Tuesday, January 9, 2001
Missing man found; amnesia victim learns
identity after 16 years
By Loretta Fulton
Reporter-News Staff Writer
A month ago a slightly graying 49-year-old man stood in the pulpit
of a church and told the congregation of his strange life, one
that was blank prior to 1984.
<(Cox in 1984) The search
for his identity, lost to amnesia, was part of the message he
imparted to parishioners, for whom he was auditioning as a minister.
Doctors had told him he would probably never recall his life before
he was found in the trunk of a car in Memphis, Tenn., in late
July 1984, nearly beaten to death and in a coma.
His story triggered the memory of one of the listeners. After
the service, the man approached the speaker with a startling message.
"I think I know you," he said. "I met you years
ago. You're Barre Cox."
Since that revelation on Dec. 10, Wesley Barrett "Barre"
(pronounced "Barry") Cox, who turns 50 on Jan. 27, has
been in seclusion at his California home, grappling with the reality
that he is a different person from the one dubbed "James
Doe" in a Memphis hospital 16 years ago.
At the time of his disappearance Cox and his wife, Beth, had recently
moved to San Antonio, where he was employed as a family minister
at MacArthur Park Church of Christ. They had met at Abilene Christian
University, where both had been employed. He was an admissions
counselor at ACU.
In the month since Cox was told his true identity, his wife, daughter,
and former friends and associates have been trying to reconstruct
At a press conference Monday, ACU's director of marketing and
public relations, Michelle Morris, said Cox has been told about
his wife and daughter, who live in Franklin, Tenn. His daughter,
Talitha, turned 17 on Jan. 1, and received a call that day from
"For her it was not so much a surprise as almost an answer
to a prayer," Morris said.
The daughter, who was just more than 6 months old when her father
disappeared, always believed he was alive, Morris said, even though
Cox was officially declared dead seven years after his disappearance.
Cox has spoken with his daughter and wife, who never remarried,
but they have not yet reunited. Morris said Cox, who also never
remarried, is under the supervision of specialists and is not
yet ready emotionally to see the family he does not recollect.
Cox's life has taken some bizarre twists and turns since he was
the subject of a massive manhunt and media attention in the summer
Authorities have determined some children playing in a Memphis
junkyard found Cox in the trunk of a car. He spent two weeks in
a hospital there in a coma. When he awoke he didn't know who he
was and had no recollection of his life to that point, Morris
Mike Middleton, who was Jones County sheriff at the time of the
disappearance and helped with the investigation, said he filed
a report with both state and national law enforcement agencies
after Cox's disappearance, but never heard anything. He found
it odd that no one made the connection between the man in the
Memphis hospital and the missing Cox.
Middleton said officers speculated that Cox took off on a small
motorbike that was in the trunk of his car and intentionally disappeared.
The motorbike was never found. Middleton said that over the years,
after all leads had been exhausted, he has not thought much about
"I'd like to sit down and talk to him," Middleton said.
Cox's 1976 Oldsmobile 98 was found abandoned and ransacked on
July 12, 1984, on a farm road 3¤ miles north of Tuxedo
in Jones County. He was en route from Lubbock, where he was completing
work on a dissertation at Texas Tech University, to his home in
He planned to stop in Abilene to visit some of the many friends
he and his wife made while employed at Abilene Christian University.
He phoned his wife on the evening of July 11 to tell her he would
be home on the 13th.
He planned to stop in Abilene and then drive to Junction to meet
the head of his dissertation committee who was attending an art
camp there. Instead, Cox's car was found in a remote stretch of
Jones County. His wallet and its contents were strewn on the road
but there was no blood at the scene.
A police officer and a convenience store clerk in Rotan saw Cox
before the abandoned car was found.
The clerk said Cox walked into the Allsup's store at 3:45 a.m.
July 12 with two empty antifreeze jugs to fill with gas. He told
her his car had run out of gas outside of town and he was praying
all the way in that a store would be open.
