Dozens of times Rosemary Southward had played in her mind what would happen the day she found Jimmy.
As she meandered day after day from website to website telling the world about her big brother who never came back to California, she prayed.
She never lost faith.
But in late 2010 when a police detective told her inside her Fairfield, Calif., home that her brother’s remains had been found, the news initially didn’t register.
“I didn’t believe him at first,” Southward said. “It knocked the wind out of me. It really did.”
She began asking the detective questions, wanting to know every piece of information to make sure what she was hearing was really true.
As more light was shed on the details surrounding the discovery, it became clear that, after 36 years, Jimmy was going to finally come home.
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James “Jimmy” Berkeley Norris II was a clever prankster with a big personality and an even bigger heart.
He loved the environment, protested for civil rights and carried a soft spot for animals, including his Afghan hound named Casaelya.
He was the second oldest out of six siblings and a real ladies’ man.
“Whenever he came home it was a big deal,” Southward said. “All my girlfriends would run to the house. He was kind of like a rock star.”
He grew up in Fairfield and attended San Francisco State University, where he got his degree and credentials to teach adult education. For a year and a half, he taught English as a second language at an adult school in San Francisco that catered to immigrants who were seeking citizenship.
He also had a fondness for Volkswagen Beetles and sold marijuana on the side to make some extra money.
But the true love of his life was his mother, Esperanza Lopez Norris.
Southward said her brother always called home to speak to their mom and he would often visit to make sure everyone was OK.
So there was nothing usual when her big brother showed up at the house in October of 1974 to drop off Casaelya and inform the family he was going on a trip to Florida.
“We expected him to be back soon,” she said. “We didn’t know he wouldn’t return.”
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The 25-year-old caught a Delta red-eye flight to Miami on Oct. 3, 1974, under the alias of Richard Gunning.
He had $12,000 in cash and a plan to buy Colombian marijuana, which was considered better than the Mexican marijuana that was being smoked in California during the 1970s.
When he arrived at the airport, he was supposed to meet a friend of a friend who was going to connect him with some drug dealers in Citrus County.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Mike Kennedy said drug trafficking was huge in Citrus, Levy, Dixie and Taylor counties back in the ’70s due to the lack of law enforcement in the area at the time.
“It was wide open,” he said.
On Oct. 4, Jimmy mailed home a postcard from Inglis. He talked about his dog and reassured everyone he would be home soon. However, he never came home.
After more than a week went by, Southward said her mother started getting worried.
“She was really, really scared and concerned for him,” she said. “It was really difficult at that time. There was no system in place for missing persons.”
Every day Mrs. Norris would call people desperately looking for answers. When Jimmy’s friends finally caved and revealed why he really went to Florida, the family grew even more concerned.
Southward said her mother was a strong woman but that all disappeared as the likelihood of finding Jimmy diminished.
“To see her panic, to see her come unraveled, it was terrifying,” she said.
When Thanksgiving came that year, Mrs. Norris was already in a deep depression. She refused to celebrate.
“She said, ‘We had nothing to be thankful for.’”
Christmas also came and went. So did Mother’s Day, a holiday Jimmy never forgot. When Mrs. Norris didn’t get a call, she knew the worst had happened.
The depression wore on until one day about 18 months after Jimmy’s disappearance. Mrs. Norris came into the kitchen and said everything was fine. She said she had felt Jimmy move through the room.
“She said, ‘Jimmy came to me last night and he’s OK. He’s at peace,’” Southward said.
And after that, her mother, too, found peace.
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Since getting her first computer sometime in the 1990s, Southward spent every day browsing the Internet searching for any information about her brother. When she found out about a missing persons DNA database maintained by the California Department of Justice, she said something told her this was going to finally led her to answers.
On July 27, 2004, Southward, along with her mother and four remaining siblings, went to the Fairfield Police Department to give DNA samples.
It took more than a year to create the profile, but once it was done, she said she was optimistic something would happen, even though the rest of her family didn’t.
“I was always confident we would find him,” she said
But unfortunately, it didn’t happen soon enough. On March 1, 2007, Esperanza Norris died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. She was 86 years old.
It bothered Southward that her brother had still not been found before her mother passed away. She knew it was her mother’s dying wish was to bring him home.
So she kept her mother’s ashes in an urn on her mantle in case her brother did return because she felt when the time came, it would be fitting to bury them together.
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In 2009, FDLE’s cold case team reopened one of Dixie County’s oldest unsolved homicides.
In 1976, human remains were found in Dixie County near the Taylor County line and close to U.S. 19. Authorities investigating at the time conducted an examination that determined the remains were those of a male who had been deceased for about two years.
For years, the remains stayed in FDLE’s evidence vault until Kennedy sent a sample of the remains to the University of North Texas, where scientists were able to extract DNA and obtain a DNA profile.
He then turned to the National Missing and Unidentified Person System (NamUs), an online U.S. Department of Justice system used to enter information on unidentified deceased persons and missing persons to solve cases.
After browsing the site for 15 minutes, Kennedy came across a profile that fit the information he had for his John Doe.
A DNA comparison was done with Mrs. Norris’ DNA on file and it came back as a match.
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For 36 years, Jimmy’s family never really got the chance to grieve. But now that he’s home and they know he is truly dead, it’s like they have lost him all over again.
“The pain is raw,” Southward said. “It’s really hard to deal with.”
The burial was April 22 in Fairfield. He was placed in a pine-box coffin made by Southward’s husband and her brother-in-law. His remains, mixed with his mother’s ashes, were wrapped in a purple-and-white Indian blanket.
“I wanted to give him back his dignity,” Southward said. “It seemed so perfect.”
But the story doesn’t end there.
Investigators concluded that Jimmy was robbed and killed, and now Kennedy wants to see Jimmy’s family get justice.
“He shouldn’t have been doing what he was doing, but he didn’t deserve to be murdered,” he said. “No parent should die not knowing what happened to their child.”
Embarking on part two of this bittersweet journey, Southward is as sure as ever this new mystery will be solved.
“I have a lot of faith. I have had a lot of miracles handed my way,” she said. “When my goal was to bring him home, I thought it would be closure, but true closure will be when justice is served.”
Chronicle reporter Shemir Wiles can be reached at (352) 564-2924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.