Woman disappears with sex offender; Son worried

Man wanted for probation violation; Deputies don't feel woman is in danger

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Ten days after a St. Johns County family reported a 57-year-old Betty Jean Herring missing, they are afraid something has happened to the woman.

They believe Herring left town with Joseph Tavernia, the sex offender she was living with, since both are gone. While the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office said it is investigating, deputies aren't sure she's in any danger.

Law enforcement said they only crime they know has occurred is that Tavernia, 43, cut off his ankle bracelet and is no longer at his registered address on County Road 208, but Herring's son, Bobby Lewis, is concerned about his mother's safety.

Joseph Tavernia
Joseph Tavernia

"That's my pride and joy, and I feel like someone's taking advantage of her," said Bobby Lewis.

The couple was spotted once in the last two weeks, holding hands in a Publix store. With no record of domestic violence with the couple and that witnesses said it didn't appear Herring was being held against her will, investigators wrote in the report they "Don't have any reason to believe something has happened to her."

News4Jax crime analyst Gil Smith says law enforcement's primary concern is a sex offender violating probation.

"The main thing they want to do is locate him and get him back in custody," Smith said. "What they'll do is try and find out where he might go; find out where his close friends are located."

While police continue their search, Lewis said he will anxiously wait for any news that his mom is OK.

"Normally my mom tells me everything, and the day before she didn't tell me nothing," Lewis said. "He didn't show no signs of anything."

Tavernia is described as a white woman, 5 feet tall and 117 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes.

Tavernia, who has an open warrant for violation of probation for removing his ankle bracelet, is described as a white man, 5 feet 10 inches tall, 158 pounds, with long brown hair and brown eyes.

Anyone who sees either or both of the people pictured or knows of their whereabouts is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-TIPS.


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