(Introduction to show begins)
TODD MATTHEWS (Missing Pieces Host): This is Missing Pieces. I’m Todd Matthews and tonight we have Jo Layne Harrison. Welcome Jo Layne.
JO LAYNE HARRISON (Guest): Hi, Todd, how are you doing?
TODD: You’re really nervous about doing this, I think.
JO LAYNE: Yes, I am.
TODD: There is no reason to be, you’re an old friend. We’ve rarely, if ever, talked on the phone before now…
JO LAYNE: Right.
TODD: …but we’ve shared hundreds of emails, probably, over a period of years and it’s good to finally talk to you.
JO LAYNE: It’s 6 or 7 years now, I think.
TODD: There’s a reason why I’ve wanted to do this show with you for so long, and I’m not sure if all of our listeners know or not, I’m the media director of part of the administrative staff for Doe Network but I work with a lot of different organizations. There’s a particular case, Jo Layne is responsible for two ‘solves’ that we list as our ‘solves’ related to Doe Network and these two are some of the few that have no media links, nothing you can click on to go back and hear the rest of the story or read the rest of the story and that’s bothered me for a while now. I think 2002 with William Ray Peters, wow, that’s a long time; that’s 6 years that you’ve actually had some resolution in the case and still today, when people ask me, “What about this one?” you know and I do talk to media often, I have nothing to show them. And that bothers me because I know you worked real hard on it.
JO LAYNE: Well, it does me too.
TODD: Well, maybe we can change that. Tell me, now how did you get started in this? William Ray Peters, what happened with this case?
JO LAYNE: Well I got started when my mother…you know I think I was like 12 years old, and my mother gave me a picture of my grandfather and she said that he had disappeared, and I’d never thought about it before, I was a kid, and never really thought about it before. She gave me a picture and told me that he had disappeared, she gave me a picture, and I saved my babysitting money and I bought a picture frame and put it in the frame, and I’ve always had it sitting where I could see it in all these years, 25 or 30 years now, I think. At first, it started out in my bedroom, and then it’s been sitting in my living room, but she told me all about him.
TODD: Now, he’d been missing since May 1962, missing from Arlington, Texas, and I don’t mean to interrupt you but I want to try and throw some facts in here as we go along.
JO LAYNE: Right. Yes, Arlington, Texas. Grandpa had always been a drifter, kind of a…it’s a long story, running from life, I guess you could say, a lot of stuff, but he had never been gone that long. He would be gone for 2 or 3 years at a time, but when he had been gone for 10 years, then my mother got concerned that something was not right. I don’t know, but out of five kids, it just seemed like it impacted me more than any of the other kids. I don’t know, but every time I looked at his picture, it was almost like he was looking right at me, you know, like he had this longing in his eyes, or a question in his eyes like, “Come and get me,” or something like that, I don’t know, but I didn’t really put a whole lot into it for the longest time, but in the back of my mind, it was always there that someday I was going to find my grandfather. My Mom searched in the ‘70s, like I said, after Grandpa hadn’t showed up in 10 or more years and she searched and she tried everything.
TODD: Well that’s a different type of search in the ‘70s than it was in the ‘90s and in the 2000s; she tried to run down a paper trail and used a telephone, totally different world then.
JO LAYNE: Yeah, she did, you know, we didn’t have Internet back then, but she did what she could do as far as going to homeless shelters, Salvation Army, contacting the Veteran’s Regional Office, going to Social Security and just absolutely getting nowhere, and finally she gave up, she just gave up hope. And, like I said, it was just always there in the back of my mind that someday, I didn’t know when, and I didn’t really have a plan, but it just haunted me, it kept haunting me. Every time I saw that picture, that was my family, that was my Grandpa, that was my blood, you know, he was somewhere and it felt like he had been sucked up…
JO LAYNE: …up into the sky, or just dropped down into a hole that opened up in the ground, and it’s just the weirdest feeling, you know, but there’s just always a void. I mean he was my grandfather, he was my mother’s Dad, he was my blood, and that’s very important to me, you know, family is very, very important to me and there was just something about the picture, just looking at it, he’s just so…he would have been a great grandfather. I wanted him in my life so much but for so long it was a thought that ran through whenever I walked past his picture, you know, “Someday, I’m going to find you.” And then in September 2002, I was sitting on the couch and of course the Internet had just come about and we had just gotten a computer and I didn’t know anything about the computer or the Internet, but I had heard about it and that you could reach people across the world, and a thought just flipped through my head that it finally clicked that this world isn’t that big that somebody can’t be found, that he is out there. People don’t just vanish. They don’t just disintegrate or whatever, you know, he was out there somewhere. I was sitting on the couch, you know, nobody was home, everything was quiet and I looked at the computer, and I told myself, I said, “I’m going to find him,” and I looked at the computer and I said, “And that’s how I’m going to do it,” and I made up my mind that day and I just went from there. And I got on the computer, I didn’t know anything about it, but I just started putting things in the search bar like ‘unidentified people’. I thought he was unidentified. I couldn’t understand why Social Security didn’t have anything on him, or the Veterans Administration didn’t have anything listed on his death.
TODD: Because you had already done those searches, you and your mother had already exhausted Social Security Death Index and all of that. All of that was already cut and dried.
