Real Name: Thomas Dean Gibson
Location: Azalea, Oregon
Date: March 19, 1991
Bio[edit | edit source]
Date of Birth: July 5, 1988
Weight: 35 pounds
Marital Status: Single
Characteristics: Caucasian male. Brown hair, brown eyes.
Case[edit | edit source]
Details: In March 1991, two-and-a-half-year-old Tommy Gibson vanished from his front yard. His father, Larry, a local 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, an affidavit was released by the Oregon State Police, naming him as the prime suspect. However, he maintains his innocence.
According to Larry, on the morning of March 19, he came outside and found Tommy playing in the yard. He told him to stay there and wait for his sister 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. Because they had been having problems with these cats, he decided to shoot it. However, he missed, and it ran down the hill. His wife, Judith, claimed that she heard the shot.
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 47 minutes. When he returned, Judith told him that she couldn't find Tommy. Within an hour, several neighbors, volunteers, and officers 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 also told people to stop searching because it was snowing. Next, even though his supervisor told him not to report to work, he left in his patrol car. He claims 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 doing so 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. He claimed that this did not happen, but strangely said that it "was possible".
The affidavit released by the state police centered on the forty-seven minute time frame during which Larry allegedly went on his jog. Investigators did find a dead cat in the area. Forensic investigation revealed that it had been shot through the lungs and heart. They 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, claims 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 claims that two eyewitness reports back up the story that Tommy was kidnapped. A neighbor 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 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.
Tommy's four-and-a-half-year-old sister, Karen, later told Larry and Judith that she claimed to have seen a woman and man take him 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, 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, which remains unsolved.
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 April 1994, Larry was arrested and charged with Tommy's murder. Police made the arrest after Karen changed her story; she said that she saw 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 claimed that she did not tell police this initially because he had told her that he would 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 claimed that Larry had threatened to kill Judith and Karen after the former left him. His half-sister also testified that he had 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 1996 and continues to deny his involvement in Tommy's death. Neither Tommy nor his remains have ever been located. Larry now lives in Montana and is a country music singer.
- 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
- Affidavit alleges father shot son
- Deputy says he may have shot son
- Deputy arrested in son's death
- Arrest Leaves Town Feeling Relieved, Betrayed--Ex-Deputy Accused of Killing Son
- Deputy accused in son's murder granted bail
- Missing child pictured on violence mailing
- Oregon Town Still Divided Over Boy's Disappearance
- Man goes on trial for son's disappearance
- Former deputy guilty of manslaughter in son's death
- Ex-deputy convicted of killing missing son
- Searchers happy with conviction, but they still long to find toddler
- Former deputy sentenced to three years for killing son
- State vs. Gibson
- Larry Gibson back in Montana
- Azalea sheriff's deputy served prison for 1991 death of son
- SitcomsOnline Discussion of Tommy Gibson