Hello, my loyal true crime readers! I’m excited to present a guest post by Heather Graupmann. Heather has always had a passion for missing persons cases. During her many years moderating an Unsolved Mysteries message board, she developed an interest in documenting the cases as well. She hopes her writing can bring more attention to the mysteries to perhaps someday get a resolution for the loved ones.
Enjoy the guest post ~ Christine
Remembered and Forgotten
This certainly isn’t your typical missing persons case. In fact, if you’re not a hardcore fan of the Unsolved Mysteries television show there’s a good chance you may not have heard of it at all. But it is truly bizarre with many twists and turns. It is also the oldest missing child case on record in Canada. Oh and did I mention it involves not one but two missing children? Let’s talk about Clifford Sherwood and Georges Gumbley.
So first a little background on Clifford Sherwood. He was born to Nephi “Tex” and Frances Sherwood on March 30, 1945. He lived with his parents and 4 sisters in Montreal until 1952. Francis had become very ill with peritonitis and spent some time in the hospital. Before she was discharged from there, Tex told her he was taking the 4 girls and leaving. He moved them 3000 miles away to Vancouver and sent Clifford to stay with his grandmother where Francis would go to recover from her illness. Just four months after Tex took the girls, they were left with a housekeeper who was arrested on a drug charge. They were then placed in foster care where they would remain for the rest of their childhood.
Francis recovered from her illness and became a single parent to Clifford. They lived in Verdun (a suburb of Montreal). Tex would come to see Clifford when he could and this was something Francis did allow. Then on Thursday, October 21, 1954 Clifford left the apartment he shared with his mother at 8:30 am to go to school. She told him to hurry so he wouldn’t be late. That was the last time she would ever see her son.
Clifford began to walk towards school and came across his best friend Butch. As they were walking, Clifford’s 12-year-old friend Georges Gumbley also joined them. As it was time to head toward the Ballantyne School, Clifford and Georges were still talking amongst themselves. When Butch told them they were going to be late to school the boys told him they would catch up. Neither Clifford nor Georges ever made it to school that day and are still missing.
Around 6 pm that night Francis Sherwood began to get concerned. She started phoning neighbors to try to track down her son. Then at 8 pm she phoned the police who told her they couldn’t begin investigating until he had been missing for 48 hours. Law enforcement initially thought the two boys had just decided to skip school and would resurface soon. Francis immediately thought that her former husband, Tex, had abducted their son Clifford.
Now I want to talk about Georges Gumbley. He is the forgotten part of this missing person’s story. Even though he went missing with Clifford, he is rarely mentioned and outright omitted at times which is unfortunate and very sad. I was able to speak to a relative of Georges recently and there is also a post from a cousin of Georges (who has since passed away) on the Unsolved Mysteries board I used to moderate. There isn’t much out there, but I wanted to take some time and talk about what I do know about Georges Gumbley. At the time he went missing he was 12. I will post the only picture I have ever seen of him.
His family was frantic when he went missing. They searched everywhere. They did think that Clifford and Georges decided to skip school that day. There was a fishing hole in a large park a mile or two from where the boys lived and only a couple of streets away from their home was the St. Lawrence River which has a very fast and strong current. Georges’ family believed the boys decided to skip school that day to go fishing and accidentally fell in the water and drowned. According to the relatives, Georges family asked police to dredge the fishing hole and the police refused because they believed the boys had simply run away and would be home in a day or two.
As the years went by Mr. Gumbley stayed in the same house after Georges went missing and refused to move in case his son was alive and wanted to come home. Georges still has siblings and family members living and although they don’t usually like to have this painful chapter brought up or put themselves out there publicly, it is still a heartbreaking case to them and they still love and miss their “Georgie” and want to know what happened to him. They feel sympathy for Clifford’s family of course, but are saddened that Georges is often left out and forgotten in this tragic story.
There was a cluster of sightings of the boys soon after they went missing as always seems to be the case in these stories. There were reports they were seen hitchhiking through Vaudreuil almost a week after they went missing. A baker in Verdun thought he saw them near the river at 6th St. and later in a rowboat. Police dragged the river and found nothing. Police, acting on a tip that the boys usually went down to Angrignon Park in Ville-Emard, searched the bottom of a pump-house but did not find anything. They also checked a Lake Masson resident of an uncle where young Clifford would go every summer. There was a story from Vaudreuil of a woman who saw two boys matching their descriptions going through town carrying a rifle. Incidentally, less than a week before the boys went missing there was a group of “very young boys” who had broken into a store on Wellington Street and stole a rifle. Police didn’t say whether they thought Georges or Clifford were involved but the families do not think that was a possibility. There was also a strange report of a gas station attendant seeing two boys matching Clifford and Georges’ description getting out of the trunk of a car with a man and woman in the front seat. The car was listed as owned by a Windsor, Ontario resident but no such person could be found.
