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[Note: It is unclear how Jamie identified themselves. Some articles refer to them as a gay man who enjoyed cross-dressing. At least one article states that they were transgender, but their family and friends continue to use he/him pronouns as recently as 2019. Out of respect, I am using third-person pronouns to refer to Jamie until more information comes along that can clarify this.]
Jamie Mayberry was born in Kenedy, Texas on December 1, 1963, the second-youngest of eight siblings. According to friends and family, Jamie was a happy, outgoing person who loved to be around people and got along with everyone. They doted on their nieces and nephews and loved to play with them, watching movies and singing along to musicals.
“He was always happy to see you,” one friend recalled in 2016. “His thing was always, ‘Hey, girl!’”
Jamie suffered from long-term health issues affecting his heart, lungs, and liver, which led to him repeating the second grade. This made them particularly close to their younger brother, Terry, as the two of them were now in the grade and attended class together. After graduating from Kenedy High School in 1983, Jamie began dressing as a woman in public. It was a risky move in their small, rural Texas town, but their friends and family were supportive and say they never judged or disapproved of how they chose to express themselves.
In 1999, Jamie was living with his 18-year-old niece, Gina, and other relatives in a home along North 5th Street in Kenedy. They were classified as disabled due to their health conditions and relied on Social Security, though they also held a job at the local H.E.B supermarket, helping customers bag and carry their groceries to their cars. One of their favorite places to hang out was the Playmor, a local bar in Kennedy where they liked to have some drinks and mingle with friends and other customers.
At around 11:00 PM on April 2, 1999, Jamie answered a knock at the door. Gina never saw the visitor, who sounded to her as if he had a “Mexican” accent, but she was able to hear some of their conversation. He acted as though he knew Jamie and said he knew one of their brothers and asked them if they remembered him. They didn’t, but he invited Jamie to go out and grab some beers with him anyway.
A few minutes later, Jamie told Gina that they were going to the store. Gina asked them if they were “really going to go with a man [you] didn’t know,” but Jamie, trembling as though they were frightened, simply responded that they would be fine. She saw the glare of headlights from her window as the two pulled out of the driveway and drove away. At least one witness later reported seeing Jamie in a black pickup truck, but this sighting has never been confirmed.
At about 2:30 AM, there was another knock at the door. This time, it was two white men Gina did not recognize, saying they wanted to see Jamie. When she said Jamie wasn’t home, the men laughed and drove off in a pickup truck with a loud muffler. None of the three people who visited the Mayberry home the night of April 2 have been identified, and Gina reported Jamie missing the next day after they failed to come home.
At first, investigators thought Jamie may have run away from home. Although their friends and family accepted them for who they were, it couldn’t have been easy being openly transgender (or a cross-dresser) in a small town in Texas in 1999. But there were unsettling details that ultimately convinced them that this was no runaway case: For one, Jamie and Gina had plans to go to Victoria, Texas for Easter on April 4. Jamie had no more than $30 on them when they left the house that night, and they were due to receive their next Social Security check the very next day. Most significantly, Jamie left all of their prescription medications behind.
“He wouldn’t have just left to leave,” said Municipal Judge (and later Kenedy City Manager) Barbara Shaw, a longtime family friend of the Mayberrys. “He wouldn’t have hurt his family like that. He was too sensitive.”
On April 10, Acting Kennedy Police Chief Earvin Snell stated that they were investigating the possibility of foul play — more specifically, a hate crime. This was because of an incident that had occurred at the Playmor the night before Jamie’s disappearance, when they encountered two men named Albert and Johnny Farias. Jamie was reportedly warned that the two were dangerous, but they didn’t listen, instead of striking up a conversation with Johnny that led to them flirting with each other. At that point, Albert allegedly burst into laughter and exclaimed, “That’s a [censored] dude!” Enraged, Johnny pulled out a knife and chased Jamie out of the bar, yelling that he was going to kill them. Jamie managed to escape and return home, unharmed.
