OCEAN PARK — A Surfside woman on Nov. 1 found the body of a friend who had been missing for almost a week.
A break in routine
A group of senior women grew concerned on Oct. 27, when they realized that Ocean Park resident Audrey Davis, 87, left home without telling anyone, and did not return — a significant departure from her usual routine.
For several days, Davis’ loyal friends searched for her all over the Peninsula, even after the sheriff’s office began an investigation. In the end, it was 82-year-old Marjorie Williams who found Davis on a little-used private property just one block from her home.
The investigation is ongoing. However, it appears very likely that Davis, who had been showing signs of dementia, turned onto the wrong road after going grocery shopping on the evening of Thursday. Oct. 26.
‘Quick to laugh’
While living in Vancouver, Audrey and William Davis worked for the Portland-based Jantzen swimsuit company, friends said. They moved to Ocean Park after William Davis retired in 1985, according to his obituary. Audrey Davis soon earned a reputation as a skilled seamstress, and found regular work making alterations in her home sewing studio.
After her husband’s death in 2003, she stayed busy with volunteer and social activities. Ocean Park Food Bank volunteer Norma Rice said she and Davis ran a nutrition program for adults for about 15 years. In October, Davis was still taking in sewing jobs and had only stopped volunteering within the last month.
“She was very kind, and she liked people,” Rice remembered.
Davis was a fixture at fundraisers and activities at the local Eagles Club. She loved to gamble, and faithfully attended the Eagles’ regular Texas Hold’em and Bingo nights.
“She was quick to laugh, and always enjoyed a good joke,” fellow Eagle Vicki Johnson said. “She will be thoroughly missed.”
She also joined a close-knit group of local widows who make a point of looking out for one another. These women, along with members of the Retired Eagles Activity Club, sprang into action when Davis disappeared, and didn’t give up until she was found.
A minute and a mile
As she was returning home, Davis turned onto 268th Place, a block short of her own street, 269th Lane, Chief Criminal Deputy Pat Matlock of the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office said. At its eastern extreme, 268th ends at the edge of an undeveloped private property marked with “No Trespassing” signs. Though 268th is officially a dead-end, a rutted dirt track continues on through the heavily-wooded property. Davis’ Buick got “high-centered” as she tried to turn around in a small clearing at the center of the property, Matlock said. She apparently did not realize that if she had continued following the track for a couple hundred yards more, she would have exited onto 270th Place. One deputy noted in his report that there was “very little visibility” in the area where she became stranded.
‘Around and around and around’
Marjorie Williams was one of several people who spent hours driving Peninsula roads in search of the missing woman.
“I’d been clear up to Leadbetter. I’d been all over looking for her,” Williams said on Nov. 2. “We all were.” She noted that Davis’ friends Nadine and Jerry Long had driven “around and around and around.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 31, a friend told Williams that Davis, who rarely drove at night, had been seen shopping at Okie’s grocery store in Ocean Park on the night of Oct. 26.
Williams began to suspect that Davis had not gone very far at all. The next morning, she decided to search the area around Davis’ home one more time. When she got to the “No Trespassing” sign, she hesitated for a moment, then decided to go in anyhow. She found her friend lying near her Buick, Matlock said.
A dead-end search
Davis’ friends asked deputies to check on her on the evening of Friday, Oct. 27.
“They went to her house right away,” Matlock said. “It simply appeared that she had left and not been back.” The same night, deputies sent an “attempt to locate” notice to other law enforcement agencies.
Over the weekend, deputies looked for Davis, called her friends and family members, and used police databases to gather more information about her.
Investigators were diligent, Matlock said, but they had little information to work with. Davis didn’t use social media or electronic gadgets that might have made her easier to track. When the deputies tried to use her cell phone to find her location, “It turned out to be a bad number,” Matlock said. The deputies returned to the house, and continued to search “all over the area,” Matlock said.
With the help of her nephew, they checked her bank records.
“Nothing had been touched, nothing had been used,” Matlock said. They looked inside the house, but found no clues.
On Oct. 30, the sheriff’s office sent out another police bulletin. And on Oct. 31, the day before she was found, she was officially listed as a missing person.
No foul play
Later, investigators viewed security camera footage from Okie’s in which Davis appeared to be confused, Matlock said. That footage, along with the fact that there were still groceries in her car, strongly suggest she became stranded on Oct. 26. She had not been robbed or harmed in any way.
“There is no foul play there,” Matlock said.
However, it may never be possible to say how long Davis was in the woods before she died — Mark McClain, the county’s dual prosecutor and coroner, said there will not be an autopsy. Unless the family of a deceased person requests one, coroners typically don’t order autopsies in cases where there is no suspicion of foul play and there is a likely explanation for the person’s death.
“It’s a tragic event,” Matlock said.
‘A lady through and through’
On Nov. 2, Williams said she was devastated, but thankful Davis had been found.
“One block. The next one she would have been home free,” Williams said. She’s still trying to understand how, despite such a concerted effort, Davis could have come to such an end, so close to home.
“It’s still out of context. I can’t put a frame on it,” Williams said.
She had known Davis for perhaps 30 years.
“She’s done sewing for me and everything,” Williams said. “She’s part of our family.”
She remembered the vibrant friend she had known for so long — an “immaculately dressed” woman who sewed constantly, made treats for charity bake sales and frequently met her friends for breakfast.
“She was a lady, through and through,” Williams said.