Was Every Parent’s Nightmare
the woods are black as night
That's the bogeyman's delight.
run away, better run away
Pretty little maiden run away.”
names have been changed to protect the privacy of a few of the
individuals discussed in this book. Also, some conversations are
recollected from the memories of characters in the book and presented
as quoted dialogue for dramatic purposes; efforts were made, however,
to corroborate the accuracy and context of the conversations.
with any book comprised of the blending of a number of individual
stories, some personal accounts received more attention and space
than others; other worthwhile accounts do not appear at all. The
author may have decided to use one account over another as
representative of others, but the intention was not to slight the
importance of events on any individual or group. The “ripples
in the pond” caused by David Penton washed over far more people
than this book can record.
Denver, Colorado 80250
2014 by Steve Jackson
rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form
or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher,
excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
PRESS is registered at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Offices.
978-0-9905573-1-9 eBook ISBN
Formatting by Elijah Toten
author wishes to express his grateful appreciation first to the law
enforcement officers who participated in the writing of this story,
especially Gary Sweet, Bruce Bradshaw, and Jeff Heck. And even more
than their help with this work, I’d like to thank them, as well
as other officers such as Bob Holleman and Jerry Schrock, who have
passed on, for their quiet, often unappreciated and unrewarded,
service to the people they take an oath to serve and protect. Far too
often the only notice the men and women in law enforcement receive is
when a “bad apple” makes headlines, but those individuals
do not represent the vast majority who accept the dangers, hardships
and stress and do their jobs well on behalf of their communities.
There are dragons in the world, and we should be thankful that there
are also dragon-slayers.
I would be remiss if I didn’t note the
considerable contributions of the spouses of some of the detectives
to this book so that we may appreciate from their unique perspectives
the dedication and sacrifices their husbands make; the families also
make sacrifices. So thank you Julie Sweet, Gail Bradshaw and Molly
would also like to thank my extraordinarily talented editor, Jenni
Grubbs, and my partner at WildBlue Press, Michael Cordova, without
whose expertise, extraordinary efforts and belief in this brave, new
world of indie publishing, this story and the others found at
WildBluePress.com might have never seen the light of day.
I wish to thank the people in my life who make all the work, long
hours, and absences worth it. First are my family starting with my
parents, Donald and Charlotte, whose love, belief in me, and
encouragement has never wavered; my sister, Carole, her husband, Bob,
and my nephew, Michael, who supported me not only with their love but
with shelter from the storm; my sister, Mary, who makes me laugh; and
my much-missed brother, Donald, who reminds me of what it means to be
a good man, a good brother, and a good son. A special tummy rub for
Winkie the Wonder Dog—some might wonder why I’d want to
acknowledge a crazy, sometimes frustrating canine, but in the hardest
and loneliest times of my life, he has been my big-hearted companion.
I also count on the love and support of my children, Mackenzie,
Hannah and Lillia, and their fine, young men, Eric and Iaian; and my
newest reminder that there is no bottom to the well of love, my
grandson Callum. I also thank Roger, Patti, Doug, Linda, Brian, Tom,
Kathy, Tim, and Carla; I am so grateful that when I need someone to
talk to, a shoulder to cry on, a beer or a kick in the ass, you are
there. And last, never least, my companion Janet Roll, without whose
love and support these past few years, I would have been truly lost
but instead am truly happy, there are no words to express my
gratitude and love.
the measure of a man’s worth is the people who love him and are
loved in return, then I am wealthy beyond all measure.
stands on the edge of a foul dark pond as the cold winds of hell howl
around him. In his cruel hands, he holds a collection of shiny
pebbles that represent every child he took, subjected to unspeakable
horrors and pain, and then remorselessly killed in the most
terrifying manner imaginable. With each murder, the monster, this
bogeyman, this nightmare, tosses a pebble into the bottomless waters
causing ripples of misery and devastation to spread outward,
engulfing his victims, their families, friends, police officers,
communities, and even, as these sorts of beyond- the-pale atrocities
becomes public knowledge, the national consciousness. They erode how
secure we feel in our homes, how safe our children are playing in the
yard, whether evil is winning the battle...
