Archive for Thursday, January 11, 2007

De Soto man’s fate a 12-year mystery

January 11, 2007

Among the family photographs in Eldean Shultz's living room is one of a lean young man with a full beard and white straw hat, smiling broadly into the camera while fishing.

"He was my youngest," Shultz said. "He was good to me. Everything I asked him to do around here, he would do."

Twelve years ago last week, the man in the picture, Jack Shultz, was reported missing to the Johnson County Sheriff's Office. Despite a lengthy investigation involving hundreds of interviews, no trace of Jack was ever found.

His father and sheriff's office investigators suspect foul play, and Jack's case is one of eight cold cases featured on the sheriff's Web site.

The 85-year-old Shultz said he had moved past the pain and grief of his son's murder. Even his desire has waned to see those responsible for the crime brought to justice, something he doesn't expect to see in his lifetime.

The elder Shultz has a theory about the crime, though, and thinks it could be solved if the right people would talk.

"I think there's people here in De Soto who know what happened," he said. "I've always thought that."

Shultz last saw his then 37-year-old son soon after Thanksgiving in 1994. The elder Shultz had just returned from a visit to his daughter's family in Iowa. His son came in late at night and fell asleep in a lounge chair in his living room.

"I heard the door open about 5 o'clock in the morning," Shultz said. "Someone came in and got him. All his stuff was gone but his belt."

Jack was never seen again. But it wasn't clear at first whether he had disappeared because of an outstanding arrest warrant stemming from a DUI incident.

As the days passed, his father feared the worst. Shultz was the head grade-checker for such construction projects as the Truman Sports Complex and was able to teach his sons the trade. Jack had a steady job with one of the largest construction companies in Kansas City.

Soon after Jack disappeared, his boss called about his whereabouts, Shultz said.

"He always had plenty of money but got rid of it pretty fast," Shultz said. "He was a good worker -- everybody always said that."

Secondly, Shultz said Jack's relationship with him and his daughter living with his former wife was such that he wouldn't have run off without getting in touch.

"He wouldn't have treated me like that," he said. "He would have let me know where he was at."

Finally, Jack had told him he planned to address the warrant for his arrest.

"He had done all his laundry and told me he was going to turn himself in," Shultz said.

Detective Scott Atwell of the Johnson County Sheriff's Office said he and two other investigators conducted hundreds of interviews in the case. It is one of several cold cases he is working.

Like Jack's father, Atwell assumes Jack didn't simple disappear. The detective knew Jack from his years as a patrol officer in De Soto.

"I always liked Jack," he said. "He was too close to the De Soto area to be gone this long. He wouldn't have done that to his daughter or his dad."

Jack had a history with the sheriff's office for minor offenses, Atwell said. The kind of sentence he was facing for the DUI case wouldn't have bothered Jack, he said.

"He could do time like that standing on his head," he said. "That would be nothing for Jack."

In his father's theory, Jack's decision to give himself up on the DUI case was a fatal one.

"Somebody didn't want him talking to the police," Shultz said. "They bumped him off."

Jack was involved with drugs and was keeping bad company, Shultz said.

"There were from six drug dealers in De Soto at that time," he said. "They were outsiders. I think they all moved on."

A drug link or any motive would be speculation, Atwell said. Rumors flew around De Soto after Jack's disappearance, some of which were also picked up during interviews, he said.

They eventually led to the sheriff's office obtaining a search warrant for an abandoned farm at 87th Street and Evening Star Terrace.

"There were enough rumors going around from folks who had supposedly seen Jack battered at a party out there," Atwell said. "We assumed if that was true maybe he could be buried there too.

"We brought in backhoes and cadaver dogs. We even drained the pond. We didn't find anything."

One name "kept popping up" to investigators, Atwell said. The problem was the person of interest wasn't well liked, and detectives weren't sure how much of what they were hearing was motivated by a desire to get back at someone known to be connected to the case.

Cold cases sometimes get solved because a perpetrator confesses out of a guilty conscience or tells the wrong person, Atwell said. If the person of interest -- now in prison on an unrelated charge -- is behind Jack's disappearance, he will never confess out of remorse and is too shrewd to incriminate himself, the detective said.

Still, Atwell said there was always hope. A person with a minor role, such as helping transport the body, might confess out of guilt or to get a better deal for a future arrest, he said.

His son's sudden disappearance and the realization he was dead "hurt like hell," Schultz said. As the years went by and his own health declined, he's resigned himself to never learning how his son died or who was behind his death, he said.

On the 10th anniversary of Jack's disappearance, the sheriff's office issued a press release with the hope of generating more leads. Atwell said he would like to solve the case for Jack's family.

"It has to be terrible not knowing what happened to your son or father," he said.

Anyone with information about Jack Shultz's disappearance should call the Johnson County Sheriff's Office's investigative division at (913) 791-5560 or the tips hotline at (816) 474-TIPS.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.