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20. A Promising Lead.

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

Sunday, September 14, 1975

Deputies Report 'Promising' Clue In Body Search

By Calvin Engh & Jim Degennaro | Ledger Staff Writers

"It's beginning to look like Jimmy is dead. If he was alive, he would have called us by now. What we need is some concrete facts - maybe Tuesday will tell."

Those words were spoken more as a plea than a hope. Phillip and Marjorie Wagner of Lakeland were referring to sheriff's department search efforts which will continue Tuesday at down for the body of their missing 19-year-old son, James.

Sheriff's Ly. Chuck Keeney, who is heading the investigation which involves three murders, said this weekend he received a tip from an elderly woman who heard "men working" in an orange grove behind her home early in the morning about four to six weeks ago.

Wagner has been missing since July 29 and is believed to have been murdered and buried in a shallow grave in an orange west of Highland City off Clubhouse Road.

Teams of sheriff's deputies and auxiliary men on horseback, foot, and using four-wheel-drive vehicles and the department's spotter airplane have combed the hundreds of acres of groveland in the area during the past week looking for Wagner's body.

"This looks like the best thing we've had to work with yet," Keeney said. "It looks promising." The elderly woman said she was up at 4 a.m. and heard men in the grove and also heard the car leave. Keeney also talked to another resident in the area who returned from a vacation in New York Aug. 3 and found tire tracks in the rough grove. Both the grove-owner and Keeney said they could see no reason for someone prowling in the grove area because the fruit is still green.

Keeney said he hopes to use dogs for the first time in the search effort when it is renewed Tuesday. The new search location is about a quarter-mile west of Peterson Road, which has been the primary search area. The new location has not been recently cultivated, a problem deputies faced in other groves.

Wesley Irvin Johnson, 19, who has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of John M. Arnsdorff, Caleb McDowell, and Wagner, told the sheriff's investigators he helped bury Wagner in a shallow grave in an orange grove during the early morning hours of July 29.

Johnson led sheriff's deputies to a grove area where he claims Wagner is buried, but he could not pinpoint the gravesite because it was dark when the alleged burial took place.

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