GAINESVILLE, Ga. – When a giddy Elaine Nix sprung through the door with her boyfriend and brother, she could hardly wait to tell her mom about what had happened at church that night.
The baptized and once-saved, pint-sized blonde had been rededicated into the church, absolving away all her sins.
Becky Nix will never forget that moment of sheer elation and glisten in her teenager’s piercing blue eyes. Knowing her daughter was forgiven is a peace of mind she clings to—because the hours that would follow would give her no solace.
The soft-spoken mother, whose Gainesville, Ga., home is plastered with framed scripture, carefully recollects the last moments she spent with her 18-year-old only daughter.
It was Sunday, Sept. 19, 1999.
“That evening when I got up, Elaine came to the table, telling me what she learned,” Becky, who was working third shift at the time, said.
When the preacher asked if anybody wanted to rededicate their life to God, Elaine had raised her hand.
“She told me the verse in the Bible and she was so excited… I think it was the one about God forgives you no matter what you do,” the now-59 mother remembered. “That's what gives me peace, to know that whatever sins she did from Sunday morning, 'til Monday night or whenever they killed her, God forgave her."
Elaine would have turned 37 on Dec. 17.
Instead, she has been dead for as long as she was alive.
Eighteen years ago, she went missing from a convenience store parking lot in Hall County and found nearly two weeks later, naked, dead and alone in the woods of an industrial park in Gwinnett County, just off Interstate 85.
No one has been charged in her murder.
Whenever Becky sees a frog or a smiley face, she grins and thinks of Elaine.
“She liked frogs; there were frogs everywhere,” she remembers fondly.
Standing just 5’2” tall and barely weighing over 100 lbs., Elaine, who was born and raised in Hall County, Ga., which encompasses a rural setting with many blue-collar workers—and is also known as the poultry capital of the world.
A spitfire in a small package, she was silly, bubbly and outspoken, Becky said about her daughter who wanted to be a nurse and have a family one day.
In 1999, she was a hostess at the Up the Creek restaurant; and while she had dropped out of school, she was getting her head on straight, her mom said, and was starting to take responsibility and making plans for the future.
Her best friend, Jennifer Boyd, says Elaine was a “fun-loving, spunky, little lady. She was like a little ball of dynamite. They say dynamite comes in small packages, she definitely did.”
“She had a very charismatic way about her. She could walk into a room and light it up without saying anything.”
Fast friends since they were 13 years old, when Elaine moved to East Hall in the sixth grade.
They were inseparable and did everything together—sleepovers, laughing, gossiping, singing.
The East Hall High School students, aka the black and gold Vikings, even entered the Miss Valhalla Pageant together at the last minute. Jennifer was 18, like Elaine, but year ahead of her in school.
PHOTOS | 18 years later: What happened to this girl?
Boyd smiles flipping through the photos of her and Elaine.
“Good memories… I just wish she was here to make more. She had a beautiful smile,” she said moving one photo behind the other to reveal the last photo in her pile of recollections.
Shaking her head, not understanding, why or how someone could do this to such a kind person.
"She didn't have any grudges against anybody. She didn't talk bad about anybody. I just miss her so much," Boyd said, tears welling up in her eyes.
“They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger—that’s why I can’t give up. I won’t give up. I feel like, if she was here and this was me, she would do it for me.”
On Monday, Sept. 20, 1999, it’s as if time came to a squealing halt and stood motionless for nearly two decades.
"It don't [sic] seem like 18 years to us,” Becky said, holding a 1999 calendar she had back then, that she still possesses. The month remains flipped open to September.
The day following her exhilarating experience at church, Elaine was stuck in bed, sick all day.
Becky peeked into her bedroom and asked her if she was going to get up.
“You're going to sleep your life away,” she told her daughter.
So, the surly teen, still not feeling well, got up and the two made dinner together.
Her mother remembers that Elaine’s boyfriend, Billy Millwood's best friend called to talk to Elaine. She overheard her telling him, that no one would do all that she did for Millwood.
They were broken up for, likely, the hundredth time.
“They were in and out, you know, breaking up and getting back together. Her break up wasn't like mine. You break up, you just leave them alone. But they were still talking on the phone and going places and doing things,” Becky said.
Millwood's number had been blocked from their home phone, so he sent her a number message to decode to Elaine’s pager.
It was the numbers spelling: F-U, B.