Here are two very compelling stories around the time soon after the boys went missing that I want to share. Clifford reportedly phoned his aunt the day after he went missing. He was known to have a nervous stutter (as did the young boy calling) and only said “Auntie…Auntie Hilda” before the phone went dead. Another one was an anonymous letter sent to police linking the disappearance of a middle-aged Verdun woman who sold her Ville-Emard flower shop and disappeared around the same time the boys did. Clifford and Georges sometimes worked as messengers for her. A newspaper article further states the boys were seen with the woman shortly before they all disappeared. The woman sold her shop in September and moved with her husband and 7 children to Beauharnois. She left her family and came back to live in Verdun for a few weeks. Towards the end of October, she disappeared as well. I was unable to find out if the woman was ever located after her disappearance or not as the article did not mention her name.
The search for the boys continued with no luck. The spring after they went missing there was a lower torso of a child (thought to be around Clifford’s age) found near Sorel. Francis just had a feeling it wasn’t her son. She said they only read to her what was found and didn’t show her anything so she would not agree it was him. It is unknown whether the remains could have been Georges’ or not.
It doesn’t appear as though police agreed with Francis’ theory that Tex took Clifford from her. She said she always let his father see him whenever he wanted except one night when it was too late. Tex did appear to be living out west when Clifford went missing so he was never seriously considered a suspect from what I have gathered (even though Francis claims her former husband was spotted in a Montreal hotel the week of the disappearance).
I’ll talk a lot more about Tex soon but there are a few things they found after his death that continue to make the family believe that he was taken by his father. First of all, they found a picture of Tex and Clifford together in his belongings. Clifford seemed to be a bit older than he looked when he went missing and Francis didn’t recognize the clothes he was wearing. Then the family came across a letter written to Clifford by his father dated a little over a year before he went missing that read:
“Daddy has not forgotten about you by any means. He was in Montreal to see you at the park, but no such luck. Anyway I will be coming back and will make it up for not being to see you the last time.”
Francis had no knowledge of these secret visits he was apparently having with Clifford which only bolstered her belief her son was with him. Tex always denied taking Clifford and his daughters stated he would get extremely angry and even violent when the subject of his son’s disappearance was brought up.
There were never any sightings of Georges except right after he disappeared but oddly there do seem to be a few possible sightings of Clifford through the years. I found a mention in a newspaper article where Francis’ stepson came across Clifford’s sister Claudia in the early 1980s and she had a strange story to tell. She had spoken with her father Tex a few years earlier (in the late 1970s) and he told her he was drinking at a legion hall in Edmonton. A man came up to him and said, “I’m your son Clifford.” He was too drunk to talk to him at the time so he asked the man to come back the next day but he never returned.
There was also a private investigator who heard of Francis’ decades’ long search for her son and wanted to try and help find Clifford before she passed away. He stated in the newspaper article dated 1993 that the info obtained by him suggests that Clifford was boarded in Chilliwack from 1956-59 with a family associated with the name Morgan. He also believes Clifford was told his mother died of cancer. If true, that could be a reason he never searched for her. I did reach out to this same investigator recently for his thoughts on this case. This is what he had to say:
“There had been unconfirmed sightings that Tex Sherwood was frequenting a strip club in Chilliwack BC. That’s when The Missing Children’s Network contacted me. I was tasked with trying to … confirm Tex’s identity. By the time I received the file and made my way to the strip club, the regular known as Tex conveniently stopped showing up. There have been reported but unconfirmed sightings of Clifford over the years, but each time someone tries to confirm it, the person disappears. What makes a young man run away from his school with his best friend, and then remain in hiding long after his friend totally disappears off of the face of the earth? My gut tells me Georges met with ill fate and Clifford or Tex were a part of it. This would explain why Clifford and Tex disappear separately, reappear only to disappear just as fast. It’s as if neither Tex nor Clifford want to be found. Clifford’s case ate away at the gut of many an investigator and law enforcement officer. We all felt there was a third party somewhere who knew the truth, but until that person or Clifford himself came forward, we were all destined to remain mystified.”
Unsolved Mysteries was also contacted and agreed to profile the case of Clifford Sherwood. As is often the case, the show had a slant and mainly told the story as a grieving mother searching for her son. Sadly, once again Georges was forgotten, being only mentioned briefly at the beginning of the segment. After the show aired, a former waitress phoned Francis and said she had definitely seen Clifford with Tex in 1960. She said Clifford used to play with her sons until he mysteriously took off with his father.
Frances also contacted the Missing Children’s Network in Montreal after hearing an interview with one of its founders on the radio to tell her story. The researchers there did some digging and were able to come up with one solid piece of evidence possibly regarding her missing son. There was a 1987 address of the Top of the Valley apartments at 12121 Jasper Ave. in Edmonton where an “Edward Clifford Sherwood” was listed as living. They then checked with the Dept. of Motor Vehicles and it showed a license was issued in the same name and the birthdate of 3/30/45 which exactly matched Clifford’s birthdate. The only thing different was that Clifford’s first and middle name were reversed. Could Clifford have been alive and well all this time? By the time they found this information the person at the apartment had moved and didn’t leave a forwarding address. Still, it gave Francis hope he was still out there. There was another person who called in after the Unsolved Mysteries segment aired referring to a person named Clifford whom they knew and thought could be the missing person in question. This person was not Clifford but was his brother! I have spoken with this man’s daughter and that leads to my next subject to discuss…the many lives of Nephi “Tex” Sherwood.
