The case of Charles Toliver. Are police doing enough? Probably not. This is Tennessee:
CLINTON – It has been almost 10 years since Charles Lee Toliver – and nearly all of his belongings – disappeared.
Left behind is a trail of conflicting stories, a police report the family says is incorrect and a stack of mail returned to Toliver at an address that was not his from places his family says he never lived.
Toliver, 30, was flamboyant, hyperactive and a skilled spinner of tall tales, according to his family. His only income was a $512 per month disability check. His parents, Danny and Constance Toliver of Strawberry Plains, never learned what that disability was but suspect a mental or emotional illness, possibly bipolar disorder. He made choices that dismayed those who loved him. He had been in prison for theft.
“We never approved of some of the things Charlie did and said, but he was our son, and we loved him,” Constance Toliver said. “With Charlie, you never knew what was going to happen next. He was a roller-coaster ride you couldn’t get off of.”
The ride ended abruptly with his disappearance in February 2000.
“This has destroyed our family,” Danny Toliver said. “We don’t do Christmas anymore. We don’t do nothing. I’m at the point where I don’t even like to talk about it any more. The only thing that keeps me going is making myself believe he is still alive.”
When Charlie Toliver disappeared, his parents say, he was living with Edward J. McGimsey, then chief of the Anderson County Rescue Squad. Constance Toliver said that she accused McGimsey, face to face, of either harming her son or not telling all that he knows about the disappearance.
Today, McGimsey is 46, a retail store manager and a part-time News Sentinel employee. He initially agreed to a scheduled interview but later canceled.
“I discussed this with my family,” he said. “They feel that under the circumstances, and with the way the Toliver family has been towards me as far as their false allegations, that I should not do the interview.”
The Tolivers feel their son’s disappearance was not taken as seriously as it should have been.
“Maybe that was because Charlie was gay, or maybe because he had been in prison, or maybe both,” Constance Toliver said. “We’re just glad that a new detective has finally been assigned to the case.”
An ATM photo, a tattooed convict
A copy of the missing persons report on Charlie Toliver
About a month after Toliver vanished, someone used his ATM card in Calhoun, Ga., to withdraw exactly $300 from his SunTrust bank account, leaving another $200 untouched. His parents said they were shown a security camera picture of that transaction by the first detective assigned to the case. “The fellow using the card had his jacket pulled up over his head,” Constance Toliver said.
ACSD declined to release the photograph to the News Sentinel. The News Sentinel requested a copy of the missing persons report, which is a public record. Only one page of a two-page report was provided.
Before meeting McGimsey, Toliver had lived in Knoxville with Ernie Lee Luhellier, then 35. Also known as Tony Luhellier, he was a heavily tattooed convicted rapist whom Toliver met in prison. He was released in August 1996, and later he and Toliver borrowed $17,000 from real estate agent Selina Overstreet to buy a house together at 1815 E. Glenwood Ave.in Knoxville.
Overstreet said Luhellier had a job and occasionally bought cars at auction and resold them, and that the pair got additional income by renting out a room in the Glenwood Avenue house.
Despite Toliver’s small income, he and Luhellier also bought two houses on a single lot directly across the street. “They had big ideas about fixing up houses and selling them or renting them,” Overstreet said, but nothing ever came of the plans.
Eventually, Luhellier moved into one of the houses across the street, where two women also appeared to be living. According to neighbors. McGimsey began regularly visiting Toliver at 1815 E. Glenwood. In 1999, Luhellier quitclaimed his interest in that house to Toliver, who sold it to McGimsey for $45,000.
By late 1999, Constance Toliver said, her son was living with McGimsey in Clinton.
On Jan. 5, 2000, when Charlie Toliver renewed his driver’s license, he gave his address as 1822 Glenwood Ave. – the house that Luhellier owned and had moved into months earlier after he left 1815 E. Glenwood.
On Feb, 6, 2000, Constance Toliver said, Luhellier called and claimed that McGimsey and her son had been in a fight. “He said there were holes in the wall, and I think he said there was blood,” she said. She and her husband drove to Clinton to check on their son and talk to McGimsey.
