Family continues search for Florence man missing for 28 years

Family continues search for Florence man missing for 28 years

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) – Brian "Neal" Hooks left Florence and headed to Myrtle Beach for a night on the town.

But on that night 28 years ago, Hooks disappeared. Today, his family and authorities are still trying to find him.

Amy Turner, Hooks' sister, said there isn't a day that goes by that she doesn't think of her brother, who liked to be called "Neal."

"We were always together," Turner said. "It's like not breathing. You couldn't do one thing without the other.

Turner recalls the last day she or anyone she knows saw Neal like it was yesterday.

"He come and got a shirt from me and he said they were going to the beach and they went on to the beach," she said.

Turner took a picture of Neal that day, just before he left the Florence area and headed for Myrtle Beach.  The then 21-year-old loved the nightlife.

His cousin, Darren Hooks, also remembers that night well. In fact, he saw Neal out that night at a club.

Their last conversation still haunts him to this day.

"My new roommate and I were out at Offshore Drilling Company and we were having fun and Neal asked if he could go home with me and I thought, 'I just got a new roommate, I'm not unpacked, there's really not anywhere for you to sleep,'" Hooks said. "Neal never said to me that he thought he was in danger or that they were arguing. Later that night, my roommate told me he said, 'Did he tell you he was scared?' I said, 'No, he didn't tell me that.' He said, 'He told me he was scared, that he thought Sam was going to hurt him.'"

That was September 1988. Since then, there has not been a trace of Neal.

The family thinks they know what happened to him.

"I think Sam killed my brother," Turner said.

Sam was Neal's live-in partner at the time. His family said things between the two just never seemed right.

"It was just a back-and-forth relationship with this guy," Turner said. "It wasn't a good relationship. He would be home one minute, back there one minute."

Darren Hooks indicated Sam was obsessed with Neal and didn't want the missing man out of his sight.

A WMBF News reporter tried to call Neal's former boyfriend, who still lives in the area, to see if he would answer questions about the last time he saw the missing Florence man and whether he knows anything about his whereabouts.

Sam would not agree to a taped phone interview and only said, repeatedly, "I don't know nothing about it"

Florence County authorities, however, are not so sure that is the case. They say the former boyfriend was and still is a serious person of interest.

Nonetheless, it's been a series of dead ends these past nearly three decades. Investigators did have a close call a couple of years ago when they actually thought they found Neal.

"This person sent me an email and said that the characteristics of someone that has been located by the Doe Network actually matched Mr. Hooks," said Florence County Sheriff's Lt. Kathleen Streett. "So we were able to get some DNA from his surviving relatives - his mother and sister - and we sent that off to the forensic experts and found out that it was not a match for Mr. Hooks. But that's kind of how we reopened this case."

It's still open, but the leads have run dry and no one has been charged with Neal's disappearance.

His family still believes someone out there knows something, and that even after so many years their conscience will get the best of them and they'll come forward. That would remove a weight from themselves and from Neal's family, who now more than ever just want to solve this mystery and finally put it behind them. >>>

"I miss him," Turner said. "It's been so hard fighting and can't get anything done. It seems like they just pushed it under the rug and left it alone."

Neal's former boyfriend, who is a convicted felon, has never been charged with any crime in this case. A police report states he refused to take a lie detector test.

And while it's been nearly three decades, Streett is adamant this is not a cold case, but rather an ongoing one.

Anyone with information about what happened to Brian Neal Hooks is asked to contact the Florence County Sheriff's Office. Tips could lead to a cash reward.

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