James Rufus Williams.jpg

A Florida woman is reaching out to the Old Fort community to see if they know what happened to her family member over 60 years ago.

Nancy Starr, of Fort Myers, Florida sent a flier to the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office and Old Fort Police Department asking them to open up a case file on her first cousin, James Rufus Williams, who disappeared without a trace sometime in April 1955.

“Family members who were around in 1955 stated that he was reported missing, and the authorities made efforts to find him, including dragging areas of the Catawba River, but he was never located,” the flier says.

According to Starr, Williams worked at the Old Fort Finishing plant, and on the day of his disappearance, he went to work as usual but left because he wasn’t feeling well, or had forgotten something. He was allegedly last seen walking along the railroad tracks in Old Fort.

“His stepdaughter recalled that he had been having high blood pressure problems days before his disappearance,” according to the flier. “Since the day he disappeared, he has never had any contact with his mother, siblings, wife, children or anyone else. He was declared dead by Social Security seven years after his disappearance.”

Starr said there was a missing persons report made to the police. Capt. Shanon Smith of the McDowell County Sherriff’s Office and Chief Melvin Lytle of the Old Fort Police Department said there are no records during that time. Lytle said he would keep the flier on file in case anything surfaces on his whereabouts, and would assist in any way he can.

Williams was born on May 7, 1927 in Transylvania, N.C., to James Marion Williams and Florence Ellington Johnson Williams. His name at birth was Rufus Williams, but was known mostly by James. He grew up in Old Fort and lived on Route 1 with his four siblings who are all deceased—Ellis Martin Williams, Amanda Williams Nanney, Grace Williams Edwards and Hazel Williams Robinson.

Starr said she found where he registered for the WWII draft at age 18, and was living at the Cross Mill Rural Station in Marion.

“We believe he served in the Marines,” Starr said.

On Oct. 21, 1950, Williams married Mary Margaret Lanning Conner. She died in 1972. Together, they had two daughters Sandra and Debbie. Conner had a child from a previous marriage named Charlene. Sandra passed in 2011.

“Relatives living in the area confirm that James and his family lived in Old Fort at the time of his disappearance,” the flier said. “His youngest daughter is still alive and currently lives in Destin, Florida. She was only 1 years old when her father disappeared, so she has no recollection of her father or his disappearance. James’s stepdaughter (Charlene) remembers there were attempts made to find him, but no evidence has been found to determine what might have happened to him.”

Starr said from family accounts, Williams was a loving father with a loving family. However, he was known to binge drink on occasion and become mean-spirited when drinking. She believes that it’s possible he could have become sick and died, harmed or possibly murdered and hasn’t been discovered.

“Over all these years, the family had no reason to believe that he ever left McDowell County voluntarily,” said the flier. “He was not known to be in debt or have any other problems to cause him to the leave the area.”

Starr was six years old at the time of his disappearance, and although she spent many days in Old Fort, her family lived in New Jersey. Her mother and Williams’ mother were sisters.

If you have any information, feel free to contact her at nlstarr@hotmail.com or call 239-634-1589.

The nation’s silent mass disaster

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a story by Nancy Ritter, a writer/editor at the National Institute of Justice and editor of the NIJ Journal. It appears on the NIJ website (www.nij.gov/journals/256/pages/missing-persons.aspx).

On any given day, there are as many as 100,000 active missing persons cases in the United States. Every year, tens of thousands of people vanish under suspicious circumstances. Viewed over a 20-year period, the number of missing persons can be estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

Due in part to sheer volume, missing persons and unidentified human remains cases are a tremendous challenge to state and local law enforcement agencies. The workload for these agencies is staggering: More than 40,000 sets of human remains that cannot be identified through conventional means are held in the evidence rooms of medical examiners throughout the country. But only 6,000 of these cases—15 percent—have been entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.


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