Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

George Owens

Real Name: George Owens
Nicknames: No Known Nicknames
Location: Nolensville, Tennessee
Date: July 22, 1985


Occupation: Associate Church Minister
Date of Birth: 1905
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 160 Pounds
Marital Status: Married
Characteristics: African-American male. White hair and brown eyes. George wore eyeglasses and used a cane to help him walk. He was last known to be wearing a gold watch and a ruby ring.


Details: Seventy-nine-year-old George Owens was probably the last person in the world one would expect to disappear. For more than twenty years, he was the associate minister at the New Hope Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. His congregation lavished him with affection and praised him as a respected, upstanding citizen who never missed a Sunday service. The mystery surrounding George began in July 1985 when his wife, Alene, traveled to Ohio to visit her niece. During sixty years of marriage, it was one of the few times they had been apart. As it turned out, they would never see each other again.
At 6:30am on Monday, July 22, 1985, Alene returned to Nashville as scheduled. George had arranged to meet her at the bus station, but he never arrived. After waiting for an hour, she assumed that he had overslept. She called his brother, Alfred, and asked for a ride home. When he got the call, he told her that he would pick her up. He then tried to call George, but received no answer.
Alfred picked up Alene and drove her back home. When she entered the garage and saw that George’s car was not there, she knew something was wrong. In the kitchen, they found the table set for dinner with two place settings. His hat, which he wore every day, was left behind. Their dog was hungry. Only one set of clothes -- an old black suit he wore around the house -- was missing. However, they could find no trace of him. Alfred immediately contacted the authorities. However, an investigation turned up nothing.
Six days later, George’s car, a 1972 Dodge Dart, was found abandoned on a remote rural hilltop in Perry County, more than 100 miles from his home. There was no evidence of a struggle or foul play. The keys were still in the ignition, the battery was dead, the driver's side window was down, a back door was open, and his cane was propped against the car. Inside, investigators found his suit jacket, a pack of matches, and a pile of kindling wood. But there was no sign of him.
Within a week, a local television station aired a missing persons bulletin about George. Several people in another part of Tennessee recognized his picture and an unusual story began to unfold. At around 9am on Monday, July 22, three hours after George was supposed to pick up Alene in Nashville, he was seen eighty miles away, traveling along Route 13. At a filling station in Santa Fe, Tennessee, he stopped to have a flat tire repaired. The owner recalled that he paid him in cash.

Owens map.jpg

As George was about to leave, he told the owner that he was a bit lost and asked for directions back to his hometown of Nolensville. It is believed that the owner misheard him and instead gave him directions to Lobelville. No one knows what George was doing in that part of the state. Nolensville is approximately thirty miles southeast of Nashville. The service station was in Santa Fe, which is fifty miles southwest of Nashville. Lobelville is sixty miles due west of Santa Fe and more than 100 miles from George’s home.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 23, a day after George stopped at the service station, he was seen in a market in downtown Lobelville. Mary Jo Phebus was working at the store by herself at the time. He asked if they had ice cream, and then asked if she could get him it. She did and then brought it back to him. He paid for it and went out to his car. A few minutes later, he came back into the store and asked for cigars. She gave him a box of them, along with a box of matches.
Shortly after buying the cigars, George began talking about how he used to dance with his wife. He then said that he could not find his wife. Mary Jo believed that he may have been disoriented. She noticed that he became very upset when talking about his wife. She called the local clinic to see if his wife was there, but there were no patients that fit her description. When she told him that his wife was not there, he left without saying another word. Looking back on the situation, she wishes that she had called someone to get him help.
Five more days went by before George’s car was discovered, twelve miles from the market. An exhaustive search-and-rescue effort was organized, but there was no trace of him. However, the investigation did turn up one significant clue; it led them to believe that someone other than George may have been driving his car, and that a second vehicle may also have been present at the scene.
When the search began, the closest person to the scene said that she had seen George's car go up the hill. A pickup truck was following it. The pickup stayed up there for fifteen to twenty minutes before it came back down the same road. The road was the only way in and out of the place where George’s car was found. Sheriff’s deputies were unable to determine who the pickup belonged to. They were equally baffled by what they found in and around George’s car.
When investigators arrived at the scene, they found several piles of wood around the car. They later learned that George’s habit was to go around his house and pick up wood. However, Alene told a reporter that she did not believe George would have driven the car up there. She also did not believe that he would put sticks in the back of it because the car “was his baby”. He kept it perfect and would also immediately get a scratch or dent fixed. Furthermore, she noted that he never walked long distances without his cane.
Authorities are still trying to piece together what happened to George. Did he meet with foul play sometime after he left the market? Or did he suffer a minor stroke, become disoriented, and drive up the logging trail himself, only to wander helplessly into the woods? Sadly, Alene passed away in 1989. But the unanswered questions continue to haunt the rest of George’s family. Alfred still hopes to find out what happened to him. He believes that he could still be alive somewhere.
Suspects: Some suspect that George was the victim of foul play, mainly due to the condition of his car and the witness who reported seeing his car being followed by an unidentified pickup truck. Others suspected that he may have wandered off after suffering from a stroke.
Extra Notes:

  • The case was featured as a part of the August 19, 1992 episode.
  • It was excluded from the FilmRise release of the Robert Stack episodes.
  • It was also featured on "The Trail Went Cold" podcast.

Results: Unsolved. In 1993, after no trace of George was found for eight years, he was declared legally dead. His grandson received $33,000 from his estate. Sadly, his whereabouts remain unknown.