I’m not sure how this information was discovered but I think it was mainly people searching their genealogy. There were a few people who were not raised by their birth parents but from what they were told were able to track them down. I encountered one such person years ago and she spoke with me for this article again recently and I want to thank her for her help. Her name is Roxann and she was raised by her maternal grandparents and was able to track down her birth father in 1997. His name was…Clifford. Yes, he was another son of Tex Sherwood with the same name as his missing son. He mentioned his birth father and told her about the story from Unsolved Mysteries. Through collaborative research some family members were able to ascertain that Nephi “Tex” Sherwood was a work of fiction, and in reality his actual name was Edward Walter Thorne. He had at least 3 different families out there that we are aware of. They were in Canada, Texas and Michigan. So many children out there were scattered about and one of the strangest things is some of them have duplicate names. There are at least 2 Cliffords and 2 Colleens and I’m not sure what the total count is of Edwards and other duplicate names and we may never fully know. He seemed to have a habit of finding wives, having children, naming them duplicate names and then eventually walking away. It was reported by some research done by an investigator that Edward was married 7 times but only divorced once.
There is also some evidence that indicates Edward did time in prison and may have even escaped and was recaptured. Talk about a mystery within a mystery! Clifford’s father’s past was as strange as Clifford’s disappearance. Roxann told me, sadly, her birth father passed away in 2010. After a tip was called in after the Unsolved Mysteries segment aired that he might be the missing son, he did eventually go to Canada to meet Francis and some of his Canadian half-siblings. He had a nice visit and thought highly of all of them. From what she has gathered in conversations before her father’s passing, he didn’t have a relationship with his birth father Edward. He found it fascinating that every one of his families had the exact same picture of him. The mysterious Edward Walter Thorne died alone in the Empress Hotel in Chilliwack in 1987 at the age of 87, taking with him to the grave the many secrets of his past and possibly what became of his son Clifford. Another interesting story that Roxann’s father told her was that in the hotel where Edward died there were no private papers or records of any kind with his belongings. He kept all important and identifying paperwork in the trunk of his car which caught fire and all contents were destroyed shortly before his death.
Francis Sherwood was unwavering in her devotion and determination to keep her son’s story out there. She lived in the same building for many years after her son’s disappearance in the hopes Clifford would return. She would tell her story at any opportunity and would participate every year in Missing Children’s Day in Canada. She never stopped hoping that she would be reunited with Clifford before she passed away. Sadly, that was not the case, as she passed away on January 7th, 2009 at the age of 90. She had searched for her son for 55 years to no avail. Still, we can look to her for inspiration in how she lived her life with dignity and her focus to never stop looking for him. I don’t think Clifford’s disappearance would be as known as it is without her resolve to find out what happened to her son.
This is the part where I tell you my thoughts and theories but I’m not really sure which side I fall on. While I think it’s very possible that Georges and Clifford made a last-minute decision to skip school that day and could have died accidentally (as in drowning), but the sordid past of Clifford’s father and the sightings of him long after he went missing give me pause. I couldn’t help but think if it was possible the lower torso recovered could have been Georges’. Perhaps that’s why there were no more sightings of him. Did Georges fall in the water accidentally and when Clifford couldn’t rescue him panicked and got in touch with his father who took him in and went into hiding? Perhaps after a few years, as was Edward’s pattern, he grew tired of having a child in tow and brought him to the Morgans as the investigator was led to believe. Or perhaps Clifford was brought to another one of Edward’s families to be raised with them if he didn’t think Francis was doing a good job. It has never made sense to me that a father would abduct his child AND the child’s friend. What possible motive would he have? Perhaps that idea was much easier for Francis to take than the thought of her only son meeting with foul play. Is it possible the lady who owned the flower shop involved the boys in some shady dealings and they met with danger? As you can see, I go back and forth and these are just a few theories and there are a lot of them that could be made in this case. I think there’s a possibility Clifford survived and if that’s the case there would be hope that he is still alive to this day as he would now be 73. One thing I could never and still can’t figure out though is why Francis Sherwood would rarely ever mention Georges? She was so vocal and would speak often of her search for Clifford but would never even mention Georges.
Okay, to wrap this up, this case is not only incredibly sad but very strange. Two young children, 12 and 9, go missing and one is basically forgotten and is never seen again but the other is possibly spotted a handful of times years later? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s always good to bring attention to these cases and to be a voice for those who no longer have a voice. Clifford was often remembered by his family and especially his mother, who until the end always left a light on for him. Georges may have been forgotten by the public but he is and was remembered by the people who really mattered…his family. It is my hope that one day we will have answers to what happened to Clifford and Georges, the remembered and the forgotten.