Jimmy Wilkerson loved to ride the back roads of north Alabama and Georgia with his beloved maltese, BeBe, riding shotgun in his pickup.
The two were inseparable, Wilkerson’s family say, so it’s little surprise that BeBe was found by his owner’s body, 23 days after Wilkerson went missing.
Wilkerson, 80, was last seen leaving his home in Villa Rica, Ga., on Mother’s Day, May 11. He was found dead on Tuesday, several hundred yards from his Chevy pickup on a dirt road in Douglas County, Ga.
His truck had become stuck in a creek, and Wilkerson apparently tried walking out of the wooded area, police say. He was also a diabetic, and had left his medication at home.
Police had thought he might have traveled to Anniston to visit family.
Out there in those woods, with him for all those days, was BeBe.
Wilkerson took in the Maltese three years ago, after the death of his other dog of the same breed, Chloe.
“As soon as they met they were best friends,” said Winston Smith, Wilkerson's son-in-law, in an interview in Anniston on Friday. Wilkerson had lived with his daughter, Meta, and Smith for the last 14 years at their Villa Rica home.
BeBe would likely need to stay at the veterinarian’s office for several more days, Smith said. Bandages cover deep bite marks across the small dog’s body, possibly from coyotes or bobcats, which are often found in the area where Wilkerson died.
BeBe suffered three broken ribs and bruised lungs, but he’ll live, Smith said.
“He’s in good spirits,” Smith said. “The dog was very loyal to him.”
Nearly every day Wilkerson and BeBe would head out in a 1982 Chevrolet S-10 to explore the woods around Mount Cheaha or the country roads near his Georgia home. Wilkerson loved to shop at the many flea markets he’d find along the way, always with BeBe along for the ride.
His truck was found about 13 miles from his home, a mile down a dirt road off of U.S. 78. Police found his body about a quarter of a mile from his truck. Search dogs alerted police to BeBe, hidden in thick brush about five feet from Wilkerson.
Meta Smith, through tears, said the family is glad to have some closure, and to know what happened to her father.
They’ll bring BeBe home as soon as he’s well enough, she said. He’s family too.
Wilkerson grew up in west Anniston, and worked at the Anniston Army Depot for 32 years, retiring in 1990. He lived on Corning Street in Anniston until moving to Texas in 1996. He moved to Villa Rica to live with his daughter and son-in-law in 2000.
Wilkerson served in the Navy during the Korean War.
Wilkerson loved his life, and was enjoying his retirement, his family said.
He leaves behind three children, nine grand-children, 10 great grand-children, three sisters and a Maltese named BeBe.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.