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
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
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
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.
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.