LADY LAKE, Florida—It has been three years since Mariann Decker heard her son, Danny’s voice.
December is an extra hard month for her; her son’s birthday is Dec. 6, the anniversary of his disappearance is Dec. 15 and of course, Christmas.
“It’s not a great time of year,” she said.
Daniel “Danny” Decker, who was 34 at the time of his disappearance, has not been seen or heard from since the early morning hours of Dec. 15, 2018, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Detective Clay Watkins told Inside Lake earlier this week.
Double D, as Decker was affectionately known, literally gave a homeless man the shirt off his back one cold night and was a fun person who liked to bust people’s chops, his mom said. “Danny had a sense of humor from the day he was born. I can’t explain how funny he was.”
He loved his dad, and they were joined at the hip, Mariann Decker said. He always wanted to go to work with him, you could separate them.
On Dec. 14, 2018, Decker was at a friend’s house in Carlton Village when he and another friend borrowed a car and went to Sumter County to play fish games at an arcade and then later returned.
“We know he was at a friend’s house, (and) we know he was looking for a ride away,” Watkins said.
The friend wanted his car back and Danny and another friend left to meet the owner and return the car.
“They believed they were being followed,” Watkins said, and Decker called his mother at 2:11 a.m. and told her he thought they were being pursued. Decker had some prior minor run-ins with the law.
“He wasn’t an angel,” Mariann Decker said. “He was his own worst enemy sometimes, he trusted everybody.”
Mariann Decker said she will never forget that last phone call from her oldest son. She remembers his tone and everything he said.
“Ma, they’re chasing me,” he told her. She asked who was chasing him and he said, “I don’t know, the cops. Somebody is chasing me.”
It was not law enforcement chasing him, Watkins said, but it still unknown who was chasing him. Decker sped up and drove down Eleanor Lane, a small dirt road off Marion County Road, abandoned the car and fled the scene. Mariann Decker does not believe it happened that way. “My son would never a vehicle because it’s his last line of defense.”
Decker’s friend said he ran one way and Decker ran another and, “Danny was never seen again,” Watkins said.
A neighbor found the abandoned car and after LCSO received the case, it was processed at the tow yard, “No physical evidence; nothing inside the car that would indicate a crime,” Watkins said. The keys to the car were never found.
Originally a Lady Lake Police Department case, it was turned over to LCSO and LCSO utilized helicopters and K-9s in the area that is mostly rural cow pastures, wooded and includes several lakes, but nothing was ever found. “We canvassed the area, and nobody saw anything,” Watkins said.
Watkins believes Decker is likely dead since so much time has passed, and no one has heard from him. He is asking anyone with information on Decker’s location to come forward and give Decker’s family some closure. Mariann Decker agrees her son is no longer here. Her mother’s instinct told her he was gone before he was officially missing. About five hours after receiving his last phone call, she went looking for him and was drawn to Marion County Road. She said she felt pulled in a northwestern direction and still feels his body is in that area.
“He wouldn’t go a day (without) talking to me,” she told Inside Lake. Choking back tears, she said he would hug her and kiss her cheek every day. “I miss him very much.”
There have been numerous rumors and tips over the years; some plausible, and some extremely far-fetched, but Watkins chases them all down.
“Mariann deserves to bury her son and know what happened to her son,” Watkins said, “They want to put him to rest.”
If you have information on Decker’s disappearance, call Watkins at 352-343-2101.