The Disappearance of Jake Just

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EARLY LIFE:

Jake Just was born on December 15, 1979 in Midland, Ontario, Canada. He was close to his mother, Debbie, with whom he could talk about almost everything.

Debbie describes her son as being a big kid at heart, with a special insight and maturity about him. He made friends with everyone he met, took in stray animals, and loved playing guitar and singing. He was also talented at martial arts, having taken karate since he was a child. These skills came in handy on two separate occasions, when he was attacked by boys he knew.

At the time of his disappearance, Jake was preparing to attend college.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

On the evening of October 30, 1998, Jake said goodbye to his mother and left the family home, as he and his friends were attending a party at a local residence. While there, the group drank beer, after which they broke the bottles over their heads.

DISAPPEARANCE:

At around midnight on October 31, Jake and a friend left the party. Along the way, they walked by a darkened trail through the Sunnyside Woods. Jake chose to take the shortcut, while his friend opted to stay along the lit path. They agreed to meet up where the trail exited onto the street. He never arrived at the meeting place. (Depending on who you ask, there is also the possibility Jake fled into the woods after being chased by a local resident following the party ending.)

A second version of events tells a different story. It alleges Jake was kicked out of the party for suggesting attendees smash beer bottles over their heads. He was bleeding, so he and his friends sought help at a residence in the area. While in the bathroom, he requested some towels to soak up the blood. But when the home owners returned, he jumped out the window.

Later that day, Jake’s friends called Debbie, looking for her son. It was then she knew something was wrong. When evening rolled around and Jake still hadn’t returned, she contacted the Midland Police Service to report him missing.

SEARCH:

The initial police investigation primarily centred around the last place Jake was seen: the shortcut through the Sunnyside Woods. The search lasted eight days, with hundreds of volunteers, friends and neighbours canvassing the surrounding marshes, forest and geographic area. Search helicopters with heat-sensing technology, divers and cadaver dogs were brought in to assist, as the search area was difficult to navigate. Unfortunately, no evidence was uncovered.

The case was reviewed three years later and additional searches conducted. They too had the same result as those that occurred in 1998.

Police spoke with around 200 witnesses to try and piece together the events leading up to Jake’s disappearance. Two of those individuals were the boys he’d previously fought with, but nothing led investigators to believe they had any involvement.

Over the years, Debbie has received numerous calls from people claiming to know what happened to her son. She’s recorded each one for the police to follow up on, but they never amounted to anything. She’s also received calls from mediums, with one claiming Jake had made it out of the woods, only to be hit by a car and whisked away by the panicked driver.

In May 2019, Dan Gratrix, a high school friend of Jake’s, contacted Simcoe.com with a tip about the case. He said he’d called Crime Stoppers and spoken with a detective with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), but that investigators never followed up with him. Gratrix received the tip from a “trusted, life-long friend”. They shared that Jake had managed to walk through the forest, after which he attended a house party on Fourth Street. It was there that he was confronted by local drug dealers and dragged out of the residence, beaten to death and buried beneath an isolated pier on the shores of Georgian Bay.

Gratrix revealed that both his friend and Jake knew the suspects, who still live in the Midland area, and claimed Jake sold marijuana in high school. While his friend is reluctant to come forward out of fear of reprisals, investigators have said they’re aware of the suspects named, but that they never came up in connection with the case.

Debbie doesn’t believe this version of events, as it doesn’t sound like the her son.

The government of Ontario is currently offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for Jake’s disappearance.

The investigation is ongoing. In February 2018, the Midland Police Service disbanded in favour of a local OPP detachment – the Southern Georgian Bay OPP – and the case switched hands. At the time, Debbie expressed fears it might get lost in the shuffle.

Numerous tips have been followed up on. Despite this, investigators are no closer to solving the case than they were in 1998. According to one officer, “This is a pretty unique case… It is one of only two or three in Ontario with similar characteristics, which have undergone this comprehensive of an investigation with an absolute lack of evidence.”

THEORIES:

1) The primary theory in the case is that Jake’s disappearance is the result of a drunken accident. It’s possible he lost his way and stumbled into a swampy area, due to his head injury and level of intoxication.

Those investigating the case don’t support this, as no evidence was found to suggest that Jake or anyone else had been near the swamp in the days prior to his disappearance. As well, his personal effects – including his backpack – have not been recovered.

2) A second theory is that Jake was abducted not long after cutting through the woods. Those who follow this line of thinking believe he decided to follow a hydro corridor, which led him to the area near a local strip club, after which he was abducted by “unsavoury characters”.

Investigators have found no evidence or witnesses to suggest Jake was anywhere near the area on the night of his disappearance.

3) A final theory was presented by Reddit user benson4535 in a post shared to the LetsNotMeet subreddit. He alleges that in late October 2011, he was working as a cab driver in Midland when he picked up a male passenger in his early 40s. As the two were chatting, the man brought up an incident, during which he and his friends had beaten up a “stupid kid at a party”.

“The f****r was breaking beer bottles over his head, was all kind of shades of f****d up,” the passenger said. “Really pissed me and my friends off. So we followed him from the party to this house in Sunnyside, we grabbed him from the bathroom. The kid had no chance, we dragged him into the marsh and beat the s**t out of him! Before we knew it, kid wasn’t breathing…”

It’s currently unknown if benson4535 reported this encounter to the OPP. If true, this story lines up with the secondary version of events that was brought up during the investigation, in which Jake jumped out of a bathroom window after seeking help for his head injuries.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Jake Just went missing from Midland, Ontario, Canada on October 31, 1998. He was 18 years old, and was last seen wearing an olive green and beige-coloured long sleeve shirt; black D.V.S. running shoes, size 11; and a black Jaguar backpack. At the time of his disappearance, he stood at 6’2″ and weighed 170 pounds. He has blond hair, green or hazel eyes, and a 4″ scar on the inside of his left bicep.

Currently, the investigation is classified as a missing persons case. If alive, he would be 41 years old.

Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Missing Persons and Unidentified Bodies/Remains Unit of the Ontario Provincial Police at 1-877-934-6363. Tips can also be submitted anonymously via Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Image Credit: Unsolved Case Files Canada

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