Missing Alto Pass man's family keeps hoping

Saturday, December 22, 2001

ALTO PASS, Ill. -- Family and friends of a missing Alto Pass man are frantic with worry about his health and bewildered that no one seems to have seen him since he disappeared Dec. 11.

Walter Gibbs Sr., 73, was last seen about 5 p.m. that evening while driving to Thebes to visit friends.

Driving a white, 1998 Dodge Ram four-wheel drive pickup truck, he had his guitar with him because he was going to play music with a group of friends he'd visited every Tuesday evening for years.

His wife, Linda, had followed him as far as McClure when she saw him make his usual turn about 5 p.m. She continued on to Cape Girardeau to go shopping.

When he was late returning home, Linda called to see when he left and learned Walt had never arrived at practice. Apparently, Linda said, he had doubled back and become confused, then lost.

Worried because her husband of 34 years had begun displaying early signs of Alzheimer's, Linda Gibbs and the family scoured highways, streets and country roads in the region, alerting police to his disappearance.

They've since learned that on the day he disappeared, Gibbs was seen in Olive Branch, Ill., asking for directions to his friends' house.

He was also spotted in Cairo, Ill., about an hour later, but no further sightings have been confirmed.

Flyers, e-mails and news reports and a nationwide police bulletin describing Gibbs and his truck have yielded few results so far.

But the family still hopes he'll be home for Christmas. A decorated tree in Linda Gibb's living room is topped with a photo of her grinning husband holding his beloved guitar. Above the picture is a small yellow bow, reminiscent of the days their son, Wally Jr., was overseas in the Persian Gulf War.

Linda Gibbs has taken a leave of absence from her job at Ensign Bickford and spends her days within an arm's reach of the telephone.

"We haven't given up hope," Gibbs said. "I keep getting calls from strangers telling me we're in their prayers. A lot of people have told us stories of family members who have disappeared for weeks and weeks and then turn up OK."

His brother, Wilburn, has searched the area by truck and helicopter, but with no luck. "It's frustrating," he said. "It's unbelievable that no one has seen that truck or him."

Gibbs was last seen wearing a dark green shirt and black pants. He has short white hair and a small cut over his right eye, which might still have stitches.

A retired mechanic, Gibbs' passion is country music.

"My dad and him didn't think they had much in common until the day we married," Linda Gibbs said. "Dad went and got out his guitar and they played until four in the morning."

One of his nieces, Lois Crites, lives in Jackson, Mo. Another, Linda Gibbs Cook, lives in Cape Girardeau.

Walter Gibbs' broken left taillight gives his wife a reason to hope.

"I keep hoping police will stop him for that busted taillight," she said.

abuchanan@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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