Stephen Pearson was the type of man who had never been in trouble a day in his life. But in December 2000, trouble found him.
Things were going well for the thin, six-foot-tall gentleman with gray hair. He had just been promoted to supervisor at Ingalls Shipbuilding and had just celebrated his 53rd birthday, which falls on Dec. 23.
Pearson had moved to Alabama years before after living in Maryland with his then-wife and their children. One daughter, Julie, came to live with him as a teenager. She said she has always been a “daddy’s girl.” Eventually, she ended up moving out of state. Lagniappe agreed not to reveal where she lives due to the nature of the case.
He had just finished visiting Julie at her home just before his life would change forever that fateful December. Since it was the holidays, the post office hired extra workers to help out with the influx of Christmas cards and gifts. One such postman was in Pearson’s Grand Bay neighborhood. He wasn’t familiar with the surrounding area, but Pearson, who was home from work due to the holidays, was able to direct him.
Pearson helped locate an address for the postman … it just so happened he thought he knew the address — a neighbor’s house. Simply trying to be helpful, Pearson put the big package on the Baumans’ back porch and didn’t think about it again until the neighbors came back home.
James Bauman Jr. and his son, James Bauman III weren’t intended to receive that package. They told Pearson there was a mix up — that the address was similar, but the package should have gone to someone down the street, which was later confirmed to be accurate by authorities.
That wasn’t the worst part though. They told Pearson that big package held something that could possibly result in years behind bars. It turns out Pearson helped the temporary postal worker deliver 10 pounds of marijuana to the Baumans.
The 53-year-old panicked. He had never been in any situation like this. Pearson went to the postmaster at the local post office and reported what he was told.
When the authorities got involved, they began looking into the Baumans. Mobile County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Paul Burch said between the time the package came and when the incident was investigated, the 10 pounds of marijuana dwindled … a lot.
“(The Baumans) told officers they burned some of it because they were scared. It turned out they actually sold a lot of it,” he said, saying the Baumans had seized the opportunity of the package that accidentally ended up on their doorstep.
The Baumans were not too happy with Pearson either, Burch said. They were angry because now they were facing possible jail time and neither had been in trouble before.
The day after reporting the 10-pounds of marijuana, Stephen Pearson was never seen again. He was reported missing on Dec. 28, 2000, a day after he was last seen.
“The father and son were angry with Mr. Pearson. They didn’t like it he reported the incident to the postmaster. That’s when Stephen Pearson went missing,” Burch said.
Julie Pearson has been looking for answers to her father’s disappearance since. This Christmas will mark the 13th year of her search. After so many years, she doesn’t believe the disappearance to be as clear as Burch, but understands it’s a possibility.
“After all this time, I still think of new scenarios what could have happened to my daddy,” she said.
For Julie, the panic for her father’s safety began the last day he was seen. Living hours away in another state, she was recovering from a reconstructive jaw surgery so when the phone rang early that December morning, she was slow to get up.
Another call came just minutes after the first. It was her then-boyfriend’s mother — who would become her mother-in-law — telling Julie she received a call from her dad saying he was in trouble and that Julie needed to listen to the message he left her.
When Julie listened to the message, she knew something was wrong.
“I wanted to drive to my dad’s as soon as I heard the message. He was telling me to contact a friend of his in a governmental agency because he said ‘shit had hit the fan.’ Well, I couldn’t drive because of my recent surgery,” Julie said. “I didn’t get to leave until that evening.”
While her father didn’t elaborate over the phone about what had just happened, she knew what it was about. He had been complaining about the drugs in his community. He told her they were getting bad, but he didn’t expect to be in the middle of that world.
Julie knew her father was manic depressive and thought maybe he had been exaggerating. However, she grew even more worried when she called her father back just five minutes after he left her the message. She didn’t get him.
She called one of her dad’s friends who lived nearby.
