Stolen in the Night: Where is Jaquilla Scales?

It was extremely hot in Wichita, Kansas on the evening of September 4, 2001. As Mattie Mitchell got her two great-grandchildren ready for bed at 8:00 pm, it was still nearly 90 degrees outside. She turned on the air conditioner in her small bedroom, then helped 4-year-old Jaquilla Scales and 2-year-old Marcus Scales climb up into the big bed the three of them shared. It had been a busy day for Jaquilla; she had attended her first day of preschool that morning. She loved being around other kids her age, and was looking forward to going back the next day. Both she and Marcus fell asleep almost immediately after getting into bed.

Mattie got herself ready for bed and took her arthritis medication. She checked to make sure the door that led from the bedroom to the backyard was tightly closed, but she had to leave it unlocked as the lock was broken. She wasn’t too concerned; the family’s chow-chow, Bebe, slept in the backyard and would bark loudly if anyone approached. Mattie got into bed and turned the television on, taking care to keep the volume low so she wouldn’t wake up the children. Her arthritis medication always made her drowsy, and she drifted off to sleep shortly afterwards. She woke up briefly a little after midnight and noticed the bedroom was quite chilly; she turned the air conditioner down a little and made sure the children were covered up before going back to sleep.

Around 4:00 am, Mattie awoke with the feeling that something was wrong. She noticed that the door to the backyard was standing wide open. Marcus was still sleeping soundly next to her, but Jaquilla was no longer in bed. Concerned, Mattie got up and checked the backyard. It was empty except for Bebe. She quickly checked the rest of the home, but Jaquilla was nowhere to be found. At 4:06 am, Mattie called 911 and told the operator that her great-granddaughter was missing.

Jaquilla had lived with her great-grandmother since the day she was born. Her mother, Eureka Scales, was only 14 years old when she gave birth to Jaquilla. Mattie, Eureka’s maternal grandmother, had raised Eureka after her mother died when she was a child. Although Eureka was thrilled with the idea of having a daughter, she was too young to raise her on her own. Mattie assumed most of the responsibility for the little girl, just as she would with Marcus when he was born two years later. Eureka still lived in the home with Mattie, but was staying at a friend’s house on the night Jaquilla went missing.

Jaquilla was a cheerful and energetic child with an easy smile and an infectious giggle. Mattie had nicknamed her “Grammy-Boo” because she had a tendency to be bossy; the family teasingly referred to her as a little old woman. Although she could be shy and reserved around strangers, once she got to know someone she would rarely stop talking. She especially loved to show off her toy dolls and her extensive collection of brightly colored hair barrettes. She was friendly with all of her neighbors, and was often seen playing outside with her younger brother. She had never wandered away from home before, and tended to stay close to her own yard.

Due to Jaquilla’s young age, the Wichita Police Department responded to Mattie’s 911 call in force. Mattie didn’t believe that Jaquilla would have left the house on her own, and was convinced that someone must have taken the child. She pointed out that the backdoor didn’t lock, and feared someone had snatched the child from her bed. Police were skeptical; they found it hard to believe that a stranger would have been brazen enough to take a child from the same room where her brother and great-grandmother were sleeping. They asked if it was possible for any other family members to have taken Jaquilla.

Mattie explained that she had custody of the 4-year-old, but that her mother also lived in the house and was staying with a friend that evening. She didn’t believe that Eureka would have taken her daughter without saying anything, and wasn’t sure of the exact address where she was staying. She was able to provide the general location of Eureka’s friend’s apartment, and police were dispatched to that area to see if they could find her.

Eureka and a friend had been up most of the night watching television, and even went outside at one point when they noticed a caravan of police cars headed in the direction of Mattie’s home. The two women didn’t think anything of it at the time, and were startled by a knock at the door an hour or so later. It was a police officer looking for Eureka. Once they established she was in the apartment, they asked if she had her daughter with her. Eureka was confused and told the officer that her great-grandmother had the child. The officer had to break the news to Eureka that her daughter had been reported missing.

A terrified Eureka immediately went to ask Mattie what had happened. Like police, Eureka didn’t understand how someone could have taken Jaquilla from the house without someone noticing, and pointed out that Bebe hadn’t barked. She also told police that Jaquilla was terrified of the dark; there was no way the child would have gone outside alone at night.

As they started their search for Jaquilla, most of the police officers involved were certain that they would find her. They assumed she had simply wandered off and was likely still close to the house, perhaps hiding from the searchers because she thought she might be in trouble. They focused on searching the area immediately surrounding Mattie’s home, checking in sheds and backyards without success. After an hour or so, when it became clear that none of Jaquilla’s relatives had seen the child, they kicked the investigation into high gear.

Neighbors were startled awake by police officers, some with dogs, asking to search their homes. They explained that they didn’t suspect anyone of taking the child, but thought she might have snuck into someone’s home to hide from searchers. Once they got over their initial shock, most of the neighbors quickly volunteered to join the hunt for the missing child. They combed through the residential neighborhood and nearby Grove Park, calling out for Jaquilla and reassuring her that she wasn’t in any kind of trouble. They found nothing to indicate the child was in the area.

