Newly found clue deepens disappearance mystery

Though a weekend search yielded a new piece of evidence in the Summer Shipp disappearance, authorities said Monday it was unclear what it meant.

A Sutherlands store discount card bearing Shipp's name was found Saturday in a woody, grassy area north of U.S. 24 and east of William Chrisman High School in Independence during a “line search” conducted by volunteers.

Independence police Detective George Parks said investigation showed it was from a mass mailing that required recipients to go to a store to activate it. Shipp never used the card, he said.

Shipp, who was 54 when she disappeared Dec. 8, was last seen doing door-to-door market research in an Independence neighborhood. A $100,000 reward has been offered for information leading to her whereabouts.

John Underhill, a private investigator working with the Shipp family, organized the latest search because he thought prior searches might not have been as thorough as lining up a large number of people to march over the area.

Underhill said he organized the search Saturday to make sure nothing was missed and to generate additional publicity for the case. “I really hadn't expected to find anything,” he said.

After a tip in December, Independence police had taken dogs to hunt the area for scent. Detectives and Underhill also had walked over the property on other days.

Underhill said that when a volunteer discovered the card, which was partly covered by leaf litter, searchers called Independence investigators.

Parks said that until other evidence was found in the case, it would be difficult to know what importance to assign to the card. He said the card was lying in plain sight when Independence investigators arrived.

“It could have been missed; it could have been planted,” Parks said. “I don't think it was missed.”

Parks and Underhill agreed that if the card had been planted, it would be a development in Shipp's disappearance that raised more questions.

In January someone apparently dropped Shipp's Hen House courtesy card into the mail, but that card had not been used since her disappearance.

They said that if the Sutherlands card had been planted, that could be an attempt by someone to lead investigators in a wrong direction.

Authorities are continuing to interview people and investigate other tips, Parks said.

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