After several days of cold, the weather on that Saturday
in Mesquite, Texas, had turned downright balmy, with bluebird skies
and temperatures climbing into the mid-seventies. Many of the town’s
citizens were out enjoying the sunshine in the parks, playing
softball, and watching their kids laughing and chasing each other on
the playgrounds. Others used the opportunity to go for a drive in the
countryside around Mesquite, a satellite city fifteen miles due east
Detectives Bob Holleman and Bruce Bradshaw were home
with their families enjoying a quiet Saturday afternoon when they got
the call about 3 p.m. It was a moment that would forever alter the
partners’ lives, though in drastically different ways.
Holleman was watching television with his wife, Molly,
and their seven-month-old daughter, Emily, when the phone rang and he
picked up. He listened with a frown, then Molly heard him say, “Well
keep me updated,” before he set the receiver down. Thirty
minutes later, the phone rang again. This time he asked her to hang
it up after he walked back to his home office. When he returned, he
was dressed for work. “Looks like we’ve got a child
abduction; they think it’s the real thing. … I don’t
know when I’ll be home.”
Molly understood. A seven-year veteran with the Mesquite
Police Department, her husband worked with Bradshaw in the Crimes
Against Juveniles unit. Most of these calls about missing children
turned out to be false alarms; the child would be found at the
neighbor’s or playing in a field and handled quickly.
Occasionally, a parent locked in a custody battle took, or didn’t
return, a child, but those cases were usually resolved within a few
After five years of marriage to a cop, especially a
dedicated officer like her husband, Molly was used to the long hours
and sudden calls to work when other families would be enjoying their
weekends and holidays off. So she had no way of knowing that in a
very real sense, their lives had been changed forever by a stranger.
Bruce Bradshaw was also enjoying an afternoon off with
his wife, Gail, and their two daughters, Jodi and Laci, ages three
and one, when Holleman called him. A little girl was missing from an
apartment complex over near Highway 80, a main thoroughfare that runs
east to west through Mesquite. He didn’t give a lot of other
details, but Bradshaw could tell from his partner’s voice that
he was stressed. “I need your help,” Holleman said.
Bradshaw sighed and went to change his clothes. Their
lieutenant, Larry Sprague, insisted that they dress professionally in
a suit and tie whenever they were called out. Properly attired, he
kissed his wife and headed for the door.
Gail watched him go and expected that he’d be home
in time for dinner. Sometimes people asked her if it was hard saying
goodbye to Bruce when he’d leave for work because of the
dangers inherent with the job. She’d answer that it was really
no different than when their spouses went to work, except that her
husband was fully aware of the evil he might face and carried a gun
for protection. No, she’d say, the hard part wasn’t
watching him go; it was learning to live with the darkness he
sometimes brought back home with him.
Bradshaw had been born and raised in Comanche, a small
farming and ranching community in central Texas. His core values and
strong Christian faith were instilled in Comanche. He’d grown
up inspired by John Wayne westerns, the Lone Ranger, and other tales
from the Old West in which justice prevailed and the bad guys paid
for their crimes. An uncle who’d been a deputy sheriff, William
McCay, influenced his career choice. McCay was what you’d
picture an old-time Texas lawman to look like: tall in the saddle—a
former ranch hand, he was good with a horse—and always dressed
in a cowboy hat and boots. Such was his influence that Bradshaw, his
brother, and three cousins all ended up in law enforcement, a job
that Bradshaw saw as an ongoing battle between good and evil.
Bruce met Gail, a Dallas native, when they were both
attending Tarleton State University in Stephenville. Tarleton was a
small “cowboy” college with a good science program.
Perfect for a small town boy who’d never been on an escalator
until Gail took him to a mall after he got the job with the Mesquite
As he drove to meet up with his partner, Bradshaw, a
medium-built man with intense hazel eyes behind thick-rimmed glasses
and a bushy reddish moustache, also thought he’d be back in a
couple of hours. However, this bright and shiny day was about to turn
Arriving at the Charter Oaks apartment complex in a
lower-middle-class, residential neighborhood, Bradshaw met up with
Holleman, who briefed him on what was going on and what he’d
learned from the witnesses so far. The call for help had come from
Linda Meeks, the distraught mother of five-year-old Christi Meeks.
