Where is Skylar Burnley? Mississippi man disappears on wild-goose chase for missing phone
03/30/2018 1:06 pm PDT
The saying goes "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." For Skylar Burnley it appears those two sets of people may be one and the same.
Crime Watch Daily visits Jackson, Mississippi to try to get some answers about what really happened to Skylar Burnley, missing since June 2016.
It was a sweltering summer night in Pearl, Mississippi, and 27-year-old Skylar Burnley decided to head over to a friend's house to hang out with some buddies for the weekend.
"Skylar had an acquaintance, Travis Brewer. Travis lived closer to the Brandon area of the county," said Rankin County Undersheriff Raymond Duke.
That's an area with little to no crime.
"It is such a safe place to live," said Undersheriff Duke.
But that was all about to change. At 1 a.m. on a Saturday, a 911 call came in to the Rankin County Sheriff's Department, a call that's hasn't previously been released.
The caller is Skylar's friend Travis Brewer, claiming his truck is missing.
"I was wondering, last night I had my truck out in the driveway, and one of my buddies took off in it, and he didn't come back."
"He knew he left his phone in the truck. So he's trying to track his phone using an online application," said Undersheriff Duke.
"I called AT&T and I got them to give me an app, a downloaded app, so I could track my phone to see where the truck was at."
Travis Brewer says his common-law wife Amanda, their 4-year-old daughter and Skylar all came along to help track down his truck.
"This is according to Travis: They go to an area in Rankin County not far from where they live and go down a gravel road, and they're in the woods basically on this gravel road," said Raymond Duke.
The reason why both Travis and Skylar are in this particular location, according to Travis Brewer, is because the phone GPS coordinates put him there, according to Duke.
The search for Travis's missing truck then takes a bizarre turn. During his 911 call, Travis tells the operator he just lost something else. Now he can't find his friend Skylar.
"He walks off side of the road, that was at 10 o'clock this morning. I walked off the other side of the road, and he's been gone ever since, and I could never find him. I been everywhere looking for him and I can't find him."
But how in the world do you lose a 27-year-old man in broad daylight, at 10 o'clock in the morning?
"I will tell you this, that Travis openly admits that the morning they went looking for the vehicle, both he and Skylar ingested methamphetamine," said Duke.
The focus of the investigation suddenly flips from recovering a stolen truck to finding a missing person, Skylar Burnley. Right away, Skylar's mother receives the terrifying news.
"I got a phone call from his dad and I say 'Call 911 now, I'm on my way.' I kept thinking all the way to Brandon, 'He's not missing.' You don't want to believe something like that," said Skylar's mother Stacy Humble.
But sadly, it appears to be true. It's now Sunday and nearly 48 hours since anyone has heard from Skylar. The Rankin County Sheriff's Department sets up a command post and quickly assembles a search team.
"We had several deputies in the area," said Duke. "We called out some search dogs, we searched that patch of woods. Then we called in the Southwest Mississippi Search and Rescue Team."
Undersheriff Duke was on scene holding news briefings for the ever-growing media presence. Reporters want to know about Travis Brewer, the man who called in the missing-person report.
"He was unable to locate Sky, he returned to his residence and contacted the sheriff's department later that afternoon. Actually it was 1 o'clock in the morning on Saturday, to report that his vehicle had been stolen and recovered, but that his friend was now missing," Duke tells reporters.
By Sunday afternoon, more than 100 first-responders are on the ground scouring the thick woods.
"We went ahead and brought in some ATVs. We had mounted search members out there. We had helicopters up with FLIR," said Duke. "FLIR is Forward-Looking InfraRed, so it's able to see heat signatures."
Meaning that if Skylar was in those woods, hurt, unconscious, or even dead, they could find him.
"So even if he was down where he could not call to us, and he was in this area, there would be a deviation in the heat temperatures from his body to the ground, and they would have been able to pick him up with the FLIR," said Raymond Duke.
But looking at maps of the area in question is one thing. Investigators take us to the actual search area.
What's the significance of this location?
"According to Travis, this was the last location that Skylar was seen before being reported missing," Rankin County Sheriff's Investigator Michael Chandler.
And as you scoured this area searching for Skylar, any signs of a disturbance, scuffle, blood spatter anywhere?
"None whatsoever. We searched it thoroughly," said Chandler. "The majority of this close proximity was searched on foot doing a line and grid search. So it should have been detected if there was any sign of a disturbance out here."
