The Unsolved Mystery of the Jamison Family: Murder, Suicide or Something Else?
When the police are informed of a missing persons case, investigations usually follow a similar pattern. With the information available, they form theories about possible scenarios, and as new evidence comes to light, scenarios are eliminated one by one until the case is finally solved. In the case of the Jamison family, however, the investigation did not follow this pattern. With the Jamisons’ disappearance, on the contrary, whenever new information became available, investigators found themselves ever more confounded and further from the truth. To this day, the Jamisons’ case remains unsolved, one of America’s strangest and most baffling mysteries.
A relatively unremarkable family
Although they had their eccentricities, on the surface Bobby and Sherilyn Jamison were a relatively unremarkable couple who liked to keep to themselves. They met in the summer of 2002 and quickly fell in love. They were married less than two years later, and in 2004, Sherilyn gave birth to a baby girl, Madyson. The family lived together in Eufaula, Oklahoma, with Sherilyn’s son from a previous marriage, Colton, although just before their disappearance, Colton had been sent to live with his father.
Life was not always easy for the Jamisons. Sherilyn had been battling with depression ever since her sister died in a freak accident after being stung on the tongue by a bee. Sherilyn had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was sometimes known not to take her medication.
Bobby, too, had his problems. Following a car accident, he suffered from chronic debilitating back pain, leaving him unable to work. The combination of constant pain and financial worries had taken their toll, and he too was struggling with his own depression. It appears their mental health issues had begun to affect their marriage; although Bobby and Sherilyn still loved each other, they were known to argue and had even discussed the possibility of divorce.
The family also had an uneasy relationship with their neighbors, and some believed Sherilyn to be involved with the occult. With her best friend, Niki Shenold, she had bought a “witches’ bible”, and when her cats died from suspected poisoning, she scrawled a bizarre message across a container near her house:
“3 cats killed to date buy [sic] people in this area…witches don’t like there [sic] black cat [sic] killed”.
A fresh start?
Perhaps in need of a fresh start and the chance to save their marriage, the Jamisons became interested in a plot of land for sale in the remote mountains near Red Oak, around 30 miles from where they lived. On 7th October 2009, Bobby, Sherilyn and six-year-old Madyson set off in their truck to view the land, but it seems they lost their way in the backcountry and stopped to ask a man for directions. They decided to return home, but the following day, 8th October, they took their truck and drove back to the mountains. The truck was discovered eight days later, and it became immediately apparent that something was amiss.
The Jamisons were a private family and it was common for them to remain out of touch with friends and family for weeks at a time, so at first, nobody missed them. The few people in the mountains who saw the truck assumed it belonged to gas or oil workers, of whom there were many in the area. It was only when somebody noticed an emaciated dog in the car, Madyson’s puppy Maizy, that the alarm was raised.
When the police arrived, their concern quickly grew. At the scene, there were no signs of struggle, but in the truck, the police discovered the family’s coats, wallets, cell phones and a GPS device. The weather at that time of year was beginning to turn cold, and it seemed that if they had left the truck of their own accord, they had not planned to stay outside for long. Without proper clothing, after eight days in the mountains, their ability to survive was not guaranteed.
Further discoveries were to come. In the truck, an 11-page letter was found, written by Sherilyn to her husband, filled with hate and bitterness. In the letter, Sherilyn referred to him as a “loner” and “hermit” and claimed she wanted a divorce. Suddenly, their disappearance was beginning to show some of the hallmarks of a murder-suicide.
Then another dramatic piece of evidence was uncovered: under the seat, police discovered a bag containing $32,000 in cash. The family were known to carry large amounts of cash from time to time, but this was a significant sum, especially for a family experiencing financial difficulties. In a part of the country known for illicit methamphetamine production, when a large amount of cash is involved, drugs automatically come to mind. The truck was quickly cordoned off and the area became a potential crime scene.
One final and rather incongruous piece of evidence was recovered; with their belongings, police found a prescription pill bottle with the name of an unknown man on the label. Initially, its bearing on the case was undetermined, but it provided an intriguing lead to follow up.
From the beginning, the police had two credible theories to work with. The first was that, due to depression and marital troubles, Sherilyn had taken her husband and daughter into the woods where she had killed them before taking her own life. It was known that Sherilyn owned a .22 pistol that she always carried with her in the truck, but police were unable to locate the weapon, either in the vehicle or at the family’s home. The letter supported this theory, but Niki Shenold argued against it, saying the letter was simply a form of therapy for Sherilyn and she never intended Bobby to read it. Then there was the cash. How did the bag of money tie in with a murder-suicide?
