Missing persons and mysteries have one thing in common. The family and detectives left behind with questions, but no answers.
Such is the case of Bill Dwayne Shipley, last seen July 19, 2011.
It may as well have been yesterday to his parents, William and Pat Shipley, and sister, Valerie Moseley.
They still feel the pain of loss and long for the closure that recovery of any remains would bring.
For Det. David Tompkins with the McClain County Sheriff’s Department, it’s been 10 years of leads that didn’t pan out and dead ends trying to identify the “person of interest” who used Bill Shipley’s credit cards at a Home Depot in south Oklahoma City, as well as a Norman steak house.
The detective said he has a “good idea” who the man is, but stopped short of putting a name to the 10-year-old image pulled from a store’s security camera.
Wearing a John Deere cap and brown overalls, the man took care to hide his face from the camera.
“He was just an ordinary guy,” Pat said of her son.
“He was a painter and contracted with (Arby’s) restaurants over three states,” William added.
According to the initial report received by the sheriff’s department, William reported his son missing on August 14. He told the deputy who took the report that he’d last spoken to his son on the phone around July 15.
Bill Shipley – his family always called him Dwayne – was preparing to return to an Arby’s out of state to finish a painting job.
He’d been to a paint store in Norman and purchased approximately $3,000 worth of paint and supplies needed to finish the job.
As was his habit, he was carrying between $3,500 and $5,000 cash. And his family says he didn’t try to hide cash when pulling out his billfold.
Could a bystander have spotted that cash and followed him back to his fifth wheel travel trailer in the Adkins Hill Mobile Home Park?
Tompkins acknowledged the fact he was known to flash money remains a concern.
Also, he had posted an ad on Craigslist for a painter’s helper. Did the wrong person answer the ad?
He was single, but had a girlfriend for a time. He broke up with her when she got involved with drugs. Did that connection lead to his demise?
All are possibilities.
Valerie said her brother wasn’t a man to party or drink.
“He loved holidays,” she said, recalling the last time they spoke was July 4.
“He loved Christmas,” Pat clarified.
William said whenever Dwayne went out of town on a job, he would check in by phone every couple of weeks.
The contact was regular, but not constant.
When they didn’t hear from him, “we just figured he was out of town,” Pat said.
When none of their calls were returned, the Shipleys knew something was wrong.
They drove to the mobile home park east of Goldsby and what they found there prompted them to file a missing person report.
Two of Bill Shipley’s pickups and a Jeep were missing and the travel trailer was unlocked and the side was still expanded.
Bill Shipley never left town without first collapsing the side and locking the trailer.
William went inside and discovered a refrigerator full of food that spoiled because electric service was cut off.
All of Bill Shipley’s work clothing was still in the travel trailer, along with a work computer.
Some clothing and a suit case were on the bed. Dresser drawers were pulled open.
An ATM slip found in the trailer was dated July 19. It showed a balance of more than $7,200 in Bill Shipley’s bank account.
The man’s cat had been left inside the travel trailer without food or water and nearly died.
At the time, a neighbor told investigators that she hadn’t seen Bill Shipley in three weeks, but that all three of his vehicles were parked outside the travel trailer.
One week later she noticed his S14 crew cab Chevrolet pickup was gone. And the following week, his Jeep was no longer there.
Both vehicles were eventually found at apartment complexes in south Oklahoma City. However, all of his painting supplies from ladder to air compressor and generator were missing.
In the course of the investigation, authorities interviewed every person in the trailer park.
The family and the detective still wonder about a Sonic order on State Highway 9 across from Riverwind Casino shortly before Bill Shipley went missing.
It included an iced tea with lemon – his favorite beverage – and a watermelon slush. Something he would never order for himself.
A camera showed Bill Shipley in the driver’s seat. There was someone in the passenger seat, but the person’s face was hidden.
“He would not have let a stranger in his vehicle,” Valerie said, adding that the family has traced all of his movements until his final phone call. “The last time we talked, he was excited about his job.”
“We know he didn’t run away,” William said.
Tompkins said Bill Shipley is included in a deck of cards of missing people. The decks are distributed to prisoners in Oklahoma Department of Corrections custody, in hopes that someone will know something and share that knowledge with authorities.
It’s a long shot, he conceded. There are currently more than 300 active missing persons cases in Oklahoma.
Tompkins obtained DNA which will be helpful in identifying remains if and when any are found.
Unfortunately, there is no database for dental records.
Investigators never found any traces of blood in the trailer or the recovered vehicles.
“Whatever happened didn’t happen at the trailer park,” he said.
“This is solvable,” he continued, “if we just had a few more answers to questions. Right now we don’t know how to ask the questions because we don’t know who they (suspects) are.”
Tompkins believes two people are involved in the disappearance. Because of the trailer park’s proximity to the Canadian River, he thinks Bill Shipley was taken to the river, killed there and his body left somewhere along the river.
The family has plots in a Shawnee cemetery. There is a marker for Bill D. Shipley. On it are crossed race flags – he was a big NASCAR fan. And his birth date, March 19, 1964.
The grave is empty.
“It changed our lives,” Pat said. “I don’t even know where he’s at. It’s my worst nightmare, them crying for you. It’s a very emotional thing.
“I was hoping one day we would find him.”