Questions About a Father’s Disappearance Led to Answers That Were Far Too Close to Home

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Barbara told police about her initial attraction to Jackson: "He was great. There was no other way to describe it. Someone that you like to be with."

They started talking about getting married once she graduated from high school. But by Christmas, she was pregnant. Plans accelerated: They married on April 2, 1983 — the day before Easter. The reception was a traditional affair featuring an elaborate multitiered cake and souvenir matchbooks.

But the relationship had fractured by the time the cake was cut. Britton had started to withdraw. She did not stay with Jackson on their wedding night, say Jackson's friends and family, and did not spend much time with him in the house he rented on Hood Street in Hollywood. Instead, she returned to the safe confines of her parents' house. She graduated from school that June.

"He started changing," Barbara said to police, "and things were going wrong with us."

The baby, John, was born into this uncertain family on August 25.

David was not at the birth, although now, 23 years after his disappearance, it is hard to ascertain why. David's mother, Judy Carlson, claims that Barbara was inexplicably distant from the beginning of the marriage and that Britton did not even notify Jackson when she went into labor.

Britton admitted that Jackson found out he had a son only when he received the hospital bill for the delivery. She contended that Jackson wasn't interested in her pregnancy.

Records show that the couple divorced on April 2, 1985, two years to the day after they married.

At first, the young parents shared custody of baby John, who was not yet 2. Although Jackson's friends and family maintain that he was a loving father, Britton's claims are much darker. In police interviews and depositions, she alleged that Jackson abused the boy (although, according to Velazquez, she never called authorities about her concerns). When Jackson had custody, she said, he would taunt her by putting the crying boy on the phone so she could hear him. He would "come back scraped and bruised," she said, or "with a knot on his head."

Britton said that her own father stepped in and guarded John. "Grandpa became dad," she told police, "and I was his little girl." When she told him that Jackson mistreated his grandson, Harry Britton became incensed. Said Barbara: "I was very close to my dad. He was like the strength for me."

In late 1986, when she was 21 and John was 3, Barbara met a married man named Michael Wolfe, who lived in Arizona. They were both working for Toys 'R' Us; he had come to Florida for a corporate training session. He was tall, with a strong jaw and thinning hair. Like her father, he was a military veteran who had served in Germany. Like her father, he was twice her age. She married him in Florida in June 1987.

Barbara and Wolfe moved immediately to Arizona, with John, two days after they were married. Court documents suggest they informed Jackson about the plan just hours before they were to leave. His mother, Carlson, remembers her son driving around with John during their last hours together, madly calling Britton from pay phones, pleading that she not take John away.

With time and 2,000 miles between them, their relationship eventually improved. Barbara told police that they matured and spoke on the phone. "We talked, [decided] that we could be friends," she said. "It'd be better for John."

David went to court to fight for visits with his son, and a judge awarded him extended visits with John every year. The first was set for the following summer, July 1988.

Barbara may have gone to Arizona, but her father remained in Florida. Jackson's lawyer, Steven Berzner, recalled seeing him show up at one of the custody hearings, waiting in the hall outside the courtroom. The elder Britton gave Jackson a wordless, hateful stare as he walked past.

The lawyer noticed the menacing expression and gave Jackson a word of advice: "You should cover your ass, because that guy has a problem."

After work on June 25, 1988 — the evening he disappeared — David Jackson sat on the couch with his roommate in their new apartment. By now, Jackson had left Burger King and had landed a job driving a delivery truck for Coca-Cola. His roommate worked as a cargo inspector.

Jackson had spent the afternoon moving a set of new Modernage furniture into the two-bedroom apartment: seating and a coffee table and a big, handsome wall unit. Costing thousands of dollars, the purchase was a deep hit on Jackson's credit cards, but he had just paid all of his bills and his share of the rent. His mother remembers that a big wooden bar was still on its way: a 24-year-old's totem to freedom and masculinity.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph