“Sometimes, when one person is missing, the whole world seems depopulated.“
– Alphonse de Lamartine
The winter air in Daytona Beach was sticky and humid as Floridians prepared for the holidays in December of 1988. Evergreen trees were decorated, lights were strung, and the sun was setting early just two days before Christmas as a beautiful Korean woman in her mid-twenties left her work and opened her car door. LIke many people, she planned to do some last-minute Christmas shopping before the holiday, and had two little boys along with a host of other family and friends to purchase final presents for.
Tragically, this young mother of two would vanish into the warm winter night, leaving behind children without their mother and a family with a world of questions to unwrap that Christmas morning.
Julie Lynn Braswell Seay was born in South Korea on January 27, 1964. She was adopted and brought to America as a toddler, where she grew into a sassy and vivacious woman with a gift for humor and a feisty attitude. While shy at first, she would quickly open up to a new group of people and brought laughter to everyone with her hysterical sense of humor and mischievous streak. She married a man she met at church named Tim Seay in 1983 and immediately began trying for a baby. The couple was gifted with two sons within just a few years.
The first time Leslie Seay-Martin met her sister-in-law was in 1981 when Julie was first dating her brother, meeting at the Islander Hotel for a dinner with family and friends. Little did she know that when this tiny brunette made her vows at the altar two years later, she would be gaining much more than just a sister-in-law.
“She was more like a best friend,” Leslie describes. “It was exciting to have a comrade.”
Over the next decade, the women would grow extremely close, raising their children together, going on shopping trips and endless dinner dates. Even when Julie and Tim’s marriage ended in divorce, the girls remained close.
“She was my first sister,” Leslie says fondly. “She was the first person to make me an aunt.”
The two have a feast of memories together; some jovial, like the time they were at Leslie’s parents’ house and a snake slithered out, causing Leslie to scream and jump on a table while her mother beat the snake to death (“A lot of help you are!” Julie laughed), or exercising to Gilad Janklowicz together. Others were more somber, such as when Leslie’s father died.
Julie adored Leslie and Tim’s father, and when he passed away from a massive coronary, she gave Leslie a beautiful black dress to wear to the funeral. The two drove to the funeral home to view the body together and realized his hair was not parted correctly, so Julie took a comb and brushed it until it looked perfect.
“I’ll never forget that act of kindness, probably knowing that it would be very hard for me. She was just that way,” Leslie remembers.
Leslie was nine months pregnant and living in Birmingham, Alabama when Julie vanished mysteriously in Daytona Beach, Florida on December 23, 1988. They had last spoke that day on the phone, and Leslie remembers how upset Julie was that her manager at a telemarketing company hadn’t let her off work.
“Her boss was stalking her,” Leslie recalls. “She told me he was creepy.”
Two days later, Leslie went into labor and gave birth to her third child. Family gathered at the hospital to see the healthy baby, but nothing out of the ordinary was mentioned. Christmas dinner was brought in, and that evening around 11:00 p.m., Tim stopped by.
“We didn’t want to upset you,” he told his sister, “but we’ve been trying to get ahold of Julie all day and we can’t find her.”
Police and family both took immediate action when Julie disappeared. Leslie and Tim’s mother, Nancy Seay, spearheaded a reward fund for their missing loved one while police spoke to Julie’s coworkers at the telemarketing firm. Flyers were posted around Florida. Her vehicle, a blue 1988 Chevrolet Sprint, was quickly located in the parking lot of a gym off of Magnolia Avenue with her purse inside. Reports state that the front seat was adjusted for someone much taller than Julie, whose petite frame barely stood at five foot.
“I just thought she’s gonna be somewhere,” Leslie remembers. “She’s going to turn up somewhere. By the time I got home on the 28th, I was worried. I didn’t think she would ever just take off and leave the kids, but you still have this hope that something happened and she has amnesia, and you just hope they show up somewhere.”
Three decades later, however, and there aren’t any more answers as when Julie first went missing.
“It’ll be 31 years the 23rd of December and still nothing,” Leslie remarks.
Over the years, police have zeroed in on Julie’s boss – even searching his former residence three times for a body, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Each search has turned up nothing, and the man who was reportedly the last to see her remains free.
“He was in the parking lot trying to speak with her and he followed her out,” Leslie reports. “I feel it in my gut that he’s responsible.”
Leslie, who created the Facebook page Find Julie Braswell Seay and took over the search after her mother passed away in 2006, is also now trying to get Crime Stoppers involved. She still speaks regularly to the Daytona Police, and receives tips online from people who claim to know what happened to her beloved friend. When she first began posting online about Julie trying to garner tips, she received many messages from people who said they’d known her.
“Nobody has anything negative to say about Julie. People just loved her,” Leslie says.
Without a body, not only is it difficult for the police to build a case, but the weight of grief is compounded for a family who just wants answers. Two little boys have had to grow up without their mother; the Braswell and Seay families have lost a daughter, a niece, an aunt. They do not have a grave to visit or an urn of ashes to hold; their loss cannot be momentarily solaced by the cool touch of a headstone or the by the ritualistic placement of flowers. Proper goodbyes have never been said.
For now, all the family has are memories and hopes that someone will come forward with answers as to what happened to their beloved Julie.
“She was sweet, she was funny. She loved to cook and loved being a mom,” Leslie remembers. “She was just a good friend. A good listener. I’m just so sorry she couldn’t come that Christmas…this never would have happened.”
Julie was last seen in the Ormond Beach area on December 23, 1988, wearing ivory-colored pants and a red shirt. If you have any information regarding her whereabouts, please contact the Daytona Beach Police at 386-671-5700.