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Did a Mississippi teen stumble onto a drug transaction in rural Pearl River County in 1989?

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

On the afternoon of August 21, 1989, 17-year-old Norman Ladner left his family's country store in Pearl River County, Mississippi to go hunting around their farm. When he didn't return for dinner at around 7 pm, his parents became worried.

They began searching around the Picayune, Mississippi, property, and his father enlisted the help of some friends. Shortly before 10 pm, his body was found; he had been shot to death.

Authorities were on the scene minutes later, and their first theory was that he was in a tree, had fallen out, and the gun had accidentally discharged, killing him. The coroner, at first, told his parents that he was almost certain that his death was an accident, and they accepted that.

However, when he released his official findings, he ruled the death a suicide, saying that he died from a close contact wound that entered his right temple and exited his left. His parents were certain that his death was not a suicide, as he was happy and had no evidence of depression.

Norman Ladner Sr,

Norman's father said that police made no attempt to locate the bullet and that the gun was not fingerprinted. He claims that they never even proved that it was the one that was used to kill him. His parents also learned that he had a laceration on his head; they did not understand how it got there.

The coroner found a jagged root at the scene with blood on it. He believed that it caused the laceration. His father could not understand that because he would have fallen backward when he was shot. His parents then had to go through the difficult task of looking through the blood and tissue at the crime scene in an attempt to find the bullet. His father found it and noticed blood and hair on it.

Authorities, however, do not believe that it was the one that killed him because it was inconsistent with the coroner's ruling. His family believes that the trajectory suggested that he was laying on the ground when he was shot. The state's ballistics expert could not determine if the bullet found was fired from his rifle.

When the expert returned it to his parents, they realized that it was different from the one that they had given the expert.

Three weeks after Norman's death, his parents went to the coroner's office to question him about the ruling. While there, a stranger pulled his mother to the side, telling her that she should not reopen the case because her other children could be in danger. He also told her that she would never find out who killed Norman.

Her husband decided to return to the site, and while there he found a strange radio-like device about 300 feet away. State authorities did not believe that it was important to the case. However, he brought it to a former DEA agent, who told him that it was used by drug dealers to send a low range signal to aircraft, so that it could drop the drugs to them.

He believes that Norman may have stumbled onto a drug deal happening in the woods, and that he was killed because he was a witness and that he may have even recognized the dealers. His parents also noted that he was carrying a wallet with several hundred dollars at the time of his death, but it was not found with his body.

Authorities, however, do not believe that drugs were involved in Norman's death, and that it was a suicide. His parents refuse to believe that he committed suicide.

They are still hoping for the truth in his case.

Sadly, Norman's father passed away in 2003. His mother and siblings are still searching for answers.

If you have any information on this unsolved mystery you are asked to call the Pearl County Sheriff at (601) 798-5528.

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