When a real estate executive disappears, his family thinks he may have amnesia.
Defining Characteristics: Has a scar that starts near his nose and goes to his forehead.
Twenty-six year old John Cheek seemed destined for success. Fresh out of business school, he had been hired as the Chief Financial Officer for one of Memphis, Tennessee’s largest real estate companies. By the age of 28, John had bought this house in East Memphis, and was hard at work putting together the deal of a lifetime. For months, John had helped lay the groundwork to take his company public. He was working 18 hour days and flying all over the world to meet with investors.
Car was abandoned near bridge
Finally, by December of 1993, the deal was on the verge of closing. Millions of dollars were on the line. The company was about to be thrust into the national spotlight, literally overnight. Arrena Cheek is John’s mother:
“John was very proud of his accomplishments. And he worked very hard, almost non-stop, to see that his duties were fulfilled and every i was dotted and every t was crossed.”
On December 2, 1993, John didn’t show up for work and surprise quickly turned to concern at the company headquarters. Dee Reed was one of John’s co-workers:
“I thought maybe he was just tired and he might be somewhere resting. But it was out of character. And then, as the day went on, and then that night when no one had heard from John, we began to know that something terribly was wrong.”
Trucker says he had breakfast with John
Early the next morning, John’s car was found abandoned on Interstate 55 where the highway crosses over the Mississippi River. It was about 12 miles from John’s home. Memphis Police homicide Sergeant Jack Ruby:
“There were no signs of foul play on the car. The car was checked. Everything appeared to be intact. The Cheek family examined the car also and it appeared to be just the way John would have left it.”
Police theorized that John had committed suicide by jumping into the Mississippi River. However, searches of the river and its banks failed to locate his body. And, to those who knew him best, like his father Dr. Richard Cheek, suicide seemed to be out of the question:
“We didn’t believe that he could be normal right up until 11 p.m. one night and then all of a sudden jump off the bridge the next day. We were just left in the same position we are right now, that it was just some big mystery that happened to him and we didn’t know what.”
John’s shoes were positively identified
Two months passed with no leads, no word from John, and no reason to believe that he was even alive. Then, on February 14, 1994, a trucker named Ron Jackson rolled into town. Over the years, Ron had seen hundreds of missing person flyers at truck stops all across the country. He was stunned when he saw the face of someone he actually recognized. Ron said it was the young man he had met just the day before:
“You never really expect it to jump right out at you and say, ‘Hey, I know this person. I had breakfast with this person the other morning.’ So that was added to my surprise of seeing this poster and this identity was so strong. And it just kind of grabbed a hold of me and shook me, like, ‘This is the individual. Period.'”
Ron found the young drifter sleeping at a Virginia truck stop, 700 miles from John Cheek’s hometown:
“My first impression of this man, when I saw him, was that he was not a homeless person. He was clean and the white shirt was so white, it looked like it had just come out of the laundry.”
A trucker recognized John from a flyer
He didn’t tell Ron his name, but the man did say he had spent some time in an Arkansas homeless shelter:
“I didn’t press him. He just was rambling on in the cafeteria line. So, I would have to say that he was definitely not one hundred percent in all his mental capabilities.”
Ron and the drifter were headed in opposite directions, so outside the cafeteria they said goodbye. For the Cheek family, Ron’s sighting was welcome news. Dr. Richard Cheek:
“There were several things about the encounter that made us feel optimistic that it was a positive identification for John. And the first was the white shirt and tie, because it would be typical for him to be wearing that because that’s what he wore everyday. He also mentioned the fact that he used very correct English and sounded like he was well-educated person, which was obviously correct.”
For John’s parents, the most promising detail was Ron’s description of the young man’s shoes: slip on moccasins. John had a pair that was identical and his father believed he might be wearing them:
“We knew that John had a pair of shoes like this. We had not mentioned that to anyone up until this point in time.”
No one can be sure why John vanished. His father believes he might have suffered a sudden episode of stress-induced amnesia known as the “fugue state:”
“It’s sort of a self-preservation mechanism. If something in their past has become so stressful that they can’t stand it any longer, than that’s how they deal with it. They just block it all out and you’re no longer John Cheek and you’re no longer a financial officer and you’re no longer putting together a big deal.”
Since Ron Jackson’s sighting, there has been no other sign of John Cheek.
Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season six with Robert Stack and in season five with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.
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