Produced by Patti Aronofsky, Pete Shaw, Tamara Weitzman and Alec Sirken
(CBS News) PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -- Family members knew something was wrong when 24-year- old David Jackson failed to show up for work and didn't pick his brother up at the airport. Police took on the case, but the investigation grew cold.
It heated up again in 2003, when a new detective, Donna Velazquez, was handed the file. As part of her work, she put a missing persons poster of David Jackson by her desk. By chance, John Wolfe saw the poster during a meeting of the Police Explorers program, a group for young people interested in police work.
John Wolfe shocked the officers when he told them he knew the man in the poster -- it was his father. What he would tell investigators would ultimately blow the case wide open.
The disappearance of David Jackson from his Florida home on June 25, 1988, has haunted his family.
"We tried everything to keep that little bit of hope. That just maybe he's gonna knock on the door one day," said Mark Jackson, who dreamed that his brother, David, was shot twice in the head.
"It was pure hell. It felt like my whole heart was just empty. Like you could put your hand threw it. There was just nothing there," Judy Carlson said of her son.
After 15 long years, his case has finally been reopened.
"I was like, 'Well good. That's a good thing that they're gonna work on it,'" Barbara Britton told "48 Hours" correspondent Troy Roberts.
Britton says she was delighted police were intent on finding out what happened to her ex-husband, David.
"David was my first love and my life, and I was always hoping that David always would come back," she said.
She was happy that her son, John, may finally learn what became of his father. But that's not how Detective Donna Velazquez remembers it.
"When John goes and tells his mom they've reopened the case... Well, Barbara says to her own son, 'I thought that was closed a long time ago. They need to leave it alone,'" she explained.
Detective Velazquez recorded John talking about his mother's reaction.
John Wolfe audio: She got very defensive and very, um, touchy ... I believe personally that she's holding back information.
"That sent up a red flag for me, in that maybe I was gonna have to fish in that pond and see just exactly what happened," said Det. Velazquez
The detective began by digging through the cold case file and a story began to emerge. It begins with a teenage romance. David Jackson, 19, managing the local Burger King falls in love with his employee, high school senior Barbara Britton.
"I liked her very much. She -- was a pretty girl," Judy Carlson said. "And they said, 'Mom, we got something to tell you. Barbara's pregnant.' ... And they both said that we've been talking about marriage anyway, so they're going to go ahead and get married."
"It was nice. We had a big wedding," Britton told Roberts. "My dad, you know, he had to sign the paper for me to get married, 'cause I was so young. We got married on my spring break."
Britton says her father, Harry, wasn't thrilled with the union. And David knew it.
"One of the only people I know my brother was ever scared of always was her father," said David's brother, Mark Jackson. He remembers Harry Britton terrified David.
"My brother got his daughter pregnant," Mark Jackson said. "My brother was very scared of him, scared of what he might do to him."
The pressure of being teenage parents would become very stressful. Britton says David was immature and wanted to be with his friends, leaving her to care for a newborn alone.
"He would just come over sometimes and be like, 'I'm going here,' you know. And -- and I would be like, 'OK.' You know, and 'Wish I could go,'" she said.
Only Mark Jackson remembers it differently. He says Barbara Britton never really gave his brother a chance - choosing to stay with her parents instead.
"After the marriage, she refused to move into the house he bought. Nobody knows why. She just refused to. That's when things starting going south almost immediately after the marriage," he explained.
Asked who initiated the divorce proceedings, Carlson told Roberts, "Barbara."
"What did David say to you -- about the divorce?" Roberts asked.
"He said he was gonna make sure he got visitation with his child," said Carlson.
For two years, David and Barbara shared custody of John.
"He paid his child support. He spent time with Johnny ... he loved spending time with Johnny," said Det. Velazquez.
And then Barbara Britton announced she was moving on. She was marrying an older man, Michael Wolfe -- a former military police officer who was 20 years her senior. Barbara was taking John, leaving Florida and relocating to Arizona.
"She gave David a three-hour notice that she was moving to Tucson, Arizona with her new husband," said Det. Velazquez.
Before a judge, David and Barbara hashed out an agreement; she would bring little Johnny back to Florida for a month-long visit with David in the summer of 1988.
"And he told his mother, he told his friends, 'I can't wait to have my son here," said the detective.
Then, on Saturday, June 25, 1988, just days before Barbara was supposed to bring John to visit his father, David received a phone call. His roommate would tell police he believed it was Barbara on the phone.
Whoever it was, David spoke for a bit and then left to buy beer and cigarettes. He never returned.
"His vehicle was found parked in the long-term parking lot at the Fort Lauderdale Airport," said Det. Velazquez.
The find suggested David, 24, had just left town. But a closer look told a different story, that, perhaps, this was a murder.
"[The] entire vehicle had been wiped down and it was clean. Not even to find David's fingerprints anywhere inside the vehicle or on the outside of the vehicle," Det. Velazquez said. "That is very strange."
As Detective Velazquez pieced together the case she learned that David's son, John -- the Police Explorer -- didn't share his father's last name.
"I said to him, 'How did you get the name John Wolfe?' And he said, 'Well, Michael Wolfe was my stepfather and he adopted me.' I said, 'He adopted you? When did that happen?' He says, 'Well, I was probably 4-and-a-half, goin' on 5,'" said Det. Velazquez.
Only months after David went missing, Michael Wolfe contacted a lawyer about adopting Barbara's son.
"Another flag went up for me," the detective said. "Why would any person want their son adopted by a stepfather so quick after the biological father went missing?"
To Det. Velazquez, it was clear Barbara was hiding something incriminating. But if she was going to prove her theory she needed help. That's when John agreed to secretly record his mother.
"You agreed to help the police build a case against your mother?" Roberts asked John Wolfe.
"I'm a very strong believer in doing what's correct. So in other words, if you're my son, daughter, wife, child, you do somethin' wrong, have a good day," he replied.
"But this is your mother," said Roberts.
"And granted I love her, but if someone did somethin' bad, why should someone cover it," he said.
In the end, John changed his mind and didn't wear the wire. But he did say his mother asked him, "What are you trying to do, have me arrested?"
"Did you say it, Barbara? Did you say to John,'What are you tryin' to do, get me arrested?'" Roberts asked Britton.
"I -- no. And he says I did," she replied. "I'm not gonna sit there and dwell on this. I'm just not."
"For someone, especially his mother, to come up and say, 'What are you tryin' to do, have me arrested?' That's not normal," said Det. Velazquez.
For Detective Velazquez, it sounded like an admission.
"I'm thinking that Barbara Britton is looking really good as a potential homicide suspect," she said.
But she still had to prove David Jackson was dead.