Part IV: DIGGING FOR THE TRUTH (published April 27, 2011)
Columbia County Sheriff Mike Loe sits at a long table in a back room of the sheriff's department. On the table before him are a pair of white sneakers, size eight, and a ladies' denim purse, complete with a cherry red wallet with a snap-clasp. They are among the few pieces of evidence in a case that's haunted him for more than three decades: the disappearance of Mary Jimmie 'Bobo' Shinn.
Assigned to the case in May 1979, Loe, formerly an Arkansas State Police investigator, has spent the years since chasing leads across the United States, never giving up on the idea that one day, he will be able to bring closure to her surviving family.
It's not been an easy mission, he says, and over the years, he and other investigators have dug up numerous sites in and around Columbia County. The most recent of those digs was just a few weeks ago in neighboring Lafayette County, he says.
That expedition, like those before it, was unsuccessful, but with another dig planned in the near future - this one at a well in an undisclosed location - Loe remains optimistic.
“It's just a shot in the dark. It's always been a shot in the dark,” he says. “But we have some information we are hoping might turn out to be something. So I'm hopeful.”
Hope is a word Bobo's family knows well, says her brother, Jay Shinn.
Even after almost 33 years, the family continues to hope that the case will be brought to a resolution, that some new information will be found that will answer three decades' worth of questions, he says.
“We are particularly grateful to Mike Loe for continuing to work on this case for so many years,” Jay Shinn says. “We are deeply appreciative of his efforts to bring a resolution to it and to check out any information.”
It's a sentiment echoed by retired Arkansas State Police Investigator Russell Welch, one of the first ASP investigators to work on the case, who describes Loe as a top-notch investigator with an eye for details.
“I felt good that Mike was the one to take (the case) up, and that if I'd made a mistake, he'd catch it, and there were a lot of people there who could've made mistakes,” Welch says, adding that Loe has contacted him on multiple occasions over the past few decades about new information in the case.
But when it comes to information about Bobo's case, Loe says, one thing has always surprised him: that so much time has passed, and so little new information has surfaced.
“Usually, you'll have an ex-wife, or a girlfriend, or a kid, or a friend who'll come in and say they heard so-and-so say something about a crime,” Loe explains. “You'll have somebody in jail, and their cellmate will confess something to them, and they'll trade that information for stuff like cigarettes or radios. More crimes get solved through jailhouse confessions than any other way. That's almost always how it works - somebody talks.”
“And if two people know, we're fixing to solve the thing because sooner or later, one of them will confide in somebody, or drink too much and let something slip, or cut a deal to save themselves (in another criminal case).”
Unfortunately, he says, it hasn't happened that way in Bobo's case.
“We haven't had any of that. Nobody has talked. Whoever did this, he didn't tell a soul,” says Loe. “And he was incredibly lucky because apparently nobody really saw him, and law enforcement didn't have a lot to go on.”
“You know that old saying about looking for a needle in a haystack? We're still looking for the haystack. If we can find the haystack, then we can start looking for the needle,” he adds.
For Mike Kinard, the former prosecuting attorney, Bobo's case remains “a tragic disappointment” in his career.
“It constituted a tragic event . . . I prosecuted from 1966 until 1980, and I can't think right now of another case that was as tragic and disappointing as the Bobo Shinn case because we could not ever develop any reasonable grounds to believe that a crime had been committed other than her disappearance. It just doesn't happen. You normally find something that shows what happened. You find the body, and it's been the subject of a criminal act. We never found Bobo Shinn,” Kinard says. “It's tragic.”
“Fortunately,” he adds, “the statute of limitations never runs out on a murder, assuming that's what happened.”
That's why investigators still actively seek and pursue any new leads in Bobo's disappearance, Loe says, and Ron Stovall, the former Arkansas State Trooper who was the first to arrive at the scene of Bobo's car on the night she disappeared, agrees that somewhere, information exists that may help solve the case.
“This is a wonderful family, and we always hated that there was no closure for them,” Stovall, now the Miller County Sheriff, says. “The case has to be resurrected to keep it on people's minds, to keep the interest up, in hopes that someone will come forward with that new information.”
And according to Loe, any and all new information, even if the individual providing it thinks it might not be relevant, is welcome.
“You just never know what might pan out,” Loe says as he flips through an aged binder of yellowed witness statements. “You just never know.”
And now, with his remaining years in law enforcement numbered, Loe says, he is particularly anxious to close the books on Bobo's case.
