There’s an emptiness inside Paul Beard that nothing can seem to fill. He’s tried, he said, but day after day, year after year, the void remains, leaving him bitter, hurt and still searching for answers he isn’t sure will ever come.
He lost his brother, Wilson Beard, 21 years ago this month, shot in the head by an unknown assailant and discovered dead in his pickup truck at the old rest area on U.S. 421 south.
So every April, the sick feeling rages within his stomach, making him nauseous, leaving him sleepless and returning him again and again to that tragic night and the days and weeks that turned into years without the closure he and his family have sought.
”Every day of my life I think about Wilson. It’s been so long, but yet in some ways it’s just like yesterday, especially when April rolls around,” Beard said during a solemn interview earlier this week. “This month it’s been hard to lay down and go to sleep, it’s hard to eat, it’s hard to focus on anything but him dead in that truck and his killer out there, somewhere, still free.”
Law enforcement authorities haven’t ever been able to solve the case, now paperwork stuffed in a cardboard box and nestled among other cold cases. There’s been a change in administration since Wilson Beard’s death in 1993, and most of the investigators once well versed in the case have long since retired.
So, really, Paul Beard believes, as he always has, it’s left up to him to keep reminding people of his brother and to keep hoping that the renewed information he works to get published in area newspapers will draw out someone who might remember something, anything.
“I’m still trying to bring awareness; still trying to keep his name out there so people won’t just forget, go on about their business. This case isn’t solved and there’s no end to this.”
People still remember the Beard case, he asserted, and, in fact, he said when people realize his last name they usually ask if he’s related to the guy who was killed.
The same is true for Wilson Beard’s son, a young boy when his father was murdered. People recognize the name and ask. “So people know; they remember. You may have to help them along, but they remember. It’s hard to forget something like that, even if it didn’t happen to you or your family.”
WJ or Wilson Beard Jr., his uncle said, is doing better today, but growing up without a father has been hard on the young man, now 24 years old. “Growing up without a daddy sure impacted his life. He’s on his feet now, but he had some struggles.”
The not knowing, the lack of justice leaves a fester that won’t heal for those in the family, Paul Beard said, particularly for him and for his son.
“Closure just doesn’t come,” Beard asserted. “It’s been 21 years, but I keep reliving it, over and over and over again. It don’t really get no better because I can’t get my brother back and we can’t bring his killer to justice.”
There have been many changes since April 4, 1993, when Beard’s truck was found and the family told of his death. For one thing, the seven Beard siblings have dwindled to four, and both parents — Mary and Paul Beard Sr. — have since died, all of them without having the answers they desperately wanted.
“My daddy told me we wouldn’t get any answers, any peace. He always said he’d die without knowing. The truth is, he said I’d be dead, too, before Wilson’s death was solved. He may be right.”
His voice trails off, his thoughts clouded by the ghosts that won’t rest.
There will be no real rest, for the living or the dead, in his family until there’s closure, Paul Beard stressed. “You don’t get closure like this. People may think after so many years you just learn to accept, but you don’t. .. at least I don’t.”
His brother’s death has never been a cold case for Paul Beard, even though few concrete leads have ever surfaced that would lead law enforcement to the killer. He has his own suspicions about his brother’s death and who might be responsible, but they remain unproved, just thoughts he has as he struggles to find answers that never really seem to come.
“I think it might have been tied to another murder that happened around that time, but I ain’t got nothing to go on. But somebody out there knows; I’m just praying that somebody will come forward.”
A family changed
Since Wilson Beard’s death a once close family has become disjointed, too, Paul Beard said. The family get-togethers that once were are now few and far between, the memories, Paul Beard said, just too difficult to deal with for most.
“It’s not really divided us, more like it’s changed us. After Wilson died, it was like this chain broke. Once it happened, we have never really been able to put it back together again, not completely.”
And they rarely, if ever, talk about their brother or his tragic death. “My mama couldn’t talk about it at all, didn’t want it mentioned in her presence. So we didn’t. We didn’t want her to hurt anymore than she was already hurting.”
It was a pain she lived with every day, as did his father. While it might not have been verbalized, Wilson Beard’s death spoke volumes in the silence of the family home and in the sadness that was reflected in his parents’ eyes, he said.
That hurt still resonates with the older Beard brother who said peace simply doesn’t come.
“I just can’t accept it, that’s all. The least I can do for my brother is keep putting it out there until someday someone will come forward and help us find that closure.
“This hasn’t been forgotten; it never will be. Wilson didn’t deserve to die like he did, and he certainly didn’t deserve to die without his killer being brought to justice. And we, as his family, deserve to be able to rest easier because this case has been solved once and for all.
“But daddy may be right, we may never know, but I’ve got keep hoping that will change.”