COLD CASE: The disappearance of Annie Laurie Hearin

3 On Your Side Investigates: Cold case mystery - The disappearance of Annie Laurie Hearin
Published: Jul. 26, 2017 at 3:52 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2017 at 10:14 AM CDT
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Source: WLBT
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Source: Archives
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Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT

JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - On July 26, 1988, a high profile crime rocked Jackson and made national news - the abduction of a 72-year-old wealthy Jackson socialite.

Mrs. Annie Laurie Hearin had hosted a bridge club part at her home which ended that afternoon, according to Federal court documents.

The plot was laced with ransom notes, covert acts and the victims'  fear of being sealed in a cellar.

The case was filled with a terrifying trail of evidence.

29 years ago, the Jackson socialite was kidnapped from her home in the upscale Woodland Hills neighborhood. Drops of blood were found, as well as a ransom note.

Time was critical as Annie Laurie Hearin was frail and required daily medication.

The Jackson media agreed to a 24 hour blackout in order to let law enforcement do their job. Later, Jackson Mayor Dale Danks held a news conference announcing the shocking developments.

The family was desperate for answers.

Investigators swarmed the Hearin property day and night.

"Yet we had to have the reality, it was definitely a kidnapping with wrongful intent," said Mayor Danks.

The very day of Mrs Hearin's disappearance, witnesses say they spotted a suspicious white van on her street in Woodland Hills.

A disturbing ransom note with grammatical errors was discovered in the house. The ransom note directed Mr. Hearin, one of the richest men in Mississippi, not to contact the police.

It demanded Mr. Hearin pay 12 businessmen damages including Newton Alfred Winn.

Winn was a St. Petersburg attorney.

All had financial troubles linked to school pictures, and all sued by Robert Hearin who had a substantial interest in the business.

"The note was interesting from the standpoint I felt like Dr. Galvez, a Forensic psychiatrist could at least look at the note analyze it as best he could to determine what sort of character we are dealing with here," recalled Danks.

The case involved multiple state law enforcement agencies and shortly after, the Federal Bureau of Investigation stepped in.

August 15, 1988.

After Robert Hearin's plea for his wife's safe return and information about her whereabouts, the family received a letter in the mail. This time it was from Annie Laurie Hearin herself.

The envelope had an Atlanta postmark.

Mrs Hearin pleaded for Bob to cooperate with "these people" or they would seal her up in the cellar of a house with only a few jugs of water.

The note ended with "Please save me, Annie Laurie."

The next day the her wealthy husband paid nearly $1 million to the 12 businessmen.

A check totaling $145,000 was sent to Winn.

Either Winn or his attorney returned the check 10 days later according to court records.

Winn was a possible suspect early in the investigation and when questioned by authorities about his whereabouts on the date of the kidnapping, Winn denied being in Jackson.

A baffling and bizarre scheme unfolded.

Federal court documents reveal on July 29, after discussions with his attorney and agents of the FBI, Winn asked Don Ward, his paralegal, to corroborate his alibi that Ward personally saw him in Florida on July 26.

Ward told investigators that Winn called him asking him to bring money to a St. Petersburg bar and when he delivered it, that's where he found Winn outside the bar intoxicated with a prostitute.

Winn was later subpoenaed to appear for testimony before a federal grand jury in the Southern District - that was August 3.

"There were so many parts of that story that were unbelievable," said Jackson criminal attorney John Colette. "Who in their right mind would go to an airport, dye their hair in a bathroom to mail a letter."

The defendant, Newton Alfred Winn, was represented by John Colette.

"You had New Orleans, you had masks, you had disguises, you had psychics, you had missing pills, just a lot of strange situations," recalled Colette.

Court documents reveal that Marilyn Taylor, a one time girlfriend of Winn, testified that on July 31, 1988, Winn contacted her and needed a favor.

He asked if she was "trustworthy" and indicated he would call later.

He asked during a meeting August 6 with Taylor if she was followed.

Winn then wrote, "Is your car bugged?" She said no.

Taylor testified Winn told her to fly under an assumed name to Atlanta, to pay cash for her tickets, to buy a one-way ticket to Atlanta, and purchase a one-way ticket back to a different Florida airport.

She was told when she got to Atlanta to not take a cab, not talk with anyone and take mass transit to a downtown post office.

Winn instructed her to avoid detection to change her clothes and her appearance in the Atlanta airport.

The documents state, Winn put on surgical gloves and took a manila business envelope out of his coat. He said the envelope to be mailed was inside the manila envelope and wrapped in a cloth napkin.

Taylor was absolutely not to look at the face of the envelope and to dispose of the napkin and manila envelope at the airport where it would go out in the trash.

She followed most of the instructions according to her testimony in federal court.

The envelope contained Mrs. Hearin's handwritten letter.

As the federal investigation progressed, Winn's paralegal finally cooperated in the investigation and revealed the details of the conspiracy.

Ward was promised non-prosecution for this truthful cooperation. As was Marilyn Taylor.

Wynn was eventually found guilty of plotting the vengeful abduction of the Jackson millionaire's wife, convicted on conspiracy to kidnap, extortion and perjury.

"It was a  case of circumstantial evidence all the way around and as you put it, it was a mystery," Danks summed up.

Winn never admitted guilt said Colette.

"Again he never, ever even alluded to or by inference that he did it," said Colette. "Or you need to look over here. Again, it was a strange case."

The lead federal prosecutor in this daunting case was James Tucker.  Tucker recalled the case as significant and perplexing in a myriad of ways.

Wednesday, Tucker recalled details of the case.

"The ALH kidnapping case was an important high profile trial when it happened," explained Tucker. "The victim was the wife of one of Mississippi's most successful businessmen. She obviously had been forcibly kidnapped and blood became important evidentiary linchpins. The excellent investigation efforts by FBI agents in Mississippi and Florida soon turned up Wynn as a suspect early. He appeared before our grand jury and I became convinced that we had the right guy. So did the grand jury."

"We put together an amazing assortment of facts and circumstances, including practice runs for the snatch, along with road maps, rented and bought white vans, notes by ALH, assistance by Wynn compatriots, disguises, finding evidence by the road, lying to grand jury, and a missing victim now far far," noted Tucker.

Now law school dean Pat Bennett prosecuted the indictment to a packed courtroom. Outstanding defense counsel made this a trial brawl to be remembered.

Unfortunately, the mystery still remains for Annie's children.

Where are her remains?

"We got the right guy, but we didn't solve the mystery," wrote Tucker.

In the end, no confession, no murder charge and the socialite's body was never found.

Public records show Winn, was released from federal prison in April of 2006 after serving 16 years.

Annie Laurie Hearin was declared legally deceased in August 1991.

A memorial bench is placed by her husband's gravesite in Lakewood Memorial Park in Clinton.

Newton Alfred Winn died in 2012.

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