Curtis McGhin told his mother, Gladys, that he was too sick to go to school on Thursday, November 8, 1979. Since the 13-year-old rarely missed school and wasn’t one to fake an illness, Gladys allowed him to stay home for the day. Curt was in bed when she left to go to work, but at some point that afternoon he left his Tampa, Florida home and went to a local store to return some empty bottles for cash. What happened after that was a mystery, as Curt never returned home and was never seen alive again.

When Curt wasn’t home in time for dinner that night at 5:00 pm, his parents called the police and reported the teenager missing. Gladys told investigators that she left Curt alone when she went to work at 7:20 am. “He said he felt hot like he had a fever. He never missed school unless he was sick.” She believed he was truly ill and thought he would spend the day in bed. She had no idea he planned to leave the house.

Curt was still home around 11:30 am, when Brenda Hyatt, one of the deans at Dowdell Junior High School, called to verify that he was absent from school that day. Brenda confirmed that she spoke to Curt, who explained that his mother knew he was home sick. At some point after he spoke to Brenda, Curt gathered some empty bottles and headed for the nearby Food Mart.

Margaret Smith was working at the Food Mart when Curt came in sometime before 12:30 pm. Curt told Margaret he had some bottles he wanted to turn in for cash, but she told him that the Food Mart didn’t exchange bottles for cash. She pointed him in the direction of the Shop ‘N Go food store located half a block away and watched as he headed off in that direction.

Curt carried his bottles into the Shop ‘N Go and approached clerk Loretta Coley and asked her if he could turn the bottles in there. Loretta said the question surprised her, because “most school kids know the store takes bottles.” She completed the exchange and Curt left the store. She didn’t watch him leave so she didn’t know which direction he headed in after he walked out of the door.

Curt’s movements over the next few hours were unknown; although several people came forward and said they saw him in the Palm River area later that afternoon. The last reported sighting of him was around 5:50 pm, when some of his friends said they saw him either in or next to a gray Volkswagen. After that, he disappeared.

Curt was the oldest of Dan and Gladys McGhin’s three children. At the time of his disappearance, his sister was 11 years old and his brother Raymond was 9 years old. He was a quiet and polite teenager who spent most of his free time riding his bicycle around the neighborhood. He had no history of running away from home and his parents were certain he hadn’t disappeared voluntarily.

Neighbors said that Curt was a very well-behaved teenager; Erika Burke noted, “He was a son like any mother would hope a son to be.” He tended to stick close to home, but his parents had recently started letting him ride his bike to his grandmother’s home on Palm River Drive, about two miles away.

After Dan and Gladys reported Curtis missing, they spent hours driving around the area, searching in vain for any sign of Curt or his bicycle. They checked with his friends and stopped by all the places he was known to frequent, but he was nowhere to be found.

Weeks went by, and Curt remained missing. There were no reported sightings of the teenager and detectives admitted that they had no idea what had happened to him. Then, on December 20, 1979, two men collecting palmetto fronds stumbled upon human skeletal remains in a wooded field about two miles away from the Shop ‘N Go where Curt was last seen. Curt had finally been found.

The area where the bones were found was used as a dump site by locals. The bones were charred when they were found, but investigators weren’t sure if the fire had been deliberately set to burn the bones or if they had merely been on the ground when a brush fire broke out. The medical examiner confirmed that the remains belonged to Curt but was unable to determine an exact cause of death.

Finley Collingwood, an elderly man who lived near the dumping site, told detectives that he recalled hearing three or four gunshots fired in the area the previous month, but he hadn’t paid much attention at the time. Another local said that it was common for cars to pass through the area just to dump trash, ignoring the two “No Dumping” signs on prominent display.

Curt’s parents didn’t believe he was familiar with the area where his body was found; as far as they knew, he had never ridden his bike over there and they didn’t think he would have gone there on his own. Dan noted, “For him to be in this area, somebody was holding him against his will.” An extensive search of the area failed to find any sign of Curt’s bike; it was possible the ki*ller kept it as a souvenir.

Although Curt’s parents had feared the worst from the beginning, the news that his body had been found devastated the entire family. Gladys admitted, “In our hearts, we knew we would never see him alive again. I always had a fear he was abducted. But I didn’t voice it.” Until the end, she had prayed for a miracle.

Raymond didn’t take Curt’s death well. “I was numb. I ran away from the house. I just stayed away and told myself it wasn’t my brother.” The fact that detectives were unable to find Curt’s ki*ller didn’t help; the family couldn’t heal from Curt’s death while his mur*derer was still on the loose. For decades, they hoped that someone would come forward with the information needed to solve the case, but it never happened.

After Curt’s body was found, the family found it too hard to remain in the home where he had been raised; they built a new house on the property next to where Curt’s grandparents lived. It was bittersweet; Curt had loved to visit his grandmother and help her work in her garden, and he would have been thrilled to live next door to her.

Although detectives admitted that they had no solid leads in Curt’s mu*rder, his mother said the family was holding out hope the k*iller would be found. “We would like to see whoever done it get caught. We’re not out for revenge…we just want to see that no one else goes through what we’ve gone through.”

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Lt. Larry Terry admitted that it wasn’t going to be an easy case to solve. Curt’s body had been out in the elements for six weeks before it was found, leaving only skeletal remains that yielded no clues to the identity of the kil*ler. “We’ve talked to a lot of people, but we have no suspects in the case.”

Years went by and the case remained unsolved. Kimberly had problems processing the death of her older brother, and she experienced periods of dark depression. She was hospitalized numerous times, starting when she was still in high school. She later admitted, “I had a lot of survivor’s guilt. I felt like Curt should have been the one to survive.”

Raymond recalled that Curt’s death had torn the family apart emotionally. “I felt unloved because Curt wasn’t there and the family withdrew from each other. I didn’t have someone I could talk to if something was wrong.” He admitted that he acted out at times and ended up in prison, but after his release he began seeing a therapist and worked hard to put his life back together.

Both of Curt’s parents died without ever learning who was responsible for his mu*rder; Gladys in 2008 and Dan in 2020. Curt’s brother and sister are still alive and remain hopeful that the person who k*illed him will eventually be brought to justice.

Curtis James McGhin was just 13 years old when he was mur*dered in Tampa, Florida in November 1979. He was a polite and friendly teenager who enjoyed riding his bike and helping his grandmother with her garden. The circumstances surrounding Curt’s death are murky and detectives were never able to identify any potential suspects; Curt’s bicycle, which he was riding when he disappeared, has never been found. If you have any information about Curt’s death, please contact the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Unit at 813–247–8655.

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