Search and rescue teams covered close to 400 acres in a desperate search to find Skylar Burnley.
"We searched that patch of woods probably more than I've seen us search any other patch of woods, because we were that confidant that he was out there," said Duke.
But after days of searching, first-responders came up empty-handed. Skylar's brother, who is a soldier in the U.S. Army, took an emergency leave of absence to try to assist the authorities with finding his brother.
Any enemies that Skylar had that you can think of?
"I don't know of any enemies he would have had. My brother was a likeable fellow. Everyone he ever met liked him," said Skylar's brother Shelby Burnley.
Skylar appears to have simply vanished. But the case was about to make another stunning turn. Remember that cellphone Travis Brewer said he left in his truck? Deputies found it.
"We collected the phone," said Raymond Duke.
But there's a problem: It turns out Travis's phone wasn't in his truck after all. It was just feet from his front yard all along.
So there's no way that Travis and Skylar tracked his phone to the woods?
"Absolutely no way," said Duke.
Investigators are trying to determine if Skylar Burnley was really trying to help his friend find his stolen pickup truck in the woods, or was the whole thing fabricated for something more sinister.
"The phone that they were tracking was never there," said Rankin County Undersheriff Raymond Duke.
And the reason deputies know for sure is because they tracked down and arrested the man who stole Travis Brewer's truck.
"Matthew McCoy is in our county jail for the 31st time. He is there as we speak today," said Raymond Duke. "He is in there for unrelated drug charges. He tells us now that he was so high that night that he doesn't remember half of what happened."
But Matthew McCoy tells cops he does remember one thing very clearly: tossing Travis's phone as he was taking off in Travis's truck.
"He throws Travis's phone out the window because he is so high and paranoid that somebody is after him," said Duke.
And you believe him?
"I believe him," said Duke.
But the undersheriff isn't just taking McCoy's word for it -- and when deputies return to the area where McCoy says he ditched the device:
"We collected the phone," said Duke.
And it's nowhere near where Travis's truck was found, or where Travis and Skylar went looking for it. In fact, Travis Brewer's phone was discovered just feet from his own front door.
Which begs the question: if they weren't tracking Travis's phone to find his truck, what were they doing out there in the woods?
"None of it makes any sense," said Skylar's mother Stacy Humble.
Now that investigators have Travis Brewer's cellphone, they wonder if it can help lead them to Skylar Burnley.
"We did what's called a 'forensic dump.' So we basically sent it off to a lab, have everything downloaded from the phone, looking at GPS locations, towers that it's connected to, that's how I am able to say with such confidence that that phone was never there," said Undersheriff Duke.
Unfortunately, the only thing the phone reveals is its location. Still, investigators were beginning to believe Skylar was lured into the woods.
Do you know Travis knew something?
"I think he knows something. I think he does," said Stacy Humble.
Investigators agree, and they bring Travis Brewer and his common-law wife Amanda down to the sheriff's department for interviews.
You present this information to Travis Brewer and say "You're lying."
"Yes," said Undersheriff Duke. "He doesn't have a response. There is no good explanation. He can't give us a good explanation because it doesn't exist."
Investigators polygraph the couple. And when they ask Amanda about what happened to Skylar:
"Amanda shows no deception. I don't know that she does know what happened, other than the fact Skylar was in that vehicle, Skylar exited that vehicle, and never returned to the vehicle," said Duke.
But when they ask Travis if he knew what happened to Skylar:
"It showed deception in his answer. He answered 'No.' It showed deception," said Duke.
Investigators quickly pull a warrant to search Travis and Amanda's home.
"We found some drug paraphernalia," said Duke. "So he was, he and Amanda both were arrested on those charges and taken to the Rankin County Jail."
And while they sit behind bars, deputies uncover what they consider an odd clue.
"He left a note on the door," said Duke.
It turns out that after calling 911 to report Skylar Burnley missing, Travis Brewer drove over to Skylar's uncle's house and left a note on his door.
Now, for the first time, investigators are releasing its contents to Crime Watch Daily.
"Reads, 'Travis, Sky's friend. He is missing, I'm worried something bad has happened,'" said Duke.
But it's interesting in the note, he says he's afraid something bad has happened to Skylar.
"I find that very interesting," said Duke. "Not 'Skylar is missing,' not 'Give me a call, I want to talk you about Skylar,' but it specifically says 'I'm worried something bad has happened.'"
