J A C K S O N, Miss., Jan. 25, 2001 -- Calvin Wilson's macabre journey to the grave has finally ended, 15 years after the would-be burglar died trapped in a chimney. His family thought lawmen had recovered his bones from the banks of the Mississippi.
The skeleton of the 27-year-old from Vidalia, La., was discovered by masons repairing an antebellum building in Natchez. He was first reported missing in 1985.
Deputies a year later found a body beside the river they said was Wilson, and his family had put the matter of his disappearance to rest.
But the discovery of Wilson's skeleton Friday has shocked relatives and sent authorities scrambling to find the identity of the other body.
"It just floored us," said Wilson's mother, Kay, who was informed Friday. "His daughter was 3 at the time. She just went to pieces when she heard the news."
The Adams County medical examiner has sent samples from both sets of remains to the state Crime Lab for DNA analysis.
Authorities said a wallet containing pay stubs and jewelry on the skeleton leave little doubt that Wilson died in the chimney. However, the identity of bones found at the river in 1986 remains a mystery.
"We're kind of at a loss as to who this might be," Sheriff Tommy Ferrell said Wednesday.
‘You Never Really Know Who They Are’
Investigators think Wilson was trying to rob a gift shop in the old building in Natchez's historic district in May, 1985. He apparently became stuck in a two-story chimney that narrowed on the way down and was unable to call for help.
During repairs last week, Wilson's skeleton, clad in parachute pants and a muscle shirt, was found in the chimney which had been sealed off. The fireplace had not been in use and the flue was closed, trapping any telltale odors, Ferrell said.
Investigators believe he tried to enter the Riverboat Gift Shop and got stuck.
"It's funny," said a sheriff's department dispatcher who would not give her name. "There's a lot of foot traffic there and no one ever reported smells or anything."
Kay Wilson said she last saw her son walk out the door of their Louisiana home. He worked in oil fields and would disappear between jobs for weeks at a time.
When several months passed, Kay Wilson knew something was wrong. Her second son began combing Wilson's favorite haunts, turning up nothing.
"We would drive around looking," Wilson said. "If we saw someone who resembled him, we would turn the car around and go back and look."
Police opened a search. A year later they said they'd found his skull beside the river.
However, the remains were kept by Crime Lab officials and the case was never officially closed.
"We get floaters near the river all the time," Ferrell said. "You never really know who they are."
The family never held a funeral service.
Fifteen years later, Wilson's skeleton turned up in the chimney.
Coroner James Lee said there were no broken bones or signs of injuries. Lee said Wilson may have languished days before dying.
The coroner is still investigating the official cause of death and would compare DNA material from family members before positively identifying him.
But Kay Wilson feels certain they've finally found her boy. And she said he had too much sense to climb in a tight space and get stuck. She believes he was murdered by enemies and placed in the chimney.
"We live in a weird town," she said.