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Woman disappears, puzzling her family
By SHARON TUBBS
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 2000
Amber N. McMullin, a 27-year-old Clearwater woman, is missing.
That's about the only clear-cut point in this story.
"She was abducted," Michael McMullin says.
He's the ex-husband -- technically.
The couple married in 1996. They had a son in 1998. Michael's father, a wealthy former restaurateur, threatened to write Michael out of the family will if he stayed married to Amber, the daughter of a small-town fire chief. She had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and could piddle away the McMullin fortune. The divorce was final in early 1999.
But the couple continued living together. They never took off their wedding rings.
His father died in December, freeing Michael McMullin and Amber McMullin to wed again. He says they planned to do so on the one-year anniversary of J. Alfred McMullin's death.
Fast forward to April 2.
A woman calls St. Petersburg police to report an abandoned car. The car is Amber McMullin's.
Inside is her purse and checkbook, a blanket, a bottle of cheap shampoo, toothpaste, soda, receipts from local grocery and clothing stores. And, Michael says, Amber's wedding ring.
* * *
This has happened before, Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor says. He deems aspects of the case weird. "She was gone for some time before he (Michael) reported her missing. She's been missing before. They are divorced. There's no blatant red flags that call any attention to us as something untoward having happened," he said. "That's where we are now."
Amber's disappearance will be investigated as any other missing persons report, Shelor says. It is Wednesday, April 19 -- exactly two months since family members last spoke to Amber McMullin. Her ex-husband is making arrangements to have her picture displayed on the backs of taxicabs. He also has purchased space with a billboard company. If she isn't found in the next few days, her face will greet drivers along Interstate 375 in St. Petersburg.
Last McMullin knew, Amber was at her father's house in Indiana, more than 1,000 miles away from where her car was found near North Shore pool in St. Petersburg.
* * *
Earlier this year, Amber McMullin was getting into one of those moods again, McMullin said. Her grandmother died in November, Michael's father the next month. Although his father had shunned their marriage, Amber understood, said Michael, 36. She was by his bedside in the final moments of life.
She became depressed. In January, she quit her job at Moorings USA, a boat rental company near Largo. She wouldn't eat, wouldn't bathe, wouldn't brush her teeth.
The same kind of thing happened about two years ago when she was six months pregnant with their son, Skyler.
So, Michael did what he did back then. He contacted her family in Indiana for help. Bob Smith came down and drove his daughter in her Maxima up to Indiana.
The last time Smith had done this, his only daughter was admitted to a hospital and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he says. After varying treatment and medications, she was her old self again. She went back to Clearwater to live with Michael.
This time, Smith picked her up at home in Clearwater on Feb. 11. She was hesitant to go, but they drove to Indiana, and she was admitted to a mental hospital Feb. 16. After two days, she was released for outpatient treatment. On Feb. 18, Smith and his wife went to dinner. By the time they got back, Amber had taken her car and gone.
Smith said he learned she stopped by the home of his ex-wife and her mother about 60 miles north of Smith's house. There, Michael says, she borrowed a Bible and left on Feb. 19. Family members have not spoken to her since.
No matter Amber's indiscretions in the past, Smith says, "She's never been completely out of touch with everybody."
Still, family members decided not to call authorities to report her missing, hoping that Amber would "find her own way," Michael said.
* * *
Going off alone is not necessarily a symptom of schizophrenia, says Colleen Clark, a clinical psychologist and mental health services researcher at the Florida Mental Health Institute in Tampa. Amber's case worries her.
Amber could be deeply depressed or disoriented, she said. "People with major mental illnesses are definitely vulnerable to being victims of crime." Michael got the call Saturday that Amber's car had been found.He went to the St. Petersburg lot where the car sat.
Inside were unopened bottles of Sprite, Coca Cola, IBC. There was Hawaiian Punch and other flavored juices, but no food.
There was a receipt from a Dillard's in Gainesville where Amber apparently stopped on March 21 on her trek back home. Two days later, she had stopped at a Hess gas station in Clearwater, and a Publix receipt was dated March 23. The last receipt was from Stein Mart in St. Petersburg on March 27, where she bought something for $10.67. Michael also found a receipt from an Indiana hotel where Amber had stayed before apparently driving to Florida.
In the past few weeks, he has gotten notices about Amber's First National Bank account. She had been bouncing checks.
Why she did not come home after arriving in Florida, Michael said he doesn't know.
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