The mystery of a missing Liberty County family has taken a deadly turn. On March 31, Jewel and Mildred Cleveland and her son Jason Howard vanished. Yesterday, Liberty County deputies, along with GBI agents, made a gruesome discovery near Highway 196 in Gum Branch. They uncovered the remains of two people in the Clevelands' backyard.
Authorities have not identified the bodies, but the Liberty County Sheriff's Department says logical assumptions lead them to believe they are the remains of Jewel and Mildred Cleveland. Meanwhile, a nationwide alert has been sounded for Jason Howard.
The small, quiet town of Gum Branch is trying to make sense of it all.
For 37 years, Alsennia Manous lived next door to the Clevelands. Alsennia and Midlred became close friends. "If I needed something, she was there, and if she needed something or we heard something, we would call on each other," Alsennia recalled.
Those calls ended a few months ago. Alsennia says when Mildred and Jewel went missing, she hoped and prayed they would be found alive. "After they found his wheelchair and her medicine, I became very doubtful," she said.
Tuesday morning, Alsennia's worst fears may have come true. Police found two bodies in a two-foot grave behind the Clevelands' house next to a storage building. This gruesome discovery has rattled the quiet town.
"Nothing like this before has happened," said neighbor and Gum Branch city councilman Richard Strickland. "It's very shocking."
Strickland lived next to the Clevelands and says their disappearance surprised the neighborhood. But he says not many people knew much about them or Mildred's missing son, Jason Howard. "There were not outdoors much, they stayed to their own."
"I can't imagine anyone doing something like that," said Alsennia.
Autopsies on the bodies will be performed today. Meanwhile, police will turn up the heat in the search for Jason Howard, who they will not say is the prime suspect at this point. They only say he is a material witness.