In 1997, Jacob Whitt was a 21-year-old anxious to get out of his tiny Central Florida hometown and start a life somewhere new. Truckers passing through told him Dallas was the place to move if he wanted to make some money, so that August he headed west, moving in with an uncle who lived in Kennedale.
Five months later, he was gone.
He left an unclaimed paycheck at the Forest Hill office supply factory where he worked, an empty hotel room paid through the next 10 days, and a mother back in Florida left to wonder why he quit calling home.
"We have searched for our son for 12 years, cried and prayed," she says, but when the Ellis County Sheriff's office told her a DNA sample she'd provided had been matched to a body found outside Waxahachie in September 1998 -- a suicide -- her worst fears turned to anger.
From her home in Haines City, Fla., Whitt's mother Theresa Freitas spoke with Unfair Park over the phone yesterday, telling the story of her decade-long search, her attempts to get new information from Texas Rangers and local police, and how a brief phone call late last month changed everything.
"I know what they think. They think I'm a hysterical mother and I just won't admit that he would actually do that," Freitas says.
"I can tell you when I got off the phone, they didn't prove anything to me. I begged them, please open this case, please investigate it. i dont think this case was every investigated by anyone," says Freitas, who wonders why her son's missing person report from Forest Hill never registered when a body turned up in the woods in Ellis County, 30 miles down Highway 287. Inside a sleeping bag, still wearing work boots, the body had no wallet, identification or suicide note, says W.B. "Ozzie" Allsbrook, a Fort Worth private investigator who's been searching for Whitt since 1998.
"If Jacob had had his money on him, his ID on him, and all those things were there, I might buy off on it," Allsbrooks says. "But none of it was there. A person who was going to kill themselves, why in the world would they not want someone to find him to contact hteir loved ones?"
Allsbrooks says he handed over his report to Texas Rangers years ago to investigate the cold case, but neither he nor Freitas heard of anything from their investigations. "If she had been a promminent citizen, if she had been well to do, if she had been in Texas they might've paid a little more attention to it" he says."I know they have a heavy case load."
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"All the physical evidence suggests that it was a suicide," Lt. Jason Westmoreland of the Ellis County Sheriff's Department told us. "I completely understand -- if that was my mother, from her standpoint, I would want to leave no stone unturned." Along with the lack of physical evidence pointing to foul play, Westmoreland said the Dallas County Medical Examiner's report ruled the death a suicide as well. "If we disagreed, we would just continue investigating it," Westmoreland says, but for now there's no reason for to open up the case.
Still, Freitas wonders how her son, who lived across the street from his job and didn't own a car, would've gotten to the woods 30 miles away, and doubts her son, who always hated guns, would've bought the .44 caliber handgun with a scraped-off serial number found in the woods with his body.
After 12 years of wondering what happened, Freitas is embarking on a new search -- for answers about how her son died, and why.
For now, she's just working on returning his body from an anonymous grave near Dallas to his Florida hometown.