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20 years ago, the body of 18-year-old Elaine Nix was found. Her killer never was
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Becky Nix and husband David will hold a candlelight vigil as they do every year at Memorial Park Cemetery for their daughter Elaine. Elaine Nix went missing Sept. 20, 1999. Nine days later, authorities found her body across the Hall County line in Gwinnett County. Her murder remains unsolved. - photo by Scott Rogers

Becky and David Nix keep their daughter’s jewelry in an evidence bag locked away in a safe. It was found Sept. 29, 1999, on her body. They’re not sure if they may need it again. Her killer has never been identified.

Elaine Nix disappeared around 1 a.m. Sept. 20 after an hourlong conversation with her boyfriend on a payphone outside of Zack’s Food Rack on Candler Road.

That payphone no longer exists, and the Nix couple moved five years after their daughter’s death.

“It was very painful having to go (on) that street,” Becky Nix said in a soft voice about the path to their old home past the convenience store.

Elaine Nix’s friend Jennifer Boyd treasures a black-and-white beaded necklace she usually only wears to Nix’s anniversary memorials. It’s been years since she’s worn it. She worries about the wear and tear on this memento of her “vibrant” and “spunky” friend who wanted to become a registered nurse.

“She was tiny and small but she was like dynamite. She had a heart of gold. She would do anything for anyone,” Boyd said.

Boyd’s and the Nix family’s resolve to find Elaine’s killer has not waned in these past two decades, as they prepare for another gravesite remembrance tonight.

Unsolved case

Marty Nix, Hall County assistant county administrator, formerly served as a lieutenant at the Hall County Sheriff’s Office over a division concerning crimes against persons. Marty Nix is not related to Elaine Nix or her family.

Elaine’s 1986 Toyota Celica was found shortly after the payphone call in the convenience store parking lot, the hood still holding some heat and the keys in the ignition. Boyd said Nix’s purse and cigarettes were in the back seat, but her address book was missing.

Marty Nix said a crew of investigators started searching Sept. 22, 1999, first securing the tapes at the convenience store, interviewing people close to her and even bringing out canine trackers.

“I believe she would have been due a check, an employment check. She never picked that up on that Wednesday … At that point, we knew something was wrong and that she was missing. I was very worried about it,” Marty Nix said.

On Sept. 29, 1999, Marty Nix heard from an investigator about a body found in the woods near a Buford industrial park.

Nix’s nude body was just past the Hall County line into Gwinnett County, found in woods near an isolated industrial park on Verona Avenue. Her clothes were never recovered, but her jewelry was still on. Police have said they think she had been dead for six to nine days, though the cause of death is still listed as “undetermined.”

The Times sent a list of questions to the Gwinnett County Police Department, which were forwarded to the detective assigned to Nix’s case. No responses were received after multiple inquiries last week.

“I worked a lot of cases with the Sheriff’s Office, but this is one that still bothers me. I go back. I was even talking to Sheriff (Gerald) Couch, like, ‘What else could we have done? What did we do? Is there some other lead out there?’ But I’m convinced to this day there’s somebody that knows something, and that’s why I’m still hoping that somebody will come forward that will lead us in the right direction,” Marty Nix said.

Boyd said it seems the killer must be someone who knew Nix.

“If it was just a random act, then why did they leave her jewelry on her?” Boyd asked.

Becky Nix said they have discussed exhuming her body because of the advancements in technology since her death.

Remembering Elaine

Boyd, who was a grade ahead of Elaine, met through a mutual friend and did all the things girls did back in the 1990s.

“Gossiping, singing, being goofy, staying on the phone half the night calling each other on three-way, talking about boys,” Boyd said of her friendship with Elaine and their group of friends.

When asked why she has kept pushing to find Elaine’s killer after all of these years, Boyd said she knows her friend would have done the same.

“The biggest thing is I feel like if the shoe was on the other foot, she would do that for me,” Boyd said.

Becky Nix said Sept. 29 is a painful day, where it feels like it all happened yesterday.

They’ll release balloons at Memorial Park, as the few dozens in attendance draw messages on them before releasing.

“A lot of people come out of the woodwork and tell stories they’ve heard or their ideas of what happened, and it gets kind of overwhelming,” Boyd said.

They’ll hear the same stories every year about the same suspects, but the Gwinnett County Police have told the family there is no evidence supporting these claims.

There were even two letters sent to the wrong Jennifer Boyd and Becky Nix alleging a landlord had done it, but police determined they were not credible.

“Police ended up saying they were hoax letters, so that’s probably the biggest extent of someone trying to reach out to us other than trying to call us or reach through Facebook or mutual friends,” Boyd said.

Boyd and Becky Nix gathered handfuls of portraits of the blonde 18-year-old.

There’s the one where she finally got her braces off. 

Next to that are the school photos, one of which was plastered on every flyer and news broadcast about her case.

And then there’s the one that illustrates her love of frogs, in which she is holding a frog toy and wearing her necklace with frogs.

Frogs now fill a curio cabinet and are scattered around the Nix family home.

She had briefly before the disappearance said she wanted to become a nurse.

“She just had so much life in her and so much joy that she could have brought to everyone else. It’s real hard not having her around and wondering who she would be today,” Boyd said.

The family asks that any information, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, be passed on to law enforcement. There will be no closure, Boyd said, but it may finally answer the who and why that has plagued them for two decades.

“There will always be that void of her not here,” Boyd said.

Even if they find Nix’s killer, Boyd and the family said they will still gather at her gravesite every Sept. 29 that comes — a tearful rememberance that could turn to celebration.