by Tim Gilmore, 2/12/2017
It was only after Jack died in 1994, 20 years after their daughters disappeared, that she bought Annette and Mylette a conjoined headstone. The girls will only ever have birthdates: Lillian Annette Mar. 2, 1963 and Mylette Josephine Oct. 18, 1967. Elizabeth Anderson doesn’t believe her daughters are still alive, but without the discovery of their bodies, they’ll also never die.
The stroke Jack suffered in 1989 confined him to his bed. Elizabeth quit her job and tended to her husband the last five years of his life. It was long past time. For 18 years, she’d driven a schoolbus. She’d started when Annette was in third grade and Mylette was not quite five.
Judges had ordered the schools desegregated in ’72, and one year after she’d started driving her bus, barefoot 13 year olds spent the night in tents outside their nearby school and held picket signs boycotting forced busing. Their signs called for busing the school superintendent, not them.
When the school year began in 1974, neighbors and police were still marching through the woods, looking for her daughters. Sometimes she saw them step onto her bus, Mylette first, her big sister behind her, or she caught their eye in the rear view mirror. Seeing them hurt worse than not seeing them, since either way, they weren’t there.
Jack sometimes saw his daughters look up at him from beneath the surface of the water, then the image would break, the line would come up, and he’d try to pay enough attention to the catfish not to get finned. If he hadn’t had problems with his outboard motor that night, he remembered every day, his daughters would still be alive. The space of an hour. How could the space of an hour be big enough for his babies to fall through and be gone forever?
Elizabeth was better at picking herself up than he was, though she told a newspaper reporter once, “I’ve had spells in which I go inside myself and don’t come out.” Jack hadn’t known depression weighed more than a draft horse, but every night that horse sat on his chest and looked black-eyed down into his face through all the darkness.
For seven years, his heart broke. Then, in 1981, it nearly killed him. He made it through quintuple bypass surgery, but his strength was never the same.
In 1989, Elizabeth still saw her daughters on the buses she drove, but Annette and Mylette had never grown. She felt guilty when she made eye contact. She knew they could tell she knew they weren’t really there.
Pumpkin Hill remains lonely. Though nearby Oceanway, nowhere near the ocean, the wooded area that festered with KKK activity through much of the 20th century, has filled with cookie-cutter suburban subdivisions in the last two decades, the dirt roads of Pumpkin Hill feel as lonely as they ever have.
Near where New Berlin Road splices into Cedar Point Road, a faded wooden sign leans backward and sideways, falling into the trees perhaps a few inches every few months, and announces, “Just Say No To Clear Cutting For Housing / If You Agree, Contact Your City Council.”
South of Cedar Point Road, Pumpkin Hill is a blocked-off narrow dirt road that loops multiple times through dense forests and swamps and seeps. The Anderson Cemetery scatters sparsely into those woods.
A former Confederate soldier named John Anderson settled in these woods with his wife Mary after the Civil War. Their daughter Georgia died when she was 22 years old in 1901. Hers is the oldest grave.
A chain-link fence surrounds the cemetery. Its gateposts are brick. Walking the sandy dirt road, I notice three sturdy objects beneath the trees among the strangely strewn graves. Since I’d seen an old well pump handle near the front gate and square sheets of rusting tin broken through with palmetto thickets beneath the pines, I think perhaps these three objects are old barrels on their sides or wheelbarrows. Then one of them turns its head to look at me.
What are now obviously three wild boars walk casually away from me among the graves. They’re not impressed at all. A back gate stands open and the boars make their way slowly through it and vanish into the woods.
The etchings on Georgia’s headstone are hardly readable now. A large crack runs diagonally through her father’s stone. John Council Anderson was born May 14, 1838, fought for the Confederacy against the United States, and died January 14, 1912. A shredded and faded Confederate flag droops on a rotten stick atop his grave, the red petals of the plastic poinsettia beneath it far brighter.
Beside the horizontally tipped stone for the nameless “Infant Daughter of B.F. & Mary Courson, Born & Died Aug. 31, 1942,” a stone figure with her face removed holds her palms out in solace. Other graves are topped with stone lions, rabbits, roosters, and fairies.
Jack Layton Anderson’s stone is attached to Elizabeth’s, though hers yet lacks a death date. Between the stones is a colorful fishing scene, Jack and Elizabeth, the commercial fisherman and the schoolbus driver, sitting together in a fishing boat forever. It’s hard to know if their faces would look so sad if I didn’t know what happened. Jack sits in the front of the boat, his fishing line in the water, and Elizabeth sits behind him, her hair up in a ball cap, her reel back, forever poised to cast her line. Etched in stone beneath them are the words, “Married Oct. 18 1958.”
Beside them, Annette’s and Mylette’s conjoined stones are heart-shaped. The epitaph in the middle reads, “In Loving Memory Missing Since Aug. 1 1974.” A plaster angel sits at either end of the dual cenotaph. The angel beneath Annette’s name raises a palm to the heavens. The face of the angel is broken away and missing.
In three months in 1974, five little girls between the ages of 6 and 12 disappeared in Jacksonville. It’s hard to know which thought’s the more terrifying—the possibility that each missing girl was the victim of a single predator, or the probability that, with the exception of Annette and Mylette, who vanished together, each girl’s case was unrelated to the others.