At the time, Albert was 44 years old and reportedly a known local drug dealer. The only violent offense on his record in Karnes County, Texas is a 1989 conviction for assaulting a police officer, during which he threatened to kill the officer’s wife. When investigators tried to contact Johnny, they discovered that he had abruptly left Kenedy and gone back to Chicago the day after Jamie vanished. He was reportedly questioned by detectives in Chicago, but without any hard evidence of foul play, they were forced to let him go. (Note: One article states that Johnny died shortly after leaving Kenedy, but it doesn’t go into the circumstances at all, and I have been unable to confirm this information.)
On May 1, 1999, Snell wrote a letter to the FBI, in which he stated detectives’ belief that they had been murdered and requested help in the investigation. The FBI helped the Kenedy Police Department conduct some interviews, but it is unknown if they had any more involvement after that.
Sometime between 1999 and 2003, Terry received a tip that Jamie had been abducted by two men the night of their disappearance and taken to the Town Oaks Apartments on Water Street, where they were then murdered by Johnny and Albert Farias. In August 2003, authorities searched one of the apartments for evidence in Jamie’s case and recovered a carpet that appeared to have a large bloodstain on it. However, the stain tested negative for blood, and they were unable to find any evidence placing Jamie inside the unit. (The name of the apartment owner has never been released to the public, though public records indicate that Albert Farias Jr. was living at Town Oaks in 1999 and had moved out by the summer of 2003.)
For reasons not made public, investigators also interviewed a woman named Diana Perez, who would have been 21 at the time and was living at the Town Oaks Apartments around the time Jamie went missing. In late 2000, a man called police to report that Diana Perez and two other men had abducted, beaten, and robbed him before he was able to escape. She was charged with one count of aggravated kidnapping and one count of aggravated robbery, for which she served nearly 11 years in prison.
Court documents state that, during the attack, the victim asked where they were taking him and Diana (who was driving the vehicle) responded that they were going to “the cemetery.” Suspecting that this may be a clue in Jamie’s disappearance, investigators searched the grounds of the Kenedy City Cemetery for their body, but ultimately came up with nothing.
It is unclear how Diana — who investigators call a “witness” rather than a suspect — fits into Jamie’s case. In 2019, a reporter for KXAN tracked her down to a home near Three Rivers, Texas, about 33 miles southwest of Kenedy. When the reporter said he wanted to ask her about the Mayberry case, she immediately told him to get off her property, saying, “We have a right to bear arms and I’m not scared to use it.”
Jamie’s family has long been critical of the investigation. They say they received little support from the Kenedy Police Department in the crucial first days of the case and were instead told that Jamie probably ran away from home, leaving the family to form their own volunteer search parties. The department (which had only 6 officers) experienced virtually a 100% turnover rate between 1999 and 2000, and by the time the one-year anniversary of their disappearance rolled around, all of the original investigators had left the force.
One major point of criticism has been the way in which investigators conducted interviews. Gina says she was not interviewed by authorities until after the Texas Rangers got involved in the case several days after Jamie disappeared. Neighbor Gustavo Delagarza told KXAN in 2019 that police never came to question him, despite living just three doors down from Jamie’s home, and he did not know anyone else who had been interviewed. Former Kenedy Police Officer Stephen Monsivais expressed concern over the fact that Snell conducted at least one important interview over the phone — one that Monsivais believed should have been done in person to better gauge this person’s reactions.
Some of this could possibly be explained by the size of the Kenedy Police Department, which had only six officers and may not have been accustomed to investigating what is likely a complex murder-without-a-body case. But the lack of a thorough investigation and media attention left them with the distinct impression that, while Jamie’s friends and family never judged them or cared about them any less, others in the police department and their small community did.
Jamie’s mother passed away in 2002. Their family no longer lives in Kenedy, but they continue to search for them and hope for answers in their disappearance. For now, they hold onto memories of their lost loved one, the one who loved people and loved musicals and was not afraid to let the world know who they really were.
“He would sing to my cousin and I Somewhere Over the Rainbow
from The Wizard of Oz
,” recalled Veronica Porter, who was only 11 when her uncle disappeared. “It was his absolute favorite song. All of us would hound him to sing it over and over. […]
“I miss my Uncle Jamie so badly. I carry on his tradition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow
to my daughter, and I wish she could have met him.” The Charley Project KXAN Austin