Family holds out hope in Bill Farrer's disappearance
• Three years after he disappeared near Louisville, the investigation is still open and looking for leads
By Ben Nelms
It has been three years since the curious disappearance, the initial searches and the beginning of the mystery surrounding the fate of Louisville resident Bill "Bo Peep" Farrer.
Sheriff Gary Hutchins plans new efforts in the case while a growing number of investigators from across America, thanks to the persistence of Farrer's brothers and sister, are taking a growing interest in this ice-cold case. Farrer's siblings, Mary Baker, Ike Farrer and Joe Farrer, are unrelenting in their commitment to have this mystery solved.
From the very outset of Farrer's disappearance, hundreds of friends and acquaintances have made a point to keep up with the search efforts, both at and away from the banks of Rocky Comfort Creek.
In the Beginning
Unknown to this day is the truth about the man who friends say "never met a stranger."
Going far beyond the bounds of conventional searches when the 66 year-old Farrer was initially discovered missing Sept. 13, 2002, Sheriff Gary Hutchins and Investigator Clark Hiebert led the effort that resulted in unprecedented physical searches between that time and January 2003, in and around the area of Rocky Comfort Creek where Farrer's truck and fishing boat were found.
The Bottom Line
Nearly three weeks of continuous searches by 75-100 selfless volunteers revealed nothing. Eight dive teams and independent blackwater divers from across the region poured into Jefferson County, as did search and recovery dog teams from Connecticut, Florida and Georgia.
Sadly, what possible evidence that might have been found along the banks of Rocky Comfort was compromised during the initial hours on the afternoon of Sept. 13 by well-meaning friends who poured into the area, searching furiously to find the body of the man they believed lay at the bottom of the creek.
Exhaustive searches in and around Rocky Comfort Creek included the initial 18-day effort beginning Sept. 13. The second search, primarily of the waters of Rocky Comfort, continued in December, while a final GPS grid search of much of the land on both sides of Rocky Comfort occurred in January 2003.
Hutchins and countless others involved in the initial search expected that, once diverted and drained, Rocky Comfort would give up Farrer's body. State permission was obtained to divert the creek and millions of dollars of donated heavy equipment and labor performed the task. Yet once the one-third mile long canal was dug and the water pumped out, the mass of volunteers stared into the empty, gray creek bed directly beneath the location where Farrer's fishing boat had been found in the water, front-end over a fallen tree.
They stared further downstream at the mass of fallen trees and limbs that would have prevented a body from being swept away.
He was simply not there, just as the many volunteer and professional divers had said weeks earlier.
The near simultaneous searches of Farrer's home and business affairs by Sheriff's Investigator Robert Chalker and Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Steven Foster revealed no clue as to his whereabouts. The presence of Farrer's dentures found in his home and the murky contents of his toilet have never been successfully explained.
Investigators determined Farrer had never applied to receive a monthly Social Security check even though he was eligible to do so. He received no retirement from his former jobs. His only apparent source of income was the money received from inventories conducted at local businesses. Investigators said Farrer's living expenses appeared to be supplemented in past months through a $7,500 personal loan from a friend and a $5,000 bank loan, both acquired in early 2002. Another aspect of the financial life of the missing man was three personal loans made by Farrer to friends. These included loans for $9,800, $1,500 and $500. He was also known to have helped several local friends with living expenses and other needs, investigators said. The amount of money Farrer owed to others was nearly the same amount owed to him.
Only a limited number of possibilities could explain Farrer's whereabouts. The most seemingly logical was that he had drowned. But, for his family, that possibility evaporated once the creek was drained.
In the Past Year
The growing doubts among many during the initial phase of the search led to one of the other possibilities being the key to the missing man's fate. Had he walked away to leave the area to start a new life? Had he walked away to commit suicide? Had he walked far enough away that the ground search during the initial phase and the much more extensive GPS grid search in January could not find him? If so, this would be inconsistent with the majority of suicides, in which a person wishes to be found.
Or was Bo Peep the victim of foul play, with his death being premeditated murder or that of a beating that went too far? Until the creek was drained nearly everyone believed he had drowned. But all that changed.
