Dozens of missing black men never found


Staff Writer

Sunday, July 14, 2019

RICH SQUARE — Daniel Moses stood 6-feet 3-inches tall and weighed 200 pounds. He was not the type of guy to disappear in a crowd.

But he did vanish.

The same day — June 16, 2011 — his family homestead burned down to the ground in a fire of unknown origin, Moses was gone like a sliver of smoke on a windy summer day.

Authorities do not believe the fire and disappearance are related other than the house likely burst into flames because Moses had not been home to make sure the stove was turned off or perform some other preventive measure.

So Daniel Moses became a missing person when firefighters put out the flames and his body was nowhere to be found in the debris, but his car and motorcycle still were parked in the driveway.

Suspicions grew when the black man’s bank account and cellphone were not used in the days leading up to the fire and were never used since.

Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith told me Friday afternoon that his office has spent thousands of man hours looking for Moses and trying to figure out what exactly happened to him.

Smith was not sheriff in 2011 and he has put new missing persons protocols in place since he was elected in 2014.

“We’ve had 76 missing people since I took office and we’ve located every single one of them,” Smith said.

Three years after Moses went missing, authorities used cadaver dogs to comb through the woods and swampland near his home. They came up empty.

It now takes pressure from the family to keep authorities interested in the old case, said Daniel Moses’ sister Sheila P. Moses, a Shaw University graduate, award-winning author and wife of a Hollywood movie star.

Speaking at a 2016 rally for missing people in Halifax and Northampton counties, Sheila Moses said that if two white men were missing, the FBI would have swooped in and taken over the cases.

“Three black men go missing in 18 months within 20 miles of each other and the FBI doesn’t consider it a federal case,” Moses said. “They don’t look for black folks, and I’m outraged at the way they have looked for my brother. Where is my dear brother? Who will speak for the other people that are missing?”

Sheila Moses said she believes someone killed her brother. Her persistence over the years has paid off and the FBI now is assisting local authorities in the case.

The two other missing black men Sheila Moses referenced are Shawn Alston and Jamal Briggs, who both disappeared in the fall of 2012.

Alston, 39, of Garysburg near the Virginia state line, last was seen leaving a friend’s house on Oct. 18. Family reported him missing the next day.

Briggs, 14, of Roanoke Rapids, last was seen on Sept. 26 walking to school. Detectives could not find any evidence hinting at what happened or where he went.

These three cases in Northampton and Halifax counties are a microcosm of eastern North Carolina. The disappearance of black men, often older in age, is a mystery with no pending resolution.

On Dec. 11, 2013, in Pollocksville, William Hoover Moore III, 30 years old and suffering from dementia, shed all his clothes and walked nude into the woods off N.C. 17. Nearly 100 volunteers, law enforcement officials and a helicopter crew looked for Moore for several days. When the search finally was abandoned, no sign of Moore had been found.

On March 12, 2006, in Tarboro, Army veteran Clarence Earl Jenkins left on foot from an assisted living facility. It was something he did often and no one thought anything of it at the time. Several different people, including a police officer, saw Jenkins at several different locations around town that day — then he just vanished. It was the day before his 48th birthday. No indication of what happened has ever surfaced in all these years.

On Feb. 1, 2005, in Rocky Mount, 56-year-old Carl Butler Jr. vanished from his house on Marlee Drive. Shortly before his disappearance, Butler had undergone surgery for a brain aneurysm. He had a feeding tube inserted in his stomach. His medication was left behind.

On Oct. 25, 1999, in Washington during a raging hurricane, 30-year-old Marvin Smaw left his home and disappeared into the storm. Authorities have said it was not the squall that got Smaw, but foul play. Still, in two decades, neither Smaw nor his body have been found.

On Oct. 30, 1990, in Magnolia, Astor Southerland, a 79-year-old retired truck driver who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, wandered away from his home. He last was seen by a passing motorist walking west along a secondary road in rural Duplin County. Extensive searches of the area have turned up no clue as to his fate or whereabouts.

On Aug. 9, 1989, in Kenansville, a 64-year-old Navy veteran who worked for the Duplin County School System for most of his career, Ellis Faison, walked away from his home in the middle of the night and vanished. He was bare-footed. The only trace ever found of Faison was his hat, located in a neighbor’s yard the morning after he disappeared.

Folks, these are just the cases I remembered off the top of my head.

Sixty of the 337 officially missing North Carolinians are black men, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

That number is more than half of the number of missing white males, 112. But considering that according to 2015 U.S. Census data North Carolina is 71 percent white and 22 percent black, the number of missing black men is out of proportion with the population.

I also need to point out that of the cases I listed, three of them — Alston, Briggs and Moore — are not in the NamUs database, so the percentage of missing black men is even higher.

So many black men missing with no bodies to be found is a phenomenon I admit I do not understand.

I have written about missing white woman syndrome, but I am not sure how that fits here. In many of the 60 missing black men cases, there is no indication of foul play. The men just vanish. No bodies, no sign of a struggle, nothing.

The FBI is right to highlight Daniel Moses’ case. A lot more could be done.

I do not pretend to have conducted any scientific research, but for more than a dozen years I have written about missing people in eastern North Carolina. The No. 1 type of victim is women, of course. But many times in those cases the body turns up stuffed under a fallen tree, buried in a shallow grave in the backyard, floating face down in the water or simply dumped along the highway like garbage.

But here, with these cases, nothing. Each one of these black men disappeared never to be seen again. Maybe I do suffer from pareidolia like my wife has suggested. But if nothing strange or sinister is afoot, then where the hell is Daniel Moses?

Anyone who might have any information about any of these men, no matter how insignificant you think the information might be, contact the SBI at 800-334-3000. Calls about Moses can be made anonymously to Northampton County CrimeStoppers at 252-534-1110.

The Moses family is offering a $10,000 reward for information that will lead to the whereabouts of Daniel Moses.