Originally published Dec. 17, 2004
Taken together, the signs were stark to those who know her: a missed social outing; an unexplained absence from work; Alex, the terrier mix, abandoned in an empty house.
It was unlike Summer Shipp, all of it. Unlike the boisterous 54-year-old, who was not known for shying away from a gathering, who never met a person she didn't hit it off with and was never hard to find.
"I just want her to be safe wherever she is, " said Dodie Murphy, a week removed from her friend's puzzling disappearance. "God willing, she'll come back to us."
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But Shipp's family and her considerable circle of friends don't know what the coming days will hold. They don't know what to make of Thursday's developments, as Independence police got a warrant to search a house in the 1500 block of West College Terrace, looking for any trace of Shipp.
That house has factored heavily into investigators' efforts since the weekend. On Saturday, police arrested a man who lives there on seven outstanding traffic warrants, although he's not being called a suspect. The 32-year-old man is being held in lieu of a $70,000 cash bond. Typical traffic bonds can range from $100 to $500.
With the consent of the man's mother, police first searched the house over the weekend. But investigators found something there that prompted them to obtain a warrant to search the man's bedroom Thursday.
They also have impounded the man's vehicle.
The man in custody was convicted in August 2003 in New Mexico of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 37 months in a federal prison and remanded to prison officials.
But the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Web site indicates the man was released June 30.
The Jackson County prosecutor's office said the man also pleaded guilty in 1998 to felony stealing and was sentenced to three years' probation. The federal firearms case was based on a drug conviction in Missouri, the New Mexico authorities said
Police were tight-lipped Thursday about what they found or what they were looking for. Shipp's family said they were still in the dark as to her fate.
So while police comb the Independence neighborhood for any sign of Shipp, a parallel effort of sorts hums at her three-story Valentine neighborhood home. Her loved ones need to stay busy - getting the word out, posting fliers across the area, raising reward money.
"She's my best friend, " said Brandy Shipp, the missing woman's only child.
"I just put everything else in my life on hold. ... I stayed up the first three days. They're forcing me to sleep now so that I have energy to focus on finding my mom, " she said.
"Everyone's giving as much time as they can."
Shipp's home has become the headquarters for the family's frenetic missing person campaign. At any given time, 20 persons may be packed in. One friend brought over a fax machine. Others helped set up a Web site.
The reward now stands at $25,000. Fliers have gone up in Parkville and Mission, Lee's Summit and Brookside. And Brandy Shipp is hearing from friends of her mother's that she hasn't seen in years.
"I'm surprised, but I'm not, " Shipp said. "I knew she knew so many people, and so many people loved her, but I cannot believe how many people this is getting to."
Dodie Murphy wasn't surprised.
"She had so many friends, I'm telling you. She had friends all over the city, " Murphy said.
Shipp's way with people, the way she befriended folks from the first meeting, kept her enthralled with her door-to-door work.
"I mostly got a sense that she just enjoyed what she was doing, " said friend Holly Miller. "She's so vivacious, talking with the public is just an extension of her personality.
She never spoke of fear when it came to her job, friends said, only of the people she met and their unfailingly interesting lives.
"She stays in touch with some of them, " Brandy Shipp said. "It's like a social thing almost."
"She was street smart, although she was very petite and delicate and small, " Brandy Shipp said. "She'd just laugh when people said, `Summer, it's not safe to do this.'
"`Don't worry, ' she'd say, `I'll be fine.'"
The market research Shipp was doing when she disappeared, contract work for NOP World out of New York, was only one way she filled her time.
NOP on Thursday expressed concern for Shipp's family and said it was helping in any way it could with the investigation.
Shipp loved cultural events, her friends said.
She pulled together a group of about a dozen women, all ages, from all across