The story may ring a bell for someone who has lived around here for a while. As you read through the details it may jog your memory enough to make you realize that, yeah, you kind of remember when that happened.
But for Tanya Eason and her son Jaxson Douglas, it’s a story that they will never forget, a story that they will live with for the rest of their lives, and – perhaps worst of all – a story that even after four years has no ending.
Billy Douglas, Jaxson’s father, disappeared on Lake Wedowee near Flat Rock on July 13, 2015. According to reports at the time the Ranburne native was out on the lake late that night with two friends when he jumped out of the boat following an argument with the other two passengers.
They told investigators that they threw the 31-year-old Douglas a flotation device, but he refused to take it. He disappeared in the water, and they were unable to find him again.
His disappearance prompted a search on the lake that lasted nearly two weeks and involved over 20 rescue organizations from different locales throughout the southeast.
To this day, no trace of Douglas has been found. His absence made Eason a single mother, and she still struggles to come to terms with the mystery of what exactly happened that fateful July night.
“People forget, but we still live with it everyday,” Eason said. “I don’t want people to forget about him. He was a human being just like we are. At the very least whatever happened to him he deserves a proper burial that we can’t give him.”
Adding to the mystery was the fact that the night before he vanished, Douglas had been in an altercation in which he was stabbed and reportedly required upwards of 40 stitches. Casual observers may find it logical to link the two incidents, but Eason has been assured that there was no connection between them.
“They said that has nothing to do with it,” Eason said. “It sounds like it’s related, but I’ve questioned the police that were involved that questioned the people that had stuff to do with that, and even his family and his brother, nobody thinks it’s related.”
Every year since Douglas has been gone, Eason has taken their son Jaxson, who is now 7 years old, from their home in Carrollton, Ga., to the boat ramp on Highway 48 across from the marina to set up a memorial in Billy’s honor. Those annual treks are the only acts of memoriam that have been taken by Douglas’s family since he vanished.
“I guess we kept hoping they’d find him so we could do something then,” Eason said. “But time kept going on.”
Eason said Jaxson, who was three at the time of his father’s disappearance, cried for two years in grief over his dad’s absence. And every time Jaxson has a helium balloon, “he lets it go in the sky to his daddy,” Eason said.
While the facts of Douglas’s case seem straightforward, Eason believes there may be more to what happened than the official story that was reported.
“There’s nothing that hasn’t gone through my mind of what could have happened to him, but your brain gets tired because you just come up with so many different scenarios,” she said. “And you get tired because you want the actual truth. You get tired of speculating what really happened.”
It’s that element of the unknown that keeps her vigilant in her efforts to find out the whole truth.
“I’m not going to give up ever,” Eason said. “If I don’t fight for him, who’s going to? I can know when my son gets old enough to comprehend this more that I’ve done everything in my power to try to find [Billy] and get answers.”
The Alabama State Bureau of Investigation has recently taken up the case, largely because of the insistence of Eason and Douglas’s remaining family members. So far that investigation has not produced any new information, but Eason is hopeful that one day she and her son will have some sort of closure, an ending to this story they can’t forget.
“It’s just always there. It doesn’t go away,” Eason said. “I have his son. His son looks like him. There’s constant reminders of him, and I don’t want to forget him. I don’t want others to forget him.”
If you have any information on the 2015 disappearance of Billy Douglas you can call the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation’s confidential crime hotline at 800-392-8011.