It was extremely hot in Wichita, Kansas on the evening of September 4, 2001. As Mattie Mitchell got her two great-grandchildren ready for bed at 8:00 pm, it was still nearly 90 degrees outside. She turned on the air conditioner in her small bedroom, then helped 4-year-old Jaquilla Scales and 2-year-old Marcus Scales climb up into the big bed the three of them shared. It had been a busy day for Jaquilla; she had attended her first day of preschool that morning. She loved being around other kids her age, and was looking forward to going back the next day. Both she and Marcus fell asleep almost immediately after getting into bed.
Mattie got herself ready for bed and took her arthritis medication. She checked to make sure the door that led from the bedroom to the backyard was tightly closed, but she had to leave it unlocked as the lock was broken. She wasn’t too concerned; the family’s chow-chow, Bebe, slept in the backyard and would bark loudly if anyone approached. Mattie got into bed and turned the television on, taking care to keep the volume low so she wouldn’t wake up the children. Her arthritis medication always made her drowsy, and she drifted off to sleep shortly afterwards. She woke up briefly a little after midnight and noticed the bedroom was quite chilly; she turned the air conditioner down a little and made sure the children were covered up before going back to sleep.
Around 4:00 am, Mattie awoke with the feeling that something was wrong. She noticed that the door to the backyard was standing wide open. Marcus was still sleeping soundly next to her, but Jaquilla was no longer in bed. Concerned, Mattie got up and checked the backyard. It was empty except for Bebe. She quickly checked the rest of the home, but Jaquilla was nowhere to be found. At 4:06 am, Mattie called 911 and told the operator that her great-granddaughter was missing.
Jaquilla had lived with her great-grandmother since the day she was born. Her mother, Eureka Scales, was only 14 years old when she gave birth to Jaquilla. Mattie, Eureka’s maternal grandmother, had raised Eureka after her mother died when she was a child. Although Eureka was thrilled with the idea of having a daughter, she was too young to raise her on her own. Mattie assumed most of the responsibility for the little girl, just as she would with Marcus when he was born two years later. Eureka still lived in the home with Mattie, but was staying at a friend’s house on the night Jaquilla went missing.
Jaquilla was a cheerful and energetic child with an easy smile and an infectious giggle. Mattie had nicknamed her “Grammy-Boo” because she had a tendency to be bossy; the family teasingly referred to her as a little old woman. Although she could be shy and reserved around strangers, once she got to know someone she would rarely stop talking. She especially loved to show off her toy dolls and her extensive collection of brightly colored hair barrettes. She was friendly with all of her neighbors, and was often seen playing outside with her younger brother. She had never wandered away from home before, and tended to stay close to her own yard.
When Mattie called 911, the Wichita Police Department came quickly because Jaquilla was so young. Jaquilla wouldn’t have left the house by herself, Mattie thought. She was sure that someone had taken the child. She said the back door wasn’t locked and thought someone had taken the child from her bed. It was hard for the police to believe that a stranger would have been so bold as to take a child from the room where her brother and great-grandmother were sleeping. They asked if anyone else in the family could have taken Jaquilla rather than them.
Mattie said that she was in charge of the 4-year-old, but that her mother also lived there and was at a friend’s house that night. It didn’t make sense to her that Eureka would have taken her daughter without telling her, and she wasn’t sure her exact address. She was able to give police a general idea of where Eureka’s friend’s apartment was, so they could try to find her there.
Eureka and a friend had been up most of the night watching TV. They even went outside when they saw a group of police cars heading toward Mattie’s house. At the time, the two women didn’t think much of it. About an hour later, they were startled by a knock on the door. It was a police officer trying to find Eureka. They asked her if her daughter was with her once they knew she was in the apartment. Because she didn’t understand, Eureka told the police officer that her great-grandmother had her. Eureka had to hear from the police officer that her daughter had been reported missing.
Eureka was so scared that she went straight to Mattie to ask what was going on. As the police, Eureka didn’t understand how someone could have left the house with Jaquilla and no one having seen. She also pointed out that Bebe hadn’t barked. She also told the police that Jaquilla was scared of the dark and would never have gone outside at night by herself.
In the beginning of their search for Jaquilla, most of the police officers were sure they would find her. They thought she had just gotten lost and was probably still close to the house, hiding from the searchers because she thought she might be in trouble. They focused their search on the area right around Mattie’s house, looking in sheds and backyards but not finding anything. After about an hour, it became clear that none of Jaquilla’s family members had seen the child. This is when the investigation really got going.
People in the neighborhood were woken up by police officers, some with dogs, who asked to search their homes. They said they didn’t think anyone had taken the child, but they did think she might have gone into someone’s house to hide from the police. Once the neighbors got over being shocked at first, most of them quickly offered to help look for the missing child. They looked all over the neighborhood and the nearby Grove Park, calling out for Jaquilla and reassuring her that she wasn’t in any danger. There was no sign that the child was in the area.
