Mary Franklin missing 18 years today

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 26, 2004

A newspaper clipping from nearly 18 years ago is held in front of Mary Franklin’s home on China Grove Road. (Meredith Spencer The Vicksburg Post)

[7/26/04]Tucked away behind trees, weeds and brush, neglected and run down, is a house with no address.

The steps leading to the porch have been engulfed as they sink into the ground.

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletter

Receive daily headlines and obituaries

The house has stood for 18 years unattended, and is now nearly invisible to those who drive by on China Grove Road.

Mary Franklin, last seen 18 years ago today, lived alone in the house. She was 71.

For most, memories of the house, like Franklin, have faded. But some still remember.

“It looked like everybody had forgotten about her. But I hadn’t,” said Betty King, Franklin’s granddaughter. “I don’t mind anybody asking about her or saying it’s been 18 years now. Even though I don’t have any pictures of her, I haven’t forgotten.”

She remembers because her grandmother’s disappearance still is a mystery and the case remains open.

Martin Pace remembers the heat.

The Warren County sheriff, who was then a field deputy, recalls searching the property behind the house in the days following the missing person report. The heat of August beat down on the officers who scoured the land looking for any clue or sign Franklin had been in the area.

“We pulled in everyone we could,” Pace said. “It was our primary focus for weeks.”

They never found a single piece of physical evidence outside the house, Pace said.

The sheriff’s office chased down lead after lead, but nothing resulted.

A silver Cadillac was discovered near the house, but it had been there long before Franklin was missing.

Could she have wandered off and ended up somewhere on the 15-acre property? Not likely. Franklin had arthritis in her knees and couldn’t walk far without becoming tired. Late in her life, she quit walking out to the barn behind her house because it wore her out.

A driver claimed to see an elderly woman board his bus in Pearl and he dropped her off in Mobile, Ala. But King said that couldn’t have been her. The woman on the bus had gray hair and was wearing high-heeled shoes. But Franklin’s wig, which she never left the home without, purse and glasses were still in the house. Also, her thick ankles prevented her from walking in heels.

A woman said Franklin was taken to the Big Black River and dumped. But police searched the river and nothing turned up.

Almost a year later, a psychic said she had visions that Franklin had been buried in the dump along Halls Ferry Road. But that search also turned up nothing.

The only lead the sheriff’s office had that looked promising ended up being useless.

Otho Jones, chief deputy to Sheriff Paul Barrett, said they had a suspect who confessed to the crime. However, because of the person’s mental state, the confession would not hold up in court.

King said once she heard the confession, it convinced her of who had kidnapped and eventually murdered her grandmother.

But theories and confessions were useless without a body.

“Sheriff Barrett did what he could. He said he had an idea what happened, and he believed he knew he did it and why,” King said. “But it would be hard to prove it without the body.”

The alarm was slow in spreading.

No one said anything when Franklin didn’t show up in church two days after she was last seen. King didn’t think anything was wrong when she tried phoning and Franklin’s line was busy. She was talking to one of her “white dress friends,” King assumed. Nobody did anything when the back door was discovered unlocked.

Finally, on Monday someone called King to tell her her grandmother was missing. King went out to her grandmother’s house to find people walking through the house.

She asked someone if the police had been called. They hadn’t. They thought it would be more appropriate if she called.

Fingerprints were everywhere. People were rifling though Franklin’s possessions.

King was outraged at the lack of action taken by those in the house.

“You’re in a woman’s house,” King said. She’s not there. You don’t know where she is, but you’re going to take the time to use the bathroom?”

Jones took the report at 7:43 p.m. on July 28. More than 48 hours had elapsed before the Warren County Sheriff Office was notified.