Potts dies in custody

The Florida Department of Corrections has confirmed that Frank Thaniel Potts, convicted murderer and registered sex offender, died in Suwannee Correctional Institution in Florida on Wednesday, June 14, 2023. Potts was found guilty of the murder of Robert Earl Jines, 19, who disappeared on April 1, 1989, as a houseguest of Potts at his Estill Fork cabin.

At the time of his transport to Alabama, Potts was already serving a life sentence in Florida for the sexual battery of a 10-year old Lakeland, Florida girl, and had to be transported to Jackson County to stand trial in Judge Wally Haralson’s courtroom for the murder of Jines, whose body was found buried 300 feet from Potts’ cabin.

Jines had suffered two blows to the skull by a blunt instrument, and in his notes, Investigator Doyle York would state, “Taylor knows everything.” This would prove true, as later, Potts’ friend, Harvey Taylor, would testify and reveal he had helped bury Jines’ body, and Potts had bragged to Taylor’s nephew about hitting the teenager in the head with a rock, thereby “terminating the problem” – the problem being, Potts had fallen for Jines’ girlfriend and wanted her for himself.

It was in Florida that Potts first met Jines and his girlfriend, Bobbie Harrell. Being the kind and considerate man most thought he was, Potts offered to give them a place to hunker down, as there was a warrant out for Jines’ arrest in Indianapolis, Indiana. The young couple agreed, and soon they were installed in Potts’ cabin on Garrett Mountain. This was the last place Jines was seen alive on the morning of April 1, 1989. It wouldn’t be until a few years later that his body would be discovered on the property.

Harrell testified that she had to stave off Potts’ sexual advances many times, and when she told Jines about Potts’ behavior toward her, there was a lot of tension between the two of them. It was right after one of these confrontations that Jines walked out of the cabin with Potts to go fix a broken truck. Jines returned a short time later, grabbed his favorite knife he always had on his person, kissed Harrell and walked out the door for the last time. Harrell would later state that Jines had been missing for several days when she saw Potts with the knife in its special scabbard.

It was a sort of ragtag group at the cabin in the beginning. Everyone had their sleeping assignments, and every so often, they’d come down the mountain to get supplies and cigarettes. However, after Jines disappeared, Harrell wasn’t permitted to leave the cabin. During this time, Potts also tried to come to Harrell’s bed and was agitated when Harrell refused, pulling a gun on another friend, Tommy Moore, when he was found sitting on the side of Harrell’s bed, and they were talking. Moore and Harrell testified that Potts pulled a gun on Moore and pressed the barrel into Moore’s chest, leaving a bruise.

After a few days, Potts took Harrell down the mountain with him, and she was able to sneak and call her father, asking him to come pick her up. Potts heard the tail-end of the conversation and was irate, but the next morning, he dropped Harrell off at the foot of the mountain and gave her $100, told her he loved her and goodbye.

Upon her return to her father’s house in Florida, Harrell relayed the events to her father, who told Harrell she needed to notify the authorities in Jackson County about the disappearance of Jines.

Potts was a migrant citrus worker, traveling around the United States, following the seasons and the work. Residents around Skyline vouched for Potts, claiming he was a good person, helpful, selfless, generous, hard-working and trustworthy. But at one point, Potts was suspected of more than one murder or disappearance – and not just in Alabama. Investigators from six other states suspected Potts in multiple murders and missing person cases, as they seemed to trail in tandem with his travel for work – even as far as New York state.

In 1989, Potts’ property was searched, with no findings. But after Taylor came in with his nephew, both of them giving their official statement about the murder and where the body was buried, investigators revisited the site.
In March of 1994, Garrett Mountain in Estill Fork was being combed by local investigators for a second time, particularly Potts’ 40 acres, searching for up to 15 missing persons or their graves. The cabin was also searched, revealing a false wall in the bedroom and a trap door in the kitchen leading to the outdoors. This search, after Taylor’s help, would only yield the body of Jines.

During the trial, Potts took the stand in his defense, and upon cross-examination, Potts had to attest to the facts that he had been previously convicted in Florida in 1982 for lewd and lascivious assault and his 1994 sexual battery on a child under the age of 12.

In April of 1995, Potts was found guilty of the murder Jines and sentenced to a second life term to be served in Alabama consecutively to the first in Florida.

After two requests for a mistrial and requests for appeals, it was finally ruled that the verdict would stand.

by Martha Smith

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