JO LAYNE: Yeah, Mom had done all that and then I did it again just all those years later. I went through the whole process again and got the same results, which was ‘missing’. So the Internet was my only option. I mean there’s just so much more hope, I guess, that I could reach more people, and I just started getting things into the search bar like ‘unidentified people’ and ‘unclaimed people’. I thought my Grandpa was going to be in Texas somewhere; I never dreamed he had left the state of Texas. I don’t why, but although he had been a drifter all his life and had gone out of state, I just didn’t think that that was where I was going to find him was out of state. I really thought that he was going to be in Texas so I ran across http://www.rootsweb.com genealogy board and I started posting inquiries to message boards and counties that he had last been known to frequent in Texas.
TODD: Uh huh.
JO LAYNE: Like Borger, Texas and Byers, Texas, he had family down there and we had heard through the years that he would visit out there, so I made inquiries but I got no results. Well, I told you this was kind of spiritual, right?
TODD: Yeah. I caught that. It was a mistake but not a mistake. When I first started working with Jo Layne, because I’ve wanted to do this for months with her, and I told her to write, and write she did. And that’s when I realized that I’m going to have to trim it down to have an outline that we can actually use for this show. You wrote so much and I was so impressed to see that; I think you’ve got, you know, there’s a possibility that you’ve got a book. You know I’m not saying that so you can have the fortune from a book, so much as, you’ve got a story inside of you, and you can write. I mean you can write all day long and I can see that, you know I got stacks and stacks of information from you regarding this case, and spiritual, yes.
JO LAYNE: I’m a believer that I didn’t find him, but a Higher Power found him. I mean, there’s too much that happened, there’s too much that took place that it was not by my means. I had no more information than my mother had. I had no more power than my mother had, and things just started happening, and although I had always been religious and everything, I wasn’t active in the church, but I knew that…
TODD: You were spiritual, but not religious, is probably a better description for it. You weren’t really tied to a church, but you had a spiritual belief…
JO LAYNE: Right.
TODD: …and I can relate to that because that’s right where I’m at.
JO LAYNE: Yeah, and I decided that I was going to go to church and I’m going to learn how to pray and how to receive, you know, and I did and the weirdest thing happened. I don’t know if it’s weird, but to me it was awesome. I wish I could go back and relive that day, but I was sitting in the pew and it was either the first or second weekend and the preacher was doing the sermon, and I wasn’t listening to the sermon, I was thinking about my grandfather and thinking about what I was going to do and how I was going to go about this, and it was awesome. It was just so awesome, that I just literally felt like this presence was standing right in front of me and…to this day, I wish I could go back and relive it, it was so awesome, it was like he was standing in front of me but…he was so close that I could reach out and touch him. I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t hear him, but it was like I could feel what was going on inside of him, is about how I sum it up. It’s like he was…I was feeling his feelings, his feelings of grief, sorrow, sadness…the thing that was the saddest part, and I was literally bawling, I was just crying my eyes out as I was feeling this…it was like he was…everything he was feeling, was transferring right into my soul, and it was like he was begging me, in a sense, to come and find him. And you couldn’t hear it out loud, it was just like a silent voice in my ear that said, “I’m out here. I’m out here, and I’m out here for the taking, come and get me.” And it was just awesome; it was so awesome. I’ve never had anything like that happen to me in my life, but I knew, I knew without a doubt that this was not…this was real; this was real.
TODD: You used the term, and I think it has more than one meaning with this case, that it was like a miracle that you were able to locate him, but it seems like it was a miracle on more than one level.
JO LAYNE: I don’t…you know I was sitting here thinking earlier today, I don’t know why of all five of his grandchildren that I was the chosen one, I have no clue. I don’t know if it was because I was…I always…even though he disappeared a year before I was born, I had a connection to him. Mom told me so much about him and how soft-spoken he was and a little smile on his face and he was just so gentle and kind.
TODD: Well somebody has to be the one, you know, to actually push that final button, so it could have been this, or you could have won the lottery, one of the two, but I think you got the same result.
JO LAYNE: Believe me, I won the lottery the day I found him. I could never ask for anything more. I mean, to this day, how many years has it been? Six years, to this day, I have not stopped thanking God for giving me my grandfather back.
TODD: Now you found him…the funny thing is you found him on January 2nd, I mean, he was found deceased January 2nd, 1968, in Pixley, California. He died only 6 years after he had last contact with his family.
JO LAYNE: Right.
TODD: Now, how did you discover this? Where did you find your grandfather?
JO LAYNE: Well, like I said, first I had him put on the Doe Network, thinking he was unidentified somewhere.
TODD: As a missing person.
JO LAYNE: Then I was opening up and trying other things, I was calling cemeteries down around the counties that he was last seen in to see if they had a William Ray Peters or an unidentified person that had his description.
TODD: So you just called cemeteries?
JO LAYNE: Yeah.
TODD: How did you start out? Relive that conversation. What would you tell me if I was the cemetery groundskeeper?