Police blocked off the street in front of Mattie’s North Volutsia Avenue home, and established a makeshift command post in the front yard. They brought in all the cadets who were currently enrolled in the police academy and had them assist in the door-to-door search, handing out missing poster fliers and asking each resident to keep an eye out for Jaquilla. Investigators brought in a bloodhound and a German shepherd to try and track Jaquilla’s movements, but the dogs were unable to find any trail to follow. There was no sign of a struggle inside the bedroom where Jaquilla was last seen, and no blood or any other evidence was found inside the home. Police had no idea if they were dealing with an abduction or a child who had wandered off, so they continued to investigate all possibilities.

Traffic in the area increased after the sun came up, and police stopped each car traveling through the neighborhood. They questioned drivers and searched vehicles. They stopped trash trucks and went through all the trash that had already been collected. A man hauling watermelons was stopped and had his trailer searched. Once they learned a small child was missing, motorists didn’t seem to mind the delay. Several stopped and prayed for the safe return of the little girl.

Heavy thunderstorms drenched the search teams that afternoon, but they pressed on. Certain that the immediate area had been thoroughly searched, police moved their command post to Grove Park. The following morning, the search area was expanded to include most of the city of Wichita. Hundreds of volunteers assisted police officers and FBI agents in the search, using dogs, ATVs, and helicopters. The owner of a nearby horse ranch volunteered the use of three of his horses, allowing police to quickly comb through several parks and fields. They splashed through creeks, checked trash dumpsters, and scoured abandoned buildings in the area. They didn’t find any clues to Jaquilla’s whereabouts.

All the family members were interviewed at the police station, and Eureka voluntarily submitted to a polygraph. She passed with no problems. Extended family members were interrogated as well, but police found nothing to indicate any of them were hiding Jaquilla or had been responsible for her disappearance.

Neighbors held a prayer vigil for Jaquilla on September 7th, and more than 100 people attended. They lit candles and offered prayers for the little girl they called Grammy-Boo. Eureka cried through most of the vigil, worried that she was never going to see her daughter again. She pleaded for anyone who had any information to tell police what they knew, noting that every hour that passed made it harder for the family to maintain a positive attitude.

Police received a lot of phone calls about the case in the first few days of the investigation, and they carefully followed up on each tip. Most of them came from people who believed they had seen Jaquilla; police following up on these leads met a number of children who resembled the missing child, but nothing led them closer to finding Jaquilla.

The family’s anguish increased on September 10th, when police had Marcus removed from his great-grandmother’s home and placed in protective custody. They were concerned about his safety; without knowing why Jaquilla was missing, they worried that Marcus might be next to disappear. Mattie and Eureka were both devastated. Mattie said she understood why police felt the need to remove him from her home while they were investigating Jaquilla’s disappearance, but she questioned why he hadn’t been placed with other family members. She and Eureka worried that a foster family wouldn’t know about his favorite foods and his special pillow, all the little things that provided him with comfort. Eureka was allowed to visit with her son a few times a month, but he would remain in foster care while the search for Jaquilla continued.

Jaquilla’s case failed to attract the attention of the national news media during the first few days of the investigation, and events that happened a week later seemed to assure that her case would continue to go unnoticed by most of the country. The terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 bumped Jaquilla’s story out of the headlines in Wichita, and the nation would talk about little else in the months that followed. Though the Wichita Police Department would continue to focus on her case, the lack of publicity decreased the number of leads that they received, and by December the case had gone cold.

The Christmas holiday was a somber one for Eureka. Last year, Jaquilla and Marcus had squealed with delight as they opened the gifts left under the tree by Santa; this year her home was quiet. Marcus remained in protective custody, and there had been no movement on Jaquilla’s case. Eureka finally regained custody of her son in August of 2004, nearly three years after Jaquilla went missing.

Mattie, who had already lost a son to gun violence and a daughter to sickle cell anemia, found dealing with Jaquilla’s disappearance far harder. Not knowing what happened to the little girl seemed somehow worse than death, and she prayed for resolution to her case. Police still considered the investigation to be active, but admitted that they still had no idea what had happened to Jaquilla. If she had wandered away on her own, they believed she would have been found already. It seemed likely that she had been abducted, and they had been able to rule out most of her family members, but they had no evidence a stranger had taken her. It was a baffling case, and without help from the public they knew it was unlikely they would ever be able to solve it.

ver the years, there have been sporadic searches for Jaquilla, but there has been no progress made in the case. Police have said that they have considered several suspects as potential abductors, but they have never had enough evidence to charge anyone in her disappearance. Investigators still aren’t sure if Jaquilla is alive or dead. They never found any evidence pointing to foul play, but there have been no reported sightings of Jaquilla and it’s impossible for them to determine if she is still alive.

Jaquilla’s family believes that she was abducted that hot September morning, and they hold onto the hope that she is still alive and just unaware of the circumstance surrounding her disappearance. Her DNA is on file in a national database, and it has been checked against several unidentified bodies, but there has never been a match. Eureka believes this is because her daughter is still alive. If she is out there, Jaquilla would be 24 years old now, perhaps with vague memories of her childhood as Grammy-Boo and the little brother who still hopes she will come home.

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