Kellie Jo Krum planned to move out of a rundown DeSoto County neighborhood.
She and her 8-month-old daughter, Kelsi, lived in a home on the 1200 block of Southeast Second Avenue on Aug. 11, 1994. Kellie, then 21, was packing that night when her cousin stopped by the house.
Then they were gone.
It was as if the young mother and daughter had vanished without a trace.
“Everything was in its place,” said DeSoto County Sheriff’s Lt. Kim Sandoval. “There’s no evidence of foul play.”
Kellie’s cousin was the last person to see them.
The DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office had its suspicions about her cousin at the time of her disappearance — three years before he would become widely known as a cold-blooded killer.
“Jimbo Ford was the last person to see her alive,” Sandoval said. “They had him in here (the DCSO) crying.”
He said nothing that would lead them to Kellie and Kelsi.
He did, however, fail a polygraph, said then-sheriff Vernon Keen. Specifically, he was considered to be untruthful to the question: “Do you have knowledge of their disappearance?”
He refused to take a second polygraph.
To this day, 18 years later, James “Jimbo” Ford is the No. 1 suspect in the Krums’ disappearances. To this day, he has said nothing — even from his Death Row cell.
Law enforcement’s interest in Ford piqued in April 1997 when he murdered Greg and Kimberly Malnory during a fishing trip to a sod farm off State Road 31 in eastern Charlotte County. He raped Kimberly, and left the Malnorys’ small child alone at the scene with her slain parents.
He was sentenced to death in 1999.
“Mr. Ford, you not only have forfeited your right to live among us,” 20th Circuit Judge Cynthia Ellis told him during the June 3, 1999 sentencing, “you have forfeited your right to live at all.”
Ford, now 52 years old and housed at Union Correctional Institution, has spent about 13 years on Death Row, which is the average length of stay before being executed, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
Peggy Ford, 30, wasn’t told much about her cousins’ disappearances 18 years ago.
Peggy, just a child at the time, remembers looking for them. She remembers fliers being distributed, and psychics offering advice.
“Did it tear the family apart? Of course it did,” she said. “We were desperately searching for them.”
Peggy’s family kept some information from her due to her age at the time.
“I know they questioned my dad. Yes, he was supposedly the last to be known to have seen her. I believe he was helping her move or coming by to check on her,” said Peggy, Jimbo Ford’s oldest daughter.
She didn’t know until recently that her father failed a polygraph.
“It saddens me to hear he took a lie-detector test and failed it,” Peggy said.
Jimbo moved into the Southeast Second Avenue home, which was owned by Kellie’s mother, after the disappearances.
He wasn’t a tall man, but he was bulky and strong.
“Jimbo was not a guy you’d want to get into a confrontation with,” said sheriff’s Maj. Sam Williamson. “He was a powerful man.”
Jimbo operated heavy machinery, and occasionally worked as a grave digger. Law enforcement searched an orange grove off Piggyback Road, where Jimbo had been working as a backhoe operator at the time of the disappearances. Nothing but trash was found buried.
Kellie’s father, David Krum, doesn’t know whether Jimbo was involved.
“The Jimbo I knew was real laid back,” he said. “I knew he liked his booze.”
For 18 years, David has been calling the Sheriff’s Office at least twice a month for updates on his daughter and granddaughter.
“It’s been terrible. Sometimes you have good days. Sometimes you have bad days,” David said.
DeSoto County Sheriff’s officials hope someone with information is willing to come forward after 18 years — especially since Jimbo Ford now sits on Death Row. He has exhausted all of his appeals, according to John Lucas, press secretary for the state Attorney General’s Office.
“Somebody knows something,” David Krum said.
Based on Jimbo’s familiarity with rural parts of Southwest Florida — especially in DeSoto and Charlotte counties — officials believe the Krums were not taken far, Williamson said.
Anyone with information is asked to call Sandoval at the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office at 863-993-4700; or Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 800-780-TIPS (8477). Crime Stoppers callers can remain anonymous, and may be eligible for a reward.