JO LAYNE: Well I called and I said, “I would like to know if you have any people buried in your cemetery that are unidentified,” but first I would ask, “Do you have a William Ray Peters buried in your cemetery?” and give them his birth date, or “Do you have any unidentified people?” and I would give them a time frame in the years of such and such, because I had always believed that my grandfather had passed away years ago because of a conversation, a telephone call that was made. A relative, back in some time between the time he disappeared and the time he died, and I’m almost positive it was right before he died, but he had an aunt or cousin that worked at Wichita Falls Hospital and a call was made to that hospital, by a woman. She didn’t give her name, she said that she needed to speak to, I don’t even remember what the lady’s name was because I never knew her, but she’s a relative, but the woman needed to speak to her. She got on the phone and the woman said, “If somebody doesn’t do something about William Ray Peters, he’s going to die. He’s a very, very sick man.” And before the relative could ask, “Well who are you and where is Bud?” which Bud was his nickname, the phone was disconnected and they didn’t call back. And when my Mom told me that, years ago, I’ve always, always believed that my grandfather died shortly after that. So something just told me that he died shortly after that.
TODD: Do you know what his cause of death was?
JO LAYNE: Excuse me?
TODD: His cause of death, did you ever…?
JO LAYNE: Pneumonia. Pneumonia and pulmonary abscesses. He was riding the freight trains, homeless, transient, whatever the words are; I don’t like to use the word homeless, because he did have a home.
TODD: He chose to be on the road, for whatever reasons.
JO LAYNE: For whatever reasons, in my personal opinion, he was running from life…it’s a long story, you know, the war and…
TODD: You almost have to think maybe he had a post-traumatic stress disorder from the war.
JO LAYNE: Absolutely.
TODD: A lot of things were undiagnosed at the time.
JO LAYNE: I believe so.
TODD: You know just ‘went crazy’ that’s how you termed it back then, because I remember talking about older relatives and people from the past and you’ll say, “Well, they just sort of went crazy.” If something happened today, we’d probably have a diagnosis and maybe a corrective action for it, but it the past, somebody just went off their rocker and you just leave it like.
JO LAYNE: I believe that. I believe that he did want…he loved his children when he saw them, he adored the children, Mom told me he never raised his voice at her but one time, when she ran out in the street, and that was because he was afraid, but I know deep inside he wanted a regular life, but for whatever reasons, he wasn’t able to accomplish that.
TODD: Do you still wonder what he was running from, if it was more than post-traumatic stress disorder? I mean, I know you have to wonder why.
JO LAYNE: I believe it had to do with the fact that his mother died when he was a baby, his Daddy left him with his grandmother to raise, and when she passed away, he was 18 years old and his grandfather booted him out of the house. Why? I don’t know. Then he went straight into the Military, he was in the Army and the Marines. He fought in WWII. He was a carpenter. He helped rebuild Pearl Harbor. He saw people die, you know, but he was such a kind, gentle, soft-spoken soul that I just think that all of that combined, he was running from something, looking for something that he felt he needed but never could find. It happens all the time, I read about it all the time, and it’s true so I do believe it was a post-traumatic thing from those events, but I know he would have been a wonderful grandfather, and I love him dearly and I hold nothing against him at all. I got mad one time when I was searching for him, I got mad one time because I was so frustrated because I was hardly getting any sleep because I was searching for him, and I was driving down the highway and I started crying and I started beating the steering wheel and I was crying, “Why did you leave us?” and “Where are you and why did you leave us?” and “Why couldn’t we be enough?” That lasted just almost five minutes, then I got over that.
TODD: Well, maybe that got someone’s attention somewhere, you know we don’t know what’s on the other side, but you never know. You never know what happens and why things come to pass.
JO LAYNE: I don’t blame him. I have no ill will against him at all. I love him. I’ll always love him. I know I’m going to see him again some day. But anyway, to get to the part about how I found him, I had been posting to Rootsweb genealogy board and somebody, after three months, somebody had said, “Why don’t you try posting to unknown counties?” I didn’t know there was anything called ‘unknown counties’ so I said, “Okay, I’ll give that a try,” and I had a lot of people telling me, “Well, good luck,” and “It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find him,” but I was determined that I was going to find him and I was going by faith, and he’d already come to me in church and told me that if I didn’t give up on him, he wouldn’t give up on me, so I just tossed all that off my shoulder. Any time somebody told me something like that, I’d say, “I will find him. I will. Even if it takes the rest of my life, I will find my grandfather.” Once I get started, I don’t stop. Anyway, they posted that on December 11th and wished me good luck, and I thought, “No, luck’s not going to bring my grandfather home.”
TODD: You’ve got to work at it, yeah.
JO LAYNE: Yeah. The next day, December 12th, at 7 o’clock in the morning, I get up and go straight to my computer and check my emails to see if I got anything, and the email subject was, “Maybe California,” so I opened it up and it was from a girl named Heather. She said that she had seen my inquiry at Rootsweb and that she had searched for him under the California Death Index, or that she had typed in his name and it popped up and kicked back that name under Texas Death Index, California Death Index and some other indexes and she clicked on the California one, which I had never clicked on because I never dreamed he left Texas.
TODD: Uh huh.
JO LAYNE: Never. I mean he had been there all along, I could have clicked it for three months, it had been there, I could have clicked it, and I didn’t, never dreaming he had left Texas. But she did, and she said, “I found a William Ray Peters with the same birth date as your grandfather, that died in Pixley, California,” and she said…she got confused, she said that the county was Hudson, and that the maiden name was Tulare. I emailed her back and I said, “Well, the name’s right and the birth date is right, but his mother’s maiden name is Hudson, not Tulare. So, what is that?” And then she came back and she said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I got mixed up. You’re right, the mother’s maiden name is Hudson. Tulare is the county he died in.” And I said, “That has to be my grandfather. It can’t be a coincidence. It can’t be. That’s his name, birth date and his mother’s maiden name.” And the other thing was, my mother knew that I was searching for him, and although I knew in my heart that it was him, I knew that my mother didn’t have the faith that I did. Not that she’s not religious, but she just doesn’t have the same kind of faith and belief in the power.
