Runaway Train: Patrick Shawn Betz

          Our next Runaway Train case revolves around a missing eleven year old from Upland, California. Patrick Shawn Betz was last seen leaving a restaurant with an unidentified teen – did this person have a hand in his disappearance, or did he run away on his own? Let’s explore.

Who Is Shawn?

          Patrick Shawn Betz was born on June 21, 1976. He preferred to go by his middle name, Shawn. He was described as a happy kid, who loved to play with friends. He liked to play video games and baseball. He did odd jobs at the local Radio Shack. He was described by his friends as street smart, not someone who would be lured away. However, he had a soft side as well – his mother spoke of his favorite blanket, which he would reach for every time he was tired.
          At the time of his disappearance, Shawn stood at around 4’7 and weighed around 90 lbs. He was wearing a gray shirt, gray pants, and white shoes. He has brown hair and green eyes, and a patch of skin on his the left side of his jaw which is darker than his complexion.

(One of the most recent photos of Shawn.
via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

The Disappearance

          On January 20, 1988, Shawn begged his mother for some quarters so he could play some arcade games with a friend. He, his mother, and his sister were all at the Pizza Chalet in Upland, California, apparently having a late dinner at around 9 PM (according to the Charley Project). After a few minutes, Shawn returned to the table to ask his mother if he could head to Upland High School to watch a basketball game with the same friend. His mother gave him permission, and Shawn excitedly ran off, asking his mother and sister to save him some pizza. Unfortunately, they would never see him again.

The Investigation

          It was initially believed that Shawn had run away from home. He had recently been in some sort of fight with another student at the Sierra Vista Elementary School. The extent of this fight is not clarified in the information available online, but Shawn was due to appear in Juvenile Court in relation to the altercation, so it must have been fairly serious. The original theory from investigators was that Shawn ran away to avoid this. Shawn’s mother disagreed, as Shawn apparently had brushed the matter off and had left his most prized possessions at home.
          The investigators took a look at the owners of the Pizza Chalet, who closed the restaurant shortly after Shawn’s disappearance and returned to their country of origin. There was no evidence that the owners had any involvement in or knowledge of the disappearance.
          The information in the following paragraphs was gleaned from a video by Crime Hound on Youtube, in which family members were interviewed directly. The morning after Shawn’s disappearance, an older-sounding woman called Shawn’s school to tell them that he had moved to live with his grandmother in Washington state. While Shawn’s grandmother had lived in Washington state for a time, she had recently moved to California. The family considered the idea that Shawn had been taken by someone and given them this false information in order to tip off his family that something was wrong.
          The family took up the search for Shawn on their own, because the police refused to start the search. They took four whole months to begin searching in earnest. Shawn’s brother, who was 15 at the time of Shawn’s disappearance, was apparently coerced into confessing to harming his brother, despite the fact that he was over four hundred miles away with several witnesses. An anonymous tip was called in, accusing the family of having buried Shawn in their yard. The yard was consequently searched and nothing was found.
          A woman who worked near the Pizza Chalet eventually came forward, stating that she saw Shawn the day he went missing. She claimed that she saw Shawn walking away from the Pizza Chalet with a teenage boy who has never been identified.
          Does this all seem disjointed and shoddy? Yeah, it does to me too. The strangely intense focus on the family feels so out of line (I barely scratched the surface with how Shawn’s brother was treated in particular, check out this reddit writeup for more detail). It seems that the original investigation was slipshod and half-assed at best. Thankfully, with that Crime Hound video, more recent news coverage, a city council meeting, and renewed police effort on the case, perhaps a better timeline and facts will be established.

(An age progression of Shawn to age 42.
via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)


          The only real theory I can come up with for this case is that Shawn was abducted on the way to the school or shortly thereafter. It’s possible that he and his friend ran into the unidentified teen that he was said to have been seen with that night, and the teen offered something that Shawn was tempted by. He was described as not being gullible, but he was also described as tough. Perhaps he thought that going off with an older boy to see or do something was tough. It’s not out of the question. Of course, this is not to say that whatever happened would have been Shawn’s fault – the fault always lies with the perpetrator, never with the victim.
          Or perhaps the boys made it all the way to the school. We know that the boy’s basketball game was actually an away game that day, meaning there would likely have been no one at the school so late at night. Perhaps the pair parted ways there, and someone saw Shawn walking alone and took advantage to either kidnap – which could explain the strange Washington phone call – or a violent crime of opportunity.
          I just don’t see a situation in which Shawn left of his own accord at any point. He left all of his belongings behind. He asked his family to save him pizza. It seems infinitely more likely that some predator took advantage of a young boy walking at night.

Investigating Agencies

          If you or anyone you know has any information about Patrick Shawn Betz’s disappearance or what happened to him after, reach out. There is a current resurgence in this investigation. They are actively looking for information. The Upland Police Department can be reached at 909-946-7624 in reference to case number 88-01-571. Shawn’s NamUs case number is 5848, his National Crime Information Center case number is M-282765575, and his National Center for Missing and Exploited Children case number is 706544. Now is the time to speak up.


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