The final case in the Runaway Train series is a bit different than all of the others. First, it revolves around a toddler, and second, someone was convicted of manslaughter, despite the victim still being considered missing. TW: child murder for this post. So, what happened to Thomas Gibson on March 18, 1991? Let’s explore.
Who Was Tommy?
Thomas Dean Gibson was born to Judith and Larry Gibson on July 5, 1988. He had an older sister named Karen, who was a year older than Tommy. The family lived in Azalea, Oregon, where Larry worked as a deputy sheriff for Douglas County, Oregon.
On the morning of March 18, 1991, Larry left the family home to go on a jog. He claims to have shot at a feral cat in their yard. According to his statements, Tommy was playing in the yard with Karen when he left. When he returned, Tommy was nowhere to be found, and the authorities were alerted.
When asked what happened, Karen claimed to have seen a blonde woman and a man with dark hair pulled into their driveway in an old brown truck. The pair grabbed Tommy and drove away. When the initial search began, Larry left home in his sheriff’s uniform, despite being told not to report to work that day for obvious reasons. He was unaccounted for for about 25 minutes. When Larry’s patrol car was searched, it was ascertained that there were 7 miles on the odometer that Larry could not account for. He attempted to explain it away by saying that he was driving around searching for Tommy, though the investigators did not believe this. Larry was considered a suspect almost immediately.
In 1992, the couple had another daughter, named Lisa. Larry resigned from his role as a deputy sheriff, and the family moved to Avon, Montana to get a fresh start, away from the trauma (and probably suspicious) of Tommy’s disappearance. This only lasted a year, though, as they separated in 1993, and Judy returned to Oregon with the kids. Karen, now seven years old, then began to open up about her real memories of the day Tommy went missing. She told investigators that she saw her father physically assaulting Tommy that day, before putting him in the patrol car and driving away.
On April 14, 1994, Larry Gibson was charged with second-degree murder in the death of his son. He was then extradited from Montana, where he continued to live and work as an insurance agent, to Oregon. His trial began in January of 1995. During the trial, his half-sister was called to testify. On the stand, under oath, she told the courtroom that Larry had called her and confessed to killing Tommy, and that during a time in which Judy and Karen were visiting her, Karen had made a comment about her father “putting her in a big hole” like Tommy. Between this and Karen’s testimony of seeing her father beat Tommy that day, Larry was convicted of Manslaughter in March of 1995. Unfortunately, his sentence was only 15 to 18 months, of which he served 12. He was released in 1996.
Larry Gibson has always maintained his innocence in his son’s disappearance and presumed death.
With everything that has transpired in this case, it is fairly agreed upon that Tommy’s father did, in fact, murder him on the morning he was last seen. So much of Larry’s story just doesn’t make sense. Making sure to bring up that he shot at a feral cat would account for a missing bullet from his gun, and also any gunshot that may have been overheard. His patrol car’s odometer also showed that he traveled seven miles that were never accounted for in any of his statements. Unfortunately, the pieces seem to add up that Larry beat and shot Tommy – either intentionally or accidentally – and hid his remains within a three and a half mile radius of the home (to account for a seven mile round trip). The reason Tommy is still considered missing is because his remains have never been found.
If you or anyone you know have any further information regarding the remains of Tommy Gibson, please contact the Douglas County Sheriff Office as 541-440-4470.