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.
At about 11:30 a.m., Brenda Hyatt, one of the deans at Dowdell Junior High School, called Curt to make sure he wasn’t at school that day. Brenda said she did talk to Curt, who told her that his mom knew he was home sick. After he talked to Brenda, Curt got some empty bottles and went to the Food Mart that was close by.
It was before 12:30 pm when Curt came in to see Margaret Smith at work at the Food Mart. Margaret told Curt that the Food Mart did not trade bottles for cash. Curt told her that he had some bottles he wanted to trade in. She pointed him in the direction of the Shop ‘N Go store, which was only half a block away, and then she watched him walk away.
Curt brought his bottles into the Shop ‘N Go and asked Loretta Coley, the cashier, if he could return them there. Loretta said she was shocked by the question because “most kids in school know the store takes bottles.” After the trade was done, Curt left the store. The woman didn’t see him leave, so she didn’t know which way he went when he left the house.
People came forward and said they saw Curt in the Palm River area later that afternoon, but no one knew where he went in the following hours. Around 5:50 pm, some of his friends said they saw him in or next to a gray Volkswagen. That was the last time anyone saw him. After that, he was no longer seen.
Their three kids were named Curt, Dan, Gladys, and John. While he was gone, his sister was 11 years old and his brother Raymond was 9 years old. His favorite thing to do in his free time was ride his bike around the neighborhood. He was a quiet and polite teen. He had never been known to run away from home before, and his parents were sure he hadn’t left on his own.
People who lived nearby said Curt was a very good-behaved teenager. Erika Burke said, “He was a son like any mother would hope a son to be.” He stayed close to home most of the time, but his parents recently started letting him ride his bike to Palm River Drive, about two miles away, to visit his grandmother.
After Dan and Gladys said Curtis wasn’t there, they drove around the area for hours looking for him and his bike but couldn’t find them. That person was not to be found. His friends were asked about him and all the places he was known to hang out were searched.
Curt was still missing after weeks. The teenager had not been seen in a while, and detectives said they had no idea what had happened to him. Then, on December 20, 1979, two men who were collecting palmetto fronds found the bones of a person in a wooded field about two miles from where Curt was last seen. Curt had been found at last.
People in the area where the bones were found dumped trash there. When the bones were found, they were badly burned, but investigators weren’t sure if the fire was set on purpose to k*ill the bones or if they were just lying on the ground when a brush fire started. The medical examiner confirmed that Curt’s body was there, but they couldn’t say for sure what k*illed him.
An old man named Finley Collingwood who lived near the dump told police that he remembered hearing three or four gunshots in the area a month before, but he wasn’t paying much attention. Two big signs that say “No Dumping” are in plain sight, but another local said it was common for cars to drive through the area just to dump trash.
Curt’s parents didn’t think he knew the area where his body was found; his parents knew he had never ridden his bike there and didn’t think he would have gone there by himself. “For him to be in this area, someone was holding him against his will,” Dan said. Many people looked all over the area but couldn’t find Curt’s bike. It’s possible that the ki*ller kept it as a souvenir.
Curt’s parents had been afraid of the worst from the start, but when they heard that his body had been found, it broke their hearts. “In our hearts, we knew we would never see him alive again,” Gladys said. I always thought he was taken away. I didn’t say it, though.” She had prayed for a miracle all the way to the end.
Ray didn’t like that Curt had died. “I felt nothing. I left the house quickly. I stayed away and told myself it wasn’t my brother. Detectives weren’t able to catch Curt’s k*iller, which made things worse. Curt’s family couldn’t get over his death while the k*iller was still on the loose. They hoped for decades that someone would come forward with the clues they needed to solve the case, but no one did.
The family could not stay in the house where Curt had grown up after his body was found. They built a new house on the land next to where Curt’s grandparents lived. Sadness filled the room. Curt loved going to see his grandmother and helping her with her garden. He would have loved living next door to her.
Detectives said they didn’t have any solid leads in the case of Curt’s m*urder, but his mother said the family was still hoping that the kil*ler would be found. “We want the person who did it to be caught.” We don’t want to get even; all we want is for no one else to have to go through what we did.
Lt. Larry Terry of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said it wouldn’t be easy to put the case together. Curt’s body had been out in the weather for six weeks before it was found. There were only skeletal remains left, which did not help investigators figure out who ki*lled him. “We’ve asked a lot of people about it, but we still don’t have any leads.”
Years went by, and the case was still open. Kimberly had a hard time dealing with the de*ath of her older brother, and she went through dark periods of depression. From the time she was in high school until now, she was hospitalized many times. “I had a lot of survivor’s guilt,” she said later. I thought Curt should have been the one to make it out alive.
Raymond remembered that the de*ath of Curt had caused a lot of emotional pain in the family. “Being without Curt and seeing my family pull away from each other made me feel unloved.” If something went wrong, I couldn’t talk to anyone. He admitted that he sometimes acted out and went to jail. When he got out, he started seeing a therapist and worked hard to get his life back on track.
Curt’s parents, Gladys in 2008 and Dan in 2020, both died before they could find out who ki*lled Curt. Curt’s brother and sister are still alive and still believe that the person who k*illed him will be caught and punished.
In November 1979, Curtis James McGhin was kil*led in Tampa, Florida. He was only 13 years old. He liked riding his bike and helping his grandmother with her garden. He was a nice and friendly teenager. It’s not clear how Curt died, and detectives have never been able to find any possible suspects. Curt’s bike, which he was riding when he disappeared, has also never been found. Please call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Unit at 813–247–8655 if you know anything about Curt’s de*ath.