Details of Disappearance
Annie Laurie was married to Robert Hearin, a prominent businessman, in 1988. She is originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The couple met while they were both enrolled at the University Of Alabama in the late 1930s. Annie Laurie worked as the school newspaper's women's editor. She was also chosen as one of the school's seven most beautiful students by actor Tyrone Power.
Annie Laurie and Robert married and relocated to Jackson, Mississippi afterwards. Robert enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He proceeded to work for United States Gas Company until 1955.
Robert joined First National Bank (later named Trustmark National Bank) and reestablished himself as a successful businessman. The family's estate was valued between $100 to $200 million dollars by the late 1980s.
Annie Laurie was well-known in Jackson society. She was a patron of the Jackson Symphony; president of the Jackson Opera Guild and the Jackson Junior League; and co-chairperson of the Mississippi Arts Festival.
Annie Laurie hosted her biweekly bridge club at her family's home in the 100 block of Woodland Drive on July 26, 1988. The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and her last guest departed at approximately 2:30 p.m. The Hearins' housekeeper left at 3:00 p.m. and Annie Laurie was alone inside the residence afterwards.
Robert returned home by 4:30 p.m. and noticed that his wife's vehicle was parked in their driveway. When he did not locate her inside the house, he assumed she left with friends.
Robert became concerned when Annie Laurie did not return by 7:30 p.m. He called his son-in-law, who attempted to help him locate his wife. The authorities were summoned at 9:49 p.m.
Investigators discovered drops of blood on the carpet and blood smears on the front door of the residence. Analysts determined that the blood matched Annie Laurie's type. Authorities believe that she may have been struck on the head by an intruder, as indicated by blood smears on the door.
A ransom note was also found near the door, which was typewritten and contained numerous grammatical and spelling errors. The note stated in part:
"Mr. Robert Herrin, Put these people back in the shape they was in before they got mixed up with School Pictures. Pay them whatever damages they want and tell them all this so then can no what you are doing but dont tell them why you are doing it. Do this before ten days pass. Don't call police."
The ransom note referred to School Pictures, a company that had been taken over by Robert in the late 1980s. The letter listed 12 franchisees of the the nationwide business, all of whom Robert was supposed to pay ransom for the return of his wife.
The Jackson media agreed to withhold the story of Annie Laurie's kidnapping for 24 hours. Her abduction was announced at a press conference during the evening of July 28.
Authorities stated that they were searching for Newton Alfred Winn in early August 1988. Winn was a civil attorney from St. Petersburg, Florida and held a Florida School Pictures franchise in the early 1980s.
Winn was ordered to pay the company over $153,000 after a court battle in 1984, four years before Annie Laurie's abduction. Winn's name was also listed on the ransom note as one of the 12 franchisees.
Investigators also searched for a white van with Florida license plates that had been seen near the Hearins' residence on July 26. Neighbors said that the vehicle's driver matched Winn's description, and they identified his van as the one they had seen.
Robert made a public appeal for his wife's return in September 1988. He received a letter several days later that was determined to feature Annie Laurie's signature. The note stated:
"Bob, If you don't do what these people want you to do, they are going to seal me up in the cellar of this house with only a few jugs of water. Please save me, Annie Laurie"
The letter was postmarked from Atlanta, Georgia. Robert mailed nearly one million dollars in ransom money to the 12 franchisees listed in the first note. Winn, who was apprehended in March 1989, apparently returned his portion of the funds to Robert.
Robert offered a reward for information leading to Annie Laurie's recovery in September 1988. Her case was also featured on the NBC program Unsolved Mysteries. The episode generated numerous tips regarding Annie Laurie's abduction, including one from an anonymous caller who told authorities to continue investigating Winn.
In 1990, Winn was convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, extortion, and perjury in connection with Annie Laurie's case. Two accomplices received immunity in return for their testimony against him at trial. He received a prison sentence of 19 years and 7 months in prison.
Winn, who maintains his innocence in Annie Laurie's case, was released from prison in 2006. No one was ever charged with committing the actual kidnapping.
Robert died of a heart attack in 1990. Annie Laurie was declared legally dead in 1991. She continues to be remembered by the Jackson art society and several events take place in her honor annually.
The Discovery Channel's program, FBI Files, featured her disappearance in a December 2001 episode entitled Vanished. One of the series' producers said that he believed Annie Laurie's remains may have been disposed between the Texas panhandle and Louisiana. Her case is open and remains unsolved.