TODD: She had already laid it aside, I think, from what I’ve read.
JO LAYNE: She’d lost hope.
TODD: From emails that you’ve sent me with your detailed story, I could see where your mother had already decided that she was never going to hear from him again.
JO LAYNE: Exactly. So I, for my mother’s sake, I needed something on paper as proof to go and hand to mother and tell her that this is your Daddy. So Heather said that she would see what she could find. She would call the library out there or something about getting an obituary, and she emailed it to me and she was going to get something else, but then she didn’t email me back for several hours, and I was literally pacing the floors, I mean, I was just pacing, and I didn’t hear from her for the rest of the night. The next morning I woke up, and I don’t have any patience whatsoever, especially in that area, so I was like, “No, I’m going to find out. I can’t wait another day.” I hadn’t slept all that night, I wasn’t waiting another day; I had to know. I had to know. My mother was waiting and I had to let my mother know that I had found her father. So I called the Tulare Sheriff’s Department and I told them my situation, and I asked them what my options were for finding out where he might be located there, and he said…well, the first number he gave me was the Coroner’s Office and then he gave me two cemeteries. I called the Coroner’s Office first and not realizing that California is a two-hour…
TODD: Time difference.
JO LAYNE: We’re two hours ahead of them, so when I called, they weren’t open, so my heart starts dropping, so then I called the cemetery and they said “No, no William Ray Peters here.” So by then I’m really...if the third one’s a charm, this better be it, or I’m totally going to lose my mind. And I called the lady and I told her my situation and she looked on the computer and she said, “Yes, I do see that we have a William Ray Peters, born on such and such a date and died on such and such a date.” And I said, “I need to know for sure that this is my grandfather. My mother has been searching for him for 40 years; I need to know for sure that this is him. I have to have proof.” And she said, “Can you wait for tomorrow?” because she was the only one there and she needed to go down to the basement, and I said that I couldn’t wait. I told her, “I can’t wait,” and I don’t know exactly how I worded it but in so many words, I was like, “Listen lady, it’s like this.”
TODD: You’ve got to do it.
JO LAYNE: I explained, “She has waited 40 years, and she’s sitting over there now waiting for me to tell her that I have found her Dad. I can’t wait. I need to know now.” And she said, “Okay, let me call you back in about 10 minutes.” So I was walking up and down, pacing the kitchen floor, waiting, and then the phone rings and she said, “Okay, I found it,” and I say, “Does it mention anything about tattoos?” because I knew the tattoos that my grandfather had. She said, “No, it doesn’t mention tattoos.” I said, “I’ve got a fax machine. Can you send me what you do have so I can see what’s on there to prove that this is him and this is not a coincidence?” although my heart knew it wasn’t, but my mother would never have believed it, she just wouldn’t have.
TODD: And I can understand that, why she needed something solid after all those years.
JO LAYNE: Exactly. Exactly. So I asked her if she could fax it to me and to give me a couple of minutes because I had to unplug the answering machine so that the fax would go through, but before she hung up, I had to ask her one question. I couldn’t even wait for the fax, I said, “Could you just answer one question for me,” I said, “Who are his parents?” She said, “Delbert Peters and Mattie Hudson,” and I breathed. For the first time in three months, I breathed. It was my grandfather.
TODD: No doubt about it at that point.
JO LAYNE: No.
TODD: There was just no longer any doubt.
JO LAYNE: No doubt. I breathed. I literally felt like, and I didn’t know this at the time, but I felt like a ton had just fallen from my shoulders. Finally, you know, and it’s hard to explain, but I was just…and I just waited for the fax to come through and I got it and I read it and it was heartbreaking to read what he died of.
TODD: Well, you had to deal with his death. For the first time in your life, you knew he was gone, but suddenly you had to deal with his death too, and it was all coming at the same time. I’ve seen a lot of people relate to that, they’re so anxious to find their missing loved one, and then they have to deal with the death. And I know closure is a big word, but it wasn’t really closure so much as it was you had to deal with it.
JO LAYNE: No, it’s not closure.
TODD: The evidence is there.
JO LAYNE: It’s not closure, and I tell people that all the time, there is no closure. There will never be closure. Yes, there’ll be answers. Yes, you will be able to fill the void and go on with your life, and let that person rest in peace, but there’s never really closure.
TODD: Because you found the biggest piece of your mystery, but it opened so many other little stories and questions, but you found the biggest thing, you found him.
JO LAYNE: Yes.
TODD: And you know where he is at.
JO LAYNE: But I…I wasn’t, when I got the thing from the library that the lady sent to me and it said like how he was found lying on Market Street in Pixley, California, dead, probably from natural causes, you know it just broke my heart. I didn’t want my Mom to see that. I was doing everything I could to avoid giving my mother that part of it. All I was going to give her was what they sent me from the funeral home, that he had been there and taken there and what he died of and stuff like that. I just couldn’t bear for my mother to know how he died.
TODD: Well, how did you tell your Mom? Now, when you had to go back and tell your Mom about what happened, tell me about that moment.
