Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Joe Shepherd

Real Name: Joseph Arlen Shepherd
Aliases: Joe Shepherd
Wanted For: Murder
Missing Since: July 1978


Details: Joe Shepherd of Tellico Plains, Tennessee is wanted for the murders of sixteen-year-old Roxanne Woodson and fifteen-year-old Cathy Clowers. On the night of February 27, 1978, Roxanne and Shepherd, then twenty-six, were in the car together with two friends when Shepherd tried to make sexual advances on Roxanne. She refused and he tried to attack her. She escaped the car and ran into the woods. Shepherd chased after her; Roxanne was never seen again.
The night after Roxanne was reported missing, authorities went to Shepherd's home to bring him in for questioning. Shepherd asked if he could change his shoes, and the officers let him. While in his room, Shepherd reached for his shotgun. The officers noticed this and fired two warning shots at him. Eventually, they were able to wrestle the gun away from him; he was then brought in for interrogation. Shepherd told authorities that on the night that Roxanne vanished, he tried to seduce her but was unsuccessful. He did admit to chasing her into the woods, but he claimed that he lost track of her and couldn't find her. Shepherd was charged with assaulting a police officer but was released on bond.

Hundreds of searchers tried to locate Roxanne, but were unsuccessful. After several days, the search was called off. Then, on April 8, 1978, Shepherd's mother noticed her dogs around a certain pile of debris in the backyard. She moved some of the debris and saw two hands sticking out of the ground. Authorities determined that the body, which had been partially buried in the ground, was that of Roxanne Woodson. At that point, authorities charged Shepherd with first-degree murder. He was arrested at his mother-in-law's home.
During the second interrogation, Shepherd claimed that as he was chasing Roxanne in the woods, she fell and hit her head on a rock. He told investigators that he panicked and returned to the car with his friends. He said that he returned later that night and put Roxanne back in his car. He then took her back to his house and buried her in the back yard.
After being charged with Roxanne's murder, Shepherd was implicated in Cathy Clowers's March 1976 disappearance. When questioned, Shepherd stated that he not only knew Cathy, but he also knew where she was buried. He took investigators to the location, and they eventually found her clothing and remains. Both victims had had their pants wrapped around their heads.
On April 17, 1978, Shepherd was formally indicted with the murder of Cathy Clowers. On July 17, 1978, while awaiting trial in the county jail, Shepherd escaped with two other inmates, after one of the inmates feigned illness and then locked the jailer in their cell. The two other inmates were ultimately caught. Joe Shepherd, however, remained at large.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the October 5, 1988 episode.
Some sources spell his last name as "Shepard".

Shepherd after his 1988 arrest

Results: Captured. In November 1988, Shepherd was arrested in London, Ontario, Canada under the alias Joseph Tripp after a viewer contacted police. At the time, Shepherd was living in a government housing project with his common-law wife and two children. In December 1989, he was returned to prison in Tennessee. He was convicted of the second-degree murder of Clowers, but after an appeal, the charge was lowered to involuntary manslaughter. In the Spring of 1991, he was convicted of the first-degree murder of Woodson and sentenced to death. In 1997, his sentence was commuted to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Woodson and agreed to no longer appeal the case. Shepherd died in prison of natural causes in August 2010.
Roxanne's grandmother, Dorcas Woodson, passed away in 2011.