NEW YORK (BP)–At first, it seemed like a miracle, the kind of miracle a small-town preacher would praise from the pulpit. A beloved youth minister and family man who mysteriously disappeared nearly 17 years ago is found alive, preaching at a small church near Dallas.
But this miracle had an intriguing twist. The minister — who called himself James Simmons — claimed he didn’t know anything about his life as a husband, father and youth minister named Barre Cox. In an exclusive, in-depth interview with ABC News’ Connie Chung, Simmons tells a strange tale of a life lost — and a life found.
“Vanished: The Case of the Missing Minister,” airs on a special “Downtown,” Wednesday, Aug. 15, 10-11 p.m. EST, on the ABC Television Network.
According to Simmons, his memory began in 1984, when he awoke from a coma after being beaten and put in the trunk of an abandoned car in Memphis, Tenn. He says he didn’t know he was married or that he had a daughter, who was 6 months old when he vanished. But with no details or records to support the alleged attack, his credibility was soon questioned — first by the media, then by his own church. Says Simmons: “I would suspect that most people wouldn’t believe my story. Sometimes I don’t believe my story.”
During a six-month investigation, ABC News traveled across the country to try to uncover the truth. From a tow truck driver in Arkansas to a pastor in a tiny West Virginia town, “Vanished” uncovered new witnesses and details that shed light on the minister’s extraordinary odyssey.
The program also features exclusive interviews with Barre Cox’s wife Beth and daughter Talitha, now 17 — whose dream of a happy reunion was shattered by the minister’s dramatic revelation about his new life. Talitha Cox tells Connie Chung: “It’s like everything that we stood for was not him. … All the rules, you know, even the rules in the Bible and everything that we were taught not to do, he did. And that’s my dad.”