WAKULLA WHODUNNIT: Kidnapped at the Worm Grunt (SOPCHOPPY)

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WHAT:      A traveling "no touch" murder mystery that takes participants on a scavenger hunt throughout Sopchoppy.

WHEN:   Saturday, December 5, 2020 from 11:50am – 2pm.

HOW MUCH:    $10. All participants must pay entry fee before THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3rd 6PM DEADLINE. ($10 is the same for single and group contestants.)

HOW:  

Contestants pay $10 entry fee online.

On Sat. Dec. 5 contestants arrive at designated STARTING LINE in Sopchoppy. STARTING LINE LOCATION:  The Toll House. When in Sopchoppy, turn onto ROSE STREET. Turn RIGHT on WINTRAP AVE. The Toll House is the big brown wooden house. 64 Wintrap Avenue. 

12 NOON:  Contestants receive "clue" to their first destination. They climb in their car and travel to that destination for another clue. The game continues in this fashion as teams are eliminated along the way.

Whodunnit winners receive $100 (1st Place), $50 (2nd Place)

A great holiday gift to yourself or someone else!  You can save more with the following BUNDLE OPTIONS:

2 Wakulla Whodunnit HOLIDAY Mysteries for $15

All 3 Wakulla Whodunnit HOLIDAY Mysteries for $25

CLICK HERE for details

 

THE STORY:  

The Bait Man Millionaire

  The Jaynkins family lives in Sopchoppy, Florida, just off Highway 319. Due to the unfortunate events and in respect to privacy, the current whereabouts of the Jaynkins family will not be made available to the public.  Family and authorities are seeking the public's help in locating their patriarch, Luth Earl Jaynkins, who went missing this past April after having attended the Sopchoppy Worm Grunting Festival. 

WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR

On Saturday morning, April 11, food and craft vendors were setting up their stations along the beginning section of Rose Street in downtown Sopchoppy. Organizers scurried back and forth guiding vendors, answering questions and setting the scene for The 20th Annual Worm Grunting Festival.   

Mariah Jaynkins recalls making her husband, Luth Earl, a breakfast of eggs, grits, and bacon around 8:45am. According to Luth Earl, things didn’t really get kicking at the festival until around 9:30-10am. However, he liked to arrive early.

Years ago, Luth Earl became known as the Bait Man Millionaire. He was doing pretty well in the bait woods in the ‘70’s, until the famed CBS news legend Charles Kuralt came to town, alerting the world that one could make a decent living worm grunting in the bait woods. Agents from the IRS and U.S. Forest Service saw the Kuralt interviews and, less than a few months later, worm grunting was taxed and regulated. 

Local lore has it that Luth Earl had amassed a tiny fortune before the dollar vultures swooped down for their take. According to his wife, Mariah, Luth Earl did not speak about his finances, not even to her.  The two were married in the early 80’s with an understanding that it was the “love” that kept them together. But, if pushed, the greenbacks that would tear them apart. 

And so, on that morning when Luth Earl left to make his way to the worm grunt, Mariah continued her Saturday as usual. She became concerned around 6pm, when Luth Earl had not come home. There were other events, concerts and such, that continued until 10pm, sometimes later, but Luth Earl was not known to attend any of them in years past.

Around 8pm, Mariah contacted her sons, Myron and Luke, to go down to Rose Street and find their father. The sons did as requested, but to no avail. Luth Earl was nowhere to be seen. However, his truck was located at an old storefront that was known, back in the day, as the Jr. Food Store. 

The sons returned to their mother to discuss what may have happened and to - as best they could - retrace Luth Earl’s steps. Around 9:30pm, the phone rang. According to Mariah, it was a voice she did not recognize and it seemed, she recalls, as if it were “mechanical” or “automated”. (Authorities now believe that a type of voice changer may have been used).  The man on the other end informed her that they had Luth Earl, and that he would not be released until they received $100,000. Mariah was warned not to contact authorities, but she did so immediately. 

