Family marks one year in case of Ratliff disappearance

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 2, 2009

It’s the constant support of the Brookhaven community that haskept Charles “Ploochie” Ratliff afloat since his beloved wifeVirginia’s disappearance one year ago Saturday, family memberssaid.

“I have to say with unquestioned sincerity that the people ofthis community have been friends to both of them through him for ayear,” said Virginia Ratliff’s brother Caby Byrne. “There are stillconsistent people that come by to check on him and offer to dothings for him. So often you think things would kind of wane likethat, but that’s certainly not been true here and that’s made adifference in his life.”

Virginia’s disappearance kicked off manhunts, air searches,media campaigns and personal quests, but very little remains knownabout her disappearance or possible whereabouts.

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Following her disappearance in late February 2008, friends andfamily members said at first that she may have attempted to driveto Jackson to see her husband in the hospital and gotten lostduring a bout of dementia. But now she seems to have disappearedinto thin air.

“What we know now is in better perspective now that the emotionsare under control,” Byrne said. “We’re better able to at least talkabout the reality that it’s been a year and something of a foulplay nature may have actually occurred rather than her being lostsomewhere.

“The logic is that the car would have been found if not her,” hecontinued, “whereas if she were the victim of foul play, that opensup all kinds of avenues that are harder to trace.”

Officials said leads came from all over the South in the search,but that none of them have panned out. Still, Brookhaven PoliceChief Pap Henderson and Assistant Chief Nolan Jones said as far asthey are concerned, the investigation will never be over until theyhave discovered what has become of Virginia Ratliff.

“We certainly haven’t stopped looking,” Henderson said. “Everytime we hear something from another jurisdiction, we call theagency. We don’t rely simply on NCIC (National Crime InformationComputer). We let them know ourselves that we have a missing personand we’re searching for her.”

High-tech photography experts were brought in for air searchesto see if anything could be uncovered in a radius that includedlong stretches of Interstate 55 and Highways 84, 550 and 51.

The digital imaging technology searchers used last year hasnever failed to find a missing person if that person is actuallylost within the search area, officials said. That is what hasBrookhaven police and other authorities baffled.

Both Virginia Ratliff and her white Mercury Grand Marquis havebeen entered on NCIC, and various alerts have been issued all overthe country that would lead authorities back to Brookhaven if she,her car, or any of her DNA turns up. And it is for that reason thatinvestigators still pursue any and every lead.

“We, especially Assistant Chief Jones, have spent a lot of hoursworking this case and followed a lot of leads, and we have notgiven up,” Henderson said. “We don’t take anything for granted. Wedon’t set any lead aside, and we aren’t satisfied, and we don’tplan on giving up.”

Authorities have asked that anyone with possible informationcall the Brookhaven Police Department at 601-833-2424, the LincolnCounty Sheriff’s Department at 601-833-5231, or the Lincoln CountyCrimestoppers at 601-823-0150.

Jones said DNA samples from Virginia Ratliff’s home and familyhave been sent to the National Missing Persons Program at theUniversity of North Houston, which processes DNA similar to the wayfingerprints can be nationally processed. That way, if any forensicsign of Ratliff appears, investigators won’t have to search forweeks or even months to find out who it belongs to.

But Byrne said the hard part is the worry that people will beginto forget about his sister. He worries that as time passes, shewill begin to fade in the memory of all but those who love her.

“I thought this year anniversary might be our last shot to havea reason to have a focus on her, because what’s going to be thereason to bring it up when it’s still an open case six months fromnow or two years from now?” he said. “It might in Brookhaven butnot necessarily other places.”

But he said it still surprises him when he talks to people whoknow exactly who Virginia Ratliff is. He said there are still signsall over the place that the search continues.

“I had occasion to have to go to the courthouse in Jackson, andwhen I went through the detectors, there’s Virginia’s flyer on thewall all by itself,” Byrne said. “That made me feel good that thereis still some potential awareness out there.”

As the family has finally begun to pack up her things ratherthan leaving them exactly as they were when she left, Byrne saidhis heart is moved for his brother-in-law, who has been forced tolearn to live life as a single person again, without his partner ofmore than 62 years.

“He gets up in the morning and has a routine that works for himas far as breakfast and getting dressed – he’s not sitting in ahousecoat somewhere moping,” Byrne said. “And each morning, weatherpermitting, he’s going to feed the birds, though he can’t take careof the squirrels quite like he used to, and he can’t go gather upthe cans from Wal-Mart for the animal rescue league like he andVirginia used to. He misses doing those things.”

And Byrne said visits, phone calls and letters are alwaysappreciated at the Ratliff home. He said sometimes even junk mailcan be a high point in a day to his brother-in-law.

“It probably makes the days longer when he doesn’t see anybodyand doesn’t get the phone calls and the like,” Byrne said. “He’sdone what he can to take care of himself personally, butconversations help him stay mentally in touch. And I know the nightis a lonely time for him.”

But Ratliff is making it. By putting one foot in front of theother on this journey, he continues to move forward, Byrnesaid.

“The main reality we’ve dealt with has been him being able tosustain himself, and it’s been a collaborative adventure,” Byrnesaid. “He amazes us, he’s still very much in tune with whathappens, but he just misses the things they enjoyed doing together.That’s his grief, but he’s done an amazing job of keeping that inperspective.”