Real Name: Thomas Dean Gibson
Location: Azalea, Oregon
Date: March 18, 1991
Date of Birth: July 5, 1988
Weight: 35 pounds
Marital Status: Single
Characteristics: Caucasian male. Brown hair, brown eyes. He had a small scar on his right eyebrow.
Details: In March 1991, two-and-a-half-year-old Tommy Gibson vanished from his front yard in Azalea, Oregon. His father, Larry, a Douglas County deputy sheriff, believed an unknown couple abducted him. Six weeks later, however, police announced that they believed Larry was involved in his disappearance. In May 1991, a thirty-one page affidavit was filed by the Oregon State Police, naming him as the prime suspect. However, he maintains his innocence.
According to Larry, on the morning of March 18, he came outside and found Tommy playing in the yard. He told him to stay there and wait for his four-and-a-half-year-old sister Karen to come out. Larry claimed that he then went out for a jog, taking his .45 automatic with him. As he went over a fence in his yard, he noticed a stray cat walking nearby. He and his neighbors had been having problems with stray cats for several weeks. They tried to take the cats to the humane society, but they did not have room for them. Because of this, he decided to shoot at the cat he saw. However, he apparently missed, and it ran down the hill. His wife, Judith, claimed that she heard the shot. She said that she then heard Tommy playing on the porch.
According to Larry, after the cat ran off, he looked through the area for the used shell casing, but was unable to find it. He then continued on his jog, which lasted over forty-seven minutes. When he returned, Judith told him that she could not find Tommy. She, Karen, and Larry's brother had searched for him without success. Within an hour, several neighbors, volunteers, and sheriff's deputies began to search the woods around the Gibson home.
Investigators felt that Larry was acting suspiciously during the search. First, instead of immediately going out and searching for Tommy, he decided to take a shower and get into his uniform. He claimed that he did not think it was a serious enough situation yet and that they would find Tommy quickly. Next, he told people to stop searching because it was snowing. Also, even though his supervisor told him not to report to work, he left in his patrol car. He claimed that he did so because he believed that Tommy had been abducted and he wanted to check nearby rest areas.
Several days after Tommy's disappearance, Larry was interviewed by FBI agents. During which, he lied to them and claimed that he never left home that afternoon. Investigators later discovered a discrepancy in the mileage of his patrol car. It was only at that point that he told them the truth about leaving in the afternoon. When questioned, Judith told police that he had gone to Glendale that afternoon to check on his private car. However, she has since claimed that the investigators "twisted her words around".
Seven weeks into the investigation, detectives confronted Larry about their suspicions. They told him that they believed that he had accidentally shot and killed Tommy and covered up his death so that he would not lose his job and standing in the community. He claimed that this did not happen, but strangely said that the scenario "was possible". He later stated that he was talking hypothetically.
The affidavit released by the state police centered on the forty-seven minute time frame during which Larry allegedly went on his jog. It documents one possible theory that investigators believe accounts for the time gaps and other discrepancies in his statement. He claimed that when he fired at the cat, it ran off into the weeds and he assumed that the shot had missed. Investigators did find a dead cat in the area. A forensic examination revealed that it had been shot through the lungs and heart and probably died almost instantly. Investigators theorized that the bullet passed through it and struck Tommy as he played nearby. They suspect that Larry continued on his jog, unaware that Tommy had been shot.
Larry claimed that he jogged for over two miles, which took him forty-seven minutes. However, investigators determined that he jogged for one mile, which would have taken about twenty minutes. This left more than twenty minutes unaccounted for. Investigators believe that when he returned, he found Tommy's body and panicked. He then spent the next twenty minutes cleaning up the scene and hiding Tommy's body, possibly in the trunk of his patrol car. They also theorize that while volunteers searched for Tommy, Larry drove away with his body in the trunk of his patrol car.
Larry, however, claimed that the theory is not true. He notes that he passed a polygraph test and no forensic evidence was found to back up the theory. He claimed that two eyewitness reports back up the story that Tommy was kidnapped. Two weeks after the disappearance, a neighbor realized that she had seen the presumed abductor's vehicle that day. She claimed that she was driving to the bank when she noticed an older, gold or tan-colored truck pass by her. It had two occupants and its license plate was in the back window, not where it was supposed to be. She claimed to have seen it pull into a driveway that led to the Gibson home. However, when initially interviewed, she did not tell investigators about it.
Karen allegedly later told Larry and Judith that she had seen a woman and man take Tommy away from their front yard. The woman had long, blond hair and the man had dark hair, a beard, and scruffy clothes. The truck was similar in description to the one seen by the neighbor. However, when interviewed by police on three separate occasions, she did not tell them about this story. They believe that Larry is coaching her with it.
