Shortly after Alfred Wright’s truck broke down on November 7th in Sabine County, the married father of three called his wife for a ride. That was the last time anyone heard from him. 

Wright’s disappearance made news for several reasons. He was an African-American man who vanished under mysterious circumstances in a part of Texas where the history of racial violence runs deep (and isn’t entirely old history). The sheriff’s department in Sabine County seemed relatively non-plussed about his disappearance, declaring that there was nothing that led them to believe foul-play even though Wright’s belongings were found in a field shortly after he called for a ride, while his body was not discovered for weeks. Still, the Sabine County sheriff’s office said he was “just a missing person,” in a statement at the time. 

Wright’s body was found in late November, though, and while local authorities ruled his death “accidental,” nothing about the case became more clear once his body was found. As Beaumont’s 12NewsNow reported at the time: 

Jasper District 1 City Councilman Alton Scott has confirmed to 12news that the body of Alfred Wright, 28, of Jasper, has been located north of Highway 87 near Coussans Road, the same area where he was believed to have gone missing.

Scott told us he was found about 200 yards northwest of the second cattle guard wearing only his underwear, a sock, a shoe and had his cell phone in his sock. Scott said he was unsure as to whether there were signs of foul play and would not speculate as to a cause of death. 

Wright’s disappearance was still a mess of confusion. A private investigator suggested that he may have been on “bath salts,” speculation that the family strongly denies. But the Sabine County sheriff’s office claims that Wright’s wife told deputies that he “may have been using an unknown substance causing him to be paranoid,” and shortly after the story of Wright’s disappearance broke, it was reported that he was under indictment for federal embezzlement charges in Tennessee for allegedly defrauding a bank of “over $1,000.” 

It’s clear, in other words, that there are people involved who are convinced that Wright was a drug user who disappeared shortly before he was supposed to face serious criminal charges, while there are others who are convinced that he was the victim of violence that occurred in a part of the country where violence against African-American men is not unheard of. And it’s possible that neither or both allegations are true.

The official cause of death from the coroner was accidental “combined drug intoxication” from a mix of cocaine, methamphetamine, and amphetamine. But a different pathologist, hired by Wright’s family, stated that there appeared to be “severe trauma to the neck and head.” CNN reports that “Wright was missing an ear, two front teeth, and his tongue” and that “his throat appeared to be cut,” trauma that the initial examiner attributed to “animal and insect activity.” 

The severe head and neck trauma found on Wright’s body ought to be further investigated. And the Department of Justice, at the behest of Texas, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, is now doing just that.