JO LAYNE: See, that’s another thing…that’s another thing. At first, I started going to church, my Dad is a…was, he passed away a year ago, he was a big-time, old-time country music fan of George Jones, and I love George Jones as well, and I had borrowed some of Dad’s tapes and made some copies of the songs I wanted and one of them was called ‘If You Believe.’ When I would be in my car, I’d pop in tapes, and I popped in that tape and that song came on, “If you believe, so it will be,” and I listened to it and it was like I just felt something come over me, “Oh my God, that’s it? It’s that simple? I mean, it’s that simple? All you’ve got to do it truly believe it and never let doubt set in, and it will come to pass if it’s something in God’s will?” From that day forward, that’s when I started to put any doubts aside. Any time anybody came to me with anything negative, I said, “Forget it, I’m going to find him. You can talk ‘til you’re blue in the face, I’m going to find my grandfather,” so that’s what I did. That’s how I approached my mother. I called my sister first and told her and she was going to meet me at Mom and Dad’s apartment, and I walked in and I probably went about it in kind of a crazy way, I don’t know, but I didn’t know how else to do it. I got her a card, I have to think what it said on it, Merry Christmas or something because Mom had always wanted Grandpa home for Christmas, that was always her dream. There was an article back in the ‘70s in our local newspaper, ‘Woman wants father home for Christmas’ and this was in December, when I found him, and in the card I told her…she’s got the card, I don’t know what all else I had it in but…
TODD: We’ll have to get that card and scan it.
JO LAYNE: Pardon?
TODD: I said, we’ll have to get that card and get it scanned because I think it would be interesting to see that.
JO LAYNE: Yeah. The first thing I did when I came in, I said, “I want you to hear something,” and I said, “Dad, where’s the tape player? I want you to hear this song.” So I went in there and put on that George Jones song, ‘If You Believe’. And Dad just sat there, he didn’t know what was going on, he was confused.
TODD: Jo Layne has just lost her mind, right?
JO LAYNE: I lost my mind?
TODD: Yeah, they thought, “Well, she’s crazy.”
JO LAYNE: Well Dad, Dad was starting to get a little bit of Alzheimer’s so he just really wasn’t aware of what was going on, I think, but I think my mother knew, she was leaning in the doorway and as she listened to the song, the realization started kicking in, she knew, she knew what was coming, so I said, “Let go to the bedroom,” and so we went to the bedroom to see Mom and I handed her the card, and she read the card first and it also had the thing from the funeral home folded up in there, and she read it, and you could see tears coming out of her eyes and she was couldn’t believe it. She said, “All those years. All those years I was searching for him, and he was gone, all that time.” Mom’s hope had always been that he had just gone on with his life.
TODD: And lived happily ever after, maybe?
JO LAYNE: Yeah. Yeah, you know. She spent all those years of hoping for that, and the Veterans going through all this stuff, even while she was searching for him, he was already gone. It was just unbelievable, and my mother went into a deep depression for several months, and I didn’t even know my grandfather, but I loved him because of everything my mother told me about him, it seemed like I knew him, and I cried. I literally bawled my eyes out and I had people ask me, “Why are you crying over somebody that you didn’t know?” and I said, “Well, I did know him. I did know him. He was my family. He was my grandfather whose blood runs through my veins.” And then my sister asked me later on, she said, “Well what would you have done if you hadn’t found him?” and I said, “That wasn’t an option. I wouldn’t have stopped looking. I’d still be looking until this day.” And I would be. I mean, I had lost a lot of weight. I was sleeping like three hours a night, the rest of the time was spent on the computer, sending faxes, writing letters, making phone calls, just everything; everything and anything that I could think of to do. My house was just a wreck, you know.
TODD: I’ve had people say this to me, at some point in time I’ve been called obsessive, but I think it’s a little beyond being obsessed with something.
JO LAYNE: It is. It is. I was. I was totally obsessed. I was.
TODD: But it’s so much beyond that. It’s not like an obsession with collecting certain things, or a compulsion disorder where you have to count the tiles on the floor, this is so much more because this is a human being that you’re trying to reconnect with. It goes so beyond a simple obsession.
JO LAYNE: Well I truly believe that the toll it took me in those three months of searching, where so many people have been searching for years and years, I truly believe that God saw that I was losing it; I was just totally losing it. And like I said, I was losing weight, my clothes were hanging off of me. My house was turned upside down, I couldn’t even take care of my kids, they were feeding themselves and I was just obsessed, and I truly believe that God felt like I was not giving up.
TODD: Well, it gets darkest before the dawn though, you know Jo Layne, it gets darkest before the dawn. It was the fever pitch right before the moment and it was just something that you had to go through.
JO LAYNE: I think He had mercy on me, and He said, “Enough is enough and you passed the test,” and He brought my Grandpa back and I’m thankful. For the very first time in my life, like I said, I was never really very active in the church, but for the first time, the weekend that we found my grandfather, I went up to the pulpit and knelt down there and thanked God, and I promised Him that I would spend the rest of my life thanking Him for what He had done for me, but also trying to give back, as far as giving hope to other people.
TODD: So it was your grandfather’s journey and reconnection with the family, and I think it was a spiritual journey for you too personally, beyond your grandfather.
JO LAYNE: Yes.
TODD: It sounds like you met God, you know.