“There were no signs of a struggle, no blood, no holes in the wall,” Constance Toliver said. “But there was no sign of Charlie, either. None of his clothes or his things were there, except his dog. He would never have left his dog behind.”
When two weeks passed with no word from him, his parents filed a missing persons report. Constance Toliver said she and her husband were both distraught, and she was medicated, so it is possible that they made some incorrect statements or that the officer taking the report may not have understood everything they said.
The report states that Charlie Toliver had telephoned his father two days before the disappearance and said he was going to Atlanta. Constance Toliver says that her husband was out of town and had no cell phone.
The report lists her son’s address as 278 Taylor Lane, Clinton. Property records show McGimsey bought that land in 1999. Records in the State Fire Marshal’s Office show that a 1999 model Oakwood double-wide trailer owned by McGimsey at that address burned down in February 2001, from a fire of unknown origin.
Constance Toliver today is certain that her son’s Clinton address was 155 Laurel Hollow Road.
The News Sentinel was unable to resolve the discrepancy between her recollections and the address on the police report.
Photo by Adam Brimer
Mail addressed to Charlie Toliver showing return to sender notifications. After Toliver disappeared in 2000, his family received returned mail addressed to him at places they say he never lived.
About this series
Each month the News Sentinel is highlighting the nature of missing-persons cases as well as specific disappearances through the decades in the East Tennessee area.
According to the missing persons report, Danny Toliver stated that McGimsey had told him there had been an argument between McGimsey and Charlie Toliver “about (their) relationship … (Charlie) was upset over believing that Mr. McGimsey was seeing someone else” and wanted to stay with friends in Atlanta.
According to the report, Danny Toliver states that McGimsey told him he dropped off Charlie Toliver at the first rest stop inside Georgia, where the Atlanta friends were to meet him. Charlie Toliver was believed to have had about $200 cash on him, according to the report.
What happened to Charlie?
Today, the Tolivers say McGimsey told them their son had met a man on the Internet and wanted to meet him in Georgia. Charlie Toliver’s aunt, Mary Toliver, said McGimsey told her basically the same thing.
In an e-mail to Mary Toliver, McGimsey said: “I keep hoping every day that one of you will call me to tell me Charlie has called or come back, so we can all rest easier. I hope you believe me, Mary, when I say I didn’t, and wouldn’t, do anything to hurt Charlie. I hope he’s OK and I really wish he would hurry up and call somebody or get back. Regarding the prayer e-mail, I’m praying for him to be all right and to come back soon. You do the same, OK?”
About a month or two after the disappearance, Luhellier brought the Tolivers a stack of their son’s mail. Some was addressed to Charlie Toliver at Luhellier’s house address. Other envelopes were return mail, bearing yellow address-forwarding labels to places where he never lived, according to Constance Toliver.
Postal Service officials to whom the News Sentinel showed those envelopes said that in 2000, no such label would have been printed without someone filling out – and signing – a form. Those forms were kept on file for a couple of years and then destroyed.
Two of the addresses were in towns in Tennessee and Missouri where Luhellier is believed to have previously lived. One of those addresses, in Hayti, Mo., is also on Charlie Toliver’s bank statement.
The News Sentinel was unable to locate Luhellier. On Aug. 13, he was released from a Missouri prison after serving seven years for statutory sodomy and burglary. He was to return to Tennessee and register as a sex offender, but he has not registered here or anywhere, Missouri authorities say. They do not know his whereabouts and have asked U.S. Marshals to investigate further.
The Tolivers live in a dark limbo of uncertainty about their son’s fate. They feel confident that Kenny Bradley, a new detective recently assigned to the case, will press the investigation. But they also worry that too much time has passed for the case to be solved.
“Everything goes away with time. Lots of evidence could be lost by now,” Danny Toliver said.
Constance Toliver is plagued by unrelenting sadness, nightmares, sleepless nights – and a terrible fear of something even worse.
“I am afraid that we are going to die without knowing what happened to Charlie,” she said.
Anyone with any information about the case may call Detective Bradley at 865-457-6255.
Jim Balloch may be reached at 865-342-6315.