“That made her mad so she went up to the store, because she could go to that store and call Cleveland for a quarter and talk as long as she wanted to, and it wasn't long distance,” Becky remembered.
Millwood, also 18, lived in Cleveland with his mother, about 30 miles away. The two had been dating off and on for their entire time in high school.
It was Elaine’s routine to drive the 2 ½ miles to Zack’s Food Rack, located at 2052 Candler Road, in Gainesville, to use the payphone in the convenience store’s parking lot and call him.
She threw on some clothes, a white T-shirt, khaki pants and white and blue gym shoes, and left her quiet suburban home, enveloped by trees and woods, around 11 p.m., to call Millwood.
She drove the winding country roads—her headlights dancing off the treetops and double yellow line, as she took each curve on the two-lane highway. Five minutes into her drive, she reached Zack’s—which now includes a Citgo gas station, a Mexican-American café serving up hot biscuits and gravy, alongside a strip of empty storefronts. The convenience store was already closed for the night when she pulls into the gravel parking lot.
The call at the payphone—also a once-popular spot for semi-truck drivers to pull in for some shut-eye—lasted about an hour, until just after midnight—but what was said between the two of them, only Millwood knows.
“He would only tell us that he loved her, and she loved him,” Becky said.
That is the last time anyone is known to have spoken to Elaine.
A few hours later, a patrolling officer spotted Elaine’s dark blue, 1986 Toyota Celica in the Zack’s parking lot. While the hood was still warm, according to what Becky was told, Elaine, nor anyone else, was around.
Becky said, that officer left the scene with nor further examination of her daughter’s car.
When the sun came up that fall morning, beaming down in the mid-60s, and Elaine was not in her bed, Becky didn’t become alarmed.
Since Elaine was fiercely independent, and had a tendency of running away; her mom didn’t worry about her at that point. She would often stay with Millwood or friends for days at a time.
But the next day would shed light on something more troubling for her.
She didn’t show up for her shift at the restaurant. So, her parents went searching for her—and that’s when they stumbled upon her car, parked at Zack’s next to the pay phone.
“I got in it and the keys were in the initiation,” Becky recalled about her daughter's keys, which included a frog keychain. “I cranked it, and I thought, 'Well, it cranks, it's got gas in it. Where is she?”
Looking around, she noticed that her daughter’s purse was still in the backseat and her pack of Marlboro Lights was sitting on the passenger seat—seemed particularly odd to her.
“If you smoke, you don't go off and leave your cigarettes,” Becky said.
The mother investigated the scene for herself.
She pushed open the doors of the convenience store, walked to the counter and inquired with the clerk about how long the car had been there and if there was anyone near it all night.
But, to no avail.
Elaine’s car, according to the female clerk, was there when she showed up for work that morning.
The police did not take Elaine’s car into evidence, so Becky drove it back to their house—possibly contaminating any potential evidence that could have led to answers about what happened to her daughter.
“I just got in the car; and I don't remember if I left the seat up or not. And I drove home. And, my husband, he was following me, and he said by the time I pulled into the driveway, and when I got out of the car, he said I was just white as a ghost. And, I knew then that something was wrong with this picture."
When bewildered mother and father arrived home with their now-missing daughter’s car, they called Hall County Police Department. According to Becky, they told them that they don't normally file a missing persons report until she has been missing for a certain amount of time.
But, she said, the officer gave her a case number.
However, when 11Alive requested that missing persons report, we were told there was no missing report for her filed with Hall County from 1999.
Becky and David immediately created a handwritten missing persons flier and began posting it to stop signs near the store and every light pole they could find along the way.
But as quickly as the posted the fliers, they were ripped down, David said.
Furthermore, in an effort to find her, family and friends, including Boyd, congregated at Zack’s to do a search for Elaine that weekend.
They retraced everywhere they knew she had been in those last moments.
"It was really hard, especially when we were going by the lake—there's a trailer park right next to Zack’s Food Rack, and there's railroad tracks everywhere and then the lake,” Boyd said. “But, just coming across, maybe a garbage bag, and it possibly looking like something could be in it and then poking, just to see if... I mean, we all wanted to find her, but we didn't want to find her that way. So, that was the scariest part—when you would see something that could possibly be, and then checking it out and hoping it's not.”
Unfortunately, it yielded no sign of Elaine.