The undersheriff wonders if was just a strange choice of words, or a guilty slip of the lip. Either way, he's certain of one thing: Travis Brewer and his family were the last known people with Skylar Burnley on the day he disappeared.
"We know that they were all together because he stopped at a local service station, we have it on video," said Raymond Duke.
The video is being released for the first time in its entirety, exclusively to Crime Watch Daily.
"About 9:50 that morning, Travis goes inside the store with his daughter, Skylar goes inside the store, they buy some soft drinks and snacks," said Duke.
Then, the same store's outdoor security camera captures Skylar, Travis and his daughter as they come out of the store and get into Amanda's dark compact car and drive away, headed toward the woods.
"Eight or nine minutes later we see them on that road via home surveillance, so we know the vehicle went there," said Duke. "We driven that same track, and they would not have had time -- in fact they were probably speeding -- they would not have had time to make any stops along the way."
But the burning question remains: How did Travis and Skylar end up in those woods? Even the undersheriff isn't sure, but he has a theory.
"I think that Travis was ordered to take Skylar somewhere," said Duke.
"That we don't know," said Duke. "I mean, we feel confident that there is a gang connection here also, that gang being the Simon City Royals. We're not able to confirm that."
What was their M.O.?
"They are more of a predominantly Caucasian street gang," said Ranking County District Attorney Michael Guest. "They are involved in drug-trafficking, selling of narcotics."
"If in fact this is gang-related, if in fact there is a drug nexus, and if in fact foul play has come to Skylar, then it's no wonder Travis wouldn't talk," said Undersheriff Duke.
And what's the possible connection to Skylar Burnley? According to his family, Skylar had an ongoing battle with addiction.
"I knew that he had used drugs before. He'd be clean for a year, year and a half, and then he might fall off the wagon one time, maybe clean again for a year, and then fall off the wagon again, so it was kind of hit or miss," said Skylar's brother Shelby.
And Undersheriff Duke believes a relapse could have led to a drug deal gone wrong.
"The lady that Skylar was with tells us a story that Skylar told her, that he had just ripped off a drug dealer in Jackson and took a quantity of drugs from him. Stiffed him for them, basically," said Duke.
But no matter who is responsible for Sklar Burnley's disappearance, the undersheriff believes one thing to be true:
"There's no question in my mind that Travis Brewer is the key to solving this case," said Duke.
From where I am sitting, that puts him as a prime suspect.
"Yes, absolutely," said Duke.
So he is a suspect in Skylar's disappearance?
"Absolutely. Travis will remain in my mind a suspect until we solve this case," said Undersheriff Duke.
Travis led Skylar to his demise?
"I truly believe that," said Duke. "If I could prove that, he would be in jail right now."
But you can't prove it.
"I can't prove it," said Duke.
It's a strong accusation by Undersheriff Duke.
Our producers at Crime Watch Daily called Travis Brewer's attorney, but never heard back. We want to give Brewer a chance to respond, so we head to his home, where he and Amanda are living now.
"Man, I gave the undersheriff all the statements I'm gonna do, brother," Travis said.
Oh, I know, but he actually made a serious accusation against you, and said that you led Skylar into the woods to his demise. What's your response to that?
"I'm not even --," said Travis.
"We have an attorney," said Amanda.
OK, that's good.
"Get off my property please," said Amanda.
Travis Brewer and Amanda Morris have not been charged in any connection with Skylar Burnley's disappearance. Both maintain the have fully cooperated with investigators and claim they're innocent.
But whoever is responsible for Skylar's disappearance, the Rankin County District Attorney has a message for them.
Does your office believe this is just a standard missing-person case, or do you think that foul play is involved?
"We believe foul play is involved. What I want those individuals to know is that we will never stop investigating this case. That we will one day be able to solve this case, and that once this case is solved, that arrests will be made, and they will be held responsible for their actions, and that justice will prevail in this matter," said D.A. Michael Guest.
Where do you go from here?
"Hopefully doing this show with Crime Watch Daily, we'll get a broader audience that may be beyond what we've already touched, and somebody somewhere will have some information that they can bring forward to us that will lead us to the conclusion of this case," said Undersheriff Duke.
Until then, Skylar's mother says she'll be praying for closure.
"We just want to find him. We want answers so that we can put it to rest and be able to have a place to go, and as long as he's missing we can't have a memorial, we can't have anything. There's nothing you can do as long as he's missing," said Stacy Humble.