Solid answers elude
family and friends of missing woman
By JOHN SHULTZ and
DON BRADLEY The Kansas City Star
Kansas City Star|
(left) and her father, John Shipp, are awaiting news of
Summer Shipp, who disappeared a week ago.
of Kansas City |
Taken together, the signs were stark to those who know her: a
missed social outing; an unexplained absence from work; Alex, the
terrier mix, abandoned in an empty house.
It was unlike Summer Shipp, all of it. Unlike the boisterous
54-year-old, who was not known for shying away from a gathering, who
never met a person she didn't hit it off with and was never hard to
“I just want her to be safe wherever she is,” said Dodie Murphy,
a week removed from her friend's puzzling disappearance. “God
willing, she'll come back to us.”
But Shipp's family and her considerable circle of friends don't
know what the coming days will hold. They don't know what to make of
Thursday's developments, as Independence police got a warrant to
search a house in the 1500 block of West College Terrace, looking
for any trace of Shipp.
That house has factored heavily into investigators' efforts since
the weekend. On Saturday, police arrested a man who lives there on
seven outstanding traffic warrants, although he's not being called a
suspect. The 32-year-old man is being held in lieu of a $70,000 cash
bond. Typical traffic bonds can range from $100 to $500.
With the consent of the man's mother, police first searched the
house over the weekend. But investigators found something there that
prompted them to obtain a warrant to search the man's bedroom
They also have impounded the man's vehicle.
The man in custody was convicted in August 2003 in New Mexico of
being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 37
months in a federal prison and remanded to prison officials.
But the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Web site indicates the man was
released June 30.
The Jackson County prosecutor's office said the man also pleaded
guilty in 1998 to felony stealing and was sentenced to three years'
probation. The federal firearms case was based on a drug conviction
in Missouri, the New Mexico authorities said
Police were tight-lipped Thursday about what they found or what
they were looking for. Shipp's family said they were still in the
dark as to her fate.
So while police comb the Independence neighborhood for any sign
of Shipp, a parallel effort of sorts hums at her three-story
Valentine neighborhood home. Her loved ones need to stay busy —
getting the word out, posting fliers across the area, raising reward
“She's my best friend,” said Brandy Shipp, the missing woman's
“I just put everything else in my life on hold. … I stayed up the
first three days. They're forcing me to sleep now so that I have
energy to focus on finding my mom,” she said.
“Everyone's giving as much time as they can.”
Shipp's home has become the headquarters for the family's
frenetic missing person campaign. At any given time, 20 persons may
be packed in. One friend brought over a fax machine. Others helped
set up a Web site.
The reward now stands at $25,000. Fliers have gone up in
Parkville and Mission, Lee's Summit and Brookside. And Brandy Shipp
is hearing from friends of her mother's that she hasn't seen in
“I'm surprised, but I'm not,” Shipp said. “I knew she knew so
many people, and so many people loved her, but I cannot believe how
many people this is getting to.”
Dodie Murphy wasn't surprised.
“She had so many friends, I'm telling you. She had friends all
over the city,” Murphy said.
Shipp's way with people, the way she befriended folks from the
first meeting, kept her enthralled with her door-to-door work.
“I mostly got a sense that she just enjoyed what she was doing,”
said friend Holly Miller. “She's so vivacious, talking with the
public is just an extension of her personality.
She never spoke of fear when it came to her job, friends said,
only of the people she met and their unfailingly interesting
“She stays in touch with some of them,” Brandy Shipp said. “It's
like a social thing almost.”
“She was street smart, although she was very petite and delicate
and small,” Brandy Shipp said. “She'd just laugh when people said,
‘Summer, it's not safe to do this.'
“‘Don't worry,' she'd say, ‘I'll be fine.' ”
The market research Shipp was doing when she disappeared,
contract work for NOP World out of New York, was only one way she
filled her time.
NOP on Thursday expressed concern for Shipp's family and said it
was helping in any way it could with the investigation.
Shipp loved cultural events, her friends said.
She pulled together a group of about a dozen women, all ages,
from all across the area, for regular get-togethers. Her house is
filled with collectibles, including movie memorabilia, and she has a
booth out of the Parkville antique mall.
And she was active with the Film Society of Greater Kansas City.
That love of film was a holdover: With her ex-husband, John Shipp,
she was co-owner of the Bijou movie theater in Westport.
“As far as we know, she was the first woman to operate a theater
locally,” John Shipp said.
John Shipp said she also worked on the film crews of local
And Shipp always figured heavily in her friends' plans.
Last January, she vacationed in Jamaica with Linda Carroll and
“We just knew that she would enjoy just hanging out,” Carroll
“She takes delight in small pleasures,” she said.
She frequently took boarders into her three-story, six-bedroom
house. An exchange student was staying on the third floor when Shipp
“It kind of gives her a sense of security knowing there's people
in the house,” Brandy Shipp said. “She doesn't want to be totally
But Shipp also had to work, and she did contract jobs for a
number of employers.
It was an employer, Anita Campbell, owner of Interviewing Kansas
City, who first noticed that she was missing. Shipp was due at work
Dec. 9 to survey grocery store customers in Lee's Summit. She never
Brandy Shipp later discovered that Alex hadn't been let out in
Eventually, Campbell called Brandy Shipp. Word, and dread, spread
quickly in Shipp's social circles.
Holly Miller, one of the last friends to speak to Shipp, got one
of the first calls.
“Her daughter called and asked, ‘Did you and mom go to the movie
last night? Well something has gone terribly wrong.' ”
Shipp's friends and family still are waiting to find out just
what that was.
To reach John Shultz, call
(816) 234-4427 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To reach Don Bradley, call
(816) 234-7810 or send e-mail to email@example.com.
How to help
• Anyone with information about
the disappearance of Summer Shipp is asked to call the TIPS Hotline
at (816) 474-TIPS (474-8477).
• Shipp is 5 feet, 1 inch tall,
weighs 105 pounds, and has strawberry blond hair.