Jeffrey’s life was not altogether unlike many of his generation. At 28 years old he was a strikingly handsome man with a beautiful smile and a caring heart. He was intelligent and well spoken. Jeffrey, like many these days, had a hard time growing up. Raised by a single mother, who was raised by a single mother, Jeffrey started life out at a disadvantage. Drugs were a part of his everyday existence for as long as he could recall and he struggled with addiction, got into some trouble with the law, and made some mistakes in his life. He was not a bad person; rather a good fellow who made unwise, and sometimes outright poor, choices.
Two choices he did not make in error, however, were his two sons. If Jeffrey did nothing else in his lifetime, he loved his children with a love that only a parent could understand; a love deeper than anything he had ever known; a love so great it sometimes consumed him. He wanted to give his boys the world, though he was in a constant battle with his oldest son’s mother to spend time with his child. Consolation, to some degree, was found in that he had full access to his infant son, whom he had with his girlfriend.
His choices, some of which were unwise, might have seemed to some like material for a Jerry Springer episode, but to Jeffrey, it was his life, his reality. He was not proud of the habits he had developed or the things he had done to support those them. He regretted his mistakes and had vowed, just months before, to not repeat them and to make retribution to his loved ones for the suffering he had caused them. He was in recovery and had been clean for more than six months. He was very proud of that accomplishment and was looking forward to the positive changes he had planned.
Estranged from his wife, with whom his son, Jayce was born three years prior, Jeffrey struggled to spend enough time being an active parent. He was not married to his infant son, Bryce’s mother, though they were in the process of planning their future together as a family. Their plans were cut short on a Thursday night in September when Jeffrey, taking a shortcut on foot through a wooded area on the outskirts of a small south Georgia town, disappeared.
Having been released from his latest stint in jail only a couple of weeks beforehand, local law enforcement, having knowledge of Jeffrey through the legal system, didn’t get particularly excited about him going missing. In the small town of Jesup, Georgia, social prominence plays a huge role in how seriously authorities take such a report. Needless to say, Jeffrey’s family was not one of the creme’ de la creme’ of Wayne County Georgia. His girlfriend filed a missing person report, but law enforcement did not take any significant action toward finding him.
It felt to Jeffrey’s family and friends that the authorities just viewed his case as unimportant and unworthy of their effort. They tried to make sense of that. Did the authorities believe that though Jeffrey had been clean and in recovery, that he had fallen off the wagon and just gone on a binge? Perhaps they thought he’d eventually surface, but after a week he was still missing.
Combing the woods where they knew he had been, day after day, loved ones found no sign of him. They had posters printed up and put them all over town and on the internet. They practically blew up FaceBook posting requests for help in finding him. After family members hounded the police for ten days, the authorities finally gave in and submitted the info on Jeffrey to local area television and radio stations for help in gathering information on his disappearance.
Jeffrey’s girlfriend started packing a pistol for safety and then, along with her best girlfriend, went to the worst parts of town. There, where drugs and violence were prevalent, she looked for information, asked questions, showed his picture around. Though she found out he had not been in the area, had not hit up his old suppliers for drugs, she still had to realize the seemingly inevitable possibility that perhaps he had gone back to his old ways and was somewhere within his old stomping ground. She kept looking. She did the detective work that the local authorities didn’t have any inclination to do.
She and Jeffrey’s family were frantic. They knew that if Jeffrey did not, at a very minimum, call to check on his children, that no good could come of the situation. His girlfriend knew that even if he had succumbed to the lure of the prescription pain pills, which he fought so hard to resist, surely he would still call her. In her heart-of-hearts however, she knew something bad had happened to him.
Rumors started to fly; they were varied, and some were implausible.
Rumors started to fly; they were varied, and some were implausible. Jeffrey was with a seedy character, known locally for robbing people at gun or knife point. He was climbing a fence into the wooded area which was thick, littered with debris, and contained several ponds. There was a contract out on him in retaliation of a wrong committed against someone in the past. He was the victim of a drug deal gone wrong. A family member had him killed for stealing from her while he was struggling with addiction. He owed people money, and instead of collecting it, they killed him. He was a narc in jail, and someone killed him in retaliation.
The rumors were too many to count and too varied; they didn’t make sense. They were all reported to the authorities and still, the authorities were refusing to commit to a manhunt. When contacted, the local police and the Sheriff’s office were ill-coordinated; the left hand didn’t know what the right was doing, and there was little to no sharing of information between the two agencies. It seemed many people, including law enforcement, had the attitude about Jeffrey’s disappearance that there was no cause for alarm; it was just a case of another drug addict and drug dealer being off the streets.
Another week passed. Jeffrey’s girlfriend and her family contacted a renowned local non-profit organization which utilized tracking dogs, cadaver dogs, and boats with sonar equipment to search for missing persons. They were willing to look for Jeffrey free of charge; all they required was a call-to-action from law enforcement. Local law enforcement failed to request their services, even at the insistence of Jeffrey’s loved ones.
Nothing surfaced on this young man after two weeks until a local fisherman saw a body floating in a pond in that same wooded area that had been scoured by search party volunteers. It was Jeffrey, but he was unrecognizable. Two weeks in the water and the heat of September in South Georgia had taken their toll on the corpse. He was still wearing the clothes he had on when he went missing fifteen days before. It was apparent that he had died that same night or shortly after that.
What a place to be found! His body was lying lifeless in an area known as a dumping ground for murder victims. In years past, at least two other local homicide cases ended with the victims turned up in the same area. Local law enforcement had no choice then but to be involved. They called in state agencies and began to treat the discovery as a homicide. They sent his body to the state crime lab for identification.
It was then that the grisly facts started to come out. Jeffrey’s body, decomposed to the point that none of his tattoos were recognizable, his facial features were indeterminable, and his fingerprints were non-existent, was a grisly reminder to the family that he had was to the elements for too long. The lab obtained dental records, and a forensic dentist was brought in to make an identification before they released his body to his family for cremation.
Though a large part of the back of Jeffrey’s skull was missing, the decomposition of his body gave no physical evidence for authorities to use in pursuing a criminal case and his death was determined to be accidental, pending toxicology results. Had he been located sooner, if authorities had done the job they are paid to do, then any evidence of foul play would be intact. An accidental drowning determination is of little comfort to his family. It doesn’t explain why a virile, healthy, athletic guy who could swim, would drown in a pond less than 500 feet from where he entered the woods. Many questions are still unanswered and may remain so indefinitely. Those who knew and loved Jeffrey will always believe foul play was involved and his case swept under the rug by local authorities, or at the very least made a moot point because of their slow call to action.
Jeffrey was only 28 years old, and his life had just begun. He may not have been important to local law officials, but he was still someone’s child, someone’s brother, friend and lover…and someone’s father. He was his mother’s only son; his sister’s only sibling. He was a Daddy to two beautiful kids. His girlfriend loved him beyond measure. His wife mourned the fact that there was no longer any chance at reconciliation between them, as well as the fact that her child would never know his father. His death was tragic, untimely and unfair, but they can all hold fast in their hearts the beautiful things about him.
There are some things the family can rest in knowing and in which, perhaps find some comfort. Though it was cut short, his life did produce many memorable experiences, words, and deeds that were positive. They can celebrate those things and cling to the love they had and still have for him. Though they can’t hug a memory, thought, or a feeling, they can put their arms around one another and give comfort where they can. For years to come, they can see Jeffrey in the faces, eyes, mannerisms, and dispositions of his sons. For this, they can be grateful, and in this, they can continue to express their love for Jeffrey.
R.I.P. Jeffrey Lee Bailey. You are loved and missed.