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10 years pass, Jaquilla Scales still missing

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Sep. 4, 2011, at 8:13 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at 2:26 p.m.

Eureka Scales held her baby tightly in her arms.

She didn't want to take her eyes off 7-pound, 6-ounce Jaquilla Evonne Scales.

The nurses at Via Christi on St. Francis would ask if they could take the baby so Scales could rest.

She wouldn't let them. She liked waking up and knowing Jaquilla was there.

Scales was a child herself back then. And there she was, having a baby.

Jaquilla would be as old today as her mother was the day she gave birth to her: 14.

It's been 10 years since Jaquilla vanished in the middle of the night from a home on North Volutsia wearing a flowered nightgown and tan barrettes in her hair.

She has spent more time on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's radar than she ever spent in her mother's arms.

'Grammy Boo' loved to talk

The last time Scales saw her daughter was Sept. 3, 2001 — a Monday, Labor Day.

After they woke up that warm, sunny day, Scales got her 4-year-old daughter dressed in purple shorts and a purple, pink and white shirt.

Purple was Jaquilla's favorite color. The little girl with a birthmark on the left side of her face loved brightly colored barrettes and a doll that could roll over by itself.

The family called Jaquilla "Grammy Boo" because, Scales remembered, she had an "old woman's spirit." She was bossy.

She loved to talk. She could talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.

And smile?

She was always smiling.

"She was a very happy little girl."

Scales and Jaquilla lived with Scales' maternal grandmother, Mattie Mitchell, and two uncles in a small ranch house at 1618 N. Volutsia, north of 13th and west of Hillside. Jaquilla's dad was not in the picture.

Scales' grandparents had raised Scales after her mother died from sickle-cell anemia when Scales was 8.

Mitchell, or "Big Mama," as they called her, ran the house. Scales said her grandmother had custody of Jaquilla because Scales was so young.

Scales had another baby by this time, a 2-year-old boy. She and the children had their own room in the back of the house.

That Labor Day, Jaquilla asked if she could go over to Scales' aunt's house.

Scales told Jaquilla to go ask Big Mama.

Jaquilla came back and said Big Mama was asleep.

Scales told her to go ahead.

Jaquilla was starting preschool the next day. Scales told her aunt to get Jaquilla back that night.

Scales took her son next door to his grandmother's and walked over to a friend's house at 13th and Grove.

She stayed at her friend's house that night and the next.

She regrets that now, she said.

Jaquilla, she said, went to preschool the day before she disappeared.

Whereabouts unknown

Early on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2001, police knocked on the door of Scales' friend's house. They asked if she had Jaquilla.

"No," she told them.

They asked if she knew where Jaquilla was.

She thought she did.

But Mitchell had called 911 to say the girl was gone.

Records from the 911 call at 4:06 a.m. that Wednesday said Mitchell "advised she just woke up and one of her grandchildren are missing." Jaquilla, 4 years old and about 40 pounds, had last been seen about 9:30 p.m. at bedtime, the 911 report said.

The story back then was that Jaquilla had been asleep in a bed with Mitchell and her little brother, Marcus. Scales said she's heard different versions of the night: that they were asleep, that Mitchell had been in the bathroom when Jaquilla disappeared.

Efforts to interview Mitchell for this story were unsuccessful.

The dispatcher said Mitchell reported she had custody of the girl and was "not sure if mother would have snuck in and took the child."

Mitchell identified the mother as Scales, said she was 19 and told dispatchers she "normally stays in the area of 13/Grove."

Mitchell told 911 she had checked that area.

There were a lot of people in and out of Jaquilla's life.

But not one of them knew where she was.

Rumors abound

Mitchell told Scales that someone came in the back door and took Jaquilla.

Scales can't imagine that.

A chow named Bebe — pronounced "bay bay" — was always tied up by the back door. The door was broken and didn't lock.

That dog would bark at anyone. He'd bark at Scales, and he was her dog.

There were no signs of a struggle at the house. No blood.

Rumors flew.

Some people thought a family member had taken Jaquilla, hoping to give her a better life. There were suggestions Jaquilla might have been molested and whoever was hurting her took her to shut her up.

Some people thought she had been sold.

Police questioned Scales. They gave her a lie detector test.

They questioned her aunt, her aunt's husband, her grandmother, the people next door.

Scales had seen "this type of stuff on TV, but I never thought it could happen to me."

Police and the state took away her son, concerned about living conditions at the home.

"What else is going to get taken away from me?" she wondered.

She went into depression. She shut everyone out. She holed up in a room.

She wanted to give up.

Extensive search

Lt. Roy Mitchell was starting his first day in charge of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Child Unit.

He wasn't new to detective work, but he hadn't run an investigation like this before.

The Virginia native who never lost his southern drawl initially sent his sergeant out on the call.

Then he sent out more people.

"We threw more resources, more resources, more resources at it. There was quite a search in the neighborhood."

Soon, pretty much everyone on the sixth floor of City Hall, where detectives work, was on the case.

