It was 1986 and the number one song in America was “That’s What Friends Are For.”
And if I should ever go away
Well, then close your eyes and try
To feel the way we do today
And then if you can remember
Keep smiling, keep shining
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure
That’s what friends are for
Those lyrics are almost too poignant. During the pandemic quarantine, I have been working cases. One case that moved me to the point I had to write this story is the cold case of Chuckie Mauk. Nancy Grace invited me to join her in this case.
One morning, as I joined in as a guest on “Crime Stories with Nancy Grace,” I was waiting for the episode to start, when, one by one, Chuckie’s childhood friends called in. Each friend that joined announced their name and within minutes, a heartfelt reunion started.
There was Jason, Chanda, Bonni, Chris, Becky, Rich, Zandra, and others. They were so happy to hear each other’s voices. The laughter and tears were all there. As they talked about their old neighborhood in Warner Robins, Georgia, they reminisced about building bike ramps and playing at each others’ house. They were transported right back to the little streets lined with azaleas and dogwood trees.
Everybody knew each other. Everybody’s momma would correct you if you got out of line. And everybody genuinely loved each other. As they talked, I could envision the streets, houses, and yards. During the 1980s, kids played outside with each other while a dad worked on a car, and mom planted flowers.
It was a simpler time. A wonderful time. A childhood right out of a TV show.
There is nothing that takes the place of childhood memories. They are few better memories than the ones spent with your friends, best friends. I could today drive down my childhood neighborhood street and name every child that lived in every house. I have not lived there in forty years but the people and places are vivid and powerful.
As I listened to Chuckie Mauk’s friends talk and hear them recall streets, parents, and little league teams, I am transported back to my own childhood, and the streets, houses, schoolyards, and people. Those amazing people, strictly by geography, shape your life. Your first date, first kiss, first home run, and first loss all happened right there with those people on those streets. Every event was influential and indelible.
Tragedy Strikes a Peaceful Community
Tragedy makes time come to a standstill. It takes its power to make certain that where you were, what you were doing, and who you were with all remind crystal clear. The friends of Chuckie Mauk can all tell you without hesitation where they were when they heard he had been shot, murdered.
Chuckie was just 13 years old. He jumped ramps with his bike. He rode all over the neighborhood on that bike. He loved it. He had a girlfriend named Chanda. He loved her and everyone knew it. He was not shy about telling his friends how much he loved Chanda. He even told his mom to save him her emerald ring because one day he was going to give it to Chanda. He played little league baseball. He had a ton of friends.
Dinner was done and Chuckie’s mom was washing dishes. Chuckie asked if he could ride his bike up to the store to buy candy. She said yes, without even turning around. This was not an unusual request by Chuckie. He often bought candy to sell at school.
In a flash he was on the road, pedaling his bike to the store.
At 8:15 p.m. on February 17, 1986, Chuckie Mauk was shot and killed in a parking lot of a bowling ally, near the convenience store he went to. He was found holding candy he had just bought in his hand. There were people around. There was still plenty of daylight. This was a small Georgia town where everyone knew each other and felt safe.
Word spread quickly up and down Burns Drive where Chuckie lived in Warner Robins. A few children had heard the shot and saw the car speeding away from Chuckie’s lifeless body. Others had just seen him, talked with him, and jumped ramps on their bikes.
One by one, the children of this once idyllic street got word that their friend was dead. Their childhood ended that day. They all had to grow up and realize the world can be evil and grossly unfair.
“Chuckie was talking to a white gentleman in a white car…Chuckie had his arms folded and he was talking to this guy and I just seen hand gestures,” friend Chris Panaczek said. “Chuckie was laughing and talking with this guy…I kept looking back…Chuckie had picked the front tire on his bike up to turn away from this guy. If we hadn’t had the radio up so loud, we would have heard the shot.”
Time does move on. Some of these friends left home and went off to college or the armed services. Some got jobs and stayed in Warner Robins. But they are forever connected by Chuckie. They have never once forgotten about him or his case.
Now as adults, many with 13-year-old themselves, have joined to try and solve his case.
One friend, Jason Cranford, moved away to Colorado and is now a successful businessman. He reached out to Nancy Grace and CSI Atlanta to jumpstart this investigation by offering $100,000 for the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the murder of his childhood friend. They have made a cold case poster and started a private Facebook group, they have names, dates, and theories. They are truly working this case!
Check back with CrimeOnline for part two in the series, as we follow Chuckie’s amazing friends as they search for justice.
Anyone with any information is urged to contact the CSI Atlanta tip line at 404-325-4646.
[Feature Photo: Chuckie Mauk/Handout]