Missing Bollinger County man found dead

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A 24-year-old Bollinger County man who hadn't been seen since Aug. 20 was found dead Sunday afternoon along the banks of the Castor River, according to authorities.

A Bollinger County deputy discovered Matthew Willmirth's body along the banks between Arab, Mo., and Greenbrier, Mo., said Sheriff Leo McElrath. McElrath said he believed the man's death was accidental and that the coroner performing an autopsy in Farmington, Mo., initially has agreed.

McElrath said the department initially had taken Willmirth into protective custody before his disappearance and that he appeared to be on drugs. A deputy brought him in after there were reports that Willmirth was going door to door near Zalma, Mo., trying to get gas money. But Willmirth's mother had signed him out of protective custody and picked him up, McElrath said.

Then, on Aug. 20, Willmirth walked away in an area near Zalma after arguing with his brother and hadn't been seen since. Willmirth's car had broken down and his brother and mother had come to pick him up. After he walked off, his mother and brother got his car started again and went back after him, but he was nowhere to be found.

"He probably just succumbed to the heat," McElrath said. "In his condition, with the drugs he was taking, he could have just fell into the river and drowned. We're not sure yet, and the autopsy's not complete."

While the family had been upset over McElrath saying that Willmirth was "playing possum" and didn't want to be found, McElrath said Monday that was a misunderstanding. McElrath said the family initially told him he had walked away before.

"But we looked for him every day since he left," McElrath said. "Every day. Of course we did."

Toxicology reports aren't expected for six weeks, he said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

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