Children are the epitome of innocence. As parents, we strive to see the smile on their faces and to enjoy life with a creative imagination before having to face the realities of adulthood. When horrible crimes are committed against such purity people are often left wondering how and why. There are times when those questions get answered; other times a resolution doesn’t occur. In other instances justice is in view but the lack of evidence isn’t adequate enough to provide closure.
Gary Grant Jr. was born on March 8, 1978, to his parents May and Gary Grant Snr. He was the youngest of two other siblings, Michele and Dawn Grant. The family was living in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where Gary Snr. worked strenuous hours as a local police detective, in a city where casino gambling had recently been legalized but was an anecdote for many illegal crimes at the forefront. When Gary Jr. was seven-years-old his parents divorced but the separation didn’t come between raising their children and being actively involved in their lives.
On the morning of Thursday, January 12, 1984, nothing was out of the ordinary. Gary Jr. and other students from Our Lady Star of the Sea were home from school because of a Parent-Teacher conference. As such, Gary was excited and told his mother that he had an appointment at 2:30 p.m. May questioned him about what he meant but he insisted that it was a secret. Though she thought it was strange, she considered it innocuous — thinking he was going to meet up with friends or had a playdate with a girl he liked who lived in the vicinity. Around noontime, Gary left his home on the 2500 block of Arctic Avenue to play with friends, and May instructed him to be home by 4:00 p.m. for dinner.
At approximately 4:00 p.m. Gary Jr. failed to arrive home. May wasn’t overly worried because she knew kids would be kids, so she allowed leeway with his absence. One hour passed by without his emergence and panic was starting to seep in, knowing this type of behavior was uncharacteristic. May put on her coat and went to the homes of two friends in the area. They both claimed they had been playing with Gary but they parted ways to go home at 4:30 p.m.
The information provided a moment of relief — hoping by the time she got back home Gary would be there awaiting her return, but that wasn’t the outcome. May continued searching relentlessly but after another hour without any results, she called her [ex] husband, Gary Grant Snr. and informed him of the situation.
An immediate search was conducted, with alleyways, abandoned buildings, the boardwalk, and arcades being scoured but the efforts proved fruitless. By 2:00 a.m. an official investigation began. Nearly the entire police department was searching for Gary Jr. but his father wasn’t allowed to participate in the case due to regulatory guidelines. Nevertheless, those directives weren’t enough to deter him from independently going door-to-door passing out photographs of Gary Jr. and asking residents in the neighborhood if they had witnessed anything.
One witness named Robert Hughey — New Jersey’s Commissioner of Environmental Protection who owned a warehouse two blocks away from where Gary Jr. lived — stated shortly after 4:30 p.m. he was heading home and saw Gary Jr. walking near the warehouse in the direction back to his residence. He didn’t consider it strange, as children often roamed the area because a local park was nearby.
Two days later on Saturday, January 14, Hughey went to his warehouse to search the premises. It was 3:30 p.m. when he stumbled upon a ghastly scene. The deceased body of Gary Jr. was uncovered in an abandoned lot of land near the storehouse. He had been bludgeoned to death with a metal pipe lying near his body and a rug was draped over him.
The police were immediately notified — whom many were still searching for the boy. Gary Snr. was also still pursuing answers as to his son’s whereabouts and was driving down California Avenue to his [ex] wife’s home when he saw a swarm of police vehicles and officers looking in distraught at the crime scene. He immediately knew from their body language that his seven-year-old son was found. As he approached the scene his worst nightmare came to fruition.
Detective Jim Barber and other investigators went on to interview over 500 people hoping to obtain credible witnesses and information that would help solve the atrocious murder of Gary Grant Jr. Several people came forward claiming to see him with one of his friends, Carl Mason; a twelve-year-old mentally challenged kid with an IQ of 65. Mason was often bullied and was given the nickname “Boo,” because he was considered to be the neighborhood “scardey-cat.” Days prior to Gary Jr’s. murder, Carl’s older brother was arrested on robbery charges and there were rumors circulating that he was recruiting younger children to perform burglaries for him.
With the testimonies of several witnesses, the investigators went to Mason’s home where he was living with his grandmother, to follow up on the recent developments. When asked if he was with Gary Jr. on the afternoon he disappeared he denied the allegations — saying he spent time with him on Wednesday at the Texas Avenue Park. Due to conflicting reports, the police asked him and his grandmother to go to the police station for further questioning.
