Florida cold case marks 18th anniversary: 'There's always hope' for Terrance Williams
A Florida missing person case involving an ex-deputy that's drawn speculation nationwide marked its 18th anniversary Wednesday. But despite the time passed and a recent legal defeat, there's still hope, an expert said.
"There's always hope. I've witnessed it myself in 28-year cases. Something gets found that was missed. Somebody comes forward with a conscience," said Monica Caison, founder of Community United Effort-CUE Center for Missing Persons.
"There are so many different ways, even all these years later, that information can still come forward."
Terrance Williams was 27 when he disappeared on Jan. 12, 2004, after witnesses saw him placed in former Collier County Sheriff's Deputy Steven Calkins’ patrol car. Williams was the second man to vanish after an encounter with Calkins in North Naples.
Felipe Santos, an Immokalee resident, disappeared at age 23 on Oct. 14, 2003, after his brothers saw him get into Calkins’ patrol car.
Calkins has never been arrested or charged in the disappearances but was fired from the sheriff's office in 2004 following an internal investigation that found he lied and gave inconsistent statements about Williams’ disappearance.
Filmmaker and actor Tyler Perry has long advocated for the families and is offering a $200,000 reward for meaningful tips. Williams was last seen near Naples Memorial Gardens. Santos was last seen at Green Tree Center.
There have been no other verified sightings of Williams or Santos, according to the sheriff’s office.
Perry appeared at a 2018 news conference in Naples as civil rights attorney Ben Crump announced he was filing a civil wrongful death action against Calkins on behalf of Williams’ family. But late last year the legal team missed a deadline to file for a trial. The team appealed, but it was thrown out last week by an appeals court.
Crump said his team is pursuing other avenues for justice, including sharing information with the U.S. Department of Justice in hopes the agency will open a federal investigation.
The Naples Daily News/News-Press spoke about the cases this week with Caison, who has been advocating for the families since shortly after the disappearances.
The interview has been condensed and lightly edited for space and clarity.
How CUE Center and Tyler Perry got involved
Q: Tell me about what you do.
Monica Caison: We were formed in 1994, in Wilmington, North Carolina, to be a national resource, extended reach in search and recovery, and advocate for families nationwide. One of the things that we are most known for in our advocacy is that we stay long-term. We're there from the beginning to the end, no matter how many years that takes.
How were you first introduced to these cases? And how did you come to meet Ms. Marcia Williams (Terrance’s mother)?
She called and I just happened to answer. I had a long conversation with her. We just connected immediately. And I definitely was hearing what she was saying, and that she was very frustrated and very alone as well as trying to navigate these waters with no real direction.
We conducted searches over the years, numerous awareness campaigns, reaching out to national media resources, and the list goes on. We've done butterfly releases, balloon releases, candlelight vigils, silent marches, silent walks, silent protests.
Tyler Perry is the one that reached out to me. I'm very confident that he's committed. He's done everything that he said he would do. He's kept great communication, and he's got a heart as large as the world.
I'm hoping that all these efforts over the years will all collide on the main street one day together and bring her son home, as well as Felipe.
What comes to mind when you think about these two disappearances?
The very first conversation I ever had with Marcia, I remember feeling like this can't be happening. A police officer? This can't be happening because that's like one of the most trusted sources.
You're talking about an officer, if he is involved in these two cases and disappearances, lying about the same situation. And you know, they're connected because they're connected to him.
There's nothing to lead to that anything else happened to either one of these boys other than what they think happened, which is they got in this police car and they vanished. And there's nothing to disprove that at all. There isn't.
So what I think is something bad has happened to them, what I think is there are more. And that's probably what it's going to take to solve these two, is if you can find another victim. Maybe even one that's been found that wasn't ever connected.
Because maybe that would give you a new place to look.
Is there hope for resolution?
It's been so long, and there have been so many searches, and then there's this lawsuit, and there still hasn't been a resolution. What would need to happen to bring a resolution?
There's always hope. I've witnessed it myself in 28-year cases. Something gets found that was missed. Somebody comes forward with a conscience. Maybe they received Christ, and they're married now. And it's wearing on their conscience, or maybe even the person that had something to do with it or direct knowledge of something, they become sick, and they want to clear their conscience before death. There are so many different reasons why people will come forward.
Then sometimes it's just by chance. You're in the right place at the right time. Somebody gets in trouble. And all of a sudden, they're like, Hey, I know about this. However, the information comes forward and brings a resolve. I don't care how it gets there, and neither does law enforcement. There are so many different ways, even all these years later, that information can still come forward.
Could Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos still be alive?
What's the likelihood these men are still alive?
I think the reality proves the circumstances and the reality of the length of time that has passed without contact, as close as both of these men were to their families. I'm sure everybody would agree that they're deceased, but I never want to say 100% on that.
Let's hold out for hope. But obviously, if we're searching in the woods, we're not believing they're going to be alive, still wandering around in the woods years later. We need to get to their place that they've been rested at. They're not rested, but someone rested them there. And we need to get to that place and bring them home. So their families can rest.
What still needs to happen? What needs to be happening on a regular basis? Are there any kind of stones unturned that you see?
I would like to see a collective group get together, like us, law enforcement, whomever, come together with possibly some experts in the field of profiling and put everything up on the wall. What's been searched? What's been done? Where should we go? Where can we search?
Everything we do in a missing person case, which should be everybody's goal, is to get to the next place to search because eventually, you're going to get to the right place.
Got a tip? Caison urged anyone with information about the cases to contact the Collier County Sheriff’s Office 239-252-9300 or the CUE Center 24-hour tip line at 910-232-1687.
Janine Zeitlin is an enterprise reporter in Southwest Florida. Connect with her about this story or others at email@example.com, 239-910-4991 or on Twitter @JanineZeitlin.