“How the neighborhood is situated this friend would be able to see if anyone came in or left. I asked him if he had seen my father leave. He said he could see my father going out of the neighborhood then. I asked him to flag him down, but he said, ‘he’s just moving too fast for me to get out to him in time,’” she said.
Julie said according to the timeframe, that’s when he was going to the postmaster. Meanwhile, she was hours away in another state trying to figure a way to reach her father.
She has never seen her father or received a phone call from him since that day. His home was broken into just after his disappearance. Days later his car was found near a wooded area, but MCSO officials say the scene at his car was staged.
Julie knows the Baumans are the main suspects, but she doesn’t know if they’re the only ones that need to be looked into.
“My dad and I know the Baumans very well. Where my dad’s car was found was where I would go hiking with (the younger Bauman),” she said. “My biggest question is why would the Baumans want to kill my father. He wasn’t the only one who knew they had the drugs by then.”
For the nearly 13 years since Pearson was last seen, Julie has considered a number of scenarios. Could the people who sent the drugs have come back for the package? Her father signed for them and she believes the people who burglarized Pearson’s home were looking for the drugs and/or helping stage the scene where his car was found.
Julie also said a person in the area wanted her father’s property and may have seized the opportunity to get Pearson out of the way.
But he also could have gotten away alive.
“My father would tell me ‘If I need to get away and disappear, I could go to three places,’” she said. “For whatever reason, he told me before that he wouldn’t go into witness protection.”
Then there were the calls that would come about every three to six months. The caller would be on the other line, but wouldn’t say anything. They didn’t stop until Julie legally had her father declared dead.
There were incidents too numerous to count that just didn’t add up she said — cars following Julie and her husband, the involvement of federal government agencies that usually have nothing to do with missing persons, the suggestion by law enforcement to never reveal information about her and her family’s whereabouts, etc.
“There is so much surrounding my dad’s disappearance that makes absolutely no sense. The only thing I know is I don’t know the truth behind what happened to my daddy,” Julie said. “I try to get information, but I run into dead ends. I just don’t believe it is so straight forward.”
Years later Julie still thinks about her dad and his disappearance daily.
“I’ll just sit outside and think about what could have happened or what I would do if my daddy was found. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him,” she said.
Julie isn’t alone in searching for a Mobile County resident. Pearson is one of 19 people missing in Mobile County. Each one disappeared without leaving a trail for investigators to follow. Each one disappeared with family members wondering what happened. Each one vanished, never to be seen again.
Garland Ford, 77. Last seen Sept. 1, 2012.**
When 77-year-old Garland Ford moved from Arkansas to Grand Bay, Ala., he moved with a group of people he had met. Burch said it’s unsure how well he knew the group. Ford first came to officers’ attention in December 2012, when he was reported missing by his daughter.
Burch said Ford moved in with the Hopper family. Polly Hopper even helped Burch change his address so he could receive his Social Security benefits. She also helped herself to his benefits after he disappeared, Burch said. She was arrested in 2013 for obstructing government operations.
Little did Ford know, but the people he moved with to Alabama had already dealt with a missing persons incident. Polly, her brother Jessie and her mother Patsy experienced the same situation when their father/husband disappeared. The Arkansas authorities were able to locate Mr. Hopper though … he was buried in the backyard. They have not been charged in the incident.
The MCSO have searched the Hoppers’ property several times and interviewed the family. The Hoppers continue to be suspects in Ford’s disappearance.
Brittney Wood, 19. Last seen on May 26, 2012.*
The area’s most high-profile missing persons case has to be that of Brittney Wood of Mobile. After Brittney’s disappearance, several of her family members have been arrested, though it is not clear if there is a direct connection.
Just before she went missing, she went to see her uncle Donnie Holland in the Styx River area of Baldwin County. What transpired between Brittney and Donnie is not known, but following the conversation her uncle returned to his house and shot himself, and Brittney was never seen by family members again. Baldwin County Sheriff’s deputies had just talked to Holland about a sex crimes investigation the day he committed suicide.