The other theory was the drugs angle, perhaps a deal that went wrong. The unexplained bag of cash certainly hinted at a drugs connection; family and friends had also noticed that both Bobby and Sherilyn had recently lost weight were looking noticeably gaunt, a possible indication of drug use. However, no other tell-tale signs had been remarked, and when police searched their home, they found no evidence of drug use. It is unlikely that somebody who had been using methamphetamine would leave no drug paraphernalia or other indications of use in their home.
Another element the drugs theory failed to explain was why the money was left in the truck. If their disappearance had been connected to a drug deal and they had potentially been murdered, surely the murderer would not have left such a large amount of cash in the truck. It could be argued that a would-be murderer may have been unaware of the cash, but anybody about to be killed would almost certainly reveal the presence of the money in a desperate attempt to bargain for their life.
While both theories seemed possible, neither satisfactorily explained all the facts. As 300 volunteers scoured the countryside for any trace of the family, another unsettling piece of evidence came to light. Using the GPS signal from the Jamisons’ cell phones, the police attempted to trace their movements. The Jamisons had parked the truck where it was found and from there, had made their way up a nearby hill to a rock. For some reason, they had stopped at the rock for about 15 or 20 minutes before returning to the truck. On the telephone, the police discovered a disturbing photograph of Madyson standing alone by the rock, arms crossed, apparently in some distress, perhaps afraid, arguably on the verge of tears and seemingly very cold.
Family members have described Madyson as a smiley child who loved to have her photograph taken and say the image was highly unusual. Others have argued it was simply a photo that captured her face in movement and that nothing can be read into it. Either way, it certainly does not look like the memento of a happy child enjoying a day out with her parents, and the image only complicated matters further. Who took the photo? Why did Madyson look so upset? Why had her parents taken her up the hill on a cold October day without warm clothes? Were her parents even with her when the photo was taken? Ultimately, the discovery served to obscure rather than illuminate the investigation.
The search continued, but with hundreds of volunteers on foot and on horseback, as well as scent hounds and cadaver dogs, no further trace of the family was found. In the meantime, the investigation continued, and more clues were revealed.
The Jamisons had installed CCTV surveillance cameras at their home, and when the police watched the recording, what they found was puzzling. In the video, Bobby and Sherilyn can be seen loading their truck before driving to the mountains. They each make over a dozen trips back and forth, seemingly in a trance-like state, without once stopping to speak. It has been suggested that this confirms the theory that they were on drugs; in their repetitive actions, some see the classic signs of meth use. However, it could also be argued that the act of loading the truck for a trip would not necessarily require them to talk to each other and that nothing can be inferred from the grainy images.
The video also revealed one peculiar detail. At one point, Sherilyn is seen loading a brown satchel or briefcase into the truck, but when the truck was discovered more than a week later, this item was not found. There is speculation over the possible contents of this bag, with some positing that it contained more money, another piece of evidence that could support the drug deal theory.
As the police investigation continued, other theories were suggested.
The pill bottle found in the car was traced back to a former boarder at the Jamisons’ house. It transpired that Sherilyn, who had native American heritage, had driven him from the house at gunpoint only a month before when he had expressed a belief that all non-white people “need to die”. It seemed he had a motive for revenge, but he provided a solid alibi and was cleared by the FBI.
The supernatural and the occult
Sherilyn’s interest in the occult had already been noted. The family’s pastor also informed police that the Jamisons had reported seeing ghosts in their house; Bobby claimed to have seen spirits on the roof and on one occasion had asked to buy “special bullets” with which to shoot these apparitions. Perhaps this points to a disturbed family in need of psychiatric help or maybe this erratic behavior is further evidence of drug use. Some might even believe a supernatural element was indeed involved in their disappearance. In any case, the connection with the occult and the supernatural is another of many facts that may or may not have been related to their disappearance.
Bobby had been involved in a dispute with his father that had resulted in his father removing everyone but Madyson from his will. Bobby had also applied for an injunction against his father after he hit Bobby with a vehicle, leaving the family “fearing for their lives”. The dispute stemmed from an agreement where Bobby had worked in his father’s filling station free of charge on the understanding that half of the business would pass to him; the father later reneged on this agreement. Bobby had claimed his father was a dangerous man with connections to the Mexican mafia, prostitution and drugs, and this led some to believe that the father was somehow implicated in their disappearance.