Mason’s grandmother obliged and took him to the police station. When they arrived, the police separated them and the two weren’t consulted on acquiring a lawyer. The detectives spent three hours interrogating Carl. According to investigative journalist Rick Murray, he provided many inconsistent reports and had even confessed to murdering Gary Jr. with a metal pipe but retracted his statement, but from the perspective of the detectives, his intimate knowledge of the crime scene could only be known if he was a member of law enforcement or the murderer.
Shortly thereafter, the detectives typed up an admission of guilt for Carl and asked for his and his grandmother’s signature. The two were lead to believe signing the papers would allow them to go home, but instead, the forms allowed the detectives to apprehend and charge Carl Mason with the murder of Gary Jr. in an official compacity.
Carl was subsequently transferred to a juvenile detention center, and on the following afternoon on January 15, he was given a polygraph test that came back inconclusive. He was given another test three days later but the results were the same. Both tests indicated that he was innocent and had no involvement with Gary Jr’s. tragic murder. One month later, the Superior Court Judge John Himmelberger dropped all charges because of an illegal interrogation and his confession was not admissible in the court of law.
Gary Snr. and many other people believed Carl Mason was the perpetrator or at the very least had more knowledge than he proclaimed. He still did his best to track down answers by contacting the Prosecutor’s Office to speak with the Major Crimes unit but never received a reply. At one point he spoke with the Attorney General’s Office questioning the lack of movement in the case, and in response, he was taken off his son’s case.
With a lack of information churning in the case eventually turned cold, but two years later a chilling discovery was made on the driver’s side back door of a police-issued vehicle that read, “Gary Grant is dead. I am living. Another will die on 1/12/86 if all goes right.” The anonymous death threat was seemingly a hoax and after a thorough investigation was conducted the police were unable to locate the mysterious writer.
Three weeks later another peculiar message was found carved into a sidewalk saying, “Gary Grant Jr. lives. I still killed him. Son of a pig officer. Payback is a M.F.” The logical assumption amongst the police was that the murder of Gary Jr. was an act of retaliation from someone who had been previously arrested by Gary Snr. After combing through their database of prior convictions nobody who had been incarcerated seemed to warrant this type of extreme reaction.
Once more, the case went stagnant and leads ran dry. Years later, Gary Grant Snr. retired from the Atlantic Police Department and relocated to Puerto Rico. His undaunted resolve for solving his son’s murder was always present, however, telling the Press of Atlantic City, “My seven-year-old son has remained on my mind every waking moment of my life.”
With his retirement, his main goal was to find closure, and in 2016 he found two unbelievable clues while browsing through evidence boxes and converting old audio tapes into digital files. He discovered an audio clipping that he never heard before made to 911 on March 8, 1986 — what would have been Gary Jr’s. tenth birthday — and in the midst of the two spinetingling messages found weeks apart.
Dispatcher: Police and Fire.
Caller: Is it possible for me to collect a reward on my own self for the murder of Gary Grant?
Dispatcher: Is it for you to collect the reward … for yourself?
Dispatcher: If you have … yeah, if you have information. What are you saying? That … I don’t know what you mean? Like, you know who did it? Something like that you mean?
Caller: No. How’s if I did it myself and I want to collect the whole reward.
Dispatcher: If you did it?
Dispatcher: Suppose I hook you into the detective bureau?
Caller: Mm, no, that’s okay.
Caller: (Unclear). It’s not a crank call. You’re never gonna catch me.
Dispatcher: You know what?
Caller: You’re never gonna catch me.
Dispatcher: You know what? Take your time. I didn’t hear you.
The other audio file was from a phone call placed on June 2, 1986. The caller remained incognito and said, “Because of his father. The cops know what he looks like,” but never elaborated further. Hoping to generate new leads, Gary Grant Snr. uploaded the soundbite to Facebook to see if anyone recognized the voice. He managed to obtain the name of the suspect and discovered he knew the individual because he lived in a neighborhood that he often patrolled, yet couldn’t recall having any issues with him. Interestingly enough, the caller was arrested in 2013 for child molestation against a five-year-old and was sentenced to prison. It has never been determined if he had involvement in the murder of Gary Grant Jr.
It’s now 2018 and the murder of Gary Grant Jr. remains unsolved. Gary Snr. still believes Carl Mason was the individual responsible for taking his son’s life but remains humble enough to consider the possibility he is innocent. To keep the spotlight on his son’s life, he created a Facebook page to honor his son’s memory and offer words of encouragement to others. As he continues to pursue justice and closure, his dedication is a beacon of light for others to never give up. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.