Since Wood’s disappearance, six family members have been arrested on sex abuse charges. The charges are listed below with name, relation to Brittney and charge, though Baldwin County officials will not comment on who the victim(s) was/were in these crimes and if there is any relation to Brittney’s disappearance.
Derek Wood, brother, second-degree rape and sodomy. Wendy Holland, aunt, child endangerment, sodomy of a child less than 12, sexual abuse of a child less than 12 and sexual torture. Donald Holland Jr., cousin, incest and second-degree rape. Chessie Wood, stepmother, two counts of sodomy and one count of sexual abuse of a child under the age of 12. Dustin Kent, uncle, first-degree rape and first-degree sodomy charges. William Brownlee, friend of Donald Holland Sr., second-degree sexual abuse and second-degree sodomy.
MPD Cpl. Christopher Levy said the police have received numerous tips and reported sightings of Brittney Wood, but none have led them to her. The last place her phone signaled was near Rosinton, Ala. near Styx River. At the time of her disappearance, she left behind a three-year-old daughter.
Brittany Robinson, 14. Last seen on June 10, 2012*
The youngest missing person in Mobile County is just 14 years old. When Brittany Robinson disappeared, she was reconnecting with the father she never knew. What wasn’t known is Robinson’s father, Demetric L. Hooper, had a history of mental health problems.
When Robinson went to spend time with her father at his house at 1523 Van Lee Cir., in Mobile on June 10, 2012, she never returned. Her mother reported her missing and Mobile Police officers were able to track Hooper down in Arkansas at a mental health facility, where he had checked himself in. He has been arrested for interfering with custody. Levy said Robinson was not having any problems with her mother at the time of her disappearance.
An August 2012 search of Hooper’s Van Lee Circle property yielded no results. This case is like Wood’s in that tips and sightings have been non-stop. Every bit of information is looked into, Levy said.
Tonya T. McMillian, 40. Last seen July 30, 2006.*
Tonya McMillian left her home in Mobile on foot and was never seen again. Her daughter said that morning she got up, put on clothes, said she would be back and left. “That’s the last time anyone saw Tonya McMillian,” Levy said.
Brenda N. Dearing, 51. Last seen on Dec. 31, 2004.**
Brenda Dearing is from Pennsylvania, but was staying with friends in Mobile County. Dearing, who suffers from dementia and schizophrenia, walked off from the home and was never seen again.
Doretha Williams, 51. Last seen on Nov. 25, 2007.*
Like McMillian, Doretha Williams set off on foot and has not been seen since. She has been known to frequent a camp off Congress Street, but searches have proved fruitless. She was last seen in Mobile. More information was not available from the MPD.
Tamborah Brown, 22. Last seen on Feb. 13, 2002. *
Brown has been missing since leaving his mother’s home on Reams Drive. It’s believed drug dealers whom he had crossed may have killed him. Just before Brown disappeared, he was charged with three counts of robbery. He said he was innocent and shortly after being bailed out of jail, he vanished.
Holly A. Paul, 35. Last seen on Aug. 27, 1999.*
Paul was last seen at the Scottish Inn Motel in Mobile. She was a resident of Florida at the time of her disappearance. More information was not available from the MPD.
Lisa Ann Pierce, 27. Last seen on Nov. 4, 2000.*
Pierce was last seen wearing pink sweat pants in Mobile. She has a tattoo on her ankle, which says “RS.” She is very slight being only 5-foot 3-inches and weighing 95 pounds. More information was not available from the MPD.
Debra D. Pritchett, 25. Last seen on Jan. 29, 1998.**
“I’ve been thinking of how to say this, but the only way I can is there was a poor investigation done at the time,” Burch said.
Debra Pritchett was “without a doubt killed by her husband Clarence Pritchett,” Burch said.
