CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories
IN SEARCH OF HIS SON
FATHER STILL SEEKS INFORMATION ON TUPELO’S OLDEST MISSING PERSON CASE
By Cynthia M. Jeffries
A phone call that occurred Feb. 7, 1986, is one H.G. Seal Jr. can’t seem to forget. It was the last time the Tupelo man heard from his only child, John Edward.
“He went to Memphis that Friday. He had a 2:45 (p.m.) appointment at the V.A. Hospital,” Seal said.
About three hours later, John Seal called his father to tell him he was on his way home.
That was the last time the now 85-year-old man heard from his son.
Wednesday marks the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of John Seal, which the Tupelo Police Department considers its oldest missing person case.
Feb. 7, 1986
The day started out much like any other. John Seal, who lived with his parents in their West Jackson Street home, rose early along with his father to prepare for their day at the family business, Seal’s Discount Food Market, now called Uptown Deli and Grocery on Spring Street.
John Seal, a twice-divorced father of three, took off work early to prepare for his trip to Memphis. The 50-year-old Army veteran was going for follow-up care on an eardrum operation that had been performed in December.
The younger Seal kept his appointment in Memphis. A letter received weeks later from the hospital confirmed that. So did a phone bill which showed the elder Seal accepted a collect call at 6:08 p.m. on Feb. 7, 1986, from a pay phone at the hospital.
“He always called me to let me know where he was,” Seal said. “He was bad about using that telephone.”
In that phone call, John Seal told his father he was getting ready to make the 100-mile trek back to his Tupelo home.
He never made it.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t ask him more or say more to him. If I knew it would have been my last time, I would have,” Seal said.
Seal didn’t immediately report his son missing. He said he didn’t think he had anything to be worried about at first. He thought his son’s plans might have changed and he had decided to stay in Memphis a little longer.
Former Tupelo Police Chief and family friend Ed Crider said John Seal did drink a little on occasions.
But by the end of the next day, Feb. 8, Seal’s concern had grown. Three days later, Feb. 10, Seal called his friend Crider to report his son missing.
“I knew something was wrong,” the senior Seal said.
The car is found
On Feb. 9, about 8:20 a.m., a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer spotted a 1976 white-and-tan Lincoln Continental stuck in the median along U.S. Highway 78, east of the Belden exit. The car, which had not yet been reported stolen or missing, was towed to West’s Garage in Verona.
After the missing person report was filed, Tupelo police and Lee County sheriff’s deputies began searching garages in Tupelo, according to old newspaper reports. Crider said he sent two of his officers to Memphis for two weeks where they searched junkyards, questioned hospital personnel and checked the morgue for unidentified bodies.
His officers got assistance from Memphis and Shelby County authorities and even contacted authorities in California, where John Seal had friends. But Tupelo authorities never looked in the neighboring town of Verona.
The car stayed in the Verona garage for 70 days before law enforcement officers tracked it down there. All of John Edward Seal’s belongings were in the car except a tan coat. A pack and a half of cigarettes and some money were found on the front seat. Authorities did not find anything that suggested foul play.
Seal drove the car home and parked it under his back carport, where it remains today. Until two years ago, Seal was renewing the car tag yearly. For several years, Seal said he would start up the car twice a week to keep the motor in good condition.
The car is now covered with dust and grime. The interior is tattered. All four tires are flat. Seal doesn’t bother it too often. He said he doesn’t want to tamper with any evidence that could still be in or on the car.
After the car was found, authorities began massive searches, dragging lakes and ponds in Lee County.
“We even tried to pump one dry once,” Crider said.
But to no avail.
Crider said “a good bit a money” was spent trying to find John Seal.
“Whatever it cost, it was well worth it,” Crider said.
Seal estimates he spent between $10,000 and $15,000 of his own money taking out ads in newspapers and offering rewards for information on his son’s whereabouts. He said he also paid several people for what later turned out to be useless information.
Seal said information about the possible whereabouts of his son still filters in to him on occasion. But nowadays, he’s not paying for it.
“I know he’s not alive now,” Seal said. “You couldn’t tear him away from Tupelo this long had he been alive.”
Still getting tips
Tips also continue to filter in to authorities. Last fall, the Lee County Sheriff’s Department received information that Seal’s body might have been in a lake in the Brewer community.
Tupelo Police Capt. Harold Chaffin said the Tupelo Fire Department’s dive team was used to search the area but came up with nothing.
“You got to check every one of (your leads). As time goes on, they get fewer and farther between,” Chaffin said.
There is no time limit on missing person cases, Chaffin said. But, the longer a person is missing, the harder it becomes to locate the person, he said.
During the last decade, several rumors about John Seal’s disappearance have surfaced. One is that he was killed and buried for insurance purposes. Another, this one from a New York psychic contacted by H.G. Seal, said John Seal may have been killed by two hitchhikers and buried.
“You always have hope that you will find him. Who knows, he could come up alive, though I doubt it,” Crider said.
A memorable collection
Over the years, Seal, who lives alone since his wife’s death in 1993, has collected yellowing, flimsy newspaper clippings about his son’s disappearance and the rewards he has offered. Every letter he received from law enforcement officials, the FBI, psychics and concerned citizens about John Seal’s disappearance are also in there, along with bills. Seal also has several spiral notebooks in which he has scribbled notes from conversations and events that occurred before and after his son’s disappearance.
Seal keeps all the material bundled together in a tattered, brown envelope stored in a room his son once slept in.
“I don’t expect to find him, but I don’t give up hope,” Seal said. “If he’s found now, it’s going to be luck.”