She’d tearfully explained that she was divorced and that her
daughter and son, Michael, age seven, were visiting for the weekend.
She’d been inside the apartment getting supper ready when
Michael and a nine-year-old neighbor girl named Tiffany Easter ran in
to tell her that Christi had gone off with a stranger.
As they were talking, Lt. Sprague and their sergeant,
Maggie Carathers, arrived and were also briefed. They called in more
detectives and began assigning them to start canvassing the
neighborhood. Meanwhile, Bradshaw was tasked with talking to Michael
Meeks and Tiffany Easter.
Traumatized, Michael wouldn’t say much. However,
Tiffany was more forthcoming. She said the three of them were
roller-skating on the sidewalk when a young white man approached. She
described him as about the same height as Bradshaw, around
five-foot-ten, a hundred sixty pounds, with medium-length brown hair
and bangs, unshaven, possibly with a moustache. He was wearing a
pullover shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes.
Tiffany said he asked if they’d like some cookies.
Older and more wary, she tried to get her two younger friends away
from the man by inviting them to her house; she said she had cookies,
too. Michael followed her, but Christi stayed behind.
Meanwhile, Holleman located two young Hispanic boys in
the building south of where Christi was last seen. They claimed that
they saw Christi get into a car with a man. The car was small, they
said, but couldn’t agree on whether it was yellow or gray.
The detectives knew that Christi was in danger. But
these were the days before cell phones, Amber Alerts, and the
internet, so all they could do to get the word out to other law
enforcement agencies was send a statewide teletype. They were also
starting to worry about a change in the weather. A ‘blue
norther,’ a swift-moving cold front named for its gunmetal-blue
sky and cold winds, was racing in from the north. Within minutes, the
temperature dropped thirty degrees, and the searchers worried that
the stranger might let the little girl go somewhere in a rural part
of the county where she’d be exposed to the elements wearing
only a “Color Me The Rainbow” T-shirt, blue jeans, and
Cabbage Patch Doll shoes.
More officers were called in to help search nearby
parks, fields, and drainage ditches. But as night fell and
temperatures plunged, there was no sign of Christi or the man who’d
taken her. Bradshaw and Holleman drove home to dress in warmer
clothes, but other than a quick word with their families, they were
soon back out knocking on doors. Yet, despite the number of people
who’d been outside the day before, they couldn’t find
anyone else who’d seen anything suspicious. They also drove
past all of the motels and hotels in the area looking for a car that
matched the description of the suspect’s vehicle.
Members of the community volunteered to help, and the
search widened, including by aircraft. Photographs of the little girl
with brown eyes and sandy-blonde hair—possibly wearing a gold
necklace with a red stone in the middle of a heart—were
distributed. But she’d simply vanished.
The process of elimination began with the detectives
asking the immediate family to take lie detector tests to remove them
from suspicion; both parents passed. Christi’s father, Mike
Meeks Sr., was tough to deal with; he angrily blamed his ex-wife for
letting Christi out of her sight and as the days passed, constantly
called the detectives demanding updates, though there was little they
A reward generated telephone calls and leads to follow.
Psychics contacted the police to offer their help or claiming to have
some other-worldly information. The days turned into weeks, and then
two months passed with nothing concrete to go on.
In March, a young man named Bruce Greene, a graduate of
the Art Department at the University of Texas, called the Mesquite
Police Department and said that perhaps he could sit down with
Michael Meeks and Tiffany Easter and create a composite drawing of
the suspect. The two children were brought to his art studio, where
they described the young white male with longish dark hair, parted in
the middle, and pale blue eyes set below a wide forehead.
Posters were made of the composite and distributed
around town, as well as given to the news media. The drawing caused a
new flurry of “tips,” which the detectives had to record
and then track down.
In 1985 there was no such thing as a sex offender
registry, so Holleman and Bradshaw developed a priority system for
leads. If a person called in and had pertinent information or knew of
someone who looked like the composite and also had a history of
committing sex crimes, they gave the lead a Priority One status. If
the information was less pertinent to the investigation, they
assigned it as a Priority Two. If the caller simply thought they knew
someone who looked like the composite but had no other information,
it was Priority Three.