"I feel comfortable about what we did at the creek," Sheriff Hutchins said last week, reflecting on the most extensive search in Jefferson County history. "And I don't believe he drowned."
Continued checks by state and local law enforcement showed a diminished likelihood that he had simply wanted to move away. Once apparent that drowning was not the answer, Hutchins and Hiebert primarily, but not exclusively, took the position that while any scenario was possible, Farrer had most likely committed suicide, having walked far enough away that ground searches of the area by cadaver dogs and volunteers would not be able to find him.
Walk away, foul play or suicide still comprise the investigative scenario, they said.
The renewed effort indicated by Hutchins at the second anniversary of Farrer's disappearance, that of interviewing specific individuals, conducting polygraph examinations and conducting another physical search to possibly discover Farrer's remains, was only partially accomplished.
A Family's Resolve
A number of people have been interviewed during the past year. Of those, some were asked to take polygraphs. One agreed, two said they might be willing and a fourth refused while the fifth patently refused, citing differences with Farrer's siblings as his ostensible reason. To date, no polygraphs have been done. As for another physical search of the land around the creek, it was not done.
However, Investigator Robert Chalker, who assumed responsibility for the investigation one year ago, continues a monthly nationwide check of Farrer's Social Security number and other personal information.
Chalker said his contact with photographic experts with the hope of enhancing a photo taken of Farrer's truck by a game camera near the site where his pick-up truck was found revealed that such an enhancement could not be done without the negative.
The photo was one of the few pieces of potential evidence that might have established Farrer's presence at the creek near the time of his disappearance. The photo clearly shows Farrer's truck in an area adjacent to the creek, though whether anyone was inside the truck could not be determined due to the absence of light inside the cab of the truck. The photo, taken by a game camera, shows virtually no shadow cast by the truck on the ground outside, indicating that the photo was taken sometime around noon.
Game camera owner Adam McNeely leased the property bordering the creek where Farrer customarily fished. He and friend Ron Livingston found Farrer's truck and boat Sept. 13, 2002 when they went to the property to check McNeely's game cameras.
Once developed, McNeely gave the photo to investigators. The whereabouts of the remaining photos and the negatives are unknown. Contacted by The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter in July 2004, McNeely said he had looked for the photos and negatives two or three times but was unable to locate them, a factor, he said, that might have been complicated because he had swapped the photos back and forth with investigators. In comments last year, Chalker said he had visited McNeely a few weeks after Farrer's disappearance. Chalker said he was told by McNeely that the negatives and photos could not be located. Chalker later disputed the claim that the photos had been exchanged between McNeely and investigators.
Contacted last week, Sheriff Hutchins said investigators are now positioned to re-interview those interviewed last year. He added that other avenues relating to the case are being pursued, including an upcoming land search of the creek area. Though he often commented previously about the reasonable likelihood that Farrer had taken his own life, Hutchins said the situation is such that excluding any possibility would be unwise.
"I feel like it could have been anything," he said. "My mind is open that anything could have happened."
Despite a lack of any evidence pointing to serious leads, Farrer's brothers and sister have worked diligently in seeking an answer to the mystery of his disappearance.
Things To Consider
Aside from continuing the reward established nearly three years ago and preparing to initiate two others, Mary Baker, Ike Farrer and Joe Farrer have continued to seek assistance, which has taken them far beyond the boundaries of Jefferson County. They have hired a forensic hypnotist with 32 years experience in law enforcement and secured the services of a forensic artist, both of whom have visited Jefferson County in recent months. The forensic artist, based on information provided by a local resident, produced composite drawings of two men allegedly seen with Farrer at the entrance to the creek on Clarks Mill Road on the day or days immediately preceding his disappearance. One of the men reportedly carried a shotgun or rifle that was positioned out of Farrer's sight yet visible to passers-by.
More recently, a criminal profiler was drawn to the case and is in the process of compiling information relating to the disappearance. This individual is another of a growing number of professionals around the country, many providing their services free of charge, who are responding to the pleas of Farrer's family.
A common thread among outside investigators is the belief that the answer to Farrer's disappearance is something that can be determined.
To many of these consulting investigators, the notion that Farrer walked away or committed suicide is simply untenable.
Baker said the family did not inform either the Sheriff's Office or GBI of their efforts during the past several months. The reason, she said, stems from the way she and her brothers were treated and what they see as a lack of follow-through after the initial period of the investigation from September 2002 through early 2003. That treatment includes a meeting at the GBI's Thomson office in April 2005, Baker said.
"We haven't been happy with the progress or the lack of it from the GBI or the Sheriff's department," said Baker, wondering what posture officials might take if it were their family member that was missing. "Both have tended to find fault with anything we've submitted."
Perhaps known to some is a series of four letters Baker has received from an anonymous source, presumably located in Jefferson County. The letters have been sent by an individual claiming to possess knowledge of some of the pieces of the puzzle. Baker continues to ask the writer to provide additional information.
While she feels the correspondence has been very helpful, Baker thinks the writer might be unaware that several critical clues are still missing.
"We believe the man who wrote me the four letters knows a great deal more about Bill's disappearance than he is telling. Names and incidents were implied but we need actual facts that will help in implicating those involved in Bill's disappearance," Baker implored. "You know, it's almost like the staged scene at the creek was a taunt to law enforcement and Bill's family and friends that the perpetrators are still in charge. Evidently the one writing the letters saw or heard something that may help solve this case. I hope the writer won't let these people continue to taunt their control, walking away as though Bill's life was of no consequence."
For their part, the family says they refuse to buy in to the theory that Bo Peep walked away despondently and committed suicide. They believe it was something more sinister.
"Joe, Ike and I, and many of Bill's friends, never felt that Bill was in that water. One of the first comments out of my mouth to the sheriff that Saturday morning was 'call the FBI, we feel Bill met with foul play,'" Baker recalled. "His comments back to me were, 'We're doing what state and federal officials would, there's no need to bring them in. There's no evidence of foul play. Who would think to stage a drowning site and why?' But three years later, there's no evidence that would lead any of us to believe Bill drowned, or that he walked away or that he committed suicide. So what's left? Why is it that we're still trying to get law enforcement officials to look into foul play? I just feel they were so involved in trying to prove that Bill had drowned that any information that might have been relayed to the officials was ignored as being of no consequence."
The theory that Bo Peep drowned that September has long been washed away. Joe Farrer's recent comments, mirrored by his brother Ike, addressed that issue and centered on the need for further contact from the author of the anonymous letters.
"It has been three long years and we are no closer to solving this crime. I would like to thank our local law officials in proving that Bill did not drown…," Joe said. "…We are asking all of Bo Peep's friends for their help. Please let us know of any discussions or incidents that happened from Sept. 10, 2002 to Sept. 13, 2002. Your information could be very valuable in solving this crime.
"Now I would like to thank the person(s) who wrote the four unsigned letters to Mary. This information has been very valuable in keeping the case open. We're asking you for additional information that may help us in solving this crime."
Joe Farrer is posting two new rewards in hopes of obtaining two family keepsakes that belonged to Bo Peep. He is offering a $500 reward for the return of an old Colt 45 Army-issued revolver. And even more significant to the family is an old Army-issued Colt 38 revolver and holster. The holster, Joe said, has "U.S." stamped on it. He is offering a $1,000 reward for its return.
They ask anyone with any information pertaining to the disappearance of Bill "Bo Peep" Farrer or in possession of the two firearms to contact Mary Baker in confidence at 2985 Champagne Court, Cumming, GA 30041.
In many ways it would have been better for the family if Bo Peep had been found beneath the waters of Rocky Comfort Creek. But this was not to be.
Of all the possible reasons for Farrer's disappearance, the one that continues to be the most persistent, both for Bo Peep's family and countless members of the community, is foul play. Connected to that scenario is that of an even more disturbing possibility. It deals with Bo Peep's statements to some family and friends that he had found marijuana in the woods.
"Officials would have us believe that people do not get wealthy growing marijuana," said Baker. "Yet an article in The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter quoted the sheriff as saying that 72 confiscated immature plants had a street value of $2,000 each. What would the plants have been worth when mature at harvest time? If a grower harvested that amount ($2,000 X 72) over a several -year period, I would venture to say the grower would have accumulated a hefty nest egg four years would yield over a half-million dollars. Would growers make a person disappear in order to protect their income, their standing in society and to avoid a jail sentence? Quoted from one of the four letters I received, 'Two days before Bill's disappearance, I had a lengthy conversation with Bill. He told me about picking berries and finding the marijuana patch at the river…' Officials would have us believe that Bill's life had not been in jeopardy due to an illicit discovery."
The mystery of the disappearance of Bill "Bo Peep" Farrer persists. Yet Mary, Joe and Ike have made good on their word to keep the issue alive. Perhaps their tenacity has begun to pay off.
One by one in recent months, from far beyond the borders of Jefferson County and the State of Georgia, an increasing number of investigators with decades of combined experience in solving such mysteries are training their eyes, their attention and their professional curiosity on the banks of Rocky Comfort Creek, on the events that led to Farrer's disappearance and on the mystery of the man who never met a stranger.
SPLOST to be discussed by school board Thursday
• Next round could raise $12 million for heating/air replacements and maintenance in county's schools
By Ben Roberts
The Jefferson County Board of Education (BOE) is expected to vote to approve a referendum to continue its current one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) at their regular meeting tonight (Thursday, Dec. 8).
That referendum would come before Jefferson County voters in a special election on March 21 of next year.
Jefferson County School Superintendent Carl Bethune said this next round of SPLOST could raise up to $12 million over the next five years.
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Those funds would be used for capital projects including the replacement of heating and air conditioning units at all schools, as well as roof repairs and replacements at each school. Remaining funds would be used for various other items, depending on cost estimates, that could include facility maintenance and upkeep at each school, a food lab and new track at Jefferson County High School (JCHS), physical education facilities at both middle schools, additional school buses and technology purchases for all the schools.
Bethune warned that while a needs list had been created and prioritized, the completion of all projects on that list would depend on the amount of funds received through the special sales tax.
He cited elevation and flooding problems at Wrens Elementary as being one of the first projects requiring completion; therefore it was high on the system’s list of priorities.
However, Bethune said, the first priority was continuing to use SPLOST funds to make the system’s yearly bond payment of its 1993 bond issue.
Without those SPLOST funds, the system would have to charge county property owners an additional 1.9 mills on their ad valorem taxes each year. So far, SPLOST funds have covered that payment, allowing the BOE to roll back taxes.
Bethune said that while the “needs” list was prepared by administrators at each school, a 22-member committee made up of mostly parents from each school as well as some system administrators reviewed that list. The committee spent an entire day touring each school to see proposed needs firsthand and work completed using past SPLOST funds. Bethune said the list forwarded to board members was passed unanimously by the SPLOST committee.
Doug O’Steen of Wrens served on the committee and said he felt like the recommendations from the schools were legitimate and needed.
“The needs were very recognizable. And we were able to see the work that had been done using previous SPLOST funds. These are things that are definitely needed,” said the father of Wrens’ Elementary (WES) and Middle School children.
Committee member Tracy Lewis of Wadley said it was good to visit all the schools and see the various needs. While he has one child at Carver Elementary and another at JCHS, Lewis said he felt the work needed to correct flooding problems at WES should be at the top of the priority list.
Assistant Superintendent Donnie Hodges said that after the first of the year, this same committee will begin campaigning for the SPLOST renewal. She said it’s vitally important that those who support the special sales tax cast their vote in favor of the measure.
“Our biggest enemy is complacency,” she said, pointing out that those against the tax will show up at the polls, while others stay home assuming it will pass.
“We struggle,” Bethune added. “We’re such a small system and we’re so reliant on these funds. This is really basic needs stuff.”
The current BOE SPLOST was passed in September of 2001 by 92-percent of county voters. It was estimated to raise $10 million dollars over its five-year period. That $10 million ceiling will most likely be met sometime next year, so passage of this new referendum will ensure that SPLOST funds continue to be collected without interruption.
Renewal of the SPLOST will not change the county’s current sales tax of 7-percent since this is merely a continuation of the current one-cent tax.