August 21, 2023 | By: Carter Mudgett
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and the University of North Florida’s Applied Journalism class.
It’s been 23 years since Keith Cauley was last seen alive, and his mother can still remember his smile.
As a child, Keith played baseball with the Little Bandits, he was a school patrol officer at Dinsmore elementary. He and his cousin got the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. with his school after winning a contest for patrol.
Keith grew up around a lot of family, his grandparents owned 50 acres on a lake. The whole neighborhood gathered around, and everyone was very tight- knit.
He loved everybody; he was never in a bad mood and loved animals. “He carried every dog home when he found them on the side of the road” laughed Vanissia. He loved to ride dirt bikes and was extremely active.
Before his disappearance Keith was saved by his church, and he and his family rode the bus to and from church together.
“He had the most beautiful eyes. He always had a smile and a mischievous look on his face with his eyes,” said Vanissia Wilson, wearing an orange tie-dye shirt with her son’s face on it, sitting at her kitchen table. “Everybody loved him. He would do anything for anybody.”
Cauley disappeared in June of 2000, and his pickup truck was found a few days later. His remains wouldn’t be discovered for another year when an investigation led police to a body. It was identified a year later as Keith.
The case has since gone cold, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has yet to find any actionable leads.
Each year on Jan. 15, Cauley’s birthday, Wilson, and her family posts flyers across the city, praying that someone will have more information. There hasn’t been a breakthrough yet.
Sitting down with her mother and sister in her Jacksonville home, Wilson reflected on memories of her son.
Cauley was handy with all things mechanical, Wilson said, and had big dreams.
“He always wanted to own his own business. And it was working on cars and having a garage. He had all kinds of life and big ambitions,” she said. “Never once did he think that he was not going to live past age 23.”
Jamie Evans, a girlfriend of Keith’s met Cauley in high school. The pair dated for six years, and they celebrated her 21st birthday together.
She used to visit his headstone on his birthday, which is 10 days before hers.
“He was definitely a good person. He never talked to me badly, and he didn’t have a bad bone in his body,” Evans said. “He wasn’t that type of guy. He was just a really, good guy. He liked to have fun. He liked to party, and he liked to be around his friends, for sure.”
His girlfriend explained to Vanissia that “He can’t help it, when those girls look in his eyes, they chase him everywhere.”
Keith was described as a man who lived life to the fullest, Cauley was always doing something.
“He learned to scuba dive. He jumped out of a plane,” Wilson said. “He was a good mechanic. He worked hard. He had his own vinyl siding business.”
Though over two decades have passed, and the case has gone cold, Keith’s mother hasn’t stopped pushing the investigation. Wilson said she will never give up hope that, one day, her and her family will receive justice.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Keith Cauley, please call the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit at (904) 255-2626. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a reward, call First Coast Crime Stoppers at 1 (866) 845-8477. Or dial **TIPS from your mobile device.
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