Samuel Francis, a tattoo artist at the Tattoo Spot in Cape Girardeau, hasn't been seen since Dec. 17, according to his father, Gary Francis, who was skeptical, too, at first. He said his son has been known to disappear for days at a time and has had some run-ins with the law.
"He did a lot of things I didn't approve of," said Gary Francis, a retired Scott County schoolteacher. "He lived life kind of on the edge. But he was a very charismatic individual and he had a lot of friends. But he made some poor choices as far as some of the friends he kept, and I think that finally caught up to him."
Gary Francis, and other family members, believe the missing man might have been killed by a member of a motorcycle gang that he had been hanging with. The night before his son went missing, Gary Francis received a cryptic message from him. His son warned his father that, should he turn up missing, then he likely had been shot. Samuel Francis then named a member of the gang with whom he'd been having run-ins.
His father was all the more worried when his son told him he was going to Cedar Lake in St. Francois County with several members of the gang to do some tattoo work for them.
His father warned him not to go.
"He told me he had to," Gary Francis said. "He told me if he ran from them, they'd kill him. He told me he was all right. I think he may have been naive and they may have been playing on his trusting side. I wish I had told him not to go and that I was coming there to get him."
The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the St. Francois County Sheriff's Department are investigating the disappearance, said Lt. Greg Armstrong, chief deputy with the sheriff's department. Armstrong declined to discuss specifics of the case.
Law enforcement in Cape Girardeau County were largely unaware of Francis' disappearance. Darin Hickey, a spokesman for the Cape Girardeau Police Department said Francis wasn't in their system. Lt. David James, an investigator with the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department, was aware of an investigation, but his agency is not involved.
The patrol's website lists Francis as one of the 629 adults and 374 juveniles missing across the state. A poster prepared by the patrol's missing-person's unit lists Francis as being from Cape Girardeau County and Jefferson County. Gary Francis said his son, whom he adopted when Samuel Francis was very young, has led a largely nomadic life and moved between the two places. His father said his son has four children by four different women.
Friends and family members shared similar theories about how the man also known as "Sammy" and "Tick" got messed up with a rough-and-tumble biker gang that might have killed him when he became angry with one of the members.
But other than Francis' father, another relative and a good friend preferred their names not be used for fear of retribution.
"These are rough guys," said a female relative. "Sam was a tough guy. He did mixed martial arts and boxing. If it could happen to him, it could happen to any of us."
But the relative said just because Sammy didn't live the way everyone expected, didn't mean he deserved an end like the one she fears.
"He was so fun-loving," she said. "He was hilariously funny. He could make anybody laugh. I think that's what people loved about him and made them connect with him."
For his father, who with his wife adopted five other children, including Samuel's two biological brothers, said not knowing is tearing up the family. Gary Francis said he pushed one of the detectives to share his thoughts about whether his son was alive or not. The news wasn't good.
"We don't have any closure," Gary Francis said. "Obviously he and his mother would like him back. If we can't, we'd like at least to have closure."