Missing in Missouri

Date Published 01.09.07
A mere 500 feet could turn out to be the difference between life and death in the case of a young boy missing in Eastern Missouri. That’s the distance between William “Ben” Ownby’s school bus stop and his rural home. Ben’s was a typical middle-school routine - bus doors closing behind him, some parting words to his buddies, and then a short walk to his house, where he typically got home around 3:45 p.m. Ben was a Boy Scout and a straight A student. He wasn’t the type to loiter. Last Monday was no different. He and a friend got off their school bus on Missouri Route 50 in Beaufort, a rural town about 60 miles southwest of St. Louis. Ben’s friend stopped to talk to someone. Ben continued toward home. A few moments later, the friend witnessed a pickup speeding away from the area where Ben had been heading. Ben was gone.

An Amber Alert was quickly issued, and authorities - the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and, in an indication of how seriously Ben’s disappearance was immediately understood to be an abduction, the FBI - gathered to search the hilly, wooded areas around Beaufort. Ben was nowhere to be found.

Everyone agrees the pickup is currently the most vital clue. It’s been described as a white pickup truck with a camper shell with the word “Nissan” written in black on the back, although authorities are not certain it’s a Nissan. The truck has also been described as beat-up; it didn’t have hubcaps, and was dented and rusted. The camper shell has one continuous window along the side, with what may have been a ladder rack on top.

A tire track at the scene corroborates Ben’s friend’s story. Some reports indicate that neighbors spotted the same white truck cruising up and down a county road near Ben’s house earlier that day.

Jane Velez-Mitchell, an investigative reporter, told CNN’s Nancy Grace:
Hours before Ben disappeared, another neighbor said he saw a car that absolutely matched that description, this beat-up, white pickup truck with the camper shell driving around the area. And it looked suspicious, almost as if he was trolling around the neighborhood with a sinister motive.
Ben is white, 4-foot-10, and weighs about 100 pounds. He was last seen wearing a hooded St. Louis Rams windbreaker and blue jeans. He was also carrying a black backpack; Franklin County Sheriff Gary F. Toelke asked drivers to be on the alert for the backpack along the roadside.

William "Ben" Ownby

Right now authorities continue to follow leads and search for the elusive white pickup truck. “Somebody out there knows who owns it,” Sheriff Toelke told the Associated Press.

One intriguing lead investigators should examine is a similar disappearance four years ago and thirty-eight miles from Beaufort.

On October 6, 2002, Shawn Hornbeck left home on his bicycle in the rural area of Richwoods, Missouri. Shawn, 11, was headed to a friend’s house, but never made it. He was last seen around 4:30 p.m., about a half mile from his home. Though Ben was two years older than Shawn, he looked young for his age, and both boys have strikingly similar stats - Shawn was 4-foot-8 and 90 lbs, two inches shorter and ten pounds lighter than Ben.

Shawn Hornbeck

Shawn was last seen wearing an orange t-shirt with the word “Astros” across the chest in black lettering. He was wearing blue jeans and white Nike shoes. His bike was a neon green 20-inch NEXT “ShockZone” Boys’ Bike.

Despite an investigation, Shawn and his bike were never seen again.

Going back even further is the case of Arlin Henderson, 11, who disappeared in Moscow Mills, Missouri, about seventy miles from Beaufort (Ben) and eighty miles from Richwoods (Shawn). Arlin disappeared on July 25, 1991 around 5 p.m. as he was riding his bike near his home. The blonde, blue-eyed Arlin was smaller than the other two boys, standing 4-feet-5 inches and weighing about 75 lbs. He was wearing camouflage pants and a shirt, and riding a white and yellow bike. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Henderson family informed Arlin's school months before he disappeared that a "strange" man had approached Arlin and taken his picture, suggesting a possible stalker.

Arlin Henderson

Below is a map connecting the locations of the three boys' disappearances, starting with "A" for Arlin Henderson and ending with "C" for Ben Ownby. Interestingly, each boy went missing just a little ways from Interstate 44, the main vein that cuts across the state of Missouri, including the quiet, rural parts where the three boys disappeared. Eastern Missouri, where the boys lived, is rugged terrain; long stretches of I-44 is a lonely run through woods populated by the occasional farmhouse or subdivison. It's an easy place to disappear, or be disappeared. The fact that the white pickup truck associated with the disappearance of Ben Ownby allegedly had a camper shell is particularly disheartening. It brings to mind Joseph Duncan's abduction of Shasta and Dylan Groene in rural Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in the summer of 2005. An avid outdoorsman, Duncan took the Groene kids to a campsite far into the woods. Dylan Groene died there. Shasta Groene was taken into town for supplies, and saved. Right now the people of Beaufort, Missouri are on the lookout for a similarly positive conclusion for Ben Ownby.

Anyone with information on Ben Ownby is asked to call the Franklin County Sheriff's Department at 636-583-2560 or dial 911.

If you have any information or know the whereabouts of Shawn Hornbeck contact the Shawn Hornbeck Search and Rescue Command Center at 573-678-2999 OR 866-400-5353 24.

If you have any information on Arlin Henderson call the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department at 636-528-8546.

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RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary: https://t.co/ijA8xHJ8Tm
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
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@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.