The Valdosta Daily Times
Police investigators across the country likely thought of their missing-person cold-case files last month when three missing women escaped after a decade of being held by a man in Columbus, Ohio.
Valdosta police investigators thought of Paula McGrath Wade and her son, Brandon, who were 25 and 3 years old when they vanished in October 2002.
Hearing the national news of how the three women, long missing, long feared dead, were rescued after being held against their will for so many years, Valdosta Police Capt. Bobbi McGraw said she couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to discover the Wades alive after so many years.
“We talked about that and to think of them walking through the door after so long, it makes you emotional,” McGraw says.
For two people to be missing, with neither ever being found, neither alive nor dead, is unusual, McGraw says.
“To lose two people into thin air is rare,” the police captain says. “They’re here one minute and now they’re gone and to not find any remains connected to them ...”
So, police hope, especially after seeing the case from Columbus, Ohio. With nothing found of the mother and son, “there’s always the extremely remote possibility,” McGraw says. “If people see something that doesn’t look right or seem right, we ask that they call and report it.”
As police wonder what happened, so does the family.
“The mother is desperate to know what happened to her daughter and grandson,” McGraw says. “Every day, she is heartbroken.”
All leads are followed in this case, McGraw says. It is the type of case where investigators must keep an open mind, as they work to piece together what happened more than 10 years ago.
Paula Wade moved to Valdosta with her husband. In the Air Force, he was assigned to Moody Air Force Base. They had their son, Brandon, but the marriage failed. Brandon’s father is not a person of interest in the case. He continued serving in the military and has served overseas, according to police. By the time of October 2002, he was assigned to another military base out of state. McGraw says Brandon’s father/Paula’s ex-husband has always cooperated in the investigation.
By this time, Paula had worked a few years at Valdosta’s Sam’s Club. She and Brandon lived with one of her friends in an apartment at The Commons. She drove a 1998 Chevy Blazer, according to family reports.
“We have every indication that Paula was a good mother. She loved her child,” McGraw said in a past interview. Paula was not known to be part of a party crowd. She was not a person to suddenly leave town. She was a good employee at work. She was making plans to move from Valdosta, returning home to her parents in Florida. She contacted her parents regularly at least once a week. There is no known reason why she would feel compelled to suddenly disappear.
On Saturday, Oct. 12, 2002, Paula worked her shift at Sam’s and was off the clock by mid-afternoon. Officially, that is the last time anyone has reported seeing Paula Wade alive.
On Monday, Oct. 14, she did not report for work. Her absence concerned her fellow Sam’s employees. Twice, a Sam’s marketing team leader sent an employee to check Paula Wade’s apartment. There was no sign of Paula or Brandon, though her vehicle was parked in the lot.
Police describe her apartment as looking “lived-in” but there were no signs of struggle.
Valdosta police filed a missing persons report, but neither Paula nor Brandon has been seen since.
Through the years, Valdosta police have explored numerous leads in the case. On several occasions, cadaver dogs have explored wooded areas near the apartment complex, finding only animal bones. A few years ago, a forensic anthropologist visited areas, providing pertinent information regarding topography, and other specifics, while formulating “what-if” theories. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation have participated in the case. So have the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Polly Klaas Foundation and the National Center for Missing Adults.
While this case is catalogued within the Valdosta Police Department’s cold case unit, it has never been inactive.
Anyone with information may call the Valdosta Police Department’s investigation bureau, (229) 293-3145; or the VPD’s anonymous tip line, (229) 293-3091.