’re still alive.
I would like to note that although James is African-American, he has blue or gray eyes. This is very uncommon and might serve as an identifying feature.
I find the disappearance of best friends Mark Anthony Degner and Bryan Andrew Hayes puzzling and troubling. They’ve been missing from Jacksonville, Florida since February 1, 2005 — twelve years, nearly twelve and a half.
At first the circumstances of the boys’ cases look pedestrian enough: they were living in a group home, told friends they were going to run away, and apparently did just that. They were even sighted in Holly Hill, a small town south of Jacksonville on the Florida coast, two months later.
The boys, at just twelve (Mark) and thirteen (Bryan), were extremely young to have been gone this long. Bryan had run away before, but never for longer than a day, and Mark had no history of running away. Furthermore, they were developmentally delayed, functioning on the level of seven- to ten-year-old children, and both suffered from bipolar disorder.
How could they have remained off the map this long? Did the boys meet with foul play? If they’re still alive, why haven’t they resurfaced and who’s helping them stay hidden? Were relatives investigated? Were some member or members of the boys’ families unhappy that they were living in a group home? Or is it possible they fell victim to sex trafficking? Due to their disabilities. I should think they would have been extremely vulnerable to any kind of exploitation — even more so than most runaways.
The case reminds me of Clayton Lynn McCarter and Rodney Michael Scott, who ran away from a Bowling Green, Kentucky children’s home three and a half years ago and still haven’t been found. They were almost the same age: fifteen and thirteen. Clayton was developmentally delayed and had psychiatric issues, just like Mark and Bryan, and there’s a good chance Rodney had similar problems though I don’t know that for sure. I’m not suggesting McCarter/Scott disappearances are related to Mark and Bryan’s, though, given the distance in both time and space.
So what do you think happened to Mark Degner and Bryan Hayes? Let’s talk about it.
This week’s featured missing person is Alice Fay Jefferson. Considering that we don’t know when she disappeared, not even the precise year, there’s a fair amount of info available: she was living on an Army base in Kentucky with her husband, a soldier, and her two children. She vanished mysteriously while the kids were at school; no one came to pick them up that day and eventually they walked home alone. Alice’s husband behaved oddly after her disappearance and with a few days he’d dumped the kids at their grandparents’ house.
Alice wasn’t reported missing until 2013. There are articles saying she disappeared “in the summer of 1975” and this article names July as the month. However, Alice is also featured on the NCMEC website, and they’re not supposed to have cases of missing adults 21 and over, and if Alice disappeared in the summer of 1975 she would have been 21. So I put down that it’s possible she disappeared in 1974.
As to the month… the kids say they were in school, which seems unlikely in July.
I had gotten more than one request to put up Anna Manning, who disappeared in 1992, since there’s been some recent press about her disappearance. So, okay, why not? I’ve begun writing up her case and right away spotted a problem:
Anna’s NamUs entry lists her height as 60 inches, or five feet even, and her weight as 108 pounds. However, this article about her case from the Advocate Messenger says she was 5’10 and 108 pounds.
I wonder if perhaps the newspaper meant to write 5’01 instead. In any case, unless I hear otherwise I’m going with the lower height. 108 pounds is about average height for a five-foot (or five-foot-one) woman. For someone five-foot-ten, at 108 pounds is quite underweight.
It would be just my luck, though, if my guess turns out to be wrong and I wind up listing this poor woman as nine inches shorter than she actually was. These sort of discrepancies are part of the reason we’ve got so many unidentified bodies in potter’s fields all over the country.
(Also, apropos of nothing: while I was at the doctor’s the other day, a third-year medical student was shadowing him and sat in on our appointment. Dr. Bruno said I should tell him about the Charley Project, so I did and it turned out he’d already heard of it! Not terribly surprising, since it was covered in local TV and print media a few years ago, but still a nice experience for me.
The young man looked up the Charley Project online and said, “You have your own subreddit. I want a subreddit.”)
Many people, including myself, have noted that I often enclose information in my casefiles that isn’t terribly relevant. Like where an MP went to high school or something.
I was thinking about that today while I was adding a bit of info to James McNeely‘s casefile. As to his disappearance there isn’t a whole lot to say: he drowned and was never found. But, when someone told me that in 2014 they had a memorial service for him and named a highway after him (or a section of a highway anyhow) I looked into the case again and found some more information. Mainly that there was another person in the boat at the time, and he was found drowned. I even found out where that other person was located — and the river had taken him well over 100 miles.
I think that’s super helpful. If the other man’s body was found all the way over near Tell City, Indiana, it stands to reason that McNeely’s might have traveled as far as that, or more. This would possibly encourage people to start looking at unidentified remains in Indiana and along the Ohio River instead of just focusing on the Kentucky River where McNeely went missing.
I doubt that McNeely will be found at this late date, close to 46 years later; it’s possible there’s nothing left of him to find. But it’s still a shot, even if it’s a shot in the dark.
This Flashback Friday case is not a mystery: James Willard McNeely was on a flood rescue mission when he himself got into trouble with his boat and presumably drowned. That was on April 8, 1972 — 43 years old. McNeely would be in his late seventies if he were still alive today.
I do hope McNeely was given all the honors awarded to cops who die in the line of duty.
Gotcher vids, hot and fresh: eleven of them to be exact, covering sixteen MPs. In chronological order:
Alfred James Grimes and Sammy Lloyd Jackson, 1968
Barbara Aurora Burhans, Carmen Garcia and Diego Garcia, 1982
Jasmine Kirlissa Collins and Melissa Ann Collins, 1991
Keith Chau and Ai Wei Kaung, 1995
Ruben David Felix, 1997
Yim Yeung Tsui, 1998
Yamaira Vivian Montes-Gonzalez, 2000
Sonya Lynn Bradley, 2002
Yaroslav Victorovich Iventyev, 2003
Joey Lynn Offutt, 2007
Marizela C. Perez, 2011