CROWDER, Miss. (WLBT) - Will Polk was larger than life to those who knew him.
He would give you the shirt off his back, they said, and according to his cousin Scarlett Campbell, if he didn’t get enough attention, he would crow like a rooster. He did odd jobs, and with his positive personality and contagious smile, he was well known all over the community.
“Will had a beautiful, beautiful heart. He loved everybody, even people he shouldn’t necessarily entertain himself with. He would tell me, ‘Just because they do bad things doesn’t make them bad people. They’re victims of bad things,’” said his cousin Scarlett Campbell. “He basically loved everybody and basically trusted everbody.”
April Jones' was a mother of seven who had graduated at the top of her class at Cleveland High School. Her best friend April Griste -- the other April -- said the striking brunette didn’t know she was beautiful.
“Even if you told her she didn’t believe you,” said Griste. “She was good to everyone. She’d have given you the shirt off her back and that, I think is what I think got her in the position that she’s in.”
While Jones and Polk both ran with what family members called a “questionable” crowd, both were loved by most who knew them.
On October 10, 2019, both of them disappeared into thin air. Brenda Hunt and Brooke Austin were at Austin’s father’s home around the time the two went missing. They said they heard a blood-curdling scream.
“It was pitch black outside, and we heard a terrifying scream like out in a field somewhere,” said Austin. “We didn’t know exactly where it came from, but we know it was somewhere like on one of the roads.”
“But you know, like a last moment scream, like a last time scream, like a terrifying scream,” said Hunt.
They went to search for the source of that scream, but they didn’t find anything.
In a small town like Crowder, home to only 646 people, it would seem hard to lose two full-grown adults, but for more than a year now, there have been very few signs of Polk and Jones.
And there have been no signs of life.
According to Campbell, whose spearheading of volunteer grid searches, flyers and vigils have kept the search alive, he was last seen when he was dropped off at the home of a woman who lived in Crowder. Her yard shared a border with the home where Jones was staying at the time. Polk’s mother Amanda said his cousin was there in the carport when she let her son out.
Family members said that cousin told them he had last seen Polk walking down the road.
It’s not clear who saw Jones last, or if she and Polk were together when they disappeared. They were involved in a physical relationship, family members said, but at the time the two disappeared, there were at least a few other men who admitted to being in love with Jones. She had told friends she was pregnant.
Jones would never leave without contacting her children, said her 17-year-old daughter Alexus Burney, who goes by “Lexie."
“She would have checked on the little kids,” said Burney. “She hasn’t called me for six months at a time, but when that happened she didn’t have a phone. Last year on my birthday she walked five miles up Dummyline Road to find a phone.”
But this year when her birthday rolled around, Burney’s phone was silent. Her gut said that was a bad omen.
“I’m so scared that her kids are going to grow up and not know where she went or who she was, because they’re so little,” Burney said. “I’ve never not talked to her for this long, and when she didn’t call me on my birthday in February it just threw flags for me to know that I figured she wasn’t coming back.”
For Polk’s family, it took another tragedy to know for sure. In January, his brother Braxton Polk was killed in a car accident.
“They were sure he would come home for the funeral. We’re still working with missing persons point of view just because we have no reason to believe other than rumors that they’ve been murdered,” said Quitman County deputy Nick Turner. “We’re still trying to make an effort to search in areas where they might be hiding if they are hiding and run down the rumors if they are deceased.”
Polk’s sisters Brittney Polk and Mackenna Smith said losing both of their brothers has been incredibly painful. They begged anyone who knows where Polk is to help them.
“Let us know, we need answers. It’s not easy losing one brother, much less losing two. It’s not easy. We just want answers,” said Smith.
“I just want to bring him home, and if he is gone, to put him to rest beside our brother,” said Brittney Polk.
When Polk didn’t return for Braxton’s funeral, Campbell knew it was time to get the ball rolling. She said local law enforcement didn’t seem to have turned much over, so she arranged a grid search with volunteers in the area of the levee that holds back the back waters of the Tallahatchie River.
They were hardly off the road when they found a shoe that Polk’s mother recognized instantly.
“It was turned up on its side, and it was a black and neon green New Balance tennis shoe. It was the very first thing we found,” Campbell said. “As soon as we exited our vehicles and started walking toward that drive right there, we saw Will’s shoe right here beside the road.”
Not far from that spot, they found Polk’s hooded sweatshirt. It appeared to be bloody, even three months after his disappearance. To this day a year later, the grass is still dead where that sweatshirt lay.
Deputy Tommy Bryant of the Quitman County Sheriff’s Department came to collect the items, Campbell said. He later told the family that he initially took them to his home rather than the sheriff’s department because he had a wedding to attend. It’s not clear if that evidence has been sent to the crime lab, but Turner said so far it hasn’t led to any information in the case.
“It might help later on. It’s still in evidence, but as far as leading to where they ended up or anything, no it did not,” he said.
Down a little further was a woman’s shoe. No one was able to positively identify it, but it was believed to belong to Jones.
Campbell said she and other searchers also went to the neighborhood where Polk’s mother dropped him off. As they searched the property of a man known to be an associate of both Jones and Polk, they found a storage shed with what appeared to be blood stains in it. They contacted police.
“As far as I know there have never been any forensic results on the blood found in that shed,” Campbell said. “They went back later to investigate that claim and it had been cleaned with bleach.”
Turner said police haven’t really done any further searches because they didn’t have a specific area to search. It’s not clear if that includes the area of the levee where the bloody shirt and the shoes were found or the neighborhood where they were last seen or not.
“We’ve done some polygraphs and we’ve got a few more scheduled in the coming weeks,” said Turner. “We’ve been over a few more places with the crime scene units to try to collect some evidence to find out if the rumors that we’ve heard are true.”
As of last Monday, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation had become involved in the probe. MBI does not comment on ongoing investigations.
At a vigil on Saturday night, people came from all over Quitman County, and other places too. They came to light a candle and bring awareness to two lives who appear to be no more, but there’s still a hope that Will and April are out there somewhere.
Turner said there’s still that chance. He said his agency continues to look at it as a missing persons case, as there’s no clear evidence to say that the two are dead. But there is no data trail.
“No credit card activity, no social media, the cell phone numbers we had were all dead. If they’re dong anything like that, they’re doing it with all new stuff we don’t have knowledge of,” said Turner.
Burney’s eyes filled with tears as she talked about her mother.
“I’ve not got a phone call from anybody. I have no information on where the case is going or what could have happened or where they could possibly be,” she said. “I just want to be able to know what happened to my mom and Will and where they are so we can have some peace. Just some peace.”