That summer nightmare extended into October as cops and neighbors continued to search woodlands and swamps, and parents, most of them for the first time, refused to let their children play outside or walk to school.
Nine year old Jean Marie Schoen vanished between her grandmother’s house and a convenience store in Springfield on Sunday, July 21st.
A week and a half later, Elizabeth Anderson left 11 year old Annette and six year old Mylette at home on Darcy Drive, right behind the cemetery, to go check on a sick relative. It was Thursday, August 1st, just after six. The girls’ father Jack would be home any minute. That evening, however, he had some trouble with the motor on his boat and he didn’t make it back home until seven. The girls were gone. No one would ever see them again.
Nearly two months went by before 12 year old Virginia Helm disappeared walking to a convenience store from her Southside home on Friday, September 27th. A couple collecting pine cones for Christmas decorations later found Virginia buried in a shallow grave beside a dirt road off Beach Boulevard. She’d been shot in the head.
Two weeks later, on Saturday, October 12th, 12 year old Rebecca Ann Greene walked from her house to a neighborhood grocery, bought some soft drinks, left the store and vanished. Three years later, her body was found in the woods near her home off Heckscher Drive.
The world had become a terrible and dangerous place. Something had gone horribly wrong in the country. Things didn’t use to be like this. When parents had been children, nobody had to worry about them walking to school. Something in society had sickened.
On November 8, 1974, Sandy Fawkes, who’d worked as a fashion critic and war correspondent, met a long-haired rugged young man named Daryl Golden in a bar in Atlanta. He told her he identified with Jonathan Livingston Seagull and expected to die young. She’d been drinking hard in Atlanta, looking for America, and she found it in Daryl Golden. She wrote later in her book Killing Time, referring to herself in third person, that he represented “an America that had been missing from her journey, the real America with all its strength, vigor, ignorance, greed and hope.”
Sandy Fawkes would soon wonder why he didn’t murder her. His real name was Paul John Knowles. Despite his own defense attorney calling Knowles a “raw-boned” Jacksonville redneck, he was handsome and knew how to charm women. He picked women up in bars from San Francisco to Jacksonville. People would later call him the Cassanova Killer.
Knowles drove Fawkes to Florida in a car that belonged to a man he’d murdered the week before. In fact, he was in the midst of a cross-country murder spree that left between 18 and 35 victims. He’d been arrested back on July 26th for stabbing a bartender in Jacksonville, but picked a lock and escaped his detention cell.
According to confessions he’d taped and sent to his lawyer, after calling him and telling him, “I have something to tell you. Brace yourself. I’m a mass murderer,” Knowles was trying to ditch a Dodge Dart he’d stolen from a 65 year old woman he murdered the night he broke out of jail when he saw two little girls looking at him. He couldn’t leave witnesses. He’d have to take them, strangle them, and bury them in the swamp. That was August 1st.
The next night he strangled a woman at the beach with a nylon stocking. Then he drove through Georgia, adding to his list of murder victims, later killing in Ohio, Nevada, Texas, Alabama, Connecticut, Virginia, Florida again and Georgia again, before meeting Sandy Fawkes in Atlanta.
After Knowles’s arrest, in the midst of police transport, he somehow pulled the gun from the officer driving, and in the ensuing struggle, the cop fired three bullets into Knowles’s chest and killed him.
Lester Parmenter and Richard Pruett, the Jacksonville homicide detectives who worked on the Anderson sisters’ case, believed “strongly that [Paul John Knowles] probably did it,” but since the girls were never found, never considered the case closed.
Nearly 40 years after her daughters’ disappearance, Elizabeth Anderson told newspaper journalist Sandy Strickland she didn’t know if Knowles had murdered her girls or not, but didn’t think there was any way they could be alive. Annette and Mylette both had several health concerns. Eleven year old Annette suffered from thyroid problems, while her little sister, who already wore glasses, also suffered from asthma and took heart medication.
These are the woods where stories go to disappear. Alligators lurk in the muck. The black boars have wandered from the graveyard. The undersides of trees are blackened and burnt. Old tires litter the forest floor, while rusted machinery and storage structures crumble into the thick red mats of pine straw. A short distance from the unpaved Pumpkin Hill Road, a wheel sticks up from a child’s pull-along wagon disintegrating into the sandy soil. Where that old Confederate soldier lived out here is anybody’s guess.
Time spreads our lives thin across the landscape. It forgets us. If it ever knew us. It never shed for us a tear.
It’s only worse that night falls across these woods each night and saturates the cemetery. Night is a substance. It covers and coats and soaks and drenches the land and whoever’s caught there.
Night is a different kind of time. It runs slower. It spreads an all-settling stillness like snow inside the head. All that’s real soaks through with the sense of dream and dread.
Now Jack is gone with Annette and Mylette. Elizabeth would “like to have the girls’ bodies,” so she could “really say goodbye.”
Jack never said goodbye. He insisted they never move from Darcy Drive. He insisted they keep the same phone number. 757-1118. He waited for his little girls’ phone call every night for 20 years.
Elizabeth says, referring to her husband, “Daddy thought the babies were coming home.”