seeking answers

Crime Scene Tape

Hardly anybody talks about Joey Miller anymore. His car was found three days after he had gone – in a vacant lot on some rural property he had planned to develop. The trunk was locked and his body was inside it. Somebody had shot him twice – in his upper back and in the back of his head.

The crime lab at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), sixty miles away in Tallahassee, even helped with some forensics. Lots of evidence gathered from the car and other places was sent there, and to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Atlanta. The Colquitt County Sheriff’s Department (in Moultrie) and other investigators were optimistic that an early solution would be had. At first, updates were issued every day or two. Sheriff Gene Beard even declared that “an arrest is imminent.” Then gradually, almost mysteriously, the news stopped. An occasional news item would encourage everyone that the investigation was continuing, but that’s about it. That was nearly thirty-five years ago.

There were lots of rumors, suspicions and whispered allegations about the murder itself and the abrupt ending to the investigation: drugs, shady dealings, and gambling money – even extra-marital things. It’s a small town with big imaginations. The possibility that the sheriff had been threatened was suggested. It’s unfair to mention that now because he’s no longer here to explain or defend himself. He died several years ago. I bring it up only because it was part of the mood at the time.

To those who knew Joey as far back as high school and later in the business world, none of those things said about him makes sense. He was always friendly and happy-go-lucky. Before he was killed he owned and managed his own insurance agency; and was busy in many things, especially sports activities. Much earlier, in a southwest neighborhood, the young boys played afternoon baseball on a vacant lot owned by Riverside Manufacturing Company – a large company that was involved in sewing plants, a cotton mill and even a mattress factory. The mattresses were made across the street from the vacant lot.

Joey lived several blocks away, but would often drop by and join them. Mr. Teal Snipes and Mr. Lemmie Goff spent lots of time at the mattress plant and kept their eyes on them, to keep them out of trouble. They both had played on the same lot years before and encouraged anyone who showed up into sports activities. He, Goff, had been a foreman at the cotton mill.

Mr. Snipes’ son, Gene, was catcher on the high school varsity team. Goff’s son, Jim Buck, was a little older, but had been involved in many of the sports teams at the same school. Jim Buck’s own son, Ray, would later play quarterback on the football team; and afterwards at the University of Georgia. And still later, would replace Vince Dooley as head coach. Joey grew up around some old-fashioned, god-fearing good company.

You’d think that by now somebody with information would have given us some answers. At least two people knew about it. Someone drove Joey’s car to the lot, and someone else gave the driver a ride away from it. And two together can’t keep a secret forever. The principals might all be dead by now, but somebody must have overheard something.

We wish they’d just speak up. His family and friends need to know. We hear the word, “closure” so much we almost resent it being used. But it has meaning. For those in his family and the rest of us, it would mean a lot to finally know why and by whom. It’s bad enough to be killed in such a way. But it’s a disgrace for the whole community to be denied the reasons behind it.

Somewhere out there is a child or grandchild, friend or acquaintance who knows about it. They’re all grown up by now, those who haven’t passed on. And they’re voting, going to church and paying bills. All the things normal citizens do. The legal system has failed us at every turn of the investigation. Now it’s time for someone to just tell us.


Image: Crime Scene Tape by Brandon Anderson (flickr/CC).