JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) – A happy, semi-retired fisherman went to his favorite Jefferson County creek in September of 2002 and vanished. Family members, who remain somewhat hopeful, feel he met with foul play despite law enforcement never finding any evidence to support that claim.
“He was a good swimmer, how in the world could he have drowned,” said Mary Elizabeth Farrer Baker, a sister to Bill “Bo Peep” Farrer.
“Everybody that knew Bill knew he was not somebody that was going to take his life,” Ben Nelms, The News & Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter journalist back in 2002.
Farrer’s brother, Walter “Ike” Farrer Jr, shared, “I feel like that they had come back down to that creek and got him.”
“Where did it occur? At the creek? At his house? Somewhere else? Don’t know,” Nelms added.
Multiple questions remain 19 years after Bill “Bo Peep” Farrer’s mysterious disappearance Friday, September 13, 2002 from Rocky Comfort Creek in Jefferson County, Georgia. While initially investigated as a missing person’s case, family members of the 66-year-old believe instead, somebody killed him. While his case may have turned cold in the eyes of the law, his loved ones have been persistent in keeping the case alive. And the puzzling question for his siblings still holding out hope is who would want to kill a happy, semi retired outdoorsman who never met a stranger?
“Bill always would tell people God loves you and so do I,” Baker shared of his character.
Mary Farrer Baker, the younger sister of Bill, recalls she and her five brothers grew up in the 30s, 40s and 50s in Jefferson County with two working class parents who ran a loving, Christian home.
“We would go swimming at river trestle in our bathing suit,” Ike Farrer said. “Bare bathing suit.”
His younger brother Ike, his closest sibling, remembers picking cotton on the family farm with Bo Peep, a name his brother garnered as a child. As an adult, Bill married and divorced three times, having two children, daughters who are now deceased.
He worked as an Independent Inventory Auditor for stores and a cook for Amoco. His active social life in the small town of Louisville led him on walks with friends, lunch and dinner with pals and his weekly favorite, fishing. His family said he would catch on Friday mornings and attend a fish fry at one of his best friend’s home on weekends. But on one of his frequent trips to Rocky Comfort Creek, a 62 mile long tributary of the Ogeechee River, his family said he saw something between 1998 and 1999 he wasn’t supposed to see that may have been the catalyst for his troubles.
Baker shared, “He told me he had found a marijuana patch down on that creek. He had gone in on property that a friend of his had purchased. He was walking and checking out fishing and hunting.”
Baker said her brother told her the marijuana plot had high-tech, military netting over the plants and that they appeared ready for harvesting. Though afraid of his find, Baker said it was reported to law enforcement, but Bill chose not to have his name connected to the report.
“He said I talked with them and he said they staked it out and they caught people and there was people living in an old house there,” his sister recalled.
Cold Case Project called Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins about that marijuana reporting, but he said he does not remember such a report or any arrests since it was so long ago. But another incident led Farrer straight to law enforcement seven months before his disappearance. He told Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigator Clark Hiebert about being attacked by two men at the entrance of Rocky Comfort Creek on Clark’s Mill Road on February 10, 2002.
In his own words, Bill Farrer said back then, “When I turned around they hit me with a stun gun. I think that’s what it was. It knocked me to my knees and both of them grabbed me and the shorter one, I believe it was the shorter told the other fella get his billfold and they pulled my billfold out and said where’s your money? I said I don’t got any money.”
This audio recording provided by the Farrer siblings talks about what took place that day, around noon. Bill stated two men wearing gloves, in a black pickup truck with North Carolina plates stopped and asked for directions and then attacked him, hit him with a stun gun and demanded money. He told the investigator he eventually got away, running into the woods to hide, resting until dark. And as his siblings report, he later made it home to clean up and feed his ailing mother who depended on him for meals. The next day, he reported the incident to police. But his life changed.
“He was real scared. He would tell me that he would go Davisboro Road to come out to see mama,” his brother said. “He was afraid somebody was going to get him. He always took his gun with him when he went back down to the creek to fish.”
We asked, “Just a few months later, your brother turns up missing. And you said a couple hours in, you didn’t think he drowned. You almost immediately thought, this is foul play.”
Baker replied. “When Ike called me and said what have you heard about Bill? I said, I haven’t heard anything. What are you talking about?”
Friday, September 13, 2002, Bill “Bo Peep” Farrer left his home on Bermuda Drive in Louisville, Georgia, waving at a neighbor between 9 and 9:30 that morning. Around 10 o’clock, a witness saw Farrer and his pickup truck at the entrance of the creek on Clark’s Mill Road with two men in a white Dodge truck with North Carolina plates. In the Farrer family files, a report by a Criminal Profiler and Forensic Facial Reconstruction Specialist from Alabama, the witness states one man was armed. As she stopped to question the men, she said to the profiler: “…his eyes were so dark and piercing that they looked evil, like they were penetrating me. I felt like his eyes were speaking to me, to get lost and mind my own business or else…” This was the last time anyone saw Bill Farrer.
