Wednesday, January 16, 2008

All-American Girl

The Kidnapping of Dee Scofield
by Robert A. Waters

It was one o’clock on Thursday, July 22, 1976.

Highway 40 cut across the center of Florida and through the heart of a town that was quickly becoming a city. Ocala. Locally, the highway was called Silver Springs Boulevard. The Florida Highway Patrol station sat near the eastern edge of town, on the Boulevard. You couldn’t miss it—-an ugly red and white metal tower stood behind it, rising maybe two hundred feet into the sky.

Lena Scofield and her twelve-year-old daughter, Dorothy, nicknamed “Dee,” arrived a few minutes after noon. Lena needed to get her driver’s license renewed, and Dee had accompanied her mother. At four-feet-ten, and weighing nearly one hundred pounds, Dee was beginning to develop a figure. She wore blue jeans, a red blouse, and brown tennis shoes. She had brown braided hair and wore glasses with teardrop-shaped gold frames.

While in line, Dee asked to walk over to the J. M. Fields department store. She’d recently bought a pair of sandals there and wanted to exchange them. The store was about a football field’s-length from the Highway Patrol station.

According to an article in the Ocala Star-Banner, “Mrs. Schofield (sic) first indicated displeasure with the idea, but then relented, telling her daughter if she got through first, she was to return to the FHP station. In turn, Mrs. Schofield (sic) said if she got through with the test first, she would go to the shopping center and meet her daughter.”

As the sun scorched the parking lot between the FHP station and J. M. Fields, Dee walked away, swinging her bag with the sandals.

By one o’clock, Lena was done. She drove over to Fields and began looking for her daughter. She spoke to several clerks who’d seen Dee in the store. At least one employee had noticed the girl leave through the double-doors at the store’s entrance.

Thinking that they’d missed each other, Lena drove back to the FHP station. When she couldn’t find her daughter, she reported Dee missing to the officer in charge.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers interviewed Lena. They learned that Dee was an honor student at Marion Middle School. During the summer, she’d been working at her parent’s barbecue restaurant. According to police, she was “obedient...from a close-knit family.”

An All-American girl, police didn’t believe she would have run away. Using the FHP station as a base, Joe and Lena Scofield waited for information. All Lena could do was cry and second-guess herself. How could someone just vanish from a crowded parking lot?

Joe was in shock. Marion County, he thought, is larger than some states. Much of it is rural. “You could go three or four miles from here,” Joe said, “and find thousands of places to hide somebody.”

The Ocala Police Department had jurisdiction, but troopers from the Florida Highway Patrol and deputies from the Marion County Sheriff’s Department helped in the search for Dee. A sales receipt confirmed that she’d been in the department store and had exchanged her sandals. A clerk remembered the girl browsing at the jewelry counter. Investigators and employees searched every inch of the store. Then they moved next door to a bowling alley that was under construction. They worked their way across the Boulevard to the Sears Town Plaza. Throughout the afternoon, police and volunteers combed the area.

There were few leads. In fact, investigators initially labeled the disappearance as a “missing persons case” because there was no solid evidence to show that Dee had been abducted.

Then they got the only clue they would ever get.

Nuby Shealey’s store is a landmark in Marion County. It sits at the intersection of Highway 40 and State Road Highway 314, less than a mile from the Ocala National Forest. It is a combination gas station and restaurant and bait shop. Locally, it has always been known as “Nuby’s.”

When the good old boys show up, one of the major topics is whether there’s a world record bass in one of the thousands of lakes and ponds that dot the Forest. They still laugh about the former chef who drove in from Mississippi and “guaranteed” that he would catch the record bass. He claimed to have a secret bait. Turns out he used wild eels, something unheard of among the locals. After a year of frustration, he gave up and went back to cooking.

The day after Dee vanished, detectives interviewed a clerk at Nuby’s. According to an article in the Star-Banner, “A woman employe (sic) at the store positively identified a young girl who had been in the store as the missing Schofield (sic) girl.” Sergeant Gordon Welch of the Ocala Police Department said the clerk “described the girl and clothing she was wearing before police presented her with a description.” The clerk said that the girl entered the store with two men--she was shaking and crying and looked uncomfortable.

