Baby Thomas Gibson's Disappearance Remains A Mystery Over 30 Years Later

It's the time in between ... the little spaces, those fleeting moments that are hardly ascertainable outside the testimony of a single person, maybe two. It's moments such as these that, in one way or another, are wide enough to swallow somebody whole and never allow the rest of the world to find them. According to Statista, 600,000 people go missing in the United States almost every year. While a good number of them are recovered, there are still those that tragically never return home. Many such cases involve children.

It was in 1991 that two-year-old Thomas ("Tommy") Gibson vanished entirely and was never seen again. Authorities compiled as much as they could in the way of evidence, but it ultimately led to nothing at all. The last person to see Thomas alive was his own father, (off-duty) deputy Larry Gibson. According to the latter's testimony, his infant son was last spotted playing in the family's front yard alone. Nobody else could confirm or deny Larry's statement, so authorities initially presumed that the child had been abducted from his own yard while unattended. It was the best line of inquiry they had to follow, but sadly, it proved to be a dead end. It's been over 30 years since Tommy Gibson disappeared, and police are still at a loss. Nobody has any idea where he was taken or by whom, if he's still alive, or if it was ever even a matter of abduction at all (via True Crime Diva). 

The day Thomas Gibson disappeared

It was just after 11am on March 18, 1991 that Larry Gibson took to the pavement for his routine jog, as True Crime Diva reports. Per his own statement, he last saw baby Thomas playing in the front yard by himself. It was customary for the elder Gibson to carry a pistol at his side while on a run. The family's property was reportedly riddled with a multitude of stray cats that had become a problem, and after allegedly taking aim at one and missing it, he carried on. Upon returning home, he was met by his wife Judy who inquired after her son's whereabouts. Larry, unsure of what had happened in his absence, was also at a loss. Their two-year-old son had up and vanished seemingly right under their noses, and nobody could summon an explanation. 

Judy Gibson, who was inside the house at the time, claims to have heard the shot from her husband's .45 caliber pistol that he allegedly fired at the cat. Additionally, she told the Douglas County Sheriff's office that she also heard a car idling nearby. Otherwise, there was no tangible indication as to where Tommy may have gone or who could have taken him if he had in fact been kidnapped. A rigorous search that lasted a total of three days commenced, but all efforts to locate the missing boy were in vain. It's been just over 31 years since Thomas Dean Gibson disappeared (per True Crime Diva). 

Inconsistencies in the story arise

Later on, Larry and Judy Gibson's four-year-old daughter Karen revealed to police that she had witnessed a man step out of a car, seize her brother, and drive off with him. While the information seemed promising at first, the details started to become muddled and contradicting. Three years later during an extensive trial, Karen changed her story and declared that she saw her father beating Tommy in the front yard. She claims that he returned home after an extended absence with a plastic garbage bag containing something "little and black" before storing it in the trunk of his police cruiser and driving off. Judy Gibson also attested to her husband's alleged tendency to abuse their two children, which only heightened suspicions of foul play and possible infanticide from authorities and investigators, as True Crime Diva reports. 

A 1992 excerpt from The Missoulian pointed out some inconsistencies in Larry Gibson's testimony that appeared troubling, stating that "the difference between how far he said he went on that jog and how long it took him to return home" didn't add up. His jogging attire was also clean, despite an abundance of mud puddles along the path he said he ran. As investigative efforts vamped up, evidence against Larry Gibson's proclaimed innocence continued to mount. Shortly after the statements made by Karen Gibson and her mother in 1994, Larry Gibson was arrested and brought in for further questioning which led to a manslaughter conviction (via True Crime Diva). 

Larry Gibson was arrested in 1994

At first, the paramount suspicion was that Larry Gibson had accidentally shot his son while aiming for the stray cat he claimed to have missed, but the official charges leveled against him by the state were "intentional murder and murder by abuse," according to Justia US Law. "Tommy's mother testified that, a few days before Tommy disappeared, she heard a loud noise coming from the kitchen where defendant and Tommy were at the table. Tommy screamed and was lying on the floor next to his fallen-down high chair," the official court transcript read. This was a great contrast of testimony compared to the one that Judy provided police immediately following Tommy's disappearance. Initially, she had made no remarks about her husband abusing her children.

Ultimately, the jury settled on a conviction of second-degree manslaughter. The prosecution asserted that Larry Gibson had either accidentally/intentionally shot his son while aiming for the stray cat he saw on his run or he unintentionally beat him to death while punishing him. The spectrum of details and reports were shrouded and difficult to ascertain, and no official ruling was ever made as to what exactly may have happened to Tommy's body. However, Larry Gibson was sent to prison for three years, though he was released in 1996 for good behavior. He'd also spent time behind bars during the trial, so his lawyers were able to incorporate his prison stay up until that point into his sentence (per True Crime Diva).