It is a scorching summer morning in California, and three men are scouring the countryside in the searing heat. They are searching for Jamie Tull, a local woman who has been missing for more than two weeks. Suddenly one of them spots something strange in the distance. Will the search party finally discover Jamie’s fate?
In July 2017 the 33-year-old Jamie Tull was living in the Riverbank area of Modesto in Stanislaus County, CA. Her husband, Apollo, owned and ran a graphic design company in the city and she worked as a kindergarten teacher. Jamie had recently left her position in the city’s Woodrow Elementary School for what Apollo described as her “dream job” in a similar school nearer her home in Riverbank.
Despite this career progression, Jamie was not a happy woman and life for the Tulls was far from perfect. According to Jamie’s family, a past trauma had left her suffering from bipolar disorder – a condition that can cause extreme changes in mood and personality. Nevertheless Jamie was thought of as high-functioning, as long as she took her prescribed medication to keep the illness under control.
Unfortunately, Jamie had met a rogue pastor and his wife who exerted a dangerous influence on the young woman. According to Jamie’s father, Jim Devenport, his daughter came to believe the couples’ theory that the medication she was taking for her bipolar disorder would leave her vulnerable to demonic influence.
Devenport spoke to local broadcaster Fox 40 News about this malign influence in July 2017. He said, “The [pastor’s] position is that pills – any pills, no distinction, but drugs – are a pathway for demons to enter her body and her brain.” Convinced by the pastor’s beliefs, Jamie stopped taking her medication for some six months. Then in June that year she did something radical.
Jamie filed for a divorce from Apollo at Stanislaus County Superior Court. Although they admit that Apollo and Jamie were having marital problems, her family maintains that she had experienced a change of heart. Despite Jamie’s erratic behavior the family seemed committed to helping her through this difficult time. In fact they planned to stage an intervention, hoping to persuade her to resume taking her medication.
Before that could happen, on July 17 their world was turned upside down. That day a distraught Jamie called Apollo from her car. According to reports a tearful Jamie told her husband, “I’m not going to see you again.” While still on the phone to her husband, she crashed her car into a rural fence some 50 miles from Modesto outside Planada in Merced County, CA.
By the time police arrived on the scene, Jamie had disappeared. Soon a massive search was launched for the ill woman, and a $100,000 reward was offered for information leading to her whereabouts. But although investigators discovered some of her documents and drawings near the abandoned vehicle next to a country field, Jamie herself was nowhere to be found.
For the next few days the Californian authorities continued to hunt for the missing woman. But despite the reward offered for her safe return, nobody could shed any light on Jamie’s disappearance. Meanwhile the Merced County Sheriff’s Department launched searches of the area both on the ground and by air.
With the days ticking by and the media having been alerted, officials even enlisted the help of the California Highway Patrol. However, there was still no sign of Jamie. Confusingly some media outlets began reporting that she had been seen in Monterey County, well over 100 miles from the Tulls’ home.
However, on investigation there seemed to be very little in the way of credible evidence connecting Jamie to the Monterey County reports. Conversely, her family held the belief that the confused woman could have been headed to Yosemite National Park, some 110 miles in another direction.
As far as the California police were concerned Jamie was an at-risk missing adult – although they believed that she had left of her own accord. But, considering Jamie’s poor mental health, that did little to calm the fears of her family. Concerned, they set up a website in the hope of locating the young woman.
Meanwhile Jamie’s parents, Jim and Sandy, had begun co-ordinating their own search effort. They stapled missing posters around the neighborhood where Jamie’s car was found, and began recruiting the help of their friends. Soon they had established a network of some 200 volunteers.
Among their number were Robert Carpenter, a colleague of Jim’s, Lynn Garber, a friend of the family, and Mario Bianchi, who owned the ranch where Jamie’s car had been found. When a plan of Carpenter’s to scour the area again with dogs fell through, the trio refused to be defeated and decided to strike out on their own search for the vulnerable woman.
Early in the morning of August 4, 2017, the men were walking along a route through Bianchi’s ranch when the manager noticed something strange about a quarter of a mile away. As they drew closer their disbelieving eyes saw that it was Jamie crumpled on the ground near a fence. She had now been missing for 17 days. With summer temperatures in the region having recently reached triple digits, the trio feared the worst.
Bianchi later told local newspaper the Merced Sun Star, “My first reaction was that she might not be alive, and then all of a sudden she started talking.” It turned out Jamie had been trying to scale the fence but had simply run out of energy. Although she was suffering from severe sunburn and dehydration, Jamie had survived her ordeal. The three rescuers gave her water and immediately alerted the authorities.
Slowly details about what had happened to Jamie over those 17 days began to emerge. According to initial reports the woman had been difficult to locate because she had been actively hiding from the search parties. In fact, in a report released at about 8:40 a.m. just after her discovery Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told the Merced Sun Star that Jamie hadn’t wanted to be found at all.
However, some eight hours later the same newspaper was reporting a very different story. According to the later online post Jamie told Lynn Garber that she had been praying for rescue, and she was happy that he and his two cohorts had finally succeeded. Robert Carpenter added that if Jamie had been merely 20 feet further away, the men would not have seen her. “This is truly a miracle,” he said.
But just how did a 33-year-old woman survive for 17 days with no equipment or supplies? Jamie told her rescuers that she had eaten only a fly and two grasshoppers during the length of her ordeal. And after her cellphone was discovered near a cattle trough on the ranch it is believed she drank water from there.
“We’re elated to have Jamie back and found,” Jim said in an interview with local broadcaster 5 News. “It’s all great news.” Meanwhile the Californian law agencies seemed content to allow Jamie’s relieved family to address whatever emotional issues might have caused the young woman to disappear. And thanks to the three men who refused to give up their search, they will have that chance.