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The Disappearance of Judy Wardrip

Hello, my loyal true crime readers! I’m excited to present a guest post by Shana Gammon. Shana has an undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and a Masters of Liberal Studies from Fort Hays State University. Shana currently teaches cultural studies at both American InterContinental University and Liberty University. 

You can find Shana on Twitter to discuss your thoughts on the disappearance of Judy Wardrip or to chat about true crime!  

Enjoy the guest post ~ Christine

 

The Disappearance of Judy Wardrip

 

Bethany, Missouri is a farming town that sits in Missouri’s northwest corner. The county seat of Harrison County, which touches the Iowa border, Bethany boasts a population of slightly over 3,000. While the population is small compared to the nearest large cities like Kansas City and Des Moines (both of which are over an hour away), Bethany’s population is big in comparison to neighboring towns such as Eagleville, King City, and Albany. Due to its size and unique location directly off major Interstate I-35 and Hwy 69, Bethany houses national restaurant chains such as Subway and McDonald’s and also features the only Wal-Mart within a thirty-mile radius.

Bethany also offers several places for visitors to stay, and in 1980, one of them was the Bethany Motel. A small establishment with only 18 rooms, it had previously been the Bethany Skating Rink. James “Tobe” Wardrip, a local carpenter, had built the rink and decided to convert it. The motel’s location was perfect—while outside of city limits, it was near Hwy 69. It proved to be a smart business decision.

The Bethany Motel

The Bethany Motel
Source: Janet Stratton

Described by a family member as a “man’s man” who resembled cowboy legend Roy Rogers, Wardrip was an Air Force veteran who served during World War II. Wardrip ran the motel until he turned 62, when he chose to retire. It was then that he turned over all operations of the motel to his oldest daughter, Janet. Tobe had two daughters and his youngest, Judy, who went by her middle name “Tolane”, was living in Kansas City at the time. Having graduated from a community college in Kansas City, she was working at a large motel. She left her job and moved back to Bethany to help her sister manage the motel. With his daughters in charge, Tobe retired to Corpus Christi, Texas. It was there that his daughter Judy came to visit him for several days in December of 1984.

On December 9th, Judy returned to Missouri. Since being given control of the motel, Janet and Judy had found the job time consuming—the two young women were in charge of all aspects of the operation—from checking in guests to maintaining rooms. They alternated running the motel by working in shifts, which left little time for themselves. But in what spare time Judy did have, she maintained a relationship with her boyfriend, Irving Pavlak, a divorced welder who was several years her senior. Pavlak resided in Texas and although Judy’s father didn’t approve of Pavlak, the relationship continued. Judy also spent time riding her motorcycle and she loved animals. On the morning of the 10th, the petite blonde, dressed in a simple shirt and pants, returned to the motel to take her shift, bringing along her dog, a Lhasa Apso named “Moppett”.

The Bethany Motel

Photo of the Bethany Motel
Source: Janet Stratton

Janet had enrolled in a photography class in Kansas City and left early on the morning of the 10th. She spent the day there and did not return to Bethany until later that night when it was time to take her shift at the motel. Upon arriving, Janet went to look for Judy. After not finding her in the office she began to search the rooms. It was not long until she realized that Judy was missing—something that was out of character for Judy. Judy was not one to leave the motel for long periods of time. The weather in Missouri in December can be bitterly cold, and Janet doubted that Judy had left to take Moppett for a walk. While the sisters sometimes took breaks to go out and get something to eat, Judy’s car was still in the parking lot. Her purse, the 38 caliber Smith and Wesson the women kept, and money in the cash drawer were still in place. The only trace of Judy, along with her belongings, was a half a cup of coffee in the room that Judy had apparently been cleaning. The television was still playing in the room.

Janet contacted the local sheriff’s office. In the following days, several searches were conducted. Police searched the motel freezers, the adjoining lake, and questioned the motel guests, none of whom seemed to offer any clues about Judy’s disappearance. No one had heard anything that was out of the ordinary that day such as Judy screaming or her dog barking. There was no sign of any struggle on the motel property. It was as if Judy had taken her dog and simply disappeared.

