Police, family say missing Illinois man is likely dead

Thursday, January 10, 2002

ALTO PASS, Ill. -- Linda Gibbs is speaking of her husband of 34 years in the past tense now.

"He played that guitar all the time," Gibbs said Wednesday. "He loved old country, the older ones: Ray Price, Vince Gill. He'd sit out in the garage and put in a tape and play along with it. He found it relaxing."

After a nearly monthlong search, Gibbs and police are in agreement that Walter Gibbs Sr. will not be found alive. Gibbs, 73, was last seen Dec. 11 while driving to Thebes, Ill., to visit friends.

Gibbs had been missing for a month when police found his truck on Jan. 4 in a ditch in an area of Mississippi County called Thompson Bend, near the Mississippi River.

On Tuesday, authorities who have been scouring the area using all-terrain vehicles shifted their search from rescue to recovery and from the ground to the water.

"We're looking in the river now," Mississippi County Sheriff Larry Turley said. "It's sad, but you're talking close to 30 days. He won't be alive."

Boats from Mississippi County and Ballard County, Ky., searched the water Wednesday and the Missouri Water Patrol should be involved today, Turley said.

Turley said he believes that when Gibbs -- who was believed to be in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and had heart problems -- accidentally drove his truck off an embankment into a ditch, he got his guitar out of the truck and climbed to the top of the top of the bank.

Authorities found the guitar and a shoe at the scene. Gibbs had a pacemaker and a defibrillator. Gibbs was traveling with his guitar because he was going to play music with a group of friends he'd visited every Tuesday evening for years.

"My assumption is that his defibrillator kicked in, knocked him out of one shoe and over the embankment," Turley said. "I think that's where he died, at the bottom of that ditch. We had those heavy rains and they carried him out into the river."

Turley said that "cadaver dogs," trained to find dead bodies, reacted to a scent at one spot near the river and that's where he believes Gibbs went in. The dogs found the scent about 20-30 feet from the truck and 100 yards from the ditch.

Linda Gibbs said that finding the truck caused her to lose hope that her husband would be found alive.

"Whey they found his truck and saw the guitar and everything, we pretty much knew then that he couldn't have walked out of there, not in his health," Gibbs said. "You always want to hang on to that last thread of hope, but common sense tells you it isn't likely."

Linda Gibbs said she has a good support system of family and friends. She had only praise for the police involved in the search.

"I think they're going above and beyond," she said. "They've really worked hard."

Turley said the search for the body will continue, but if it isn't found soon, the search will diminish.

"But we're not going to stop," Turley said. "We need to find some closure for his wife."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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