Sherilyn’s mother claimed to have seen the Jamisons on the hitlist of a white supremacist group known as the United White Knights. The mountains where they disappeared were known as a hotbed for far-right extremists, and near where the Jamisons’ truck was found was a wrecked car that had been covered in racist slogans; Sherilyn had supposedly written over them with religious messages of peace and love. While white supremacists are known to be active in the area, little concrete evidence has ever been produced to support the theory that they were somehow involved.
Faked death or witness protection
In the absence of bodies or a convincing explanation, some claimed the Jamisons had faked their own deaths to disappear and start a new life elsewhere. While plausible, this theory did not explain the bag of cash found in the truck.
A similar theory was that they had been placed in a witness protection program. In an area rife with meth production, it was conceivable they had passed information to the police and were subsequently given new identities for their safety. It was known that Bobby had recently informed on a meth dealer, though again, this fails to account for the cash.
The investigation had reached a point where no new evidence was forthcoming, and the case remained further than ever from being solved. The police had uncovered a wealth of information about the Jamisons, but this disparate collection of facts served only to confuse the case further, and the police were unable to eliminate any of their theories. To solve the case, police needed evidence that the Jamisons were still alive. Otherwise, they needed to find bodies.
On 15th November 2013, just over four years after their disappearance, hunters stumbled across human remains in the forest less than three miles from where the Jamisons’ truck had been abandoned. They appeared to belong to two adults and one child, but the remains were in such a poor state of preservation that it was more than six months before they were identified.
On 3rd July 2014, the remains were confirmed as being those of the Jamison family. No tissue was left, and skeletal remains were only partial, showing significant scavenger and rodent activity. Despite this, the bodies appeared to have been arranged side by side and face-down. The skulls were present, but although a small hole was found in Bobby’s skull that could have been caused by a bullet, the degradation was such that the medical examiner was unable to record a definitive cause of death.
For four years, all those involved in the case had hoped that if bodies were found, it might finally reveal what had happened to the family. At least the Jamisons’ loved ones would be able to find some kind of closure; yet while the theories of faked death or witness protection could now be eliminated, all other possibilities remained, and indeed, more questions were raised. In the initial search, why had the bodies not been found if they had been so near the truck? In fact, while the distance from the truck was less than three miles in a straight line, on foot, it would be closer to seven. So then how had they found themselves so deep in the woods and why?
Many unanswered questions
If the answer was a murder-suicide in the woods, how did they die? No weapon was found near the bodies, although this does not preclude the possibility of death by poison or other means. But if it was a murder-suicide, why had they travelled so far from the truck to end their lives? Bobby had trouble moving around at home, so a seven-mile hike through mountainous country would seem out of the question. And if they killed themselves, how is it that they were found lying face-down, side by side?
If it had been a murder, again, why were the bodies found so deep into the woods and how did they arrive there? Had they been marched there at gunpoint or had they been carried there after they were killed? Seven miles is a long way to carry a body through thick forest, and this would imply that more than one murderer was almost certainly involved. And what had happened at the rock when Madyson was photographed?
The fact that they were found lined up and face-down might suggest an execution-style murder. If so, was it premeditated? Who knew they would be at that spot in the remote mountains at that time? What was the motive? Or perhaps they had simply stumbled upon something they should not have seen and were silenced. But if this were the case, once again, why were they taken so deep into the woods?
Some have suggested they were murdered in a ritual killing by Satan-worshippers. If this is true, perhaps asking logical questions about how they died and where they were found is meaningless. Some think they just wandered off and became lost in the woods, although those who knew them pointed out that Bobby was an excellent woodsman, so this was highly unlikely. Perhaps they lost themselves in the woods because they were high on methamphetamine. And so on. The speculation is endless.
The truth is, at this point, it is unknown what happened to the Jamisons on 8th October 2009, and unless someone who knows the truth comes forward, that is how it will remain, an unsolved mystery with limitless theories but very few answers.
Dan is a full-time freelance writer with many articles on various subjects to his name. He has been interested in crime mysteries since a young age when he discovered the Sherlock Holmes stories and the tales of Edgar Allan Poe and now also enjoys writing about true-life crimes. When he is not writing, he is an avid traveler and learner of foreign languages.