There were no computers for filing their
information, so they kept a card file to cross-reference the leads by
hand. But none of the tips led to Christi or her abductor.
Then on April 3, two fishermen spotted what they at
first thought was a large dead bird floating in a cove of Lake
Texoma, a sizeable body of water seventy-five miles north of Mesquite
on the border of Texas and Oklahoma. However, on closer inspection
the fisherman realized, to their horror, that the “bird”
was a dead child.
Found below a cliff in a remote, heavily wooded area of
the lake, the body had been in the water for a long time and was
badly decomposed. In fact, the justice of the peace initially called
in to identify the remains, believed them to be that of a boy. A few
days later, the body was delivered to a medical examiner’s
office; the ME then called the Mesquite Police Department with a
different story. He said the body belonged to a little girl, and she
might be their missing child. She was wearing a Cabbage Patch Doll
shoe, blue jeans, and a “Color Me The Rainbow” T-shirt.
These were the days before DNA testing, so Bradshaw
called Christi’s father, Mike, and told him that the body of a
young female had been found in Lake Texoma and she might be his
daughter. He said they needed to locate dental records for Christi,
if they were available, to make a positive identification. Christi’s
father told him how to find her dentist, who reported to the medical
examiner’s office and confirmed everyone’s worst fear:
The dead child was Christi Meeks.
At the same time, Christi’s family also reported
to the medical examiner’s office to identify her clothing.
Holleman went with them.
In one way, finding Christi’s remains was a
relief. At least her parents didn’t have to wonder if she was
still out there somewhere, terrified and alone with the mysterious
bogeyman who’d taken her. She could be given a proper burial.
Still, there was no closure; not for her family or the lawmen
assigned to find her killer.
Bradshaw and Holleman, along with several other officers
from the Mesquite Police Department, attended the funeral, writing
down license plates and photographing the crowd at the funeral on the
possibility that the suspect might be there. They then watched the
gravesite for several days afterwards, stopping people who visited
the grave and asking for their identification. Many citizens dropped
by to leave items such as flowers, stuffed animals, cards, letters,
and even the lyrics to the John Denver song, “Rhyme and
“So you speak to me of
And the coming of the winter
Fear that is within you
It seems to never end.”
The detectives collected many of the items brought by
mourners and tried to lift fingerprints so they could identify the
visitors. But if the suspect attended the funeral or left behind some
token of his presence, they couldn’t find proof of it, and the
questions remained. What sort of monster could have done such a thing
to an innocent little girl? Was he a member of the community? Or was
he a stranger, just passing through as he carried out his
The questions became an obsession for Holleman and
Bradshaw. But of the two, Bob took it to another level and paid a
price for it. The husband Molly Holleman watched walk out of the door
following what she came to think of as “The Call” never
came home again—at least not as a whole man.
The first night, he’d returned home just long
enough to put on warmer clothes, but over the next few days Molly
hardly saw him at all. She was working, and he was coming back to the
house only long enough to grab a few minutes on the couch, shower,
and put on clean clothes before he was gone again. But his clothing
wasn’t all that changed; his personality did, as well.
When they met and married in 1980, Bob was funny, witty,
a real gentleman, and the smartest man she would ever know,
constantly hungry for knowledge. Born and raised in Dallas, he’d
always wanted to be a physician and even after becoming a police
officer continued to take classes towards eventual entrance to med
school through the University of Texas. College textbooks were his
choice when reading for pleasure.
He also loved being a cop and never missed a day or
shirked an off-duty call. He cared about people and was well-regarded
by his peers and supervisors as a detective and the department’s
hostage negotiator. When he went to work, he always smiled and told
Molly, “Time for me to go crush some
Away from the job, he was a loyal friend, a loving
husband, and, after Emily was born in May 1984, a dedicated father,
who insisted on taking the 4 a.m. feedings and made sure he read to
her at bedtime every night he was home. He couldn’t carry a
tune in a bucket, but he would rock his daughter to sleep singing
“The Battle of New Orleans”
as a lullaby.
“In 1814 we took a little trip, along with
Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip. We took a little bacon and
we took a little beans, and we caught the bloody British in the town
of New Orleans.”