“I've got two other cases that are still unsolved, and in both, we know who did it, but just don't have enough to prove it,” he says, holding up a photo of a pretty and smiling Bobo. “But this one - well, I've retired from the state police and I'm not going to be sheriff forever, and this is the one I want to put a cap on before I go home for the last time.”
He has, he says, never forgotten Bobo's final plea - her last known comment, made in jest to her girlfriend on a warm summer morning more than 32 years ago: “Come looking for me if I'm not back this afternoon.”
Loe has taken that call to heart, he says, and it's one he hopes to someday answer.
“I'll never give up. Long as I'm living, I'll keep looking for her.”
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The Dead Ends
o Henry Lee Lucas, the famed serial killer and necrophiliac who was convicted of 11 murders, died in March 2001 in prison of natural causes. Originally sentenced to death, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush commuted his sentence to life - the only commutation ever granted by the man who would later be elected to the U.S. presidency. Numerous books have been written about Lucas, including “The Confessions of Henry Lee Lucas” and “Hands of Death.” Throughout the 1980s, Lucas confessed to dozens of cases, including the disappearance of Bobo Shinn. ASP Investigator Mike Loe conducted a series of interviews with Lucas after his confession, and ultimately determined that the confession was a false one. Video footage of the Loe-Lucas interviews is stored in the Shinn case file. Lucas' partner in crime and alleged lover, Ottis Elwood Toole, was also briefly considered in the Shinn case, but Loe eliminated both as suspects because no evidence was found that put the men in or near Arkansas at the time of the disappearance.
o Ottis Elwood Toole, a Florida arsonist and serial killer, teamed up with Lucas in 1976. Toole, who demonstrated homosexual tendencies and allegedly enjoyed cannibalizing some of his victims, traveled 26 states with Lucas in a journey of murder and terror, even claiming at one time to have been the killer in 1981 of six-year old Adam Walsh, whose father, John Walsh, went on to host television's “America's Most Wanted.” Toole eventually received two death sentences for the murders of a man and an elderly woman, respectively, but like Lucas, saw his sentences commuted to life. He died in prison of liver failure in 1996.
o Robert Zani, 67, is currently incarcerated in Texas after being convicted in 1980 of the murders of his mother, whose body he dismembered and scattered along a highway between Oklahoma and Arkansas, a convenience store clerk and a Texas real estate agent. Zani, according to a book about his crimes and the subsequent investigations into them, enjoyed using aliases and convincing tales about broken down cars to convince realtors to pick him up and take him on tours of expensive homes in high end neighborhoods. On those expeditions, Zani and his wife stole credit cards and jewelry from the unsuspecting homeowners. Because of his history with real estate agents, authorities at one time thought he might have been involved in the disappearance of Bobo Shinn, primarily because the media incorrectly deemed her a real estate agent. No evidence was ever presented that tied Zani to Bobo's case, though ASP investigator Mike Loe did seek more information at the time of Zani's arrest. Loe has since eliminated Zani as a suspect in the case, saying that investigators were unable to place Zani anywhere near Arkansas at the time of her disappearance.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Searching for Bobo
Within 24 hours of Mary Jimmie “Bobo” Shinn's disappearance on July 20, 1978, authorities and volunteers had already begun organized searches for the vibrant dark-haired and deeply tanned 25-year old.
Initial reports described Bobo as 5'6” tall, about 120 lbs., with black hair. Investigators initially believed she was last seen wearing denim cutoff shorts, tennis shoes and a yellow King Tut T-shirt, but that clothing description changed within seven days of her disappearance after her mother found the King Tut T-shirt in Bobo's room.
“We don't know what she was wearing,” says Columbia County Sheriff Mike Loe, who has been investigating Bobo's case for 32 years. “We just don't know.”
And, says Loe, investigators also didn't know where to start looking for her.
“So they just looked everywhere they could think of,” Loe says.
Indeed, on Saturday morning - just two days after she disappeared - mounted patrols from Columbia, Ouachita and Union counties joined forces with local residents on foot and National Guard aerial spotters to search rural parts of the county, beginning with an area just off AR 344.
Then-prosecuting attorney Mike Kinard was one of those mounted searchers.
“I rode out in the country with them, looking for her,” Kinard recalls. “We wanted to find her alive. That was our hope - that she had just run off - but there's no way she did that, not leaving her car like it was. It just didn't fit.”
The searches continued throughout the next several days, and on Fri., July 28, 1978, eight days after Bobo was last seen, another coordinated search was announced for the eastern and southern parts of Columbia County.
