By Carole Hawkins
Tamica Jackson recalls many details of her early childhood, even though it’s been more that 30 years since those times. Those years growing up in Northwest Jacksonville surrounded by her father, mother, two older brothers and two older sisters.
Some memories are of her mother kissing her on the forehead, dancing with her in the living room, putting her to bed every night when she had chickenpox, the smell of corned beef and cabbage cooking on the stove.
There are other memories Tamica will never have.
Of her mother sending her off to the prom, comforting her the first time a boy broke her heart, welcoming four grandchildren into the world.
One memory Tamica will absolutely never forget is the day everything changed. She was 8 years old.
Vera Sullivan worked as the head maitre de at the Seminole Club in Downtown Jacksonville. On March 3, 1987, she never made it there. Vera’s boss told police she was a dependable employee. It was not like her to miss a shift.
She was last seen at the bus stop at 36th Street and Moncrief Road, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. She was wearing a black skirt, white blouse, white shoes and gold earrings.
On March 22, Vera’s body was found, wrapped in some type of fabric and lying in a wooded area behind Clantzel Brown Park, near the intersection of Moncrief Road and Golfair Boulevard.
Vera rode the bus every day, so other riders knew her and several came forward. But none of the tips led police to who killed her, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
The family had reported Vera missing, but kept the news from her children. Tamica thought her mother was out of town.
She was playing in the yard with her best friend when she realized something was wrong. Tamica’s dad pulled up the driveway in a hurry. He ran into the bedroom and grabbed his shotgun and some shells.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?” she said.
“Stay in the house! Don’t move. Don’t open the door for nobody, and lock the door behind me!” her father said.
“Just do it!”
It wasn’t normal for her father to yell. There were tears in his eyes. Then, Tamica looked up and saw a police helicopter and heard sirens. Later, her father came home and took her into the bedroom.
“I’ve got something to tell you about your Mama,” he said.
His eyes filled with tears again, and Tamica thought perhaps her daddy and mama had had a squabble. Maybe she had left him.
“It’s OK. Everything’s going to be OK,” Tamica said.
“That’s not it baby,” her father said. “They found your mom and somebody killed her.”
Tamica screamed so loudly, the neighbors thought she was being attacked. They came to the house, saw her father consoling her, and knew the worst had happened.
The loss became bigger. Tamica’s older siblings had a different father. With Vera gone, the kids were split apart.
Three years later, Tamica’s father died. At 11 years old, both her parents were gone.
For years, she bounced between the homes of family members. Then at 16, she became an emancipated minor.
Within a week after Vera’s body was found, police released a composite sketch of a man they wanted to question.
Years later, Tamica said the family has pushed twice to have her mother’s case reopened.
Once, came when Tamica was a young mother. She said a well-meaning officer who worried for her safety told her she had two beautiful babies, and perhaps she should get on with her life.
In 2008, the family again wanted police to reopen the case. A childhood friend of her brother had been serving time for armed robbery. He wrote a letter to Tamica’s sister saying he knew what happened and it had been bothering him.
“He had knowledge of the case that police had never told the public,” Tamica said.
She believed either he was there as a witness or he did it. She said three people he named were brought in for questioning. But negotiations fell apart when the man wasn’t granted immunity.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office confirmed the case was reopened, but could not discuss the investigation in order to maintain the integrity of the case.
Tamica said she has tossed and turned every night since that day in March 1987.
“I think it would help me if I knew what happened to her. To serve notice that, what you did, it was not OK,” she said.
Through her teen years, Tamica never spoke of the mother she lost. It was too painful for her grandma to talk with her about it. So, Tamica shut down instead.
Then when she was 25, Tamica’s children started asking about their grandparents. It took her awhile to open up. But now, she’s talked to her kids a lot.
So much so that one day, when Tamica’s daughter answered the phone and learned the caller wanted to know about Vera Sullivan, the girl said, “Oh, that’s my grandma.”
Remembering the stories of kisses, cooking and dancing of a woman she’s never met.
If you have any information about the 1987 murder of Vera Sullivan, you are asked to please contact the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-0500 or email JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. Those who wish to remain anonymous and possibly receive a cash reward up to $3,000 can call Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS (8477).
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