JO LAYNE: Yes, and afterwards, even after I found him, I was thinking that he must have been right here beside me the whole time. You know I had his picture sitting up there on the computer desk, right beside me, and there was no doubt that he was right there telling me, “Keep going, keep going. Don’t give up. Keep going.” And it wasn’t just by him, I’m a firm believer that it was none of this happened in vain, you know that if it hadn’t have been for my grandfather’s disappearance, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today, and my goal is to give hope to others, that what’s true for me is true for them too.
TODD: And you saying that, that sounds the very opposite of what you thought. You know when I first asked you to do this, you thought this was more for somebody that hadn’t found their loved one yet, but I see hope in you and your story can really help the people that are at that point in thinking, “I’m about to give up. I don’t think it’s possible.” Well, this shows it is possible after all of these years it is possible.
JO LAYNE: It is very possible, because years ago when it seemed impossible, I learned different. Nothing is impossible, and that’s for people that have a true faith and belief in God, nothing is impossible. They just can’t let doubt set in. Like I said, I had people telling me, “Well, good luck.”
TODD: Yeah, I know.
JO LAYNE: What do you mean good luck? There’s no luck to it. You know luck is not going to bring my grandfather home; God’s going to bring my grandfather home. He told me He was, and you know if I hadn’t have believed Him, I’d still be sitting here today looking for my grandfather.
TODD: So many shows are about hope. I know because you can’t let them go. I’ve kind of been in that spot before where you’re losing touch with your living family to connect with somebody that’s gone, but most of the shows we do are about hope, and I think that hope is…I guess it’s more important to try and give somebody hope, but you’re giving them faith.
JO LAYNE: It’s possible. It can happen for anybody, they just don’t let negativity, any of those negative words like, ‘I doubt it’, ‘it’s highly unlikely’, those are from the devil. They’re words that discourage you and make you believe that it isn’t going to happen, so you’ll give up hope and then the devil wins. Well, I’m sorry, the devil didn’t win in this case. He didn’t win then, or today, and he isn’t going to win tomorrow.
TODD: Now for Grandpa, from now on, now what’s happening? What’s happened with Grandpa now? Did you get a photograph of the grave? Have you visited the grave? Have you thought about bringing him home?
JO LAYNE: We did, in the beginning. Of course we were all with heads spinning and everything, and at first we wanted to have him exhumed and brought back home, but the money never became available. I haven’t gotten to visit his grave; for years, I was terrified to fly, but I’d fly now, if the money was available, I’d catch the first plane to California and go to my grandfather’s grave.
TODD: But you do have a photograph of your grandfather’s grave?
JO LAYNE: I do have a photograph.
TODD: Because I got one from you, I think.
JO LAYNE: Yeah, I do have a photograph of his headstone, and I had a volunteer in California that took a video and sent it to me and actually I gave that to my Mom at Christmas time, the video and everything. She’s doing better. She’s good now; we all are. We all are. We know we’re going to see him again, and we’re good with it.
TODD: Well, I’d like to see the opportunity for your family to go there; take your Mom there while she’s still with you, and I think it would be so good for you guys to go together to that grave and take a visit, and I know that financially that’s not always an option, but I think it’ll happen one day. I think you will get to do that when the time is right, it’ll happen. The biggest thing is actually covered now, you’re done, you did what you had to do, you reconnected everything while your mother was still with you. It’s very important that she knows what happened so I think a lot of things are good now.
JO LAYNE: Yeah. Yeah. It ate away at her for years. It’s indescribable what it’s like to have somebody missing from your life. If you’ve never been there, you can’t even imagine it. You don’t want to imagine it.
TODD: Well, it’s funny, he’s back with you even though he’s gone, but he’s back with you.
JO LAYNE: He is. He is, and even if I never get to go to his grave, it’s his…somebody said once that the body is only the earth vehicle.
TODD: Yeah, that’s true.
JO LAYNE: So his earth vehicle is in California, but his spirit is here in Texas.
TODD: Well, I hope you get to go reconnect there, because there’s nothing like, and I know this, there’s nothing like being at the grave. It’s very important and I hope you get to experience that.
JO LAYNE: I’m going to go someday. I’m going to get there.
TODD: I really hope you get to go. It’s so…it’s a moment, you know, I’ve been at my own grandfather’s grave and it’s just a point of reconnect when they’re gone; it’s just important to be there, and I hope you get to do that.
JO LAYNE: Yeah.
TODD: But now to another case, and we didn’t give this guy very much time, you have another solved. Tommy Ray Wheaton-Staley. Now what was your connection to Tommy?
JO LAYNE: Okay, my sister…when I found my grandfather, my sister had met a guy and got engaged, and she told him about how I had found our grandfather, and he told her, “You know I have a brother that’s been missing for 14 years from Atlanta, Georgia.” My sister told me this and I said, “Well, get me the information, I’m sure I can get him put on the Doe Network.” The story that was told to his mother, it was believed…I believe from that story that was told to his mother, I believed that Tommy had been murdered and that he was possibly unidentified, because of the story that was told. He and his family all lived…they were from Mississippi but they moved to Georgia, well the rest of the family went back to Mississippi but Tommy stayed in Georgia. He was 19 or 20 years old, and he had a roommate. Well, he told the roommate…supposedly he was going out to the convenience store to get something and he didn’t come back. And the story that was told to his mother was, the roommate called his mother and said, “Have you seen Tommy?” and she said, “No. Why?” And he said, “Well, he left yesterday to go up to the store, I don’t know what it was he was going to get, but he hasn’t come back.” She said, “Did you call the police?” and he said, “No.” She called the police, but they wouldn’t take a missing person report. They said that he was of age to leave if he wanted to.
