Gayle King says her son Neal, 24, has been missing for more than three months, and she is only now feeling strong enough to speak about it publicly. She sat down with Action News Now via Skype from her home in McAllen, Texas this week. Jeanette "Jenny" Tully, Neal's girlfriend of nearly six years, sat next to her.
The two women said they want to clear the air, hoping to impress upon people that Neal deserves justice, and isn't the bad guy they say some people are trying to make him out to be. Neal's brother has told Action News Now that his younger sibling has been involved in the north state marijuana industry, bringing him in contact with some "shady people."
Neal is the youngest of three children. His mother Gayle says she never expected him to vanish into thin air. She says, "It's hard. It's very very hard. Some days are better than others."
She says Jenny called her from Chico on Friday, March 29th, to tell her that Neal had gone missing on four days earlier. Gayle says she knew right away that something was horribly wrong. She says, "Jenny called me, and I had a meeting, but alarm bells went off. I totally panicked. I just knew something was wrong. I said 'You need to call the police right away. You need to file a missing persons report."
Jenny and Neal share an apartment and a car in Chico. She says Neal would never just abandon her. She says, after he failed to show up or to call, she called Don Cheatham, owner of Amazon Garden Supply at 29 Ridgeview Lane in Oroville. Neal had left their home to go to a business meeting with Cheatham, who she says had expressed interest in buying the property he leased for his business from Neal.
She says Neal came back from that meeting, and said he Don had requested they meet again. Jenny says, "He dropped me off at home and went to see Don. Then he came back and ate some yogurt, and said 'Don wants me to come back in a few minutes.' So he left, and he never came back after that."
Wednesday morning, the day after Neal went missing, Jenny say she went to Don's trailer on Hildale Avenue in Oroville and knocked on his door. She says he wouldn't open the door, and told her he didn't know where Neal was. He also told her to tell Neal to call him because they had business to do.
He told her to take Neal's car off his property, and she told him she didn't have the keys. She left, and when Neal still didn't come home, she called Don the next day.
She says Don told her to come over again so they could discuss the situation, and she refused. She told him she was going to call the police, and he told her to come get Neal's car off his property. She said no, and asked him not to tow it. But she requested that if he did tow it, do it professionally, so she could have the receipt. But according to Jenny, Don towed it himself, and left it on another property owned by Neal in Oroville.
The Butte County Sheriff's Office has classified Neal's disappearance as "suspicious." Detectives are calling Cheatham a "person of interest." He is currently in jail on unrelated drug charges, and his trial date is in August. Investigators declined to say whether they had named any other persons of interest in the case.
Meanwhile, Gayle is trying to stay positive. She says she finds comfort in the messages of love, support, and prayer that she receives on Facebook. She says, "That's what keeps me going. It's unbelievable. I feel like I woke up in someone else's nightmare, and this isn't my life. But there are some really good people out there." There is a $20,000 reward for information connected to this case. Gayle has established a Facebook page in Neal's honor. You can find it by following this link: https://www.facebook.com/MissingNealKing