The Call changed all of that. From that moment forward,
he was totally consumed by what happened to Christi Meeks. Every
waking moment he was thinking about the case, going over and over the
facts, searching for something they’d missed. If a lead came
up, he’d run it to the ground until he’d exhausted all
possibilities. He spent a lot of time with Christi’s parents,
especially Mike Meeks. Molly always thought it was because as a
father, he identified with the other man’s suffering. As such,
he witnessed the horror the other family was going through and felt
guilty because he was helpless to do anything about it. The formerly
life-loving detective slowly began to withdraw and grew morose and
The psychological impact on Bob Holleman worsened after
Christi’s body was found. He went to the medical examiner’s
office to see the body and later told Molly that at first he, too,
thought the remains were those of a little boy. Except for one thing:
the single Cabbage Patch Shoe the dead child was wearing. He came
home and broke down when he saw his wife. “They couldn’t
even tell what she was,” he sobbed.
Yet, instead of taking some solace in the fact that at
least the question of what happened to Christi was answered and her
remains returned to her family, Holleman’s depression deepened.
Molly worried. She never once asked him to stop or give it up—she
was proud of the sort of detective he was—but she knew it
wasn’t healthy; not for him, nor their family.
She was slammed by that fact one day when she came home
from work. She saw his car in the driveway and knew he was home, but
she couldn’t find him, and he wouldn’t answer her calls.
The last place she looked was the closet in their bedroom, and there
was her strong, smart, funny police officer husband curled up on the
floor, crying in the dark with a gun in his hand.
The darkness sat in the driver’s seat of his white
van waiting patiently as the little girl walked towards him on her
way to the nearby elementary school. Like any predator, he’d
scouted the lay of the land, checked for hidden dangers—such as
police cars and potential witnesses—sized up the pretty,
brown-eyed, dark-haired child, and now he waited for her to move to
within striking distance.
Metaphorically, as a predator he was no lion willing to
take on prey larger than himself or capable of harming him in the
process. A base coward, he relied on stealth and cunning to surprise
and ambush victims much smaller than himself and unable to put up any
sort of defense. He was persistent; if he missed, or his intended
victim got away, he kept hunting until he succeeded.
With pale blue eyes, a thick but neatly trimmed
moustache, and brown hair with long bangs swept left to right, he
didn’t look like a monster. His most distinguishing feature was
a large mole above his right eyebrow; otherwise he was just an
unexceptional-looking, young white man of average height and weight.
But beneath the exterior he was much more than that.
For years, he’d stalked elementary schools,
neighborhoods, and playgrounds looking for young girls to abduct,
rape, and murder. With some exceptions, he concentrated on black,
Asian, or Hispanic girls living in low-income areas. He thought of
them as “throwaway kids”—hardly missed and soon
forgotten, except by those who loved them; just sad cold case files
gathering dust in police records rooms.
As though invisible, he brazenly struck in broad
daylight, pulling children into his van or cars, or he crept into
homes in the dead of night to carry away little girls while their
families slept. He was every parent’s worst nightmare: the
bogeyman they warned their children about, disguised as the friendly
stranger who offered candy, cookies, and ice cream to entice his
victims close enough to grab; the fiend who lurked in the shadows
outside of bedroom windows.
Then, when he was finished with his atrocities, he’d
dump the tiny bodies in remote areas, crossing jurisdictional lines
in order to confuse the efforts of law enforcement agencies. Weeks,
months, even years passed before someone would find the remains …
if they were found … during which time the grieving families
wondered what had become of their little girls. And even if their
horrific fates became known, time passed agonizingly slow with no
answer to the question of who could have done such vicious things to
The bogeyman hunted with impunity while authorities
scattered across multiple states weren’t even aware that a
single killer was responsible for so many child-abduction murders. It
gave him a sense of invincibility. He believed that he was smarter
than the police, that they’d never catch him. And so far, he
was right. Hell, he’d had that little blonde, Christi Meeks, in
the trunk of his car when that Mesquite police officer pulled him
over on the way out of town. But he’d talked his way out of it
and was soon on his way to Lake Texoma to enjoy his prize.
On this day, he was parked on Waterfall Lane in a
lower-income, working-class neighborhood in North Dallas, Texas, near
Dobie Elementary School when he spotted ten-year-old Tiffany Ibarra.
