Turning up the heat: Tyler Perry offers $100K for leads in mysterious disappearances

Mitch Glass/Staff 
Frame grabs from a video show, left to right, Tyler Perry, Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, NAACP CEO and President Ben Jealous, Rev. Al Sharpton as they listen to the story of Anthony Denson Jr., who said he was chased by the same deputy who is the last person seen with both Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos.

Mitch Glass/Staff Frame grabs from a video show, left to right, Tyler Perry, Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, NAACP CEO and President Ben Jealous, Rev. Al Sharpton as they listen to the story of Anthony Denson Jr., who said he was chased by the same deputy who is the last person seen with both Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos.

Tyler Perry Press Conference

Offers reward for info on missing men.

Rev. Al Sharpton on missing men

Press conference at South Regional Library.

Terrance Williams' missing poster.

Submitted by family

Terrance Williams' missing poster.

Felipe Santos

Felipe Santos

Collier County Public Library - South Regional Library

8065 Lely Cultural Parkway, Naples, FL

Oct. 14, 2003: Deputy Steve Calkins responds to a traffic crash involving Felipe Santos and Camille Lach. Calkins says he drove Santos to a Circle K.

Oct. 29, 2003: Santos’ brother, Jorge Santos-Martinez, files a missing person report for Felipe Santos with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

Nov. 4, 2003: Sheriff’s Office officials interview Calkins about his encounter with Santos.

Jan. 12, 2004: Calkins first encounters Terrance Williams, later towing his Cadillac from Memorial Gardens Cemetery in North Naples. Calkins says he dropped Williams off at a Circle K on Wiggins Pass Road.

Jan. 16, 2004: Williams’ family calls the Sheriff’s Office about Terrance being missing.

March 2, 2004: Calkins’ car is processed by a crime scene unit without his knowledge. No evidence was found.

March 12, 2004: Investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement interview Calkins.

Aug. 20, 2004: Calkins is fired from the Sheriff’s Office after giving inconsistent statements and failing parts of a polygraph.

Oct. 20, 2004: FDLE opens a case against Calkins. Closes case on the same day due to a lack of evidence.

Jan. 22, 2006: Calkins tells the Daily News he didn’t do anything wrong, says that he was the last person to see the two missing men is coincidental and “very bad luck.”

April 25, 2012: After receiving a tip, deputies and a crew from Sarasota search a piece of land on Vanderbilt Drive, just north of Wiggins Pass Road, less than two miles from the cemetery where Williams last was seen. It is unclear if they found any evidence.

Leading a group of influential black voices and flanked by sheriff's investigators, entertainment mogul Tyler Perry offered a $100,000 reward Thursday in the cases of two Collier County men who mysteriously disappeared nearly a decade ago.

At a press conference in an East Naples library, with about 200 people in the audience clamoring to get a view, Perry, the Rev. Al Sharpton and NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous urged the public to help find Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos, two men who were in their 20s when they were last seen nearly a decade ago in North Naples with the same now-fired Collier deputy.

"This is injustice and we have the power to change this," said Perry, who learned about the cases while watching a cable series featuring the men last January. "We have the power to see someone brought to justice."

Perry is offering $25,000 for information that leads to the location of either Williams or Santos, for a possible total of $50,000 if both men are found. Another $50,000 is contingent on a conviction or plea if a person is found responsible for their deaths.

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk joined the trio in calling for new information about the cases, which remain open and have attracted about 10 fruitless leads in recent years. Perry heralded sheriff's investigators and never criticized the amount of media coverage given to disappearances of minorities, as was mentioned in a press release announcing the event.

Instead, Perry's words were directed more toward former sheriff's Cpl. Steve Calkins, the last person seen with both men and a longtime person of interest. While conceding the evidence against Calkins remains circumstantial, Perry called it "beyond offensive" that a deputy entrusted by the community put two men in his car who later disappeared.

Attempts to reach Calkins in person and on the phone were unsuccessful Thursday. In 2006, he told the Daily News he did nothing wrong, saying it was "very bad luck" that he was the last person to have seen the two men.

About five minutes into the press conference, Perry's comments took a peculiar turn when a man, later identified as Anthony Denson Jr., came forward, started sobbing and received an embrace from Perry and Sharpton.

"In 1997, Officer Calkins and three other deputies chased me on the beach, and they were gonna kill me," Denson, 30, said before being led away by deputies. It's unclear if his statement is related to the case, and Denson declined to speak with a reporter after the press conference.

The Sheriff's Office was unable to confirm any contact with Denson in 1997. He would have been a juvenile protected under the state's public records law.

Williams' mother, Marcia, also pleaded for new information, saying answers are needed for her and her son's four children.

"With everyone's help, we won't give up," Williams said.

Several Santos family members attended the event, declining to comment afterward through a translator.

The cases have baffled investigators, who have followed leads stretching from California to Canada to North Carolina since October 2003, when Santos was first reported missing. The then-23-year-old Mexican national was last spotted with Calkins, who said he arrested Santos for driving without a license and subsequently dropped him off at a Circle K, deciding not to take him to jail.

Three months later, in January 2004, Williams, then 27, disappeared after witnesses saw him getting help with car trouble from Calkins.

Calkins was fired after giving inconsistent statements about the cases and failing part of a polygraph test, but no evidence has been publicly presented that could warrant his arrest. Investigators said they haven't spoken with Calkins since his firing but continue to follow his whereabouts.

"Let's face it, if I knock on the door and the gentleman tells me he doesn't want to speak with me, that's his constitutional right not to speak with me," Collier County sheriff's detective Kevin O'Neill said.

O'Neill, who has been assigned the case since 2006, declined to say whether Calkins still lives in Southwest Florida, only saying he still resides in the state.

Perry's reward offer is believed to be the second largest in county history, only behind the $200,000 offer for information in the 2007 slaying of Homer Hassam at an Immokalee supermarket.

Celebrity involvement has proven successful in a handful of cases, perhaps most notably for the so-called West Memphis Three, a trio accused of killing three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark., in 1993.

Actor Johnny Depp, Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and filmmaker Peter Jackson all publicly advocated for the men's release after becoming convinced of their innocence. Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin eventually were released from prison in 2011 after entering plea deals.

"Celebrity support shines a spotlight on a case so that the courts and prosecutors are forced to address the case fairly and evenhandedly because they know the public is watching," said Echols' attorney, Steve Braga.

Celebrities who are able to both raise awareness and contribute funding have even more impact, he added.

"In the West Memphis Three case, both things happened," he said. "The celebrities provided huge funding on their own, and their support also led to increased public funding."

Investigators remain hopeful that technological advances could help break the cases. Capt. Chris Roberts said investigators will be flagged if personal information, such as a Social Security or driver license number, for Williams or Santos are run through databases by other law enforcement agencies. The two men are also entered in DNA databases across the country, with deputies tracking whenever unidentified human remains are found.

Deputies remain hopeful media coverage produces leads. In recent years, coverage of the Williams and Santos cases on the Investigation Discovery channel, MSNBC and CNN have spawned nearly a dozen new leads, investigators said. On Jan. 21, the cases will be featured in a 9 p.m. episode of "Find Our Missing," a program on TV One.

Thursday's event with Perry, Sharpton and Jealous is the first bringing leading voices in the black community to Naples.

"The only way to turn a cold case into a live case," Jealous said, "is turn up the heat."

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