Sheriff seeks volunteers for search

Melinda Wall McGhee disappeared from her home March 24


Staff Reporter

ATMORE -- Sheriff Grover Smith on Tuesday called for volunteers to help search the remote areas of western Escambia County on Saturday for traces of a 31-year-old mother missing for more than a week.

Investigators were looking for clues Tuesday, chasing leads to determine what happened to Melinda Wall McGhee on March 24.

"We'll be searching for her," Smith said, "or anything that might relate to her disappearance: clothing, personal items, disturbed soil, burned areas -- anything unusual or out of place."

Smith said he hopes to have at least 200 volunteers to comb through miles of densely wooded land near the McGhees' Kent Road home. The sheriff said the hope of finding McGhee alive grows dimmer with passing time.

"The Elizabeth Smart case proves miracles can happen," Smith said, referring to the Utah girl returned alive to her parents nine months after she was abducted. "We are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst."

People in the community -- women especially -- have been frightened by the case and are taking extra precautions, said an Escambia County man, who said he and his wife have been friends with Melinda McGhee and her husband, Troy McGhee, for years.

"Everyone is very worried," said the man, who asked that his name not be used.

"In the years we have known her, she has been a very sweet girl -- polite, well-mannered," the man said. "She was just a terrific person."

Smith said the Escambia County wife and mother of two young sons had not been seen or heard from since about 8:30 a.m. on March 24, after she arrived home from working the night shift at a Bay Minette nursing home.

Investigators said Troy McGhee arrived home that afternoon to find signs of a violent struggle.

Family members posted flyers across the area, hoping to get some information about the woman. So far, the sheriff said, no suspects have been identified, and no motive determined. Evidence at the scene led investigators to believe McGhee met with foul play, Smith said.

Anyone interested in helping with the search should meet at the SAIL Center and Gymnasium off of Lynn McGhee Drive in Poarch at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

Volunteers will conduct zone searches with cars and trucks and horses. To prevent damage to private land, Smith said, he is banning the use of four-wheel-drive vehicles in the search.