Upon hearing of Judy’s disappearance, Tobe returned to Missouri. He became sick on the plane, overcome at the thought of his daughter missing and cried all the way from the airport to their home in Bethany. Over the next several days, he would distribute thousands of posters around northwest Missouri, hoping that someone could give some type of clue as to what happened to Judy. He felt that she would not leave of her own free will and that she must have been abducted.

While Tobe circulated flyers, Janet was left to manage the motel alone—something she at times felt was unbearable. To make matters worse, at the time of Judy’s disappearance, Judy was involved in a lawsuit related to a traffic accident that had occurred in Kansas City. At the time of the accident, Judy was not insured. Though Judy was missing, the defendant in the case chose to press on with litigation. Janet was forced to reach a settlement.

Days turned into weeks, and there was no sign of Judy. Several scenarios were tossed around. Had someone travelling on Hwy 69 (nicknamed by truckers the “Ho Chi Minh Trail”) taken Judy when they stopped at the motel? If so, why would the dog have been taken as well?

Though Judy’s mother had committed suicide a few years prior after suffering from depression, Judy showed no signs of being depressed. While the holidays were near, Judy had recently bought Christmas presents for her friends, which appeared to show she had every intention of celebrating the holidays.

The Wardrip sisters

Photo of the Wardrip sisters
Source: Janet Stratton

Janet Stratton is now nearly 70 years old. Nearly thirty-four years after her sister’s disappearance, she still struggles with not knowing what happened to Judy. While she feels Judy must have been taken by someone she knew (because there was no sign of struggle and Judy’s dog also went missing), there are no definite answers. She has never been contacted by anyone offering any type of information. The only one to call and check to see about Judy’s case was her boyfriend. Pavlak called Janet a few days after Judy went missing. She has not heard from him since.

The sisters were close, and Janet feels that if Judy had left to start a new life she would have contacted her long before now. Also, with her purse and identification left behind, it would have been difficult for Judy to start her life over.

Tobe Wardrip died in 2010, never knowing what happened to his daughter.

Judy Wardrip

Photo of missing person Judy Wardrip
Source: Janet Stratton

The Harrison County Sheriff’s office still considers this a missing persons case. At the time of her disappearance, Judy was 29 years old. If you have information on this case, please contact the Harrison County Sheriff’s office at (660) 425-3199.

Interested in missing persons cases? Check out the disappearance of Jody Huisentruit and the mysterious vanishing of Ray Gricar.

Published inGuest PostsMissing Person Files

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23 Comments

  1. Patty Portnoy Patty Portnoy

    What about the boyfriend. Odd that he wouldn’t assist in looking for her.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Patty. He didn’t seem too concerned, did he! I would definitely have him on my persons of interest list. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.

  2. Michael Schneider Michael Schneider

    And sounds like no surveillance cameras, no eye/ear witnesses, no blood trail, no point of abduction (inside motel or outside where she may have been walking her dog)? and one call from her BF. Hmmmm, this one may never be solved except for a tip from someone who was friends with the abductor. Was the BF’s house ever searched?

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Michael. Given that it was small-town 1984, I’m not too surprised that there isn’t surveillance available. But like you, I find it odd no one heard or saw anything. This leads me to suspect that Judy left with someone she knew and then later met with foul play. I know the guest blogger Shana who wrote the article interviewed the police and Judy’s sister, and if the boyfriend’s house was searched or if he was a prime suspect they decided not to share that information. I do, however, find it unsettling that he only called once and seemed disinterested in the disappearance. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

      • Shana Gammon Shana Gammon

        Christine/Michael,

        The sheriff’s office was not able to give a lot of information since they still consider this an open case. Janet does not think that the boyfriend was questioned to see if he had an alibi. She thinks he was in TX at the time but is not sure. I too, find his behavior odd.

        I do think Judy left with someone she knew. I feel she was left in the area, as there appears to be no Jane Doe cases in the surrounding states that match her description. I’d also be curious if anyone in the area found a dog at the time and took it in thinking it was a stray. I would bet that it being in December with very cold temperatures in MO, if a dog turned up at someone’s house, Judy may not have been far away.

