Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

December 16, 2012

Ten years later, police still seek lost mother, son

VALDOSTA — Brandon Wade would be 13 years old now. A middle school student. Possibly still light-haired, a strong chin. His mother, Paula, would be in her mid 30s, possibly with just a touch of gray, maybe a few lines around her eyes, the smile lines etched just a little deeper.

Yet, to those who knew them and the people who have come to know them from the mother and son’s decade-old missing poster, Paula McGrath Wade and son Brandon are still 25 and 3 years old.

Age-progression technology has created possibilities of what Brandon might look like as a 12-year-old. We can imagine what Paula might look like now. But in memory and from those missing-poster photos, Brandon is always a bright-eyed toddler with a shy smile, wearing a turtle-neck sweater embroidered with a cartoon football. Paula is always smiling, locks of hair pulled behind her right ear.

Ten years on, mother and son remain missing. No one has ever found them living somewhere else; this would be the happy ending. And no one has ever discovered human remains that would at least begin giving the family some answers as to what happened to the Wades.

Answers that Valdosta police detectives also seek.

The Valdosta Daily Times met with Valdosta Police Capt. Bobbi McGraw and Police Detective Chris Crews to discuss the decade-old missing-persons case. McGraw has been involved with the case since 2003. Crews has worked the case for the past three years. Religiously, Crews talks to Paula Wade’s mother twice monthly. Usually, Mary McGrath calls Detective Crews once a month, and he regularly calls her once a month.

News accumulates slowly in these calls, but Crews and McGraw share some of the case’s latest developments.

Though they cannot release an identity, there is a person of interest in the case. The police would say the person of interest is male, lives in the South Georgia area, and authorities have been in contact with him.

But a person of interest is not an official suspect. Officially, with no bodies being found or no information as to what happened to them, the Wades are still missing people.

Crews says he “hopes someone might come forward with new information.”

All leads are followed in this case, McGraw says. It is the type of case where investigators must keep an open mind, she says, 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 says. 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. Asked if anyone has reported on the record seeing the Wades between the time she left work on Oct. 12 and the time she was reported missing on Oct. 14, police said they could not comment.

Through the years, Valdosta police have explored numerous leads in the case. Capt. McGraw refers to one binder that is several inches thick, filled with records involving the case. This is only one binder from the investigation.

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. “This case has never gone dormant,” McGraw says.

“This is a case that I have just never been able to put out of my mind,” the police captain says. “There are answers out there, but we can’t find them.”

“We hope somebody who knows something will see this and come forward,” Crews says.

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.

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