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About a year ago, I had a speaking engagement in Little Rock and finagled a side trip to Bernice. Driving the single-lane roads that thread the Louisiana countryside was a little like traveling back in time: cell service was sporadic, women sold vegetables out of the backs of their trucks, roadside motels advertised FREE HBO.
Pulling into town, I steered my rental car down the main drag and turned onto a dirt road. I found the address of Anders's boyhood home. No one currently resides there. At the Bernice Town Hall a woman in charge of records thought she had recently seen Anders and called a friend for more intel. My pulse quickened as she nodded with the receiver affixed to her ear. Then she made a sour face. She'd confused Anders with Willis Reed, who lives a few towns away and is, supposedly, Anders's distant cousin.
I drove by Bernice High, where the Outlaw had been based. It's now an elementary school, though Anders's name still adorns the gym wall. But no one had seen Anders.
Finally I ventured to the address listed for the only Anders in the directory that seemed like it could have a link to Benny. A mobile home rested on bricks several feet off the ground, a bedsheet hung over the door. An elderly woman who emerged claimed not to have seen Anders in years: "Ya'll keep looking for him, but he ain't here!" I presumed that this was Anders's Aunt Gracie but could not confirm it because in the most unambiguous of terms she asked me to leave the property.
Maybe a month later I came upon an old blurb on thecabin.net, a newspaper's website in Conway, Ark., noting, "Ethel and James Lewis McClure Sr. are celebrating their 11th wedding anniversary this weekend with a trip to Sam's Town in Tunica, Miss. They were married April 12, 1993, at the Faulkner County Courthouse." The item mentioned that "the McClures have seven children," among them "Benny Anders of Flint, Mich."
Aha! Not only did this support the private investigator's assertion that Anders was living in Flint, but it also gave the name of Anders's father, which had been elusive. A records search revealed that McClure was born in 1946, which meant he would have been young when he fathered Benny in 1963, but it was possible.
When I called James McClure, he spoke genially, if nervously, but denied being Anders's father. He was "more like an uncle," he said, and besides, he hadn't seen Anders in years. I left my phone number, and maybe an hour later I received a call from a blocked number. The woman on the other end would not identify herself but wondered why I had just called Mr. McClure. When I explained my search to find Anders, she shot back, "Benny don't want to talk to nobody."
"But he's alive?" I said. "He's doing O.K.?"
Now I had multiple references to Anders living in Flint. And in Bernice, a resident provided a name for Anders's biological father that matched with an address in Flint. I thought it was somehow fitting that Anders might be living in a city that was strong in another era but now deteriorating, a shell of its former self.