The lost years
When Red left for Florida, he severed ties with everyone--Lil and the boys, his parents, his friends. His sister Wilda Mae noted this in a letter she sent to me in 1997. I have wondered many times where John R's children were, she wrote, for I never got to see him after he left Sanford, NC. Red's brother-in-law Bill, who still lives a mere seven miles from Sanford where the family once would gather, echoed Wilda Mae's sentiment in a phone conversation we had last October: "We just lost track of Red once he moved to Florida."
What happened there is largely a mystery. The records of his time in Florida are sparse, but my search turned up a few documents to fill in some details. I learned that he remarried in 1971, but the marriage lasted less than one year, so it seems fairly likely that Red brought the same troubles to this marriage that he had tried to leave behind in North Carolina. After the divorce record, however, the trail in Florida dead ends.
Since I had noted on the Social Security Death Index that Red eventually died in Sumter, South Carolina, I searched the county's public records hoping to stumble upon something useful. It was there that I found two important leads: a probate document listing a woman named Rounette as Red's wife, and a Power of Attorney appointing his sister-in-law as his agent. The sister-in-law was still listed in the white pages, so I sent her a letter outlining the story of Red's disappearance.
A few days later, I received a call from Rounette's sister.
"We were devastated to get your letter," she said, her syrupy drawl polite but distraught. "We had no idea about any of this."