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22. "WAGER'S BODY FOUND", Part 2

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

Tuesday, September 16, 1975

Wagner's Family's Uneasy Wait Ends Tragically

By Calvin Engh & Jim Degennaro | Ledger Staff Writers

Phillip Wagner leaned out of his doorway about 5 p.m. Monday and watched Sheriff Monroe Brannen walk slowly up the driveway. The two men clasped hands. No words were spoken there in the doorway. No words were needed.

Wagner knew his missing son was dead – a deputy had telephoned just minutes before and said his 19-year-old boy was found in a shallow grave. A voice on the telephone is not the same as having the stark reality of the sheriff standing at your door.

Wagner invited the sheriff into his kitchen where his wife, Marjorie, sat at the table with her head buried in her hands. She looked up at Brannen to say something but the agony inside her stopped the words. Her two other children were playing nearby, oblivious to the sorrow of the three adults around them.

Brannen, who looked very tired, is a plain-spoken man and he told the distraught parents in very simple words how sorry he felt, not only for them, but for all the people in Polk County.

"This was a terrible, senseless thing that happened to your son," the sheriff said. "Sometimes it looks like there's more bad than good."

For the Wagner's of Lakeland, it was the end of weeks of uncertainty which began the evening of July 28, when their son disappeared after walking out into the yard to pick up a newspaper. The next day, July 29, when newspapers carried the story of the death of John M. Arnsdorff whose charred body was found in the trunk of a smoldering car, Mrs. Wagner felt for the first time her son was in trouble.

"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."

The senior Wagner, a former auto mechanic and truck driver, believes his son may have been murdered because he objected to seeing Arnsdorff killed. "It just doesn't fit Jimmy's nature to hurt someone," Wagner said. "He was 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."

Mrs. Wagner, in tears, echoed her husband. "Jimmy was so emotional that sometimes when I balled him out, he would cry," she said. There were no outward tears from the grieving father, but as he fought to hold them back he asked, "Why? Why? Why does a boy grow up, become of age, and go out into the world only to be killed?"

After those words, Mrs. Wagner looked at her husband for strength and said hopelessly, "I don't even know how to go about arranging a funeral."


Deaths in Polk County

The articles below are excerpts from James Wagner's death and funeral announcements. This was run alongside the investigative news piece above.

James Von Wagner

Mr. James Von Wagner, 19, 1105 Hartsell Ave. died Tuesday, July 29.

A native of Indianapolis, Ind., he came to Lakeland one year ago from Margate, Fla. He was a construction worker, of the Methodist faith and served in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War.

Survivors: parents, Mr. and Mrs. Phillip V. Wagner, Lakeland; three brothers, Steven, Phillip V. Jr. and Darrell, all of Lakeland; maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Waldrop, Carrollton, Ga.; and paternal grandmother, Irene Wagner, Lakeland.

Heath Funeral Chapel, Lakeland.



WAGNER, JAMES VON – Funeral services for Mr. James Von Wagner, 1005 Hartsell Ave., will be held Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in the Heath Funeral Chapel. The reverend Wilbern C. Michalk, Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, will officiate. Interment will follow in Oak Hill Burial Park. The family will receive friends Tuesday from 7–8:30 p.m. at Heath Funeral Chapel.

The grave of Jimmy Wagner (from Find a Grave - Oak Hill Burial Park).

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