The above occurred back in April of this year. Luth Earl has not been seen since. Local authorities and the Jaynkins family are asking for the public’s help in solving the kidnapping of Luth Earl Jaynkins, aka The Bait Man Millionaire. 

THE SUSPECTS

SUSPECT 1:  The Wife

 In the early 80s, Mariah Booth was working in the fry department of a local watering hole just outside of Sopchoppy, when Luth Earl entered the establishment.  He was taller than she, broad shouldered, with strong, veiny forearms and a walk similar to that of a basketball player. He ordered fried mullet on white bread with french fries, and a side cup of grits.  Mariah would never forget it, for, through the years, she would tease him about his love of grits, a dish she detested. She began looking forward to the lunch hour when Luth Earl and his friend ‘Flip’ - who Mariah was already acquainted with - would come through. Luth Earl ordered the same meal every time and would always compliment Mariah’s cooking.  Soon, Luth Earl began to visit the establishment more often, just to say hello to her. By now she had heard the word on the street about him. She could not take for granted that he was “well off”, as some of the townsfolk had said;  all she knew, was how Luth Earl treated her. They began dating and eventually were married. They would go on to have two sons. In all the time that she knew him, Luth Earl never really spoke to her about his finances. He simply provided whatever it was that she and the kids needed. Some in the neighborhood thought that Mariah was using Luth Earl for the money he was rumored to have. Mariah denies such insult. She did, however, sell Luth Earl’s truck (a thing known to be precious to him) three months after his disappearance, bought herself a new mini-van, and was rumored to have been dating the family friend, Flip, before he, too, vanished.   

SUSPECT 2: The Competition

 Tommy Lee Bates can tell you stories of his father, grand-father and fathers before them who worked hard for the shotgun shacks they owned and the tiny patches of dirt on which their dwellings were built. Tommy Lee’s tales are often about battles hard won and bitterly fought. Like his father, Tommy Lee is a bait man who awakens at approximately 4:30 every morning to begin his work ritual. As a child, it was more of a family affair as his parents, siblings, and two uncles would wake for breakfast, pile into (and onto) the truck, and head for the bait woods. Once there, the kids would be given a small cup to collect bait. Once their cups were filled, they would hand it over to their mother who counted each of their worms, one by one, while placing them into a larger tin that was later taken to a seller. Their mother would eventually load the children into the truck, take them home, clean them up and prepare them for school. Tommy Lee’s father and uncles remained in the pines collecting the bronze, squirmy worms that put food on the table and a roof overhead. 

Everyone picked their own spots for worm grunting back in the day, and there were areas throughout Sopchoppy so familiar to Tommy Lee, that he came to believe them as being, in a sense, owned by his kith and kin. These were the areas where his own father had driven a wooden stake in the ground, rubbing the iron bar across its top to create a vibrating rhythm that the bait were powerless to resist; where his brothers, sisters - his flesh and blood - toiled the land, backs bent, to procure nature’s bounty. 

And it was there, in those pines, that Tommy Lee came to know Luth Earl.  And to despise him. The two men never spoke harshly to one another. As is the custom in this area, they exchanged pleasantries upon meeting. And yet, Tommy Lee could not help but feel that his space, his proper area in the world that he and his family had toiled and grunted in for years had, somehow, been invaded. Some say that Tommy Lee was compelled to keep his family tradition moving forward, especially after his own children expressed no desire to work in the bait woods. To them, such work seemed an old way of life that kept them away from the real world and real jobs that allowed them to “work smart and not hard”. His kids did not harbor their father’s desire to take worm-grunting into a new era. A number of town locals believe that envy grew in the heart of Tommy Lee who - himself - let Luth Earl enter his private promised land,  and eventually walk away with the title: The Bait Man Millionaire. 