  3. Lisa Owens Lisa Owens

    I’ve often wondered if she was taken by a serial killer, because there were at two that were around that area during this time. Both were long haul truck drivers. Also, there was a cop here (St. Joe) that had killed 2 women & buried them in Kansas. I believe his name is Marvin Erving, or similar. I’ve often wondered if he could have been involved. She was a second cousin & I may have meant her when I was little, though I don’t remember. I have always wondered what happened & wish this could be solved. I’m glad this is here, I’ve thought about starting a Facebook page for years but didn’t want to do something that Janet or other family may not have wznted.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Lisa. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. I’m sorry that this case hits so close to home for you. Those are both good suggestions that bet the police have looked into. Shana, the guest author of this article, had the support of both Janet and the local police, so I think all of the information that could be released without jeopardizing the investigation has been. Judy’s family is still trying to find answers; if you are interested in starting a Facebook page, I suggest reaching out to Janet. Thanks again.

      • Lisa G. Owens Lisa G. Owens

        My Mom was a cousin of Judy. There are a lot of Wardrips. I did email the officer (Brian) in charge of the case. He was going to let me look at what he had, because I’m related, several years ago. But, as we’ve not had a car that would make it that far, I never got to. When I last had communication with him, I hadn’t thought of the suggested I’d listed. I said they kept hitting dead ends. I’ve become a bit of a true crime junkie since she disappeared. I never got to meet her, but, think of her every day. I’m glad that you have this info out there. I’ve shared everywhere that I could.

        • Christine Christine

          Hi Lisa. I’m so glad that we could help in some small way by spreading the word about this heartbreaking case. And thanks so much for sharing it. All the very best to you and your loved ones!

  4. Jamie Jamie

    My mother is cousins with Judy and Janet. I was 4 when this happened and grew up hearing about Judy and her disappearance. Reading this article was the absolute first time I’ve heard mention of the boyfriend’s name or mention of a boyfriend for that matter. I found that piece of information intriguing and wonder about whatever connection he may have had as well. How strange he contacted Janet once a few days later and then never again!

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Jamie. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m sorry for your loss and that this tragedy framed part of your childhood. I, too, find the boyfriend’s behaviour odd. Judy’s sister Janet doesn’t know if he was questioned by police about an alibi, but she thinks he might have been in Texas at the time of Judy’s disappearance but is unsure. If it wasn’t Judy’s boyfriend, I am leaning towards thinking that it was someone else Judy knew given the circumstances. Thanks again.

  5. Iva Iva

    I worked at the motel for a few days in 1987. The Wardrip’s was very good to me. Such a sad case.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Iva. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m sorry for your loss and hope that Judy’s loved ones can find some answers soon. Hopefully shining a light on this case will help stir things up. Take care.

  6. Karen Sanchez Karen Sanchez

    My family lives 17 miles NW of Bethany. They aquired a white curly haired dog about this time. Are there any pictures of the dog?

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Karen. If you check out the guest author’s Twitter account, she’s been sharing a photo of Judy and her dog. You can find a link to her Twitter account at the beginning of the article. If the dog looks familiar, I suggest that you contact the authorities and pass on the tip. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Shana Gammon Shana Gammon

      I don’t know if the dog was a boy or a girl. If your go to this link, her dog is pictured.

      http://charleyproject.org/case/judy-tolane-wardrip

      If this dog is similar, please call the sheriff’s office. This could prove to be am excellent clue!

  7. Lori Wooden Lori Wooden

    Was the dog male or female?

    • Christine Christine

      I’m not sure. Follow the Twitter link in the article and ask Shana, the guest writer. She spoke with both the family and the police and very well might know.

  8. Shana Gammon Shana Gammon

    I don’t know if the dog was a boy or a girl. If your go to this link, her dog is pictured.

    http://charleyproject.org/case/judy-tolane-wardrip

    If this dog is similar, please call the sheriff’s office. This could prove to be am excellent clue!

  9. Shana Gammon Shana Gammon

    I spoke with Janet today. The dog was a girl. It was white and brown but mostly white. Judy kept it trimmed so its hair was not as long as you typically see for that breed.

  10. In the photo of the Wardrip sisters, which one is Judy?

    • Christine Christine

      Good question! Did you notice my vagueness with the photo description (haha). They look a lot alike to me. The photo at the top of the post is definitely Judy. Shana the guest writer provided the photos, so hopefully she confirms which sister is which when she sees this message. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment!

      • Shana Gammon Shana Gammon

        Judy is the one on the left.

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