One year ago, sheriff’s deputies in Granville County began searching for John Terry, a 57-year-old driver for UPS who restored Model A Fords on the side.
They combed his 1.4-acre property on the Virginia line, including Kerr Lake, which stretches out from the end of Terry’s land. No trace.
But from the outset of their hunt, Sheriff Brindell Wilkins Jr. made it clear he considered Terry’s disappearance a homicide – not a missing person case. And his deputies continue to pursue it as such, absent a body.
His case hasn’t gotten much attention in the Triangle, maybe because Terry lived so far north in Granville County that you have to pass into Virginia to reach his driveway. Or maybe because he didn’t have any children or living parents to press for answers. But two things are clear to me: Terry’s quiet life got messy toward the end, and he deserves some peace no matter what happened.
The eye-catching detail in this case is that Terry disappeared on the day of his divorce hearing.
He’d filed to separate from his second wife, Lillian, whom he accused in court files of committing adultery and tampering with his bottle of Mountain Dew. He asked for an unequal distribution of their assets, allowing him to keep their house, furniture and car.
But on the other side, Lillian Reamer Taylor has denied those allegations in court and, through her attorney Lawrence Tickle, told me her husband was carrying on his own affair with a Durham masseuse. Three years ago, deputies charged Terry with assault on a female, and according to Tickle, his wife dropped the charges only on the condition he stop seeing the masseuse.
But whomever is right about infidelity, Terry failed to show up for court on Sept. 8. Since then, investigators have searched the Bullock property twice, dredged Kerr Lake and hunted for clues on his wife’s family farm in Virginia.
“She feels like she’s being accused of something she’s not done,” said Tickle, who added investigators have never probed the masseuse angle. “They’ve looked at her and found nothing. My client isn’t the biggest lady in the world.”
By friends’ accounts, Terry came from a humble family in Raleigh, where he grew up an Eagle Scout, active in youth fellowship at Edenton Street Methodist Church. After he finished Methodist College in Fayetteville in 1980, he started his career at UPS, moving up to the high-paying routes of double tractor-trailers, keeping an accident-free record.
“I knew John to be honest, reliable, steady, frugal, and faithful,” said his childhood friend John Vaughn, now a private investigator and a retired agent for the State Bureau of Investigation. “All true to the way in which he was raised.”
Terry inherited a 1929 Ford Model A Roadster from his father, which he restored to perfection. “It’s a show-winner,” said friend and fellow Model A enthusiast Hugh Smith. “Looked like it came off the Ford assembly line.” Smith recalled meeting Terry in 2011, when he brought the Roadster all the way to San Diego. They started a local Model A club together, and Terry bought two more sedans.
“We Model A’d all around,” Smith said. “We just had a good time together.”
In July 2015, Terry filed for divorce from his second wife, Lillian Terry, whom he’d married in 2006. In his court filing, he accused her of adultery, excessive alcohol and drug use, threats, verbal abuse and withdrawing from their marriage. When he asked for the house and other assets, he expressed fear his wife would try to sell or hide their property.
Also included in their court records is a “request for admissions” sent to Terry’s wife, a legal document in which she was asked to admit or deny having extramarital sex and breaking the seals on Terry’s Mountain Dew bottles, replacing the soda with a foreign substance. She rejected these allegations in later legal filings.
The day after Terry failed to show up for the divorce hearing, a co-worker at UPS called the sheriff’s office reporting him missing. Lillian Terry gave an interview to ABC11 last October, in which she described deputies searching their home and her family’s farm in Virginia.
“I don’t understand why they’re giving me such a hard time because I’ve never been in any trouble,” she told the television station. “I mean, can you see me killing somebody? I mean look at me.”
At the time, she said she did not know what happened to her husband, and that she still loved him. On her Facebook page, this post from September 2015 appears the only reference made to Terry since his disappearance: “PLEASE EVERYONE SAY A LITTLE EXTRA PRAYER FOR ME TONIGHT,” which she followed with, “IM LIVING IN A NIGHTMARE.”
Tickle said that deputies found Terry’s blood on a shaving razor during a search of their home, and that a second sample of blood came from an animal their cat had dragged inside. In court arguments to come later, he said, a Granville County detective testified that no evidence of guilt pointed to Terry’s wife. Last week, Tickle told me that the masseuse’s brothers harassed Terry’s wife on their property, and that she called police. But he didn’t know their names, and I couldn’t find any such report from their address.
In December, Terry’s two sisters sued his wife seeking to gain control of his assets, arguing that Linda Terry Jones of Buncombe County should be named temporary receiver. Then, in a counterclaim, Terry’s wife fired back that her husband had a strained and distant relationship with his sister Jones, and she argued for her own position over her husband’s property.
But in March, a judge chose Jones, giving her custody of all his assets, including a Model A Ford, allowing Terry to remain on the property but removing her husband’s boat, trailer and other property. Neither Jones nor her sister Susan Cox would be interviewed for this column, though Cox, in Raleigh, said, “Things are going on and we’re hopeful something will break soon.” Legal wranglings continue.
As sordid and personal as all of this sounds, I think it’s important to air as many facts as possible to keep the case from slipping out of public view. The longer Terry stays missing, the greater the risk of his trail going cold. Regardless of how or why it happened, no man should stay missing.