Mattie lives on North Volutsia Avenue. Police blocked off the street in front of her house and set up a makeshift command post in the front yard. They got all of the police academy cadets together and had them help with the door-to-door search. They handed out missing poster flyers and asked everyone to keep an eye out for Jaquilla. A bloodhound and a German shepherd were brought in to help the police try to figure out where Jaquilla went, but the dogs couldn’t find any clues. There was no sign of a fight in the bedroom where Jaquilla was last seen, and the house had no blood or other signs of a fight. Police weren’t sure if a child had been taken or if the child had just gotten lost, so they kept looking into all of their options.
After the sun came up, there was more traffic in the area, and police stopped every car that was going through the neighborhood. They asked drivers questions and searched the cars. They stopped the garbage trucks and picked through the trash that had already been picked up. People stopped and searched a man who was hauling watermelons. When drivers found out that a small child was missing, they didn’t seem to mind the wait. A lot of people stopped and prayed that the little girl would come back safely.
It rained hard on the search teams that afternoon, but they kept going. Police moved their command post to Grove Park because they were sure that the area had been searched thoroughly. By the next morning, most of the city of Wichita was added to the search area. Police and FBI agents were helped in the search by hundreds of volunteers who used dogs, ATVs, and helicopters. There is a horse ranch nearby whose owner kindly let the police use three of his horses to quickly search through several parks and fields. They splashed through creeks, looked in trash cans, and searched through empty buildings in the area. They couldn’t find any hints about where Jaquilla was.
Everyone in the family was questioned by police at the station, and Eureka agreed to a polygraph test on her own. She did well and passed. Other members of the family were also questioned, but there was no evidence that any of them were hiding Jaquilla or were to blame for her disappearance.
On September 7, more than 100 people came to a prayer vigil for Jaquilla held by her neighbors. For the little girl they called Grammy-Boo, they lit candles and said prayers. Eureka cried most of the vigil because she was afraid she would never see her daughter again. Someone with information was asked to please tell the police what they knew. She also said that each hour passed made it harder for the family to stay positive.
During the first few days of the investigation, police got a lot of calls about the case. They carefully followed up on each tip. Most of them came from people who thought they had seen Jaquilla. When police followed these leads, they met a few kids who looked a lot like the missing child, but nothing helped them find her.
On September 10, police took Marcus from his great-grandmother’s house and put him in protective custody. This caused even more pain for the family. Because they didn’t know why Jaquilla was missing, they were worried that Marcus might be the next person to go missing. Both Mattie and Eureka were very sad. While the police were looking into Jaquilla’s disappearance, Mattie said she understood why they had to take him away from her. But she asked why he hadn’t been put with other family members. She and Eureka were afraid that a foster family wouldn’t know about his comfort foods, special pillow, and other things that made him feel good. Eureka could see her son a few times a month, but he had to stay in foster care while the search for Jaquilla went on.
During the first few days of the investigation, Jaquilla’s case did not get any attention from the national news media. What happened a week later seemed to confirm that most of the country would continue to ignore her case. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, took Jaquilla’s story out of the Wichita news, and for months afterward, people across the country wouldn’t talk about much else. The Wichita Police Department would keep working on her case, but because it wasn’t getting much attention, they didn’t get as many leads. By December, the case had become cold.
Eureka had a sad Christmas break. The kids squealed with joy when they opened the gifts Santa left under the tree last year. This year, her house was quiet. Marcus was still in protective custody, and Jaquilla’s case had not moved forward. Eureka finally got back custody of her son in August 2004, which was almost three years after Jaquilla disappeared.
When Jaquilla went missing, it was much harder for Mattie to deal with because she had already lost a son to gun violence and a daughter to sickle cell anemia. It seemed worse than death not knowing what happened to the little girl, and she prayed that her case would be solved. The police said they were still looking into what happened to Jaquilla, but they still didn’t know what had happened. They thought that she would have been found already if she had gone off on her own. Being able to rule out most of her family members made it seem likely that she had been taken by someone stranger, but they had no proof. They knew they probably would never be able to solve the case without help from the public. So they asked for it.
Over the years, there have been sporadic searches for Jaquilla, but there has been no progress made in the case. Police have said that they have considered several suspects as potential abductors, but they have never had enough evidence to charge anyone in her disappearance. Investigators still aren’t sure if Jaquilla is alive or dead. They never found any evidence pointing to foul play, but there have been no reported sightings of Jaquilla and it’s impossible for them to determine if she is still alive.
Jaquilla’s family believes that she was abducted that hot September morning, and they hold onto the hope that she is still alive and just unaware of the circumstance surrounding her disappearance. Her DNA is on file in a national database, and it has been checked against several unidentified bodies, but there has never been a match. Eureka believes this is because her daughter is still alive. If she is out there, Jaquilla would be 24 years old now, perhaps with vague memories of her childhood as Grammy-Boo and the little brother who still hopes she will come home.
Jaquilla Scales was 4 years old when she went missing in 2001. She has black hair and brown eyes, and at the time of her disappearance she was 3 feet tall and weighed approximately 40 pounds. She was last seen wearing a knee-length nightgown with a floral print, and she had tan barrettes in her hair. She has a brown birthmark on the left side of her face and a scar on her upper right leg. She still had her baby teeth when she disappeared, and her upper teeth had some signs of decay. If you have any information about Jaquilla, please contact the Wichita Police Department at 316–268–4646.