JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Sometimes getting the answer to one question can open the door to so many more.
It was April 11, 2009, when two turkey hunters were walking through the quiet, desolate woods of the Deep Creek Hunting Club in Bryceville and they found something. Something human.
A skull and leg bone were lying on the ground.
The Nassau County Sheriff’s office took possession of the bones, but no DNA matches came back. They then tried to do a facial reconstruction sketch and released it to the local news, but still, no leads came in.
As time ticked on the case went cold, waiting for a break, that would come a decade later.
"What is a life worth?" asked Donald Ferreira. "My mother was a human being. She didn’t deserve that.'
Ferreira and his older sister, Amanda Driggers, made the decision in 2019 to submit their DNA to 'NamUs', the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. It was their last-ditch effort to try and find their mother and it turned out to be the decision that broke a cold case back open.
"When I got the call, it was very shocking and surreal and a flood of emotions came through me," tells Ferreira.
On the other end of the phone line was Detective Mark Murdock with the Nassau County Sherriff’s Office, telling Ferreira the bones found in 2009, matched the DNA he and his sister had submitted.
The remains were their mother, Pamela Norton Wilson.
But she hadn’t been seen since 1999.
Wilson lived a complicated life. She was a mother to her two children but she also struggled with addiction.
"She had these moments, she was clear and she was a great mom and she was really thoughtful and did all the things that moms would do," explains Ferreira.
He and remember her warm hugs and kind nature, but he also remembers one of the last conversations they had. His mother told him she was going to stop using, but later that day he watched her gather up a bag of her things and get into a red van.
"I just remember her looking back and saying “I’m sorry” and that was the last time I ever saw her," he said.
Shortly after that Wilson was arrested on drug charges and taken to the jail in downtown Jacksonville. Wilson's mother paid a bondsman to bail her out and gave an extra $100 for Pamela to be put in a cab and sent to their home on the Westside. But she never arrived home.
Wilson’s mother tried to report her daughter as missing with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, but because she missed her court dates – she was listed as a fugitive, not as missing.
"So that kind of kicked her out of the system for any possibility of having any samples or anything sent to NamUs. Because one of their restrictions is they have to be reported as missing," explains Det. Murdock.
It also means there was no law enforcement investigation done into Wilson's disappearance in 1999. Leaving Det. Murdock at square one, two decades later.
"Most cold cases you have a little more information, there is a little more evidence. Now we are looking at something 20 years later where key players are deceased themselves," he explains.
The biggest question, how did Wilson die?
The medical examiner’s report on her bones found in 2009 does note blunt force trauma on the right side of her skull which created a fracture but doesn’t list a specific cause of death.
"Was she murdered? Was it a malicious act? Or was it an accident where she overdosed and somebody disposed of the body? That we don’t know," tells Det. Murdock.
He is hoping that those who knew her in 1999 can shed some new light on who she was spending time with and where she might have gone after leaving the jail. DNA has helped Wilson’s children find their mother’s remains, but they and Det. Murdock needs help from the public to answer the question- what happened to her?
"People think it's been so long, time has gone by, maybe it isn’t a big deal anymore. But it is still a big deal. It is a big deal to me, it is a big deal to my brother and it is a big deal to her grandchildren," tells her daughter, Amanda.
"She was loved, she has a family. She is not what you think."
Det. Murdock would like to speak to anyone who knew Pamela Wilson in 1999, especially if you have any information about her death or how her body ended up in the woods of the Deer Creek Hunting Club.
You can reach out to him at the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office at 904-225-5174.