Published 10:14 am Wednesday, September 24, 2003
By By Connie Nowlin Managing Editor
Around town and throughout the community, the posters that say 'Missing' and show the face of Melinda Wall McGhee are beginning to fade from the sun of a long summer.
In some windows, the heat of that sun caused the tape holding the flier to let go its grip, and perhaps the page was not replace with a new one.
Day after long day has dragged by for the Wall-McGhee clan, days with no word of what has become of their daughter, wife, sister, friend.
McGhee left her job about at Oakland Nursing Home in Bay Minette at 7 a.m. on March 23.
She went home and called her mother, as she did every day when she got in from the night shift at the nursing home.
She also talked to her husband, Troy, at his job at Masland Carpets.
They discussed who would pick up the children, then 7 and 1, from the babysitter.
Troy McGhee said he would, since it was spring break, and let his wife sleep a little later in the afternoon.
It was the last time anyone heard from her.
According to family, that evening, the McGhees, Troy, his son, 15, and the couple's children, returned to the trailer they all shared on Kent Road, arriving about 3:45 p.m.
The children took turns waking up McGhee, but this time the child who ran ahead couldn't find her.
Instead he came back to his father and told him there was blood in the house and mommy wasn't there.
Frightened, he called McGhee's mother, Ouida Wall, and asked if she knew where her daughter was.
No, she had not, but if there was blood, had he checked the hospitals?
Melinda McGhee had varicose veins, and the family was concerned that one had ruptured or been injured, and she had sought medical attention.
But a check with the area hospitals turned up nothing. That was when Troy McGhee called the law. The time was 3:59 p.m.
From there, the world of the Wall-McGhee family spun out of control.
According to reports broadcast on television stations, blood wasn't the only clue at the scene.
McGhee's keys were in her vehicle, which was locked according to her sister. That wasn't unusual, though, since she often locked them in by accident.
But her handbag and cell phone were in the house, and those are things that she would have taken along if she were going out of her own accord.
Besides, said Melinda's sister, Amanda, in that family when anyone went anywhere, even to the store for a loaf of bread, they called the other members of the family first to ask if there was anything needed. They were just that close-knit.
As the days passed, the search for evidence continued, but proved elusive.
Saturday, the sixth day after her disappearance, there was a search of a 40-mile radius around McGhee's home. Officers from Mobile, Monroe and Baldwin counties' sheriffs' department, as well as Escambia County, Fla., Atmore and Pritchard police departments, Atmore, Perdido and Walnut Hill fire departments, the Alabama Bureau of Investigations, and the Marines joined in the search, as did hundreds of just plain citizens.
The search turned up little, and nothing was released by the sheriff's office.
In early April, a fund-raiser was held to help with expenses of the family and to put toward a reward.
In late April, Atmore investigators traveled to Louisiana to check on the serial killings terrorizing the Baton Rouge area. Although it was hoped there were connections between the two cases, those hopes were dashed.
A reward was offered in June, when Gov. Bob Riley added another $5,000 to the amount already raised.
Meanwhile, the Wall-McGhee family does the best it can to hold itself together, as days and weeks roll by, including what would have been the celebration of Melinda McGhee's 32nd birthday June 3rd.
"I'm angry," said her sister, Amanda McGhee.
"Angry that there are no answers. Angry that whoever did this took away our right to bury her. And we don't have anybody to blame."
The sisters were the oldest of the family, only 15 months apart and very close. Because they are close, Amanda could discount some of the rumors about her sister from the get-go.
"If there had been a stalker, I would have known. And I know she didn't just leave. I want to be able to tell her children she didn't just leave. I know she'd be here if she could."
Amanda said her parents are holding up as well as any family could under that kind of stress.
"Mama is strong, but she's up one day and down the next," she said. "She told me that God will give us an answer one day."
The family talks about Melinda and brainstorms about ways to keep the case high profile almost every day. They have talked to the America's Most Wanted program, consulted with private investigators and are considering contacting John Walsh for an appearance on his talk show that examines cases like Melinda's disappearance.
Most recently, the evidence has been sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigations in Mobile to be forwarded to the lab in Quanitco, Va.
"We have had the case reviewed by several agencies to see if they could spot any weaknesses," said Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith. He said having the FBI analyze the evidence is in the same vein.
"We are not criticizing the state lab, we are checking and rechecking the evidence. A fresh set of eyes on the evidence may turn up clues. They may have tests they recommend."
The loss of her sister has changed Amanda's outlook on things in ways that the ordinary person might not expect.
"I used to believe there was good in people. Now I just keep my mouth shut, because I don't know who I can trust.
"I don't listen to music anymore. It either reminds me of her, because we listened to it together, or I think she would like it. I don't listen to the TV news."
But one thing Amanda McGhee said she always does is to check other fliers carefully.
"I feel guilty because I never used to pay attention (to the fliers) I would look at it and think, 'how sad.' Now I study them and hope I know them, because I know somebody, some other family, is out there going through the same thing we're going through.
Smith echoes those thoughts.
"Any one who knows something, or think you know something, no matter how trivial, that may be the clue we are looking for. The community has stood behind the family, and we ask that if you have questions or information, call law enforcement, not the family. We ask that you spare them that."