I first met Madonna—not the singer—when my eldest went to toddler nursery with her eldest, and they both announced their little baby brothers to come around the same time. Madonna grew weary of the jokes about her name and eventually told us all just to call her Vern, so Vern it was, and we were kindred spirits from the start. There is no pretense whatsoever with my friend and her large clan. They are as real as they could possibly be, and that’s saying a lot, considering her beginnings. You see Vern’s mother left for work one evening and never made it there. She was never seen again, and Vern and Leonard, her brother, were unfortunately not left to wonder what happened to her because they were there in the car when it happened and then were forced to be reared by the man whom they always believed did it: their father.
I find words failing me to tell this story to you, so I beg your indulgence to read her story in her own words below. My purpose is blatantly and unapologetically to influence you to follow the link to her Go Fund Me page and help Madonna and her brother Bring Annita Home.
I know you won’t “enjoy” the read, and I realize it is long, but I hope you’ll read her compelling story and then help…
On May 30, 1974 my 5-year-old world was changed forever. It had already been a tumultuous 5 years, but it was about to get even worse. That was the day my mom disappeared. Her name was Annita. She stood between 6’0” and 6’2”. I think she would tell people she was shorter than she really was because she was self-conscious about her height. She weighed about 150lbs and had beautiful brown eyes and brown hair. Mom also had severe scars from the top of her thighs to her neck and one arm was badly damaged due to a childhood accident. When she was 8 years old she got up in the night to use the bathroom. It was December and the family had space heaters set out to fight off the cold temperatures. Mom’s nightgown brushed against one of these heaters and went up in flames engulfing her body. She ran screaming through the house and out the front door. A relative in the house at the time chased her outside and tackled her in the snow extinguishing the flames and saving her life. She spent over a year in the hospital.
When my parents met, my mom was waiting tables at a diner, and my dad was working for his dad’s powerline company. They married, and against doctor’s orders, they began a family. The childhood accident had left mom with a badly scarred body that didn’t allow her stomach to stretch and grow as it should during pregnancy, and her kidneys were also damaged. Doctors felt the stress of a pregnancy would be too difficult for her body to handle, but she was hard headed. She gave birth to two children: me and younger brother Leonard.
My parent’s marriage was never a good one. They fought and argued all of the time. Both claimed the other was cheating and being physically abusive, and there were constantly issues about money. In the spring of 1973 my parents legally separated and began a very nasty battle over the custody of me and my brother. Being the 70’s, the judge awarded custody to mom, and dad had generous visitation rights. Essentially my mother was to have us during what would be considered the school year, and my dad would have us during the summer months and have visitation on weekends.
During this time, my family had been living in the Moundsville, WV area. After their separation, my dad continued to work in Moundsville and go back to his residence in Oak Hill, WV. My mother got an apartment in Moundsville and began working at a bar called the Flamingo Club. Before their separation, my dad had been having an affair with his office secretary, Phyllis Treadway Busby. After the separation, my mother also began a relationship with a man named George Hall.
Things continued to get worse after the separation. During one of his weekend visitations, my dad kidnapped my brother and me. He hid us out at the home of Phyllis’ elderly aunt and uncle. We were only returned when the judge threatened him with jail. In February 1974, the judge in the divorce case denied my parents a divorce due to the fact that they had two minor children. He told them they should take another year to make sure they did indeed want a divorce.
In March 1974, my dad asked the court to allow him to take me and my brother for the months of March, April and May. He said he was going to be busy during the summer and wouldn’t have time to care for us. Since I was not in school yet, the judge agreed. We moved to Oak Hill and were cared for by my dad and Phyllis. I was also enrolled in kindergarten while living with him. We were supposed to be returned to our mom Memorial Day weekend.
On May 30, according to the statement made by George Hall, my mom dropped him off at work then proceeded to her job at the Flamingo Club. She was last seen wearing yellow shorts and a blue top. She was driving a green sport about (Gremlin). It was around 8:00 in the evening. Mom never made it to work. The car was later discovered by a friend of George’s parked along the southbound lane of Rt. 2 south of Moundsville. This was the opposite direction than she would have been headed for work. George’s friend contacted him about seeing the car. According to statements taken by state police, the men went to the area where the car was parked. They found the car was still in working order with a few of mom’s personal items scattered on the front seat. They then took the car and began searching for Annita. Mom disappeared on a Thursday. On Sunday, George went to the WV state police and reported Annita missing. A brief investigation was conducted. Police spent 18 hours investigating the disappearance of my mother. We later discovered that the original detective never really questioned my dad. They had grown up together, and his questioning consisted of meeting my dad in a bar and talking about my mom and all of their marital problems. My dad’s response to questions about her disappearance was to say that she didn’t want to be a mom anymore, she was a tramp, and she just ran off. He also said she was probably involved in sex trafficking, or another theory of his was that she met with foul play due to the “people” she worked for, whom he felt were involved in criminal activities. This ended the investigation, and Annita was not looked for, nor was she ever seen or heard from again.