The clerk, Frances Bingham, described Cox as the perfect gentleman
but said he acted oddly when he spoke of his wife. Cox got a cup
of water and a 7-Up and told Bingham, "My wife likes 7-Up,"
implying that she was with him.
Bingham said Cox made several more references to his wife, insinuating
that she was in the stranded car. He was given a lift back to
his car by Rotan police officer Floyd Bankston, the last person
known to have seen Cox alive.
Bankston said he noticed a small motorbike in the trunk of Cox's
car and that Cox had told him he bought it for his wife. When
the car was discovered later that day, the bike was missing. Several
people later reported sighting a man fitting Cox's description
riding the scooter.
But his wife discounted theories that her husband had intentionally
disappeared and staged a fake robbery and kidnapping.
"His family and baby meant a lot to him," she said at
the time. "I have a hard time imagining that he would give
She could not be reached Monday.
After the incident, Beth Cox moved to California and finished
her college degree at Pepperdine University, later relocating
to Tennessee, where she lives to be near friends. She had had
no contact or word of her husband since his strange disappearance
in July 1984.
Unknown to any of his family or friends, Cox was lying in a Memphis
hospital being tended by doctors and a family who became attached
to him. They called him "James Doe" rather than the
traditional "John Doe" because they were studying the
book of James in the Bible, ACU's Morris said.
After he regained his health, Cox got a job as a busboy and began
to realize he had some educational background. His new friends
made contact with a Virginia senator they knew, and the senator
helped Cox get a new identity and Social Security number.
ACU officials declined to give Cox's new name or location to protect
Cox later got a job at a department store and worked his way up
the career ladder. While attending church with his friends, he
realized he could finish Bible verses whenever someone started
one. Not knowing he already was a Church of Christ minister, Cox
found himself drawn to the study of theology.
Psychological testing revealed he had intelligence and knowledge
equal to at least a bachelor's degree and that his interests were
in art, music and ministry.
Unknown to Cox, his bachelor's degree was in art education and
his master's was in art and music. He was working on a doctorate
in art education when he disappeared.
Seven years ago, Cox felt drawn to the ministry and applied to
six seminaries across the country, ACU's Morris said. One school
offered to let him attend for one semester to see if he could
handle master's level work. He succeeded, eventually completing
both a master's of theology and a master's of divinity degrees.
That calling back to the ministry eventually led Cox to the pulpit
of a community church where he was seeking employment as its minister.
After a man in the congregation identified Cox, an intense scrutiny
began. ACU officials would not reveal the church where the revelation
Family and friends were convinced they had found the missing Barre
Cox. His wife had no doubt after talking to him on the phone and
receiving a letter from him.
"His voice is the same and his handwriting is the same,"
Morris said Beth Cox told friends.
Cox also has visited his mother and a brother. He didn't know
them, but something in his mother's home sparked some recognition.
"He saw a chair in her home and it made him cry," Morris
said, "but he doesn't know why."
Morris said a reunion is planned between Cox, his wife and daughter
in hopes that the remaining pieces of the puzzle can be pieced
together. For many people involved in the mystery from the beginning,
those pieces are numerous.
Jack Stewart, director of career services at ACU, was an elder
at MacArthur Church of Christ in San Antonio when Cox disappeared.
The young family minister was well loved by the church's congregation,
Stewart said, and his disappearance prompted about 40 church members
to head to West Texas to help with the search.
"We walked every cotton field, looked in every abandoned
well and every barrow ditch," Stewart recalled Monday.
Sixteen years later, even with Cox's physical whereabouts known,
Stewart acknowledged he knows little more than he did after that
long, fruitless search.
"The only question that has been answered is that Barre has
been found," Stewart said.
Contact staff writer Loretta Fulton at 676-6778
or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our Web site at www.reporternews.com
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Copyright ©2001, Abilene
Reporter-News / Texnews / E.W. Scripps. Publications