With her dark hair and olive complexion—her father was Hispanic
and her mother Caucasian—she fit the physical profile of his
However, Tiffany’s appearance wasn’t all
that put her in danger. Far more perilous was that she was alone,
though that was not by choice or her parents’ lack of
oversight. Normally, she would have walked to school with several
friends. However, a bird had defecated on her clothes that morning,
so she’d returned home to change and then had to walk back to
school by herself.
Now, as the little girl approached the van, the killer
climbed out and moved towards her. Although he was smiling, something
about him warned her to run. She bolted, but it was too late. He
caught her within ten feet, grabbing her by her backpack. He then
wrapped his arms around the struggling child and carried her back to
the van. Opening the side door and pushing her in, he climbed up
The killer planned to take Tiffany to a secluded wooded
area in the country he’d already picked out. There, he could
sexually assault the terrified little girl at his leisure before
choking the life out of her. Then he’d throw her away like so
much garbage and be on his way, satiated for the moment, laughing to
himself about how he’d once again struck while the stupid
police were helpless to prevent him from hunting wherever and
whenever he wanted.
However, on this day something was different. The killer
stared at Tiffany for several minutes before asking her for her home
telephone number. When she told him, he called the number on an early
version of a cellular telephone known as a “bag phone,” a
new technological marvel in 1986, and then handed it to her.
“Tell your mother you’ve been kidnapped,”
Tiffany did as told when her mother answered. But before
she could say anything else, the killer grabbed the phone back and
“You better not walk to school alone again,”
he warned the girl. “I’ve been watching you, and the next
time I won’t let you go.” He then opened the door of the
van and told her to get out.
Tiffany ran home terrified and in tears. The killer
followed in his van until she reached the driveway of the apartment
complex where she lived. He then sped away.
When her daughter burst through the front door
screaming, Theresa Ibarra was getting dressed to go out and look for
her. She thought Tiffany had made up the story she told her on the
telephone as an excuse to get out of going to class and was more
angry than worried. However, the girl insisted that she was now
telling the truth so they drove through the neighborhood looking for
a white van. When the search proved fruitless, they went to the
school, where Theresa had her daughter tell her story to the
principal, who then called the Dallas Police Department.
The officers arrived and took statements from Tiffany
and her mother. But with nothing else to go on, they returned to
their other duties. Who knew if the little girl was telling the truth
or wanted to skip school, as her mother thought possible? No one else
had reported a suspicious white van and a man stalking children. And
why make the effort to grab her from a sidewalk just to warn her and
then let her go?
Tragically, Tiffany wasn’t a liar. Three days
later, on February 15, the day after Valentine’s Day, Christie
Proctor was walking home from a friend’s house on Waterfall
Lane when the bogeyman struck again. No one saw him take the little
dark-haired girl who was just a few days shy of her tenth birthday
and dressed in a pink-and-white sweater, blue jeans, and old white
tennis shoes. The only clue left behind to indicate that she had
passed that way was a crushed heart-shaped plastic box given to her
by her aunt for Valentine’s Day. Searching for her daughter,
Laura Proctor saw it lying on the ground and knew that was where her
daughter had been taken. She’d felt in that moment, the terror
her daughter had experienced.
However, there was only one witness. A resident of the
neighborhood, Alberta Abundis, told police that she noticed a strange
man driving a white van with brown stripes slowly through the
neighborhood. She’d got a pretty good look at him, too—a
white man with a large mole on the right side of his face.
The Dallas Police Department investigators realized that
a predator was hunting the area around Dobie Elementary. They
returned to the Ibarra house and this time interviewed Tiffany more
thoroughly. A police artist created a sketch from her description of
her kidnapper, an ordinary-looking, young white man with dark hair
parted in the middle, and a thick, neat moustache.
Now the police knew Tiffany was telling the truth; only
it was too late. This time, the bogeyman did not release the pretty
Sherrill stepped outside her home in tiny Thorntown, Indiana, to call
her children in for lunch. It was an unseasonably warm and sunny
afternoon for that time of year, and the children in the small
trailer court they lived in were making the most of it, playing
Shannon and two-year-old David had spent the weekend with Dorothy’s
estranged husband, but now they were back home. She immediately
spotted David in the front yard and some of the other children
running through the neighborhood. But she didn’t see her
Shannon?” she asked her son.
went behind the trailer.”
walked over to where her son pointed, but Shannon wasn’t there.
