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Friendships often involve a strong emotional bond to someone, at least that’s how it starts. Over time a friendship grows stronger. It does take time to build, to have that trust and to gain respect for one another. A strong friend can be the one person you can rely on and trust to hold all your secrets. As long as the friendship is healthy and thriving, that bond is an unbreakable one. Sometimes, however friendship takes a turn for the worse, that bond begins to crack. Slowly wedges infiltrate the friendship and like a cascade effect, it spirals into nothingness. For one man James Walker this may have been what happened to his friendship with his best bud Donald Adams. There may not have been a typical degression but one day in April 2000, everything came to a head unexpectedly and James was never seen again. This story leaves us all pondering just how strong our friendships really are.

First, I want to thank Bobby Walker for speaking with me about his father, James “Slim” Walker. Bobby recalls the good times; they were all good. Bobby also reflects on the day his life changed forever. For decades Bobby has fought hard to bring his father home. Bobby remains steadfast until he can lay his father to rest properly.


James Davis Walker was born just before Christmas on December 20, 1946. James, nicknamed “Slim” for his towering stature and thin build, standing at 6’7. “You could always pick him out of crowd”. Bobby relayed. Slim, described as a generous man, had a carefree nature coupled with appreciating the simple life.  Slim was married twice in his life, having six children in total. Slim met and married his second wife Phyllis. The couple met while working in a meat packing facility, when the two first locked eyes and fell in love. His son, Bobby, conveyed fond memories of his father. “We were raised on a farm because that was where Dad worked.” “Growing up was great, we had plenty of land to run around.” The farm also had a pond where Slim would often take his children to fish. Later when Bobby was an adult the two would enjoy a beer together and just talk about life. These memories are the ones Bobby holds close. After all, that is all they needed from each other.

When Bobby was in his late teens his father and mother went their separate ways. Slim moved in with his son James Jr. in the 2700 block of Cool Springs Road in Thaxton, Virgina. This was a perfect move because Slim’s daughter, Tiny, was close by as well as a very good friend Donald Adams. Slim and Donald were fast friends. They met in the early 1990’s as co-workers. By 2000 Slim and Donald did not have set income but both men worked odd and end jobs together on a weekly basis. This left Slim spending days and nights on end with Donald and his wife Juanita. The pair had a friendship like no other and were typically always together. Which is why the events that unfolded in April 2000 shocked everyone to their core.

On the morning of Friday, April 7, 2000, Bedford police department received a phone call from Donald Adams. Adams wanted to file a missing persons report but was hoping a certain detective, Tracy Pannell, could handle the report and future case. Detective Pannell was acquainted with Donald Adams and would be lead on Slim’s case for the next eight years. Donald ultimately filed the report, it was that of his longtime friend James “Slim” Walker. Donald stated that Slim, himself, along with his wife Juanita and two other friends Bruce and Rose made the trip to a Food Lion, a chain grocery store at Peaks View Shopping Center, that morning. They arrived between 9:00AM and 10:30AM in Donald’s vehicle. While the four of them entered the grocery store, Slim sat outside the front doors on a bench to smoke a cigarette. Donald also made note Slim was acting strange and reported he showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease. When Donald and company exited the store Slim was nowhere to be found which ultimately sparked the call to police. Bobby was away on a job in Lynchburg (approximately 45 minutes east) when he received a call from his sister Tiny informing him of their father’s disappearance. At first Bobby found it odd that his friend would report him missing only after a short time. Slim was always with a friend and never vanished before. Regardless Bobby made the trip to Bedford to assess the situation later that evening. Bobby arrived at the Food Lion where his father was last seen. There he searched the back of the premises, around trees and brush. The day ended without any answers to either where Slim could have gone or any sign of his belongings.