Doug Nolte had just been promoted too, to lieutenant as the night investigations supervisor.

Lt. Ken Landwehr, head of homicide, called him to say a little girl was missing. Nolte was told to stick with Landwehr instead of working nights.

Nolte kept thinking there would be a phone call from someone who said, "Hey, I have her."

But investigators had contacted enough people that that didn't seem likely.

Police searched on foot, by air and in the water.

The ground search for Jaquilla was massive and included Grove Park, the Big Ditch and fields near 33rd and Hillside.

The neighborhood was gridded off, with officers walking shoulder to shoulder.

They tried to put themselves in the mind of a 4-year-old girl. If she had just walked off — which seemed unlikely — where might she have gone?

The sun shined 591 minutes that day.

Everyone worked well into the night.

The community wanted to help.

They called police with sightings of the little girl. Police would rush out, like they did to a Burger King at 21st and Piatt where someone thought they had seen her.

The girl was much younger than Jaquilla.

A woman called to report she'd found a teddy bear and four children's VHS tapes at 15th and Poplar streets. They didn't have anything to do with the case, Detective Timothy Relph said.

The Saturday after Jaquilla disappeared, hundreds of people walked neighborhoods, fields, parks, looking for the little girl, whose face had been plastered on fliers.

Searchers wore orange vests and yellow ribbons.

Police dogs came along. The owner of a horse ranch offered three horses so searchers could probe creeks and brush. A helicopter flew above.

Volunteers lined up to scour fields near 33rd North and Hillside, pushing through sunflowers 8 feet tall.

Still no Jaquilla.

Not a week later, terrorists flew planes into buildings on Sept. 11.

The country focused on that tragedy, not on a little black girl missing in Kansas.

Keeping up hope

There's never been another case like Jaquilla's for Wichita police. There have been other missing children, such as 9-year-old Nancy Shoemaker, who was kidnapped, raped and murdered, but their cases have been solved.

Jaquilla's case remains open.

Roy Mitchell, who left police work and runs a trucking company back home in Virginia, thinks about Jaquilla from time to time.

When she went missing, his oldest daughter wasn't yet 1, and his son was 2 1/2.

"You think, what if that was mine? You go places and you don't let your kids out of sight. You teeter on paranoia."

He won't talk about what he thinks happened to Jaquilla. Police developed suspects. They won't talk about them.

"It was a missing kid case and a set of bad circumstances."

Nolte doesn't know if Jaquilla is dead or alive.

Other investigators are sure she's dead, he said.

"For me, it's just easier not to close that door."

The statistics are against finding Jaquilla alive. Ten years is a long time.

Jaquilla's picture remains tucked under the visor of two detectives' cars today. And police are about to update DNA samples for databases.

"Hope rarely correlates with statistics," Relph said.

A distant memory

A child on a scooter whizzes by the house on Volutsia.

A welcome sign under the mailbox greets visitors.

Darren Pruitt lived across the street back then. On a recent hot day, he was washing his mother's car in the driveway.

He remembers police blocking off the road and coming into his house. They looked in small spaces for Jaquilla, in cabinets, under tables. They searched the backyard.

There were a lot of stories back then about what could have happened to Jaquilla.

Pruitt admits he doesn't think of her much.

"Just another day."

"It's sad. But ain't never had no body come up."

'I feel like she's coming home'

Blocks north, Scales visits her paternal grandmother, Pearlie Mae Muldrow.

Jaquilla isn't dead to them.

They keep hope. God gives it to them.

But Scales worries that if Jaquilla came home, she wouldn't recognize her as her mother.

She would, Muldrow says.

Scales cries.

"My life ain't been the same. They take something very precious from me, and I didn't do nothing to nobody. I was 14 when I had her. I had to hurry up and grow up and learn how to take care of a baby."

She got her son back many years ago. He's 12 and lives with her. She said it's hard raising him, but she tries to do her best.

He thinks she's overprotective.

They live a few blocks south of the house where Jaquilla disappeared.

Scales worries that Jaquilla would judge her, think she didn't do enough to find her. For a while, she lived in New York. She said she had to get away. She hasn't spoken to the police in a few years.

There's a matter-of-factness about Scales, now 29, that seems to hint at what she's been through. Many people think she's strong, but she's just good at keeping everything bottled up inside, she said. She'd like to get counseling. She'd like to hire a private investigator to help find Jaquilla.

She said she thinks of her girl when she goes to sleep, when she wakes up, when she's at work at a nursing home.

"My cousin got five kids, you know, and she got three daughters. I tell her, like, 'I know it's hard to raise them, but thank God that you even have yours because mine is out there and I don't even know where mine's at.

"'Every day you should hug them, kiss them and tell them you love them because you don't know what will happen the next day.' "

Muldrow is 72.

"I feel like somebody have her," she said of her great-granddaughter. "I feel like she's coming home. I just pray that I still be alive when this happen."

They both pray someone will speak up about what happened to Jaquilla.

If you have her, they say, just let her go.

Let her come home.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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