TODD: To leave if he wanted to, absolutely.
JO LAYNE: Yeah. So, she got nowhere. She got nowhere and she didn’t know what to do. She was just totally clueless about what to do, what to pursue, the Internet, I mean, she even told me that, you know you go to these places where if you give them so much money…
JO LAYNE: …they found your loved one’s name, but you’ve got to pay them so much money for that name.
TODD: Uh huh.
JO LAYNE: And that’s a crock. Before I can get to that part, my sister gave me her phone number, and I called her and I told her that I was a member of the Doe Network and I would get Tommy put up there, a picture of him and the full description and circumstances and all that and we got it put up there. I really didn’t have a lot of time to spend, but I knew that there were other people on there that were searching too, so I wasn’t that worried about it, but at the time, there were a lot of things going on in my life so I didn’t have a lot of time to search. But she asked my sister one day, had I heard anything, and I started feeling bad, and I thought, “I’ve got to get back on my computer and do something,” so I got on there and I knew of the coroner there in Atlanta, I can’t remember what her name is, but she’s well known on the Internet. I emailed her, and I knew they had a lot of identified people there in Georgia, and especially in Atlanta, and I had already looked at them and I couldn’t…I saw one that might possibly fit the description but I wasn’t really sure, but I was just taking chances, and I emailed her and asked her if I sent her a picture of Tommy, could she see if she could match it with any of her identified people. And then, out of the blue, I don’t know where this came from, I thought to ask her, “Or, could you check to see if you have a record of the death of Tommy Ray Wheaton-Staley?” and as I say, that just came out of the blue. And she emailed me right back, and she said, “Yes, I do see that we have a Tommy Ray Wheaton-Staley. He died on such and such a date.” His mother was off by a year.
TODD: Uh huh.
JO LAYNE: Memory fades, you know, and then once you have documentation, you can be off by a year or two, or maybe more. I mean people talked of seeing my grandfather in the ‘70s, when he died in ‘68.
TODD: Well there’s a disconnect and that’s what creates these cases of missing persons and unidentified bodies; there’s something wrong and you’ve got to go into that thinking that some of this data could be inaccurate.
JO LAYNE: Exactly.
TODD: Obviously there’s a disconnect somewhere.
JO LAYNE: Exactly, and that’s what I tell people all the time. Memory fades, and if there is no documentation, you cannot go by that as a ‘for sure’ thing; you just can’t. But, anyway, the mother was off by a year; she said he went missing in ’89, but Tommy actually died in ’88, or vice versa. He was crossing the street, he ran out into the street…
TODD: Uh huh.
JO LAYNE: …the story that was told to his mother from the roommate was that he, the roommate, went to the convenience store the next day and asked if he had seen Tommy in there, and the roommate said that, yes, he had been in there…I don’t know anything about this, after I found Tommy, that was all I could do. Whatever the mother wanted to do was up to her. I had done my part and, financially, I just couldn’t do any more, but the story that was told was that when he was at the register, a car pulled up outside with tinted windows and three men got out and started heading into the convenience store, and Tommy laid his keys and his wallet…now this is the story that is told that was told to the mother by the roommate, whether it’s true or not, I have no clue. But, when Tommy saw these people heading up there, he laid his keys and wallet on the counter and said, “If anything happens to me, here’s my identification,” and Tommy took off running out the door…and that was it. So when I found Tommy and found that he had died running out into the street, it does make me wonder, if maybe there was truth to that story.
TODD: Sounds like it, you know.
JO LAYNE: But when I called the detective about it, he was just…well, I don’t even want to say what he was, but he wanted to know why I was calling instead of the mother. He said, “Something doesn’t sound right.” I said, “Well, I’ve done this before. I’ve been there. I found my grandfather. She’s never done this and she doesn’t know a lot about the computer, so I’m doing this for her.” And he just blew it off; he just totally blew it off. I mean if they had taken a missing person report that day…
TODD: That’s it.
JO LAYNE: …they would have found him.
TODD: That was the big disconnect, whether or not she was off by a date or not, she was off by a date by what she was telling you. If they had taken the missing person report when she tried to make it, at least put it on file; whether they put it out to the public or not, if they had at least put it on file and queried their system, they would have found him.
JO LAYNE: Exactly. He was right there in the coroner’s office. A witness at a bus stop said that he darted out into the intersection and he got hit. The car did stop, and there’s no indication that the car that hit him was the one following him, so the only thing I can think of, and this is just my guess, if the story is true that somebody was after him, that the people that were after him got lucky because somebody beat them to the punch, you know, because he ran out in the street and accidentally got hit.
TODD: Now that makes me wonder what’s happening now in that case, because obviously it had to go somewhere, you know.
JO LAYNE: I don’t know, like I said, financially I couldn’t do anything else about it. You know I had already spent a lot of money just making phone calls and everything…
JO LAYNE: …and I never charged her anything. I never wanted anything from her, and she even asked me, she said, “How much do I owe you?” and I said, “Nothing.” I said, “Just grieve the loss of your son, and in due time, just let him go to rest in peace.”