On April 10, 2000, Bobby’s professor, where Bobby was studying plumbing, offered to help him in the search for his father. He was also a retired investigator and suggested they go back to the Food Lion and ask to see any and all surveillance footage from that morning. The manager was very happy to help them and escorted them to a back room. There the manager started to comb through the camera footage from the morning of April 7. As luck would have it, they spotted Donald, Rose, and Bruce. However, something caught Bobby’s attention. In the first report Donald made, Juanita claimed to have been with everyone when they made the trip to the Food Lion. This perplexed Bobby because Juanita was not seen on surveillance inside the store. Only Donald, Rose and Bruce were seen purchasing bathroom cleaning products as well as some food items. When confronted with this information Donald quickly changed his story and changed some of the details of that morning. Donald then relayed Slim decided he wanted to stay in the car while the others entered the Food Lion. However, the camera footage shows Donald’s vehicle pulling into the parking lot and although the surveillance was grainy it does depict three individuals exiting Donald’s vehicle. As the figures approached the entrance, they all walked into the store together. During the time Donald, Rose, and Bruce were inside, Donald’s vehicle sat undisturbed. No one got out of the vehicle nor did anyone pull up beside it. After exiting the store, the three individuals did not look around the vehicle or re-enter the store looking for Slim. Nothing uncovered that day held the answers to Slim's whereabouts.

Following these conflicting stories, only made Slim’s family and investigators look closer at his friends. What if Slim was never in the vehicle to begin with? This would only make the most sense. Bobby obtained a copy of the video footage and his professor offered to attempt to clean up the images. Trying to see if they could see anything different. Nothing seemed to make the video more visible. Unfortunately, Bobby was never given back the footage, a detail in hindsight he deeply regrets. Although initially Slim’s disappearance was big news in a small town, things began to fade and the public interest in finding him diminished. Not only did Slim vanish but so did his belongings. Anything Slim owned that was left at Donald’s home was never given back to his family including his wallet, which is still missing. While Slim’s loved ones held onto hope he would be found safe, that hope started to dwindle. Media quickly disappeared and Detective Pannell seemed to give the family unrealistic expectations in the investigation. Once telling a reporter he obtained the Food Lion surveillance footage and sent it off to be cleared up, which was untrue. Bobby also later discovered missing audio recordings from interrogations with Donald Adams.

Donald Adams trailer home, where Slim was last known to be

The following year a prison inmate told authorities that Slim’s remains were buried the property owned by Donald Adams. Investigators obtained a search warrant and searched the residence in early 2001. No evidence was discovered during this search. In 2015 a new detective Shannon Simms took over Slim’s case. This was newfound hope for the Walker family as Slim used to work for Shannon’s father at the local sawmill. Finally, someone on their side. For months Detective Simms was a force to be reckoned with, until she one day resigned from her position. It is still unclear why this occurred. In 2017 the county had another dig up on the mountain by Donald’s home, the dig was met with disappointment as nothing was uncovered. In 2021 a new glimmer of hope came to Bedford County when there was another dig up on the mountain side, only this dig was private. Dr. Arpad Vass a forensic anthropologist and a Virgina native came forward with some new technology that might help in finding Slim’s remains. Vass developed a forensic technique known as DOA or decomposition odor analysis. This technique would help to identify over 400 body vapors and in turn find human remains. Dr. Vass has also put forward a fly-like tracking device to search for human remains. After many days Dr Vass and his team uncovered no additional clues. Hope is not lost as in current day Detective Jason Hinton has taken over Slim’s case. Detective Hinton believes Slim never made it to the Food Lion that day in April 2000 and that Slim never left the Bedford County home alive.

Private search in 2021

What happened to James “Slim” Walker on April 7, 2000? It has been over twenty-four years since Bobby last seen his father. Bobby wishes he go back in time and change some things or wishes he would have paid more attention to certain details following his father’s disappearance. This doubt and deep regret often happens with many families of missing individuals. The chaos that makes time stand still and your mind is everywhere but on the little things. Truth is though, things like this shouldn’t happen especially with friends. Friends should be a safe place, but we all know some relationships can hit a decline. With Donald what would be the reason behind harming his friend Slim? Why would Donald state multiple different versions of that day? Better yet why would he tell police Slim seemed to be experiencing Alzheimer's? Something none of his children noticed. What would be the reason any other person present that fateful day keep such secrets, never letting them spill. The mountain that Slim never left now holds him, while past friends keep dark.


If you have any information on locating the whereabouts of James “Slim” Walker you are urged to contact Crime Stoppers @ 888-798-5900, where you can remain anonymous.


Detective Tracy Pannell is now deceased.

Bruce Carter is now deceased.

Donald Adams is now deceased.






 

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