Jessica Stacks missing since New Year’s Day: a nine month review of the search and investigation
Friday, New Year’s Day, 2021, 6 a.m.
The last provable sighting of Jessica Stacks alive was at about 6 a.m. on Friday, January 1, New Year’s Day, 2021. That was nine months tomorrow, October 1, 2021.
At that time, about an hour before sunrise, Stacks and Jerry Wayne Baggett were seen together, and their images were captured on a video at the West Union (Poolville) Quick Stop west of New Albany. The store is on the north side of Highway 30, between its intersections with County Road 46 and County Road 515.
The temperature was 66F degrees, warm for New Year’s Day in north Mississippi, It had rained in western Union County that morning. At 6 a.m., it was still cloudy and dark, an hour before sunrise.
Jerry Wayne Baggett later told Union County law enforcement officers that, not long after they left the store, he and Stacks put a small boat into the Little Tallahatchie River at the County Road 46 bridge. The CR 46 bridge is 1.5 airline miles south/southwest of the Poolville store.
Bagget told public safety officials that Willie Stinson, a Union County resident, assisted him and Stacks in putting the boat into the river. He said Stacks gave her cell phone to Stinson, so he could be called to pick them up later when they wanted to end their excursion on the river.
The small boat had no motor and no proper oars or paddles. Improvised objects, possibly including a small flat shovel, were apparently to be used to control the boat.
Rains had swollen the Little Tallahatchie and the current in the long straight channel, created by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project in the 1930s, was swift.
The skies had cleared a short while after the time Baggett said they launched the boat into the wild running river.
He said Stacks asked to get out of the boat a short distance after they put in. Baggett said he let her out of the boat on the right (north) bank of the river.
Friday, New Year’s Day 2021, 10 p.m.
Well over 12 hours after Stacks and Baggett were said to have put the boat in the Tallahatchie, Union County law enforcement was informed that Stacks was missing.
Baggett told public safety officials that night that, sometime after putting Stacks out on the right bank, he landed the boat and got out of it on the left bank of the river some distance downstream. Baggett said he called his son on a cell phone to come pick him up. Someone, it is not clear who, did retrieve Baggett. It is unclear why so much time elapsed before Stacks was reported missing.
A search was started immediately that night, and search and rescue resources were gathered for an intensive search.
Saturday, January 2, 2021, Daylight
Extensive search and rescue resources were brought together from around the state, and an exhaustive search for Stacks started at daybreak on Saturday, January 2.
Heat seeking drones were put in the air, working a grid pattern over the flooded river and river bottom in the attempt to find Stacks.
Using boats, all-terrain vehicles and on foot, local public safety officials searched for Stacks.
They were joined in the search by more than 30 members of a task force of people certified by National Search and Rescue Association (NSRA).
Baggett showed searchers the spot where he said Stacks left the boat on the north bank of the river.
Near that spot investigators found a place where someone had sat down on the ground for a period of time. Nearby they found a tree that had been cut or chopped on with some kind of sharp instrument. Some small limbs had been cut off of the tree. Oddly, a breaker fuse, about three inches long was found, stuck in a crevice of the tree.
About 50 yards from the tree, investigators found a single green LaCrosse-type rubber boot with the top cut off. Before the boot was found, Baggett had told law enforcement officers Stacks had cut the top off of the boot because it was rubbing on her leg. Only a single boot was found, a lady’s size six or seven.
A coat believed to have been similar to one Stacks had been wearing was found near the single boot.
Investigators tracked someone, presumably Stacks, about 100 yards west up the river bank toward County Road 46. The tracks then turned north some distance toward Highway 30, but disappeared into water standing in a crop field.
Sunday, January 3, 2021
A Mississippi Highway Patrol helicopter joined the search for Stacks on Sunday, but no trace of her was found.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
By January 10, nighttime temperatures in the Tallahatchie River bottom had dropped to a seasonably typical 32 degrees or below, reducing the likelihood of survival for anyone not properly clothed or sheltered.
Late January, 2021
After three weeks of intensive searching, the focus of the search tended to change to that of perhaps recovering Stacks’s body from the river.
Early in the week of January 24, teams of searchers with boats and cadaver dogs joined the search for Stacks. Three of the teams searching for Stacks with cadaver recovery dogs were from out of state. Stacks was not found, nor were there any encouraging leads.
Monday, March 1, 2021
In early March, after Stacks had been missing for two months, Union County Sheriff Jimmy Edwards said the investigation had become complicated by crank calls, including someone who claimed to have seen a body under the Rocky Ford bridge and another individual who claimed to “know where Jessica is buried.”
“It is still an active case,” Edwards told NEMiss.News. “We will continue to follow every lead we get in our efforts to find Jessica Stacks.”
Although the disappearance of Jessica Stacks remained an “active” case, no useful new evidence was developed except during the first 48 hours following the report of her disappearance. While public safety officials continued to focus some resources on the case, the concentrated search for her ended months ago.
Interest was kept alive by speculation on Facebook and other social media. Law enforcement officials spent countless hours pursuing “leads” that sprung from social media, but none produced useful evidence.
Curiosity about the Jessica Stacks case spiked upward after Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito was reported missing by her family on Sept. 11, 2021. The story made national news, and Petito’s body was found in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sept. 19. Petito’s death was ruled a homicide. Police are still searching for her boyfriend.
Posters seeking information about Jessica Stacks continue to appear around Union County. Interest on social media and other websites continues.
Someone purporting to be Stacks’s mother, Cathy Paden, posted a notice on a website called change.org, in which the Union County Sheriff’s Department was charged with “not doing a proper investigation” and said local law enforcement “didn’t see any sign of ‘fowl’(sic) play.” That posting also complained about Jerry Wayne Baggett, saying the police “believed everything he said.”
At this time law enforcement officials have no physical evidence that a crime has been committed. That, of course, might change when and if a body is found.
Law enforcement officials spent many hours talking with Baggett and trying to determine the truthfulness of his statements to them.
Thursday, September 30, 2021
A public safety official, close to the investigation from the first hour Stacks was reported missing, told NEMiss.News, “If you go by what he says and what little evidence we found, it matches what Baggett said.”
That same source, who has extensive experience boating on the Tallahatchie and other Mississippi streams in all kinds of weather, also said, “The river was wild that morning, a fast tricky current. There is no way I would have gotten into it in that kind of boat that morning, especially without a motor.”
When will Jessica Stacks be found?
In addition to investigative efforts by the Union County Sheriff’s office, other public safety agencies, including the Mississippi Highway Patrol, the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security Search and Rescue Task Force, at least three teams of out-of-state investigators, firefighters trained in rescue work, etc. have tried to find Jessica Stacks and determine what happened to her. All together several thousand hours of time have been spent on the search and investigation.
About 600,000 people disappear in the United States every year, and around 90 percent of them are found dead or alive within a relatively short time. That means, of course, that around 60,000 disappear every year and are not found.
Future months may reveal more about the disappearance of Jessica Stacks. This article summarizes what is known and verifiable right now, from what NEMiss.News knows to be dependable sources.