Soon after Tommy vanished, investigators received a mysterious letter which was signed "Spot in the Road". They believe the author has vital information regarding his disappearance.
Suspects: Larry is the prime suspect in Tommy's disappearance. It is believed that he accidentally shot and killed him while trying to shoot a cat, or that he beat him to death. Investigators have noted that he had several inconsistencies in his story, especially about the time frame when Tommy vanished.
Larry, however, believes that Tommy was abducted. Two witnesses described a gold or tan-colored truck as possibly being involved in the abduction. The alleged abductors were a white male with dark hair, beard, and scruffy clothes, and white female with long, blond hair. They have never been identified.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the October 23, 1991 episode.
Tommy's image was used in Soul Asylum's 1993 hit "Runaway Train."
Results: Unresolved. In January 1992, Larry resigned from his deputy position. He, Judith, and Karen then moved to Montana. The couple later separated and Judith and Karen returned to Oregon. In April 1994, Larry was arrested and charged with Tommy's murder. Police made the arrest after Karen changed her story; she said that she watched from her bedroom window as Larry beat Tommy until he fell limp. She also said that she saw him put Tommy's body in a black trash bag, which he later placed in the trunk of his patrol car. She said she was so scared of him that she hid in her bedroom closet. When he returned, he told her to tell the police that strangers took Tommy. She claimed that she did not tell police this story initially because he had told her that he would go to jail if she talked. He also said that he would come back and kill her if she did so. She and Judith testified against Larry at his trial. Judith claimed that he was physically abusive toward Tommy, Karen, and their third child, Lisa (born after Tommy's disappearance).
Witnesses, including family members and fellow churchgoers, claimed that Larry had threatened to kill Judith and Karen after the former left him. His half-sister also testified that he had tearfully confessed to killing Tommy shortly after his disappearance. Prosecutors also claimed that he was repeatedly abusive toward him and stressed at the time because Judith was busy taking college classes.
In March 1995, a jury convicted Larry of second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to only three years in prison. He was released in September 1996 and continues to deny his involvement in Tommy's disappearance. Neither Tommy nor his remains have ever been located. Larry now lives in Montana and is a country music singer.
The "Spot in the Road" letter was later determined to have come from a woman who claimed to have had a "vision" about Tommy's disappearance. It is not believed that she had any evidence relating to the case.
- Tommy Gibson on Wikipedia
- Tommy Gibson on The Charley Project
- Tommy Gibson Missing Poster - National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
- Tommy Gibson Missing Persons Page (Run by Larry Gibson)
- Larry Gibson Website
- Searchers find no trace of missing toddler - March 20, 1991
- Southern Oregon family still hopes for boy's return - May 3, 1991
- Toddler still missing; parents haven't lost hope - May 3, 1991
- Affidavit alleges father shot son - May 24, 1991
- Deputy says he might have shot son - May 24, 1991
- Affidavit hints at accidental death - May 24, 1991
- Father states innocence in son's disappearance - May 25, 1991
- Director on trail of 'Unsolved Mysteries' - April 15, 1992
- Mystery surrounds the disappearance of a little boy whose parents still search for him - August 9, 1992
- Townsend man suspect in murder - April 16, 1994
- Arrest brings feelings of relief, betrayal - April 16, 1994
- Deputy arrested in son's death - April 17, 1994
- Arrest Leaves Town Feeling Relieved, Betrayed--Ex-Deputy Accused of Killing Son - April 17, 1994
- January murder trial set for ex-deputy - May 19, 1994
- Deputy accused in son's murder granted bail - September 3, 1994
- Missing child pictured on violence mailing - September 22, 1994
- Murdered child used in flyer on domestic violence - September 22, 1994
- Oregon Town Still Divided Over Boy's Disappearance - January 19, 1995
- Man goes on trial for son's disappearance - January 18, 1995
- Girl testifies to watching dad hurt missing toddler - February 23, 1995
- Deputy's wife says she wasn't tuned out to search - February 24, 1995
- Doubts raised about 'confession' - February 25, 1995
- Tips in vanishing based on vision - March 3, 1995
- Gibson denies he abused his kids - March 10, 1995
- Deliberations start in Roseburg toddler's death - March 15, 1995
- Former deputy guilty of manslaughter in son's death - March 17, 1995
- Ex-deputy convicted of killing missing son - March 17, 1995
- Searchers happy with conviction, but they still long to find toddler - March 17, 1995
- Father's in jail but town wants to find boy's body - March 18, 1995
- Man convicted in killing; son's body still missing - March 19, 1995
- Former deputy sentenced to three years for killing son - May 3, 1995
- State vs. Gibson - November 20, 1996
- Larry Gibson back in Montana - September 18, 1996
- SitcomsOnline Discussion of Tommy Gibson