JACKSON, Miss. — Robert Hearin paid almost $1 million trying to pay ransom for his wife of 50 years, but her kidnapers were unyielding and the 73-year-old multimillionaire died without seeing her again.
Hearin's heart gave out in November, two years after Annie Laurie Hearin was taken from their Mississippi home.
Hearin, one of the most powerful and wealthiest men in Mississippi, paid $931,000 in ransom, but his wife was never freed and authorities believe she is dead.
"My one regret is I couldn't give him back his wife," FBI agent Wayne R. Taylor said. "We continue to do everything we can that might lead to her."
The Hearins met as students at the University of Alabama and were married in 1940. They had two children, Robert Hearin Jr., a lawyer in New Orleans, and Laurie McRee of Jackson.
"We've had a terrible loss. I think, all along, there has been a real mix of sadness and anger," said the son.
Hearin's worth was estimated at $200 million. He controlled Mississippi's largest gas distribution company, Mississippi Valley Gas Co., its second-largest bank, Trustmark National Bank, and its second-largest insurance company, Lamar Life Corp.
Hearin avoided the news media after his wife was kidnaped, but did appear on the TV show "Unsolved Mysteries." He never gave up hope of finding his wife, although authorities believe she died long ago. Last year, he moved out of the brick house they had shared.
"I'm pretty sure she was dead within the first month. I am absolutely sure she is dead," said Dr. Rodrigo Galvez, a Jackson psychiatrist and pathologist who analyzed the ransom note.
Mrs. Hearin, who was 72 when she was kidnaped, suffered from ileitis, a chronic intestinal disease that can cause death in days without daily medication.
About three weeks after she was kidnaped, her husband received a letter in her handwriting. It urged him to pay off 12 disgruntled investors who were named in a rambling letter left in the house the day she disappeared.
FBI officials said that Hearin paid a total of $931,000 to investors in a school picture company of which he was the largest shareholder. Among them was Newton Alfred Winn, a St. Petersburg, Fla., lawyer.
Winn was sentenced in February to 19 years in prison for conspiracy to kidnap, mailing a threatening communication and lying to a federal grand jury. No one was ever charged with the actual kidnaping.
The younger Hearin said that he and his sister still hope their mother will return, but "the passage of time leads one not to be optimistic."