The search began the following morning with volunteers asked to meet at Franks' Grocery, then located on AR 19, and at the residence of Fred Edwards at the three-mile marker on US 82. Two National Guard helicopters and several mobile units assisted in the search, then Sheriff Gordon Hunter told the Banner-News, and the two-day effort involved far more volunteers than any one before it.
“We want all the help we can get,” Hunter said. “We have had people from all over the country, calling to ask if they can help.”
And law enforcement officials weren't the only ones searching. Wildlife officers and utility repairmen reported spotting tracks of searchers in the weeks after Bobo's disappearance in areas that typically saw little to no human activity. Those unofficial searchers may or may not have spotted evidence that may have been pertinent to the case - and that's why investigators no longer release the details of locations of interest, says Loe.
Noting that an effort to recover evidence in the case was made recently in Lafayette County, Loe says, “I don't want that information on the record. People would go out there, digging and messing around, and maybe destroy what could potentially be a scene of interest.”
Ultimately, says Loe, none of the searches conducted over the past three decades have yielded any results - but he welcomes any information that may lead officials in a new direction, he adds.
“We don't turn down any information,” Loe says. “If you think it might help, we want to know about it and check it out.”
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Where are they now?
In the years since the disappearance of Mary Jimmie 'Bobo' Shinn on July 20, 1978, several of those involved in the investigation of her case have gone on achieve fame or recognition.
Those individuals include:
• ASP Trooper Mike Loe, who was assigned to the Shinn case in May 1979, was named the ASP Trooper of the Year in 1982 for demonstrating excellence in investigatory skills after solving five high-profile murders that year. Loe officially retired after several years with the state police in November 2010 when he was elected Columbia County sheriff, claiming 64 percent of the vote over his two opponents. He continues to work on the Shinn disappearance today and is currently considered the primary expert on the case.
• Former 13th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Mike Kinard remained in that position until 1980 when he returned to his private practice in Magnolia. From 1987 through 1990, he served in the Arkansas State Senate. In 2008, Kinard was appointed the Associate Judge for District 5 of the Arkansas Court of Appeals by Ark. Gov. Mike Beebe, and has in years past served as Special Justice to the Arkansas Supreme Court at the requests of former Arkansas Governors Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee.
• Retired ASP Investigator Russell Welch, after working nine months on the Bobo Shinn disappearance, went on to make national headlines when he helped compile a massive investigative file on an alleged cocaine smuggling ring at the Mena, Ark., airport. Welch, a California native and a graduate of San Francisco State University, spent his career as a successful criminal investigator in Foreman, Magnolia and Mena. He now resides in Mena with his family where he operates a forensic investigation business.
• ASP Lt. Finis Duvall, who made headlines in Columbia County after discovering and dismantling a stolen green car found in the woods not long after Shinn's disappearance, retired after decades of service to the Arkansas State Police. He passed away Jan. 2, 2009, at the age of 65 in Atkins, Ark.
• William C. Dear, the Dallas, Texas, private investigator hired by the Shinn family to investigate the case, went on to author a number of books, including “O.J. is Guilty But Not of Murder,” “The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III,” and “Please Don't Kill Me: The True Story of the Milo Murder.” Once dubbed 'The Real James Bond' by the London Times, Dear has appeared on such programs as “Inside Edition,” “Live with Regis and Kathy Lee,” and “Good Morning America,” and has been featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. Playboy magazine once named him 'Outstanding Man of Dallas,' and in 1997, he received the National Association of Investigative Specialists, Inc.'s Lifetime Achievement Award. He currently resides on a private ranch near his Mt. Calm, Texas, office.
• Former Arkansas State Police Capt. Ron Stovall, one of the first officers to view Bobo Shinn's car after it was found in the Smitty's Grocery parking lot on July 20, 1978, spent several years with the ASP before going on to win the position of Miller County Sheriff in 2008. He has since made headlines over contraband raids on his own detention facility and lawsuits filed because of alleged civil rights violations and discriminatory employment practices.
Final Editor's Note: The Banner-News could not have written this series without the assistance of several sources, most notably Columbia County Sheriff Mike Loe, Private Investigator William C. Dear, retired ASP Investigator Russell Welch, former 13th Judicial District Prosecutor Mike Kinard, and current Miller County Sheriff Ron Stovall. The Banner-News is also deeply appreciative of the Shinn family for their willingness to share and discuss information about the case. Readers interested in additional photographs and information may access that data for free at the Banner-News Blog, www.bannernews.net/blog. http://www.bannernews.net/news/Announcemen...ry-jimmi-38.php