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After the wife of a wealthy executive is abducted, a note asks that ransom be paid to 12 different people.
Robert Hearin was one of the wealthiest men in the state of Mississippi. His wife, Annie Laurie Hearin, a devoted wife and mother, was kidnapped on July 26th, 1988. Twelve days later, Robert Hearin called a press conference at his home in an attempt to make a personal plea to the kidnapper. He said:
Robert’s son, Robert Hearin Jr.:
The kidnapping of Annie Hearin was unusual. The ransom note demanded payment not to one person, but to twelve, all of whom had some connection to one of Robert Hearin’s companies. It was a strange twist to an already troubling case.
After checking with friends and family on the day of Annie’s abduction, Robert called the police. Then he made a disturbing discovery: a note, apparently left by a kidnapper, lay by his front door. Jackson Chief of Police J.L. Black:
It was clear from the contents of the note that Annie’s abduction was in some way connected to Robert’s businesses. FBI Special Agent Wayne R. Taylor noticed the correlation:
Robert Hearin had been president of a company called School Pictures. The company sold franchises to photographers throughout the United States to produce photo portraits of school children. Between 1981 and 1983, in an effort to collect money owed to them, School Pictures filed lawsuits against twelve franchise owners in eight states, including Florida.
On the day Annie was kidnapped, witnesses reported seeing a white cargo van with Florida plates in the neighborhood. Police soon discovered that the twelve names on the kidnapper’s ransom note were the same twelve people who had been sued by School Pictures. J.L. Black doesn’t believe that this necessarily implicates all twelve people:
As a result, letters were then sent out to the 12 individuals. Robert Hearin Jr.:
Eight days after his press conference, on August 15th, Robert received a letter. He recognized the handwriting immediately: it was from his wife, Annie. For Robert Jr. and the family, this came as quite a relief:
Robert sent out checks totaling nearly one million dollars to the 12 people on the list. Half of the checks were returned. The letter in Annie’s handwriting would be the last word that her family or police would ever receive from the kidnapper. For Robert Jr. and the Hearin family, the search and the struggle continue:
Newton Alfred Winn, a 65-year old lawyer, was arrested by the FBI in Florida on charges related to the kidnapping of Annie Laurie Hearin. Winn was one of the 12 men named in the ransom note left at the Hearin mansion. Also, less than one month before the kidnapping, he had purchased a van that matched the description of the vehicle seen in the Hearin neighborhood.
Newton Alfred Winn was convicted of conspiracy to kidnap, extortion, and perjury. He was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in prison. Winn has since been released and still maintains that he is innocent of the kidnapping. Annie Laurie Hearin has never been found. Her husband, Robert, is now deceased, but Annie’s family is still looking for her.