TODD: And so many times you work on a case like this where you once were involved in a possible identification, you’re not really necessarily involved in the rest of the story, you give the police the data and then they do their thing, and I went back so many times and I found out that nothing else was done, nothing else could be found, and you hesitate to think, “Maybe I should be involved in it again. Maybe I shouldn’t.” You know there are so many things that go through your mind, but hopefully we can find some newspaper articles about his death. I think possibly we can do that and add it to the episode because there’s so little out there. There is just not much data available.
JO LAYNE: It would be nice if they could go back and find out if somebody was after him, I mean, of course they were not the ones that ran him down, but still in a sense, they were responsible for it, in a sense. But they intended him harm, obviously, if the story was true, which it kind of adds up though.
JO LAYNE: You know from the story that was told, and then from what I found out about him running into the intersection, you know when you put two and two together, it kind of does sound like it must be the truth, that somebody did pull up and he started running.
TODD: Well maybe we’ll find an update. We’ll definitely look, because once these stories go into Missing Pieces, they’re there permanently, and we get a lot of people that write in, at times, with updates, or thoughts, or ideas or suggestions. I’ve had people that have written law enforcement phone numbers off the ‘Tips’ page and have contacted them with updated data, and I hear back from somebody a little later on that they had a potential suspect…so many things that you can’t even talk about, it’s just like I get a little FYI note, “By the way, we’re looking at this,” and I guess that’s to keep me from stepping on anybody’s toes if we do a further show, so I know there’s something I need to just leave alone and let the police do what they need to do. But it was an important time to bring you on. It’s spring and we need to give people hope. You have two cases that will never really be fully resolved, probably, but the main thing is…
JO LAYNE: Well people need to know that there are so many different scenarios.
JO LAYNE: I mean, a lot of people automatically assume ‘foul play’ but, okay, if my grandfather died in California and no relatives were located, and Tommy died in Atlanta and no relatives were located, that’s just two people out of how many people missing and unidentified in America??
TODD: Hundreds of thousands. You know there are just so many cases, we know the NCIC says over 6,000 cases of unidentified bodies, but there are more organizations out there that tell me that could be up to 40,000, 50,000 unidentified bodies because of lot of them never made it into NCIC, and I say that with almost every show that we do, we say that, but that point has to really sink in. There are a lot of bodies out there that they’re missing from somebody, somewhere, they belong to somebody, and you got yours back, and Tommy went back.
JO LAYNE: What I’m saying is, there are those out there that have been identified, and they just haven’t been able to track down the families.
TODD: Yes. And that’s the case with both of your cases; they buried them with their name on their tombstone, not John Doe.
JO LAYNE: Exactly! My grandfather’s got a Military headstone, and that’s one of the things that made me so angry was because…
TODD: The Military knew, right? Somebody knew.
JO LAYNE: Yeah! Yeah, they knew. The local…whatever, there in Tulare, they say their part their on the headstone, but yet they don’t record it in a Regional Office, and I was really upset about that because they’re the ones that kept telling me and my Mom that there was no indication that a Veteran was deceased. I even emailed Congress, and I said, “This needs to be changed.” They said that the criteria for getting your name listed in the Regional Office is if you were drawing your benefits when you died or if you died in a VA Hospital. And I said, “Well, you know what?” I said, “A lot of these men that come out of the war, especially, end up living and dying on the streets,” I said, “They deserve to be found. Their families are looking for them.” I said, “Every Veteran needs to be there…every one.” He said that he would take that to wherever they take those things to…I haven’t heard anything or pursued it since, but I’ve been thinking about it here lately because right after I found my grandfather, I was at the emergency room with my daughter, and I was standing outside and a young boy was out there and I was telling him about how I had just found my grandfather and I told him that he had been in WWII and he said, “Well that’s weird, my grandfather had been in WWII and he had been missing a year and we just found him; he had died outside of a homeless shelter.”
TODD: That’s crazy.
JO LAYNE: We’re just two people. We’re just two little people…
TODD: …that ran into each other.
JO LAYNE: How often do you think this happens?
TODD: I’m afraid it’s a bigger deal than we realize. I think we kind of realize because of what we work in, but it’s just not something that the public would think would happen, but it does. It does, and you’ve demonstrated that it does happen and you’ve demonstrated that there is something that you can do about it, and you’ve helped provide a blessing, I know, from your grandfather onto Tommy.
JO LAYNE: Well I certainly hope that, that is my goal. That is my goal that just through talking through you that people can see that if they just hold onto that faith and believe, and don’t ever let one little smidgen of doubt set in, they can have what I have.
TODD: Well we’ve got a lot of work to do, you and I, I think. There are some things I want to work on with you and some things that I want to share with you, and we’re going to try to build this page for your grandfather and for Tommy from this interview, and I think we can use it to help take the story to other people, and I think you’ve got a lot of the journey still ahead of you…I really do. I think you’ve got of work yet to do and I think you’ve got an incredible life ahead of you.
JO LAYNE: There’s always hope. I know what it felt like for me for all those years, and I know what they must be feeling like, and it hurts me to know that they’re hurting like that. That’s my goal is to give them hope and to get what I got.
TODD: And that’s what we’ll try to do. Well let’s say goodnight to the audience and you and I will talk for a couple minutes longer, and we’ll be back again.
Place a banner to this case on your MySpace:
Simply copy and paste this code anywhere in to your MySpace proflile:
If you have any information on either of these cases
Please use click this link below:
Resources for this case: