Thomas Gibson disappearance

Thomas Gibson / Thomas Dean Gibson, born on July 5, 1988, disappeared under mysterious circumstances from his home in Azalea, Oregon, on March 18, 1991. His father, Larry Gibson, who served as the deputy sheriff of Douglas County, went for a jog that morning after allegedly firing at a feral cat on the property, leaving Thomas in the front yard under the supervision of his elder sister, Karen, aged 4 at the time. Upon returning, Larry and his wife, Judith, discovered Thomas was missing.

Initially, Karen reported to law enforcement that she had seen an unidentified couple in a truck abduct Thomas from the driveway. Despite extensive search efforts, Thomas was not found. Larry resigned from his position in the police department and the family relocated to Montana in 1992.

In 1993, Judith left Larry and returned to Oregon with their eldest daughter and newborn child, Lisa. During this time, Karen confessed to witnessing her father beating Thomas outside and placing him inside his patrol car on the day of his disappearance. Larry was later charged with second-degree murder in April 1994, despite the absence of Thomas’s remains. He maintained his innocence but was convicted of manslaughter in March 1995, serving less than a year before his release from prison.

Thomas’s case garnered widespread media attention, including coverage on Unsolved Mysteries. His image appeared in the music video for Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” highlighting numerous missing children, with Thomas being the youngest featured. As of 2024, Thomas’s whereabouts remain unknown.


On the morning of March 18, 1991, Larry Gibson, a deputy sheriff of Douglas County, Oregon, planned to go for a jog around 11:30 a.m. from his residence in Azalea. Larry reported that before departing, he tried to shoot at a stray cat but failed to hit it. At that time, his 2-year-old son, Thomas, was playing in the yard. Larry then went for his jog and was away from home for about 45 minutes. Upon his return, he found that his son was no longer in the yard.


Shortly after realizing Thomas was missing, Larry and Judith contacted the police. Larry was instructed not to report for duty that day, although there were reports of him leaving the family’s property in uniform for about 25 minutes during the initial search. According to Larry, his 4-year-old daughter, Karen, claimed to have witnessed an unidentified couple pull into the family’s driveway and abduct Thomas. Larry expressed a desire to search a nearby rest area for any signs of Thomas or the couple. The couple was described as a blonde white woman and a dark-haired white man, driving an older-model gold or tan truck.

Although Larry’s patrol car wasn’t initially searched, it was later discovered that its odometer had recorded 7 miles (11 km) that couldn’t be accounted for on the day of Thomas’s disappearance. Larry clarified that these miles were logged when he drove to the nearby rest area in search of Thomas. Within the first six weeks of the investigation, Larry became the primary suspect in his son’s disappearance.

In 1992, Larry resigned from his position as a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy, and he and Judy relocated to Avon, Montana, after the birth of their daughter Lisa. However, the couple separated in 1993, and Judy returned with the children to Oregon. Larry stayed in Montana, where he worked as an insurance agent in Townsend.

Arrest of Larry Gibson

On April 14, 1994, Gibson was apprehended in Townsend, Montana, and accused of second-degree murder in connection with Thomas’s death. His arrest came after Karen, the eldest Gibson daughter who was 4 years old at the time of Thomas’s disappearance, informed investigators that she had witnessed her father assaulting Thomas before putting him in his patrol car on the day he vanished. Prosecutors also cited “inconsistent” statements made by Larry regarding Thomas’s disappearance. He was extradited to Oregon later that month to await trial.

Trial and conviction

Larry’s trial began on January 18, 1995. Later that month, his half-sister, Debbie Calek, testified against him, claiming that after Thomas disappeared, Larry called her in a panic and confessed to killing Thomas, mentioning he might need money for bail after being arrested. Calek also alleged that during a stay with her in Iowa, Karen expressed fear about her father potentially harming her like he did Thomas. Judy, Karen’s mother, also stated that during this visit, Karen disclosed witnessing Larry assaulting Thomas on the day he vanished.

Karen played a crucial role as the prosecution’s key witness during the six-week trial, testifying against her father. The defense argued that Karen may have been influenced by her mother to adopt the narrative of her father’s guilt. Court documents outlined the sequence of events: Larry left home for a jog around 11:30 a.m., with Thomas following him. Larry claimed to have shot a cat he believed to be a stray. When Thomas approached the dead cat, Larry allegedly became angry, slapped him repeatedly, and then placed him in his patrol car before hiding his body in the trunk behind a woodpile on the property.

Investigators theorized that Larry disposed of Thomas’s body in an area known as Swamp Creek after volunteer searchers began looking for him. Karen stated that her father threatened her into silence about what she witnessed, and she only felt safe to speak up after her mother separated from Larry, and they returned to Oregon in 1994.

In March 1995, Larry Gibson was convicted of Thomas’s manslaughter, despite maintaining his innocence. He was sentenced to serve between fifteen to eighteen months in prison, twelve of which he had already served while awaiting trial. He was released from prison in 1996.


After his release from prison, Larry initiated a webpage around 2001 dedicated to Thomas’s disappearance, appealing to the public for assistance in locating his son.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Disappearance of Thomas Gibson, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License 

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