SUSPECT 3: The Son

 Luth Earl and Mariah had two sons: Myron and Luke. Myron, their eldest, was often seen throughout Sopchoppy with his father, visiting local shops, neighbors, and assisting with yard work around his parent’s home. Occasionally, Myron would travel with his father into the bait woods. The time spent beneath the pines worm grunting with Luth Earl was, says Myron, “peaceful”, and provided him a chance to bond with his beloved father.

According to those who knew the family well, Luth Earl’s youngest son, Luke, was an entirely different story. As a child, Luke did all within his power to avoid waking with the family to head into the bait woods. All manner of sickness, ailment and infirmity that he could summon to keep him away from his father’s trade was used to the fullest extent. From all accounts, Luke resented everything about worm grunting, along with his family’s attachment to it. Rumor has it that Luke felt his father to be a backwards type of man who didn’t possess the education needed to allow him to rise in the world. Recently, some in the area mentioned that Luke was beginning to ask questions about the myth surrounding his father’s being The Bait Man Millionaire. Some who shared their latest encounters with Luke were a bit put off by his approach. They could tell that even though he smiled and made attempts at kindness in an effort to gain their information, there was something wily and a bit suspicious about it. And about him, as a whole. A few of the people that were approached were so concerned by Luke’s interrogations that they took their own questions to Luth Earl, who, in turn, confronted his son. According to his brother, Myron, who was there for the confrontation, Luth Earl said to Luke “Stop pressing it. When I’m dead and gone, you’ll know the truth.” Many in the community believe that Luke was unwilling to wait in order to find out. 

SUSPECT 4:  The Friend

 Fredrick Wilson, known in the community as “Flip”, grew up in Sopchoppy and attended the Buckhorn School. He and Luth Earl were classmates who eventually grew to be the best of “running buddies”.   Like Luth Earl, Flip worked in the bait woods from a very young age. It is a known fact that Flip was once sweet on Mariah, before she got to know Luth Earl. If there was jealousy on Flip’s part, it did not show, other than a few off-handed remarks when the two had a few beers in the local juke joint. Approximately a week before Luth Earl went missing, he and Flip had the biggest argument of their 60-plus year friendship. Some say that Flip - who never married - went to his home and drank so much that night that he became sloppy and somehow managed to burn down the tiny shed on his property.  Neighbors and the volunteer fire department arrived before the blaze reached the house. After coffee, a cold shower, and a few vittles to settle his stomach, Flip seemed to be alright. However, those who were there recall him cursing the name of Luth Earl Jaynkins. Testimonies from those at the fire incident, revealed Flip to have been ranting about the “money they made”, and that Luth Earl didn’t come into the fortune on his own. Flip wept for Mariah, according to reports, and seemed to go on at length that she had been “stolen” from him when Luth Earl offered him money to leave her alone. He even went so far as to claim one of Mariah and Luth Earl’s sons as his own.  Before the gatherers managed to quiet him down, Flip was said to have screamed “I know where it’s at!  I know where he hid it! And I’m gon’ get it - ‘cause it’s part mine, too!” 

It should be noted here that on the day of Luth Earl’s disappearance, Flip - who regularly attended the Worm Grunt Festival with Luth Earl - was nowhere to be found. A week would pass before Flip was finally spotted by neighbors as he entered his home in the wee hours of the morning. The neighbors immediately called the Sheriff’s Department. Deputies quickly arrived to interview Flip and ask if he knew anything of Luth Earl’s whereabouts. Flip claimed to know nothing. When asked if he had anything to do with Luth Earl’s disappearance, Flip laughed out loud, according to reports, and said: “For all I know, he’s probably bait food by now”. 

Flip was asked to stay in the area and to not leave town, pending more questioning. Later that same night, Flip hopped in this pick-up truck and made a trip to the gas station.  The attendant on duty remembered that Flip had purchased a full tank of gas, a bag of Golden Flake Pork Rinds, and an RC Cola.  He has not been seen or heard from since. 

Local authorities and the Jaynkins family are asking for the public’s help in solving the kidnapping of Luth Earl Jaynkins, aka The Bait Man Millionaire.