Clarence Pritchett was arrested and charged with attempted murder of one of Debra’s male friends. He was convicted and went to prison.
Burch said the MCSO went back in 2004 to reopen the cold case, but there was not enough evidence.
Gail V. Franklin, 46. Last seen on June 17, 2006.*
Franklin was last seen at a home in the Roger Williams neighborhood, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. More information was not available from the MPD.
Michael A. Wright, 20. Last seen on 6-22-1994.*
Wright was staying with friends in Saraland for a few days before he suddenly disappeared, leaving his personal items behind. He is presumed dead. More information was not available from the MPD.
Jeffery L. Holloman, 25. Last seen Aug. 2, 2011.**
When Jeffery Holloman left his home in Aug. 2, 2011, he was under the influence of “something.” His wife reported he was hallucinating that there were people in trees in their front yard. Armed with a baseball bat, he ran off to get the “people.” His wife made a missing person report.
Days later he was picked up by officers in George County, Miss. Unfortunately, the officer hadn’t received the missing person’s alert yet and drove Holloman to the Alabama state line where he then set off on foot.
That was the last time he was seen.
MCSO deputies walked the roads Holloman should have taken and searched the woods around the area.
Michael Boyette, 28. Last seen Oct. 15, 2007.**
In October 2007, Michael Boyette was acting very strangely before his disappearance. Dealing with mental issues, he ran off into woods on Rainbow Lake Road in Grand Bay.
“Earlier in the day before he ran off into the woods, he told family he was going to ‘go back where it all started,’” Burch said. “Maybe a week before, deputies were involved in a pursuit with Michael Boyette when they responded to an attempted suicide complaint.”
Searches of the woods have been conducted numerous times, but Boyette was never found.
Debra Turpin Green, 60. Last seen on March 3, 2004.
Green was last seen in Fort Morgan in Baldwin County. Her Silver 1996 Lexus ES300 was found abandoned near the fishing pier at Fort Morgan. The Daphne Police Department, who is handling the case had no further information. Call DPD with any information.
Rilla Kay Sheehan, 55. Last seen on Dec. 8, 2001.
Sheehan’s son called and talked to her around 3:40 p.m., but when he went to her residence in Robertsdale she was gone. Her car was still in the driveway and no items were missing from the house. Contact the Robertsdale Police Department with any information.
Travis Lamar Phillips, 42. Last seen on March 29, 1991.
Travis was last seen surfing off the coast of Dauphin Island. Contact the Alabama Department of Public Safety if you have any information about the case. Requests for additional information was not given before press time.
Andrews vanished after getting into an altercation with a known subject in Mobile. He hasn’t been seen or heard from since. More information was not available from the MPD.
Happy reunions are not the norm. Neither the MCSO nor MPD could recall a case where a person was missing for an extended period of time and was found alive.
“I hate to say this, but if someone is missing more than a few weeks, then the outcome usually isn’t good,” Burch said. “Those phone calls when remains are found are the hardest.”
One of those hard calls Burch made occurred in March 2013 when Michael Watson was found.
The man had been missing since April 2011 and during that time Burch had grown to know Watson’s mother very well. The nearly daily contact Burch has with missing persons’ families bonds the two groups forever, he said.
“You get to know the families and in a strange way you get to know the person,” he said.
So when Watson was found in a field in Theodore, Burch had to make one of those difficult calls.
“When I called (Watson’s mother), it was one of the toughest calls I’ve had to make in a long time,” he said. “You hope you never have to tell someone their child, parent or family member is dead. That being said, if you can provide some type of closure … then at least that’s something.”
If you have information about any of these cases, here’s who to contact, unless otherwise noted:
*Contact the MPD at 251-208-1700 and ask to speak to someone who handles missing adult cases or in the case of Brittany Robinson, ask to speak to the juvenile division.
**Contact MCSO Lt. Paul Burch Jr. at 251-574-4720 for missing person cases in Mobile County.