*This is a story about Jaime Combs. During the events presented Jaime had not yet transitioned from male. However, because of my personal bias, I will refer to Jaime in the past tense using her current name and preferred pronouns.
It was July, 1987 and a young Jaime Combs, just a year out of high school, had finished her shift as assistant manager of the bakery and deli of the Publix grocery store in the small rural town of Elizabethton, TN. A prolific hard worker, Jamie continued on to her second job as a pizza delivery driver for Dominoes.
Jaime’s aspiration was to have a career in business management. As such, she knew that all management candidates in the Dominoes franchise had to start as a driver. It was her hope that one of her efforts, Publix or Dominoes, would eventually lead her to general manager of her own store.
Dominoes closes at midnight, but all drivers are required to return after the last delivery, turn in their money, and clock out else face termination disciplinary action, up to and including termination. This knowledge was tucked away in the back of Jaime’s mind when she left for her last delivery of the evening around 11:15 PM. Her delivery was to an old house outside of town.
A woman answered the door in a bathrobe and did not have the required money when she answered the door. Leaving Jaime on the porch, the woman closed the door and returned with some funds. Still lacking, she once again left Jaime on the porch for a considerable amount of time and returned with a couple of dollars in change. At this point, Jaime was about to hand over the pizza and forego the rest of the required payment. Yet, the woman kept her waiting and finally returned with the rest of the money.
Jaime walked back to her car and it was a dark, moonless night. However, from illumination from inside the home, Jaime was able to see a denim covered knee of someone curled up behind the seat of her brown 1975 Chevrolet Nova coupe. She could also smell a strong waft of alcohol.
She slowly backed away from her driver’s side door and called out to the person inside demanding to know why they were in her car.
“Look…I just need a ride into town,” the hidden person exclaimed.
Jaime responded with reasoned trepidation, “I’m sorry, but we’re not allowed to have non-employees in our vehicles while we’re on shift. If someone were to notice, I would lose my job.”
She heard another, different voice from inside her car, “This isn’t going to work. We’re going to have to get out.”
Two scruffy men, wreaking of alcohol and cigarettes climbed out of the back of her car and slowly approached her. Too afraid to run, she stood as one exclaimed, “I have a gun. Get in the car and do as you’re told and you won’t get hurt.”
With the two men sitting together on the split bench of her Nova, she cautiously sat into her car and started the engine.
She was commanded to drive on a route that would take her to an area called The Hamptons which lay about 10 miles southeast of the town. After driving for some time they had her turn onto an old dark gravel road. Jaime was forced to sit between the two men as one took over the driving.
For what seemed like an eternity, they would alternate between slamming on the brakes and gunning the car to spin out wildly in the gravel. The man in the passenger seat rummaged around behind the seat and found an old shirt. He pulled out a knife and cut the shirt into strips which he used to bind Jaime’s hands in front of her. He then rummaged through her pockets and removed any money she had on her. They continued laughing in delight as they took turns taunting and threatening Jaime.
“It looks like we’re going to have to put you to sleep for a while.”
“Suppose we just take you out in the woods and tie you to a tree.”
“They’ll be no evidence that either of us was ever in this car.”
“We may just throw you in the trunk when we’re done with you.”
According to reports, it was about 1:00 AM when the car was stopped and Jaime was forced out with her hands still bound. She watched as her Nova sped off down the gravel road.
She ran for what seemed like miles on a dark country road, in the middle of nowhere, under a dense canopy of trees in a moonless sky. Eventually, she saw a house. It turned out to be a weekend getaway of a local attorney and his adult son.
Jaime beat on the front door begging for help. She was met with angry voices and guns drawn.
For the next several minutes, Jaime was angrily interrogated by the attorney. He posited that if she was in fact a Dominoes delivery person, and she had not returned to turn clock out or turn in her monies, er employer would have contacted the police.
He called and spoke with his friends at the police station. No such report had been filed. He called Dominoes. They had long since closed.
With what suspicion they had against a skinny, traumatized teen in a Dominoes shirt and hat is hard to tell. At no time did they ever show Jaime anything less than contempt or suspicion. She remained bound until the police arrived.
When the police finally did arrive, Jaime was interrogated once again, her bonds removed, and placed in the back of a cruiser. it was about that time that a report of a car on fire came over the radio.
With Jaime in tow, the police verified that it was Jaime’s first car, her brown 1975 Chevy Nova coupe, that had been incinerated. In addition to losing her car, and her night’s sales, she also had around $500 dollars of savings she had stashed in the glove box that she had been saving to go on a mission trip with her church.
Jaime spent the next couple of hours riding in the cruiser while they started a minimal manhunt for the two suspects. At one point, Jaime was left in the car alone in an area where the suspects may have been. Her fear was so great that they would once again abduct her that she thought more than once about climbing into the front seat of the cruiser and driving straight to the police station.
The two men were caught and convicted of grand larceny and kidnapping. The man with the knife that had also threatened her with the gun, William Matney Putman, was later sentenced to life without parole for first degree murder during an armed robbery.
Many people think I have been through hardship and struggle, but I can honestly tell you that Jaime is the poster child for struggle and perseverance.