By Dave Maddox
With Labor Day approaching my thoughts return to something happened here one Labor Day years ago.
Our friends, Jack and Mary Archer, were visiting from Pensacola. Just after I’ve gone to bed the phone rang and it was Mrs. Erlma Boyles. She was frantic saying that her daughter, Glenna, and Marsha Cargill and three boys from Alabama had gone riding in Marsha’s Jeepster and had not returned.
This was prior to our area having rescue teams. Neighbors helped each other and if the search involved the water, somehow I came to mind.
Mrs. Boyles had people searching the roads in Gulf, Franklin and Calhoun counties, shining lights in the ditches to see if they had wrecked. She asked me to take the pilot boat and go to the peninsula and look for them over there.
I tried to explain to her that my boat was too big and required too much water to get near the beach. She then asked if I would take the peninsula as my search project.
I could understand her fear because the previous Christmas a couple had left Mac Miller’s store at Simmons Bayou returning home to Franklin County. The couple was never heard from. Several months later a Department of Transportation maintenance crew working on a bridge just south of Gautier Hammock on C30 found them and their submerged car in the ditch by the bridge.
I told Mrs. Boyles that I would go look for them. Jack heard the phone conversation and wanted to go. I explained to him that this was going to be a long night and that he should go back to bed, but he insisted on going. And it was a long night.
We went to Bill Cargill’s home to see if he could tell me anything about where they might have gone. When I arrived, a doctor was treating Mrs. Cargill for being so upset about the missing girls. She was also suffering with terminal cancer. Bill said that he knew something was terribly wrong because Marsha would have crawled on her hands and knees if she needed to so that they would know that she was safe. There were no cell phones or CB radios in those days.
Mrs. Boyles’ husband was also sick and her daughter, Barbara was in a hospital. Here were two families in crisis who needed help.
Jack and I drove to the Coast Guard station at the Cape San Blas lighthouse. At that time you had to log in and out there to drive across the Coast Guard station to reach the beach. Remember that there we no paved roads on the peninsula at this time. We found the man on duty and he showed us where the kids had logged in to drive on the beach, but had not logged out. We then that they were on the peninsula somewhere.
We asked the man on duty for permission to use their Jeep. We then explained the situation to the chief who agreed to help by letting two of his men take us on the Coast Guard Jeep to look for the young people. After getting several containers of water, we set out on the Gulf Beach. It was now about midnight. Although the tide had risen we could see an occasional tire track.
We continued up the beach and rounded St. Joe Point at Shark Hole. We finally saw some tail lights flashing ahead where they had bogged down. We drove as far as we could and then started walking toward them. We then heard what sounded like a herd of horses running toward us.
When we met, one of the boys as us what had taken so long to find them. I was quite unhappy with that remark after what they had put so many people through on that night. In fairness to them, I am sure that the dog flies and mosquitoes had been biting them badly because those boys were only wearing swimming trunks. Glenna was crying because we knew her mother was frantic about her.
While walking back to the Jeep I suddenly realized that there were nine adults to ride that Jeep 16 miles back down the beach to the Coast Guard station. However, much to my relief, we were all able to get on and started back. With the high tide we couldn’t drive on the hard part of the beach and had to drive in the soft sand. The driver was using four wheel drive and double low gear with that heavy load. When the engine would overheat, we would stop and let it cool. Twice the Jeep bogged down and we all pushed it out.
We finally reached the Coast Guard station and thank the two young men for their help. Seven of us got in my car and started back to St. Joe. Jack and I delivered the girls to their homes between daylight and sunup. I don’t remember what happened to the boys.
Jack had an exciting night, but it was old hat to me. The following day, George Wimberly and some men retrieved Marsha’s Jeepster from the peninsula.