From the very beginning I told people that my mom was dead and that my dad had shot her in the head. I even knew the location of the crime in Moundsville, WV. This theory was further validated when about 12 years ago and anonymous informant came forward. The statement this person gave matched almost exactly my version of the events of my mother’s murder. Below is my version of the events of that night. Again this is my own theory, some of which has been substantiated by law enforcement, but without actually finding her body, it remains just a theory. Others may and do disagree with my theory. While I understand these ideas and concerns, I also owe it to myself, my family, and most of all my mom to see this through to the end.
My dad took my brother and me to Moundsville under the pretense of giving us back to our mom, she wasn’t expecting us until the weekend. She turned her car around to go where he was parked to find out what was going on. He made her get into the car with him. My brother and I were in the backseat. They drove a few miles south on Rt. 2 to a location where my dad kept his work equipment and portable office. The equipment was the type used to erect power lines so there was digging equipment available. During the drive my parents got into a very heated argument. I don’t know exactly what they were arguing about. They both got out of the car and walked to the front of the vehicle. My dad always kept a gun next to him in the car. He took it out with him. The argument got more heated. During this time, another car pulled in behind us, and one of my dad’s brothers got out and walked up to passenger side of the car where I was sitting. He looked in the window at me and put a finger up to his lips as if to shush me. About that time there was a gun shot. My uncle yelled “Oh sh*# Leonard! What have you done?” He then went up to the front of the car. The next thing I remember is waking up in the car to the sound of equipment being used. My next memory is of my dad taking me and my brother to a drive-in restaurant and buying us burgers and a hot fudge cake with extra cherries. During this special meal, he told us that our mom was gone, and she was never coming back, and we weren’t going to talk about her any more. And we didn’t.
We were moved back down to his home town. My dad kept us from seeing any of my mom’s relatives, and we never talked about her or had any pictures of her. Luckily, I was old enough to remember mom’s family, and when I got old enough I sought them out. They tried to pass Phyllis off as my mom, and when I once told a teacher in school that Phyllis wasn’t my mom and that my real mom was dead because my daddy shot her in the head, I got into a lot of trouble. My dad was physically abusive to me, my step-sister, and my younger brother. I’ll just leave that there…….you can fill in the blanks and would be correct on whatever thoughts come to mind. At one time when my dad was abusing me, he told me “don’t you say anything to anyone or you will have to go away just like your mom.”
Like I said, the case was cold until the informant came forward. The investigation led to the area that I said she had been killed. State police ran human remains dogs in the area, and all dogs alerted to remains in the area. An excavation was planned, and an expert was brought in from the Smithsonian to assist in the project. The area was cleared and digging began. Unfortunately, the expert felt that the dogs were only alerting to trash in the area. He ran some rods in the ground to take soil samples and determined there was no disturbance in the soil, and therefore, there was no need to continue the dig. They dug about 1 ½ feet, and that was it. That was basically the end of the investigation. At least for law enforcement.
Fast forward to 2015. My brother and I once again went to the site we believe holds our mother’s remains. The only problem now is that it is owned by a company that makes gypsum board. It took a lot of effort to even get onto the property. They allowed us to come in and clear the brush. Then we once again brought in human remains dogs. Again, all dogs alerted to remains in the exact same area as before. Next we brought in an expert to run ground penetrating radar to see if they could find any disturbance in the ground. The report we received showed definite ground disturbance in the same area as the dogs alerted to remains. We proceeded to contact this company about digging in the area but have now met another roadblock. The company is requiring us to provide them with an environmental plan to determine how we will be able to dig while causing the least amount of disturbance to the plant area. They are concerned about water draining in the area of the dig, and we need a plan in place to divert the water. We also need to propose a plan to show how we will be able to restore the entire area to its original state after we dig. My family does not have the money to do this on our own. It is for this reason we have set up a GoFundMe account to assist in the fundraising efforts so we can get on the property and search.
This search means everything to me and my family. It has been a long, tiresome journey. In my heart I feel this dig will be successful, but doubt has a way of creeping in, and it frightens me because if we don’t find her now, I’m out of ideas. I don’t know where else we would ever look, and I hate the thought of continuing on this journey indefinitely. Resolution would mean so much to all of us. Words can’t express the emotions we all have.
We have been fortunate in the fact that many people have stepped in and offered their services for free. From personal friends and small business to media contacts helping us keep mom’s name and story in the public. We also have some really great partners helping us now. The Cold Case Investigative Research Institute in Atlanta Georgia and West Virginia University’s forensic science, archeology and anthropology departments have partnered with us.
Thank you Ruth Ann for helping tell our story. Thank you to the subscribers for taking the time to read, share and pray for us during this time. It means the world to me.