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16. Searching for Jimmy, Pt. 2

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

The following has been transcribed from an original 1975 Lakeland Ledger digital newspaper archive. This article has been re-typed and organized from existing digital Lakeland Ledger archives; I've transcribed them for informational and readability purposes. I do not claim any ownership/authorship of these particular articles.


The Lakeland Ledger:

Friday, August 15, 1975

Wagner's Parents Had Premonition When They Read About Murder

By Calvin Engh and Jim Degenero | Ledger Staff Writers

Jimmy Wagner stepped out of his front door about 9:30 p.m. July 28 to try and find a newspaper that had been thrown underneath the family automobile. He said he would be right back.

Minutes passed . . .

Then days . . .

And now it has been almost three weeks since the 19-year-old'd anxious parents have seen or heard from their son. His parents, Phillip and Marjorie Wagner, believe as do sheriff's investigators, that young Wagner may have been involved in some way with the July 29 death of John M. Arnsdorff, who was found in the trunk of a burning car north of Lakeland.

"I had a premonition that my Jimmy was the body in the trunk when I read the newspaper that day." Mrs. Wagner said. "Even after we learned it wasn't Jimmy in the trunk, a terrible feeling still was inside me that he was somehow connected. The apprehension made me sick."

Sheriff's Lt. Chuck Keeney told the worried parents Thursday their son was either a suspect or a victim in the murder case. The senior Wagner, a former auto mechanic and truck driver, said he is "100 percent positive" his son would have to be a victim than a suspect.

"It just doesn't fit Jimmy's nature to hurt someone," Wagner said. "He wasn't frail; he was shy, and he was an introvert. To sum it up, the boy was the type to run from a fight rather than start one." Many of the missing man's friends echoed his father's character assessment of his son.

Several construction workers at Universal Builders in Auburndale where Wagner was employed until a week before his mysterious disappearance said he was "quiet and a loner."However, many employees of local lounges Wagner frequented painted a more aggressive picture of the slightly built young man. He had been barred from at least two Lakeland night spots for pestering customers and bartenders for free drinks.

Another problem he faced in mingling in social circles was his great desire to be accepted, some tavern employees said. "Jimmy was friendly and open with people but sometimes he pushed a little too hard," a bar owner said. "He was desperately trying to find a spot in a cliche, so much so, he often got on our nerves."

His father said the young man did want to find friends here because he had only been in Plok County two months after being discharged from the Navy. "It's a shame it had to happen to him," a bartender said of Wagner's disappearance. "He was all messed up that night (July 28) and would have done anything."

Whereas Wagner may have had difficulties finding companionship in Lakeland, Arnsdorff had cultivated many friendships during his short residence in Polk County. Arnsdorff came to Polk County from Jacksonville earlier this year to manage some Florida operations in Auburndale of A, C, & S Inc., a Lanchester, Pa., based specialty contracting firm.

The native of Effingham County, Ga. brought with him a background of culture and civic-mindedness. He had been a Sunday school teacher and wrote an inspirational book entitled "Look Unto Thee Rock." Arnsdorff was also active in many historical societies, collected antiques and old coins, and was an accomplished musician.

Bust above all, he was "a gentleman's gentleman" - as one of his friends described the active 33-year-old. "John was clean, respectful of other people's feelings, and was always there when you needed him," one friend said. "He was also very generous and was quick to buy drinks for friends."

Arnsdorff, 1049 Jewel Ave., Lakeland, was last seen by neighbors at his apartment complex around dinner time on July 28. One neighbor observed him beating a rug in front of his apartment about 5:30 p.m. while another neighbor recalled seeing him sitting in his living room around 7:30 p.m.

Neighbor's said he wasn't home a great deal because he traveled often and enjoyed eating out at restaurants. He didn't entertain many friends at his apartment but when he did have a party, "he was concerned about us," a neighbor said. "John was like that - he put other people before him - it was a shame he had to die so young."

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