Twenty more minutes of calling for her and hunting around the
neighborhood also came up empty. Shannon’s playmates didn’t
know where she’d gone. And although many people were out
working in their yards and enjoying the pleasant Sunday afternoon, no
one had seen the little barefoot girl in the white sundress with blue
to panic, Dorothy contacted the town marshal, Gary L. Campbell, who
responded at 1:53 p.m. and talked to some of the other children and
neighbors. He figured she’d just wandered off and surely
someone would have seen her. But when that line of questioning didn’t
result in any answers, he really began to worry and knew he needed
help. Campbell only had one other officer working for him in
Thorntown, a small, farming community forty miles northwest of
Indianapolis with a population at the time of maybe fifteen hundred,
so he called for assistance.
of a small, rural county, the various police agencies in Boone
County, where Thorntown was located, often covered for each other,
monitoring each other’s radio calls and responding with
assistance. And that’s what happened when the call for help
went out: The Indiana State Patrol and Boone County Sheriff’s
Office soon had officers at the scene. By 2:30, members of the
volunteer fire department, the various law enforcement agencies, and
a volunteer group of more than one hundred and fifty citizens began
combing the area.
checked wooded areas and creek beds, inside sheds, and under porches,
and went door to door, asking if anyone had seen Shannon. One
volunteer even flew his private plane over the town and surroundings.
But the sun set, and still there was no sign of her.
ground search continued throughout the night, and the next morning
the hunt for Shannon ramped up. Helicopters flew over the area, and
lawmen from more outside agencies, including the FBI and the
Indianapolis Police Department, arrived to help. Children on bicycles
distributed copies of her photograph from house to house.
were brought in, and they quickly hit on a scent trail that led
searchers to a field where they found what they believed to be her
footprints. The prints headed towards the town cemetery. Two more
sets of tracks belonging to men were also located near the child’s
prints, but there was no telling if they were all connected, and they
all ended in the cemetery.
the day passed with still no sign of Shannon, there was a growing
sense of helplessness among the law enforcement officers and the
community. They’d done everything they knew how to do and come
up empty. It was clear that Shannon had not just wandered off—someone
had taken her, and they all knew that the more time that passed, the
less chance they had of finding her unharmed and alive.
gripped the townspeople. A monster who took children from their yards
in the middle of the afternoon was loose, and everybody was on edge.
This sort of thing didn’t happen in Thorntown. It wasn’t
the big city with those kinds of crimes; the entire county only had a
population of 35,000. Fear fueled anger and paranoia. There were
instances in which volunteers going house to house attempted to break
into residences when the inhabitants were slow to answer the
night fell on the second day of Shannon’s abduction, the ground
search was called off. No amount of shouting her name or hoping for
the sight of her was going to locate the little girl; she was gone.
the days that followed, the investigation changed from searching for
Shannon to looking for a suspect. The children who were playing with
Shannon were also hypnotized to see if they’d remember anything
or anyone, but there was nothing of any substance. Detectives
questioned Dorothy and Mike Sherrill. It wouldn’t have been the
first time that a child had disappeared during a divorce, even if, as
in their case, there was no animosity between the parents or a
custody dispute. They then took lie detector tests and passed.
was just so little for investigators to work with. It was hard to
believe that no one in the neighborhood of the trailer court had seen
anything. People were out taking care of their lawns, or working on
their cars; one guy was roofing. Yet, there were only three reports
of anything even remotely unusual. One man said he glimpsed a little
girl riding in a red pickup truck. Two other people reported seeing a
white van they didn’t recognize driving slowly through the
even if the truck or the van was the suspect’s vehicle, where
had he gone? Thorntown was just a few miles from Interstate 65, which
ran a hundred and fifty miles north to Chicago, and forty miles the
other direction to Indianapolis, and then on to Louisville, Kentucky
and other points south. Or Shannon’s abductor could have turned
onto Interstate 70 in Indianapolis and headed to Ohio towards
Columbus, two hundred miles east, or west to St. Louis.