Because of this tip, the search shifted to the Ocala National Forest. The Forest is huge. It consists of more than six hundred square miles of scrubland and swamp. Wild critters such as bears, alligators, coyotes, and bobcats roam the Forest. It’s a hunter’s delight, and every year hundreds of deer are bagged. Dozens of ten-pound bass are taken from Forest waters annually. Unfortunately, it’s also a good place to hide a body.

Police and volunteers fanned out, trudging through the rattlesnake-infested hills and slogging through cotton-mouth swamps. Hunting cabins were checked. A helicopter flew over the area for days, looking for any sign of the missing girl. The desperation of the searchers was evident when the cops turned to self-professed psychics for help. As usual, they offered only vague leads that came to nothing.

The Scofields offered a $ 1,000 reward, all they could afford. They moved into a trailer near the Forest. Dozens of family members from all over the country converged on the trailer. Lena and the women cooked all day and manned the phones while the men searched.

Day after day, the searchers went out fresh and hopeful, only to return filthy and exhausted and discouraged.

In the end, it was all a dead-end. The searchers went home, the cops gave up, and the case went cold.

It’s been more than 30 years since Dorothy “Dee” Scofield disappeared. Unless her abductor is still alive, no one knows what happened to her. During those early days of the search, Lena vocalized her frustration. “I just can’t imagine why they took her,” she said. “No, I can imagine a lot of reasons, but I don’t want to admit it to myself. [This] person has got to be sick.”


PFC Waters said...

I don't believe that highway patrol station is still there, nor have I ever seen a huge metal tower. I also have never heard of J.M. Fields or Nuby's. I believe Albertson's Grocery Store now occupies the location of the famous Sears building that no one my age has ever seen.

This small town certainly has grown to be a major city.

Days fan said...

All those places do/did exist. I clearly remember the HM Feilds store, high metal tower, FHP station, Nuby's corner with the store. I was 12 when this happened. My parents became very protective. I feel so sorry for this family. I pray they found peace.

Still wonder said...

The buildings were all there as described. I was in my senior year at Ocala High School and worked part-time in the credit department of JM Fields. It made a major impact on me and I often wonder what happened to Dee. I know that her family would like to know. I hope that someday the abduction will be solved.

Unknown said...

I remember when she went missing. It was a scary and sad time. I was the same age and lived a mile or so from JM Fields. My friends and I rode our bikes all around that area. Never had anyone try to harm us in any way except a pedo in our neighborhood who would try to touch us. Ocala was a very safe little town at the time. I have never heard if there was a description of the two men that the store clerk at Nuby's saw. I didn't know Dee but her photo is imprinted in my mind and I have always hoped they would find her or at least find closure for her family.

Unknown said...

i was nine years old when this happened. my parents ran the Ocala star banner paper routes in the forest, So I read the paper everyday. always hoped they would solve this in my lifetime.I always wondered if ted bundy could have been involved.The other tradgedy was the killing of trisha gail Thornley. but her killer was found and put to death by the state

Gina said...

Dorothy's mom, Lena, and my dad were first cousins. I didn't even know about this story until a few years ago. I was only 7 when she disappeared. While doing genealogy work, I came across the sad tale of my cousin Dorothy. I talked to my dad about it and he told me Lena was never the same, she never got over it. It broke up their marriage and she stayed there until she died waiting to find Dorothy. I couldn't even I. Agine the pain.

T Rich said...

A description of the two men would be very important I read where Henry Lee Lucas and ottis toole met for the first time in Jacksonville at a soup kitchen in 1976 and started their murderous travels together. I was thinking how close Ocala is to Jacksonville not that far
I was also thinking and wondering if there were any construction workers at the bowling alley site next door to the department store also Hunters usually hunt in pairs could it be possible that there were two male Hunters in the area. This is a very haunting case it appears to be a crime of opportunity

Unknown said...

I remember vividly as my mom and dad both worked at the Ocala police dept and my sister who was around same age and build as dorothy...had posed as the body with red t-shirt and blue jeans so they could release the picture of what she was wearing at the time of her disappearance. I remember there was a jack in the box being built next to the hwy patrol station as well. I have always prayed that they would find dorothy and solve this case. Has anyone ever confessed ?