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Monday, July 20, 2009

Mothers Are Vanishing: Children Left Behind

 Sons left to wonder what happened after mom vanished in 2005
Brandon, 14, Michael, 10, and Phillip Clabough 16, discuss their mother, Pamela Knight, who has been missing since October 2005, in their Seymour home on July 10.
Pamela Knight disappeared without a trace on the day her youngest son, Michael Clabough, turned 7.
It was Oct. 27, 2005. That morning, as Michael lay in bed, Knight, 35, kissed him, told him she loved him and promised him a birthday celebration when she got home from work later that day.
Stirred from sleep, her oldest son, Phillip Clabough, got up and noticed that it was around 4:15 a.m.
Standing behind Pamela Knight was her husband and stepfather to her three boys, Paul Anthony Knight. Phillip watched as the couple left their Bruhin Road home in her green 1994 Jeep Cherokee. He was driving.
Phillip, now 16, said his mom did not appear under any stress. All seemed normal - except for the early hour. Pamela Knight usually left around 6:30 a.m. for her job at Hillcrest North.
Later that morning, Paul Knight returned in the Jeep and drove Michael, Phillip and middle brother Brandon to school. He told the boys their mother would pick them up after school.
At 11 a.m., Pam Knight did not show for a lunch date with her mother, Sandy McBee.
"I went to Hillcrest, and they said she had not called in and no one had seen her," McBee said. "I got scared right then. I knew something was bad wrong."
That afternoon, Pam did not pick the boys up after school, as Paul had said she would.
He, too, had disappeared and would not be seen for more than a year.
Pamela Knight
"There is no way she would ever leave her kids, not on (one of their) birthdays or any day," McBee said.
A week later, the Jeep was found abandoned in Guana River State Park near Jacksonville, Fla., but there was "apparently nothing of evidentiary value," said Knoxville Police Department Investigator Phyllis Tonkin.
Many in Pam Knight's family suspect Paul Knight had something to do with her disappearance.
Pamela Knight"If he didn't do anything to her, then why did he run off that day?" asks McBee, who is now raising her grandsons.
But it was not unusual for Paul Knight to drop out of sight, often for weeks at a time.
"And then he would just pop back up, right out of the blue," said Charles Davis, the husband of Pamela Knight's younger sister LeAnn Davis.
Arrested in South Carolina
LeAnn Davis said her sister barely knew Paul Knight, and married him after a two-week whirlwind romance.
After the disappearance, Paul Knight surfaced in August 2006 in South Carolina, arrested after a police chase that ended when the stolen van he was driving crashed. A woman described as his girlfriend and her two small children were in the van, which contained numerous credit cards and other items stolen from several states, police said.
Knight was arrested on a slew of charges. He gave South Carolina police five different names until a fingerprint check confirmed his true identity.
Meanwhile, Pam Knight has still not been seen or heard from. And there is conflicting information as to whether or not she made it to work on the day she disappeared.
"I talked to her supervisor myself, and she told me that Pam did not clock in that day," LeAnn Davis said.
But some employees of the nursing home believe they saw her that morning, according to Tonkin.
Resolving that issue is just one of several puzzles about the case that Tonkin faces. Another is determining the true nature of Pam and Paul Knight's relationship.
"I think he was threatful to her," said McBee.
Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess
News Sentinel
Sandy McBee hugs her grandson Michael Claybough at their home in Seymour. McBee’s daughter Pamela Knight disappeared on Michael’s seventh birthday, Oct. 27, 2005.
"He wasn't around that much, but when he was they were always lovey-dovey," Paul Clabough recalls.
Brandon Clabough said that about two days before the disappearance, Paul Knight showed all three boys a 9mm handgun - and told them not to say anything about it to their mother.
"I think he shot and killed her," Phillip Clabough said.
"I think he does have something to do (with her disappearance), but to be honest, I never saw any violence out of him toward her," Charles Davis said.
Several days before the disappearance, LeAnn Davis said, Paul Knight came to her house and was very angry - not at Pam, but at Pam's friend, who he said was encouraging Pam to leave him.
Sandy McBee hugs her grandson Michael Claybough at their home in Seymour. McBee’s daughter Pamela Knight disappeared on Michael’s seventh birthday, Oct. 27, 2005."And then, he started telling me how much he loved Pam, and loved the boys like they were his own, and that he would never do anything to hurt any of them," LeAnn Davis said. "But I believe he did hurt her."
Serving time in federal prison
After his arrest, Paul Knight was indicted on federal charges in Knoxville, including a charge of being a convicted felon in possession of two stolen 25-caliber handguns. A federal judge declared him an "armed career criminal" and sentenced him to 16 years in prison.
Through prison officials, the News Sentinel has been attempting to arrange an interview with Knight. Those efforts are continuing.
Knight is not the only person being looked at in the case, Tonkin said. "Everyone is a person of interest in this case, until it is resolved."
Tonkin hopes to get a national TV network to feature the case on a true crime show. And she keeps a picture of Pam Knight at her desk.
"I think about this case every day," she said. "It's really hard, knowing that there are three kids out there without their mother and other family members who don't know where she is."
Knight's family is confident in Tonkin and appreciate the fact that she keeps in touch with them. Still, they feel frustrated. "We know there are probably some things she can't tell us," Charles Davis said. "Sometimes, it feels like we are getting nowhere. If we could just get one piece of good information."
But he said the family cannot afford to offer a reward or hire a private detective, and does not have the expertise to create a Web site for Pam's case, he said.
Now in their teen years, Phillip and Brandon Clabough deal with it as best they can. "I just try not to think about it too much," Phillip said.
Michael, now 10, was asked what he thinks about when he remembers his mother. After a long silence, he said, "Hug."
"Somebody, somewhere, knows something," Tonkin said. "I would hope they will ask themselves what if it was their children left without a mother, and come forward with what they know."
Tonkin said anyone with information can call her directly at 865-215-7137, or the KPD crime information line at 865-215-7212.
Jim Balloch may be reached at 865-342-6315.
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