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

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Friends and family say Jackson was preparing for Barbara to bring their son from Tucson. A friend who visited Jackson in the apartment remembered him joking about a new vacuum cleaner he had purchased, "to get the floors clean for [John]." Records from the Coca-Cola plant show that he had put in for 11 days of vacation time.

Jackson's roommate said that as they were relaxing, around 7 p.m., a woman called for Jackson. He took the call and headed into his room. Soon after, he showered and dressed, then emerged in a fresh T-shirt and shorts, smelling of Drakkar Noir cologne. He carried a gray comb to smooth down his blond mullet.

He asked to borrow some money for beer and cigarettes. His roommate reached for a few bills and handed them over. Jackson left. He may have taken the .22 caliber pistol he was known to carry.

Detective Velazquez believes that Jackson made a stop at a Mobil station for cigarettes and a six-pack of Heineken. Back in the driver's seat of his black 1976 Celica, he might have opened one of the beers to drink on the road, as he cruised past houses and farmland, headed eastward. Five unopened beers and a receipt from the gas station would later be found in his car.

Velazquez and prosecutors say that he then drove toward the beach, passing the jai-alai fronton on Dania Beach Boulevard, and turned into the parking lot of an isolated motel (now a Motel 6), where he expected to meet Britton.

The day after the Explorers' meeting, Velazquez met with John Wolfe in her office, beneath the images of his father. Now she and the boy were like two reunited friends, desperate to fill in the past.

"It was like a fact-finding mission for both of us," remembers Velazquez. "Face to face, we went back and forth."

According to her, John was happy to learn that police had reopened the case. "I've always wanted to know what happened to my father," she remembers him saying. His mom had never given him a straight answer. Sometimes she would say she hoped he was alive. Other times, when upset or angry, she would snap, saying that he was dead. Two years earlier, he had recruited a friend's father, who worked in law enforcement, to look for leads. Nothing surfaced.

John's recollections of his father were vague, and he couldn't tell if they had been poisoned by his mother's input. He struggled to sift out his independent memories from Britton's allegations of his father abusing him — forcing him to eat or burning him with a cigarette.

"I do remember happy memories [with my father]," he would later say in a deposition. "I had two [Cheez Doodles] in my mouth like a walrus... and I remember running around [a] glass table just making noise. And I remember falling... I remember crying."

But did his father then put him on the phone with Britton, as she claims, hitting him to make him cry louder so she could hear? In a deposition last year, John could not remember. "Honestly... my mom is very, very paranoid," he said.

Britton's new husband, Michael Wolfe, adopted the boy when he was 5 years old, and the couple changed the boy's last name to Wolfe. But Britton began to distance herself from this husband too, according to people who knew them.

By 1990, she and 7-year-old John were back in Florida living with Britton's parents. Michael Wolfe faded out of their lives.

Britton went to work at a new Walmart that was opening in Miramar, at Pembroke Road and University Avenue. It was just across the airport grounds from the Burger King where she and Jackson had met as teenagers.

It was also built almost directly on top of the scene of a grisly discovery.

A year earlier, a construction crew had been clearing land near the site of the new Walmart. An 18-year-old worker found a skeletal hand, wrapped around a vine, on the surface of the excavated dirt. Then he found more bones. He called police. The bones, enough to form a partial skeleton, were not identified. The medical examiner's staff stored them on a shelf, where they would sit for 15 years.

After Velazquez and John had exchanged all they could about family history, the detective set about her work with a renewed focus.

She dug up old police reports and found an instance of a call for service from the Brittons, claiming that Jackson had "kidnapped" John.

She checked the Florida Unidentified Decedent Database, a public repository that lists unidentified remains from around the state. She entered Jackson's basic characteristics and date of disappearance and got about 50 results. Methodically, she sorted through them one by one until she found a likely match: the bones from the Walmart site. She ordered a report from a forensic anthropologist and brought in David's mother, Judy Carlson, to see if her DNA matched the bones.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph