Who Was James?

Son, Brother, Uncle, Friend... 

It’s no secret that I am fiercely protective of my brother’s memory. Over the years I’ve noticed that people tend to distill his life down to James the Missing Person, James the Drug Dealer, and now James the Murder Victim. I suppose it may be natural for people who never knew him to do that but I want everyone to know that he was so much more than any of those things.

James was a beloved young man who in one way or another touched the lives of everyone he met. I’ve had so many conversations about Jimmy over the years with people who either knew him well or who passed through his life only briefly and they all say the same thing: he was unforgettable. After a story ran in the local newspaper about the identification of his remains I received numerous calls from people who just wanted to share a story with me about something they experienced with him. It surprised me that they remembered things in such detail. One such call came in August of 2011, several months after the story was in the paper. The woman told me that she moved out of the area in 1972 and had known nothing about Jimmy’s disappearance. Through tears she told me how they met and then recounted some of the great conversations they had. She said she had thought of him often over the years, despite the fact that she lost track of him in 1972. 

James had a charisma about him, a kind of magnetism that pulled people into his orbit. Even as a child I knew that there was something really special about him. We never knew when he was going to pop in for a visit but when his car would pull up to the house, all of the kids in the neighborhood would come running to greet him. I always thought it was funny that even the neighborhood moms turned into flirty schoolgirls in his company. There really was never a dull moment when Jimmy was around.

Like a lot of teenagers coming up in the 1960‘s Jimmy had his share of problems with authority. He was often frustrated with the conservatism of our town and as a teen he relished the attention he got when he rebelled against it. Though he was never arrested, he knew how to push buttons and enjoyed doing so. I can remember my mother getting angry with him now and again over some of the troubles he caused or got himself into but once he outgrew the worst of it, he brought her a lot of joy. It brings tears to my eyes when I remember the love and devotion he had for my mother.

James loved nature and animals; his Afghan hound, Casaelya, was his constant companion and he always had a cat or two. He seemed to enjoy and relate to the very different qualities of dogs and cats, the intense loyalty of dogs and the independence of cats. He enjoyed living close to the ocean, making time to take Casaelya for a romp on the beach on a regular basis. He also enjoyed hiking and found a lot of opportunities to do so, relishing the vast beauty of California.

He was at his core a kind, gentle soul with a creative spirit and a brilliant mind. He was a poet, a dreamer, an artist, and a musician. He was generous and loyal, compassionate and loving. He was both teacher and student: he graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree and a lifetime teaching credential for adult education classes. He continued to take enrichment courses while teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) at an adult school in San Francisco that was popular with immigrants seeking American citizenship.

I have often wondered what James might have done with his life had he not been murdered in the woods of Dixie County in 1974. I have my own ideas about this but I’m always interested to hear what others think. I find it remarkable that I often hear the same two things: he probably would have been a professor and he would have been an author. Many people also feel that he would have continued to care deeply about social and environmental issues and become an activist of sorts. Whatever he may have made of his life it would have changed others’ lives as well - the butterfly effect - and we’ll never know what could have been.


Anyone with information regarding this investigation is asked to contact
FDLE Special Agent Mike Kennedy at (850) 410-7578.