Daily Home, The (Talladega, AL)
February 6, 2005

Section: localnews
10 years later, no clues to Sylacauga man's disappearance
Author: Denise Sinclair
Article Text:
The disappearance of a man who went into the woods on a simple root-gathering trip remains a mystery more than 10 years later.
Miles "Uncle Buddy" Morris Jr., 80, left his home at 190 Comet Lane in Sylacauga on foot around noon June 7, 1994, and has not been seen since.
He was going in search of yellow root. The herb is a folk remedy in parts of the South and is used for throat and stomach disorders.
"When he left, he supposedly had a pick and a croker sack," Morris's niece said in a story in The Daily Home as the search got under way.
He often went into the woods near his home to dig up the herbs, she said.
His wife, Louise, had left for a doctor's appointment sometime before 2 p.m. that day. She became worried after he failed to come home and contacted Sylacauga police.
Police Chief Louis Zook, in looking over Morris's file recently, said Mrs. Morris called the department around 9:20 p.m.
When he left home, Morris was believed to have been wearing faded blue overalls, a plaid shirt, wading boots and a white ball cap.
A massive search and rescue operation was launched, involving departments from across Talladega County and as far away as Trussville.
The Childersburg Fire Department's Hazardous Materials Unit was used as a communications center for the rescue operation. Retired Police Chief Billy Hay said the search continued for days.
And to this day, Zook said, there has been no evidence, not a piece of material or anything, that would give a clue to Morris's disappearance.
Hay said it was the biggest search he had seen in his 22 years of law enforcement.
"We used every means of law enforcement materials we had back then to find him. We had our best investigators, Kenneth Brasher and Wayne Murchison, on the case," he said.
Victim of a crime
Hay said he has always felt Morris was abducted and murdered.
"I'm close to that family. I have always hoped closure would come. It never has, but I still have hope," he said.
Brasher, a captain with the Police Department at the time of Morris's disappearance, said in a newspaper interview on the last day of the search, "We've exhausted everything we know. We've used local and out-of-town state dogs, helicopters, horses, ATVs, and every rescue and fire unit in this and surrounding counties. If there are any developments, we'll be right back out here."
Brasher, who coordinated the search, remembers the effort as massive.
"We threw all our resources on it. We even had a psychic out there. We hunted for him ‘round the clock," he said.
One of the volunteers helping with the search was the late Mayor James Payton. He spent hours lending a hand.
He said in a newspaper story that he was proud of the job the volunteers had done.
"This is an indication of the caliber of the folks in this area. We've had people come in from Trussville, Gardendale, Munford, Talladega, even Clay County this morning that said, ‘Here we are, what can we do,'" Payton told The Daily Home.
Hay said the Morris family is close-knit and he knows just about every member. He said this case doesn't go away.
"I still think about the family and him. I think he was a victim. That family needs to know what happened to Uncle Buddy. Hopefully, they will one day," he said. "I guess you just don't ever give up on hope."
Hay believes someone knows something about the disappearance. He wonders if some type of reward would bring a tip in that could close the investigation.
Zook agreed that Morris may have been a victim of foul play.
"Although," he said, "none of the information or evidence we have received through the years has risen to the level to either locate his body or determine a motive or name a suspect."
An open case
Zook said the case is still open.
He said to his knowledge there is no other case like this in Sylacauga.
He said his department has received no tips in the past three years.
"Up until that point, periodically we heard some things and would follow up. There are no new leads recently. This case is open and we are continuing to look for information. Anyone that could call and provide us with a new lead, we will follow it," he said.
Some of the information the department heard through the years, Zook said, indicated people thought Morris carried money on him, which he said is not uncommon for older people to do.
Murchison spent a substantial amount of his last years on the police force trying to solve the case.
"He followed up on every tip, spending a lot of time the last five, six and seven years of his life on the job looking into this man's disappearance. He wanted to bring a resolution to it," Zook said.
Being a law enforcement officer for nearly 20 years, Zook said it is a little unusual to go this long and not find something.
"Sometimes there are people out there that may have information and think we know it or may not want to tell it. Today, maybe situations have changed and they could come forward, share it with us. Perhaps through this story someone will step forward, be willing to give us a call, so we can follow up on it," he said.
He, too, wants to see closure for the family. "They want to know what happened. So do we."
When the search by law enforcement and volunteers ended, Morris's family continued looking for him.
They looked at spots in the woods where Morris had gone before to get roots.
Willie J. Williams, his nephew, recalls never finding anything. "We kept the search going for quite awhile. Billy Joe Pope with the Talladega County Sheriff's Department helped us."
Williams said a memorial service was held for Morris Saturday, July 19, 1998, at Shiloh Baptist Church.
"We raised some money and gave it to my aunt. She is still living today and paying insurance on my uncle," he said.
Williams also thinks his uncle was kidnapped and killed.
"I remember someone saying he saw my uncle get picked up by a car. The person that saw it was drunk and couldn't put what he saw into perspective. Someone killed him. If Uncle Buddy had disappeared into the woods, someone would have found him by now," Williams said.
The family has checked wells in the area, followed leads themselves and found nothing.
"One lead by the two investigators was from a guy in prison. I understand he wanted to talk, but died before telling anything. Somebody knows something and they need to talk," Williams said.
Hay can't recall a case that has gone this long that is unsolved.
"I would encourage the public, if they have a tip, to get in touch with the local authorities. Surely, one of these days it will be solved," he said.
Anyone with information on Morris's disappearance may call the Sylacauga Police Department's tip line that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at (256) 249-4716 or call the department at (256) 245-4334.
Retired Sylacauga Police Chief Billy Hay, left, and retired Capt. Kenneth Brasher, who coordinated the search for Morris more than 10 years ago, recall the massive effort to find the missing man. Here, they look over a Daily Home newspaper story about the disappearance. (Denise Sinclair/The Daily Home)