“The lady called and said Bill was missing,” Ike cried. “You have to excuse me.”
Before loved ones learned their brother was missing, a local reporter was at work listening to the entire situation play out on a radio scanner.
“There was a lot of talk, but nothing was being said,” Nelms told us.
While working for The News & Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter, he left work and went to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and then the scene, Rocky Comfort Creek.
“The area of the creek where Bill’s truck was parked and where his boat was pulled partially over an old fallen tree, a stone’s throw apart. He just parked his truck on the bank. You walk on the side to where his boat was and that’s where people were congregated. There were people in the water and people continued to stay in the water,” he said.
The dozen or so people who first responded to the creek for the disappearance with Nelms grew to hundreds by the following day, as reported in a short book later by the reporter watching it all unfold. Despite rains, a massive water and ground search ensued. Up to 100 volunteers came out each day. Nelms describes ‘the muggy wet creek site was hot and humid, ending only when daylight faded and sometimes long after.’
Bill’s best friend, Mitchell McGraw, recalls being one of the first, along with Adam McNeely and Ron Livingston, to search for dear ole Bo Peep too. The two men reported to several people they found Farrer’s truck and boat at the creek, searched and then went to McGraw’s store in town. When he learned about Bill being missing, McGraw said he called investigator Clark Hiebert enroute to Rocky Creek.
“Only thing I could think of, and we hollered for him and we couldn’t find him or nothing. I said, well he’s got to be in this water somewhere,” McGraw said. “He can swim better than I can. He can swim better than a duck can. He didn’t drown.”
McGraw added the water was not deep, so Bill could have got up and walked out unless he was knocked unconscious. Cold Case Project spoke with Sheriff Hutchins about the search for Farrer. He said there were cadaver dogs from Tennessee, divers and plenty of people who searched the area. He said there were also a handful of big track hoes a day working to divert the creek and drain it in hopes of finding Bill.
“They made a dam and they rerouted the creek,” McGraw recalled. “And I said to be sure he’s stuck up under a limb or a log or something, he’s still not there.”
“That gray, damp creek bed. The fish were flapping. People were grabbing them and taking them up hill to the canal so they wouldn’t die,” Nelms described that time. “A lot of people were just sitting in silence. It was like oh my God. He wasn’t here and he was never here.”
We spoke with Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Captain Robert Chalker, who was the lieutenant back then looking into Bill’s financial records and the possibility that something happened at his home. He said he got involved later in the week after Farrer disappeared. But found a neat and clean home. He also found that Bill never drew social security even though he could by age 65. And since that day, it had not been used, nor has there been any activity with his financials, leaving no evidence that he is alive. At the same time, Capt. Chalker said there is no evidence that he is dead either. As searches continued through 2003, to include a grid search of the land on both sides of the creek, no body or clues were found. The GBI investigated too, but nothing turned up.
We asked Baker during our interview, “In some of your notes, it was written in 2007 actually, and I’m going to read the quote, ‘every phase of the investigation seemed to have been mishandled and really jeopardized by well-meaning friends who at inception made the decision he had drowned.’ How hard has this one step made the case?”
She replied, “It stopped them from doing any forensics. It really did because everybody, well there were a few that really thought there was foul play. Even that first day that I was down there. There were few that believed that Bill was met with foul play.”
But still today, Sheriff Hutchins and Capt. Chalker said there is no evidence to support someone tried to harm Bill, though the Sheriff said he has an open mind to it. He also told us his office looked into a lead three years ago that did not pan out and. Sheriff Hutchins does remember Bill reporting his attack at the creek in February of 2002, but did not remember the marijuana patch report. McGraw said Bill, his fishing buddy and best friend, never shared either story with him.
“No ma’am. I hadn’t,” he said. “At some times he and I would lose [contact] because he and I just didn’t…later on we didn’t go out regular like we did and go to our friend’s house and eat fish like we did.”
Farrer’s siblings said more should have been done to investigate foul play, especially after four, unsigned letters written about who was involved in Bill’s disappearance arrived in his sister’s mailbox. Baker said she’s not shocked at the person named due to several inconsistent conversations. She is choosing to withhold it.
“If something happens, you don’t add to it, you don’t delete from it. A fact is a fact,” Baker said.
After nearly 30 thousand dollars in reward money offered, payments to a forensic artist, hypnotist, criminal profiler and even a psychic, the Farrer family is barley holding on to hope. And doubting closure with each passing day.
“I don’t believe we’ll ever find it. I really don’t,” Ike said.
They do hope to find his remains, at least, to give him a Christian burial.
“I don’t know if the people who did away with Bill, if they really believe in God, if they believe in a heaven and a hell,” Baker said. “But I don’t think that any of them will want to go to prison either.”
Anyone with any information about the case of Bill “Bo Peep” Farrer should contact the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office at 478.625.7538. You can make an anonymous report.
Next time on the Cold Case Project, we take you to Edgefield County where 37-year-old Tammy Kingery went missing from her home on September 20, 2014. What family and law enforcement need to get justice and close the case.
Photojournalist: Regynal Mckie