Thursday, October 11, 2007
Story last updated at
10/11/2007 - 11:53 am

Search for answers

Investigation continues in Summer Shipp case

Independence Examiner

By Rhiannon Ross | Rhiannon.ross@examiner.net

Under a cloudless azure sky, on a crisp and breezy autumn day, police on foot, horseback and under water continued to search Wednesday at Little Blue Trace Park for the remains of Summer Shipp.

The Kansas City woman, then 54, was last seen in an Independence neighborhood on Dec. 8, 2004, while going door-to-door as a market researcher. Her car was found parked nearby.

Police confirmed Tuesday that the skull and other bones found Sunday on the banks of the Little Blue River, downstream from the Missouri 78 shelter, in Little Blue Trace Park were Shipp's. Dental records confirmed her identity.

Jackson County Sheriff's spokesperson Ronda Montgomery said at a press conference Wednesday that search efforts for more remains had intensified in the area east of the Little Blue River, north of Missouri 78 and Fisher Road to Ripley Junction at U.S. 24.

"We always hope to find evidence that leads to a suspect," Montgomery said. "(Shipp) and her family definitely deserve to find her killer, and that's what we intend to do."

She said police were conducting a thorough grid search, where police teams, slowly investigated the cordoned off area, step-by-step. If any evidence is found, the crime lab is summoned immediately to the site.

The Jackson County Posse Search and Rescue Team, a volunteer mount and rescue search unit, joined recovery efforts Wednesday.

Montgomery said horses could more easily navigate difficult terrain. The Corp of Engineers, recruits from the Western Missouri Police Academy and the Independence Crime Lab also joined the search.

Others who have been actively assisting with the case include the city of Independence, the Lee's Summit Underwater Rescue and Recovery Team, the Missouri State Water Patrol, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office and the Jackson County Medical Examiner's Office.

Montgomery said she could not confirm if soil erosion played a role in exposing the remains found or if they had been dumped at the site.

"We don't know if she's been here the entire three years or not, if erosion played a part or it's something very fresh," Montgomery said.

Jackson County Sheriff Tom Phillips said Tuesday the bones were two to three years in age because no flesh remained on them.

Two fisherman found the skull Sunday on the river bank. The Lee's Summit Underwater Rescue and Recovery Team discovered some bones and pieces of clothing tangled in a fishing line later that day, also on the bank.

She said police had recovered different remains each day since the search began Sunday.

That fisherman would find the skull, said Montgomery, was "very bizarre."

"Bizarre may not be the right word - fortunate - that they were able to find that," she said. "We're thankful for it to put closure to this for the Shipp family."

Janice Cogburn, a friend of Summer's daughter Brandy Shipp, also attended the press conference Wednesday.

"Summer loved her daughter dearly," she said. "I hope Brandy can get through this. It's such a hard time."

Cogburn said she participated in circulating fliers around the city when Shipp was reported missing.

Brandy Shipp was in Belgium when she received the news about the discovery of her mother's remains. Cogburn said she wasn't scheduled to return to the states until November.

Summer Shipp, said Cogburn, was the very embodiment of her name.

"Summer was a sunny, beautiful person. She was always happy, always had a smile on her face," she said. "Whoever did this took a beautiful person from this world."