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Tip prompts ECSO to search two septic tanks

By By Adam Prestridge
Escambia County sheriff Grover Smith put to rest numerous rumors that the body of Melinda McGhee, who has been missing nearly five years, was found on a dirt road near the Poarch Creek Indian Reservation.
"We had information that Melinda McGhee might be in a septic tank off Atmosphere Road behind an abandoned house," Smith said Friday afternoon. "So we had a crew show up to the site this morning including, FBI agents, some officers who worked a similar detail with the Bay Minette Police Department and several of my deputies, and the county sent a backhoe out there and we dug up two septic tanks and completely emptied both of them. We did not find a body and there was no indication that she was ever there."
According to one rumor, an inmate at the Escambia County Detention Center in Brewton offered up information leading deputies to the site of a burned home on Jack Road just off Atmosphere Road. Smith stated that report was just that, rumor.
"The tip came about by some information, but it wasn't an inmate at the jail," Smith said. "It was a result of several interviews that led to this person being interviewed. That's how it came about."
Smith said two septic tanks, a "new" one and an "old" one, were dug up and drained at a burned down home off Jack Road, but nothing was discovered.
McGhee disappeared from her home on Kent Road in Atmore on March 24, 2003 after an all-night nursing shift at Oakland Nursing Home in Bay Minette. Smith stated in previous interviews that the 31-year-old mother of three worked 12-hour nights at the nursing home and at 7 or 8 that morning she called her mother to tell her that she was going home to sleep.
Her husband worked days at Masland Carpet and was already at work when his wife returned home. He picked up their children from school that afternoon and returned to the house to find Melinda missing.
Since McGhee’s puzzling disappearance, Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson has allowed the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office part-time assistance from cold case investigator Tommy Calhoun, a retired Commander of the Criminal Investigative Division for the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office at the suggestion of former Mobile Police chief Sam Cochran. Since February 2006, Calhoun has worked diligently on the McGhee case, interviewing and re-interviewing persons of interest, re-evaluating evidence and running down leads.
As for Friday’s early morning lead into the case, Smith said his office and others involved went to the scene knowing that there was “low probability” of discovering McGhee or any additional clues.
Smith said his office and Calhoun would continue to work the investigation thoroughly in hopes of another lead that could possibly close the case.
The Poarch Police Department and Poarch Volunteer Fire Department also assisted the sheriff’s office during Friday’s dig.
Anyone with information about Melinda McGhee's disappearance is asked to contact the Escambia County Sheriff's Office at 251-809-2141.