Real Name: Thomas Dean Gibson
Location: Azalea, Oregon
Date: March 19, 1991
Date of Birth: July 5, 1988
Weight: 35 pounds
Marital Status: Single
Characteristics: Caucasian male. Brown hair, brown eyes.
Details: In March of 1991, two-and-a-half-year-old Tommy Gibson vanished from his front yard. His father, Larry Gibson, a local deputy sheriff, believed an unknown couple abducted him. Six weeks after Tommy vanished, however, police announced that they believed Larry was involved in his own son's disappearance. In May of 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 his son 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 the cat ran down the hill. Judith, Larry's wife and Tommy's mother, claimed that she heard the shot.
According to Larry, after the cat ran into the weeds, he looked through the area for the used shell casing, but was unable to find it. He then continued on the 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 residence.
Investigators felt that Larry was acting suspiciously during the search. First, instead of immediately going out and searching for his son, 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 his residence in his patrol car. He claims that he did this because he believed that his son had been abducted and he wanted to check nearby rest areas.
Several days after Tommy's disappearance, Larry was interviewed by FBI agents. During this interview, he lied to them and claimed that he never left the property 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 his residence in the afternoon. When questioned, Judith told police that he had gone to Glendale that afternoon to check on his private car. However, Judith 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 the scenario "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 the cat had been shot through the lungs and heart. Investigators theorized that the bullet passed through the cat and struck Tommy as he played nearby. They suspect that Larry continued on his jog, unaware that his son 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 Larry returned, he found his son's body and panicked. He then spent the next twenty minutes cleaning up the scene and hiding the body, possibly in the trunk of his patrol car. They also theorize that while volunteers searched for Tommy, Larry drove away with his son's body in the trunk of his patrol car.
Larry, however, claims that the theory is not true. He notes that he passed a polygraph 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. The truck had two occupants and its license plate was not where it was supposed to be. The neighbor claimed to have seen the truck pull into a driveway that led to the Gibson home. However, when initially interviewed, she did not tell investigators about the truck.
Tommy's four-and-a-half-year-old sister Karen later told her parents that she claimed to have seen a woman and a man take her brother 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 this story.
Soon after Tommy vanished, investigators received a mysterious letter which was signed "Spot in the Road". They believe the author has vital information regarding Tommy's disappearance, which remains unsolved.
Suspects: Larry Gibson is the prime suspect in his son'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 Larry 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 Gibson's image was used in Soul Asylum's 1993 hit "Runaway Train."
Results: Unresolved. In April of 1994, Larry was arrested and charged with Tommy's murder. Police made the arrest after Tommy's sister Karen changed her story; she said that she saw her father 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 back of his patrol car. She and her mother Judith testified against Larry at his trial. Judith claimed that Larry was physically abusive towards Tommy, Karen, and their other child Lisa (born after Tommy's disappearance).
Witnesses claimed that he had threatened to kill both Judith and Karen. His half-sister also testified that he had confessed to killing Tommy shortly after the disappearance. Prosecutors also claimed that Larry was repeatedly abusive towards Tommy and stressed at the time because Judith was busy taking college classes.
A jury convicted him of second-degree manslaughter, and 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 performer.
- 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
- Deputy says he may have shot son
- Arrest Leaves Town Feeling Relieved, Betrayed -- Ex-Deputy Accused Of Killing Son
- Oregon Town Still Divided Over Boy's Disappearance
- State v. Gibson
- Azalea sheriff’s deputy served prison for 1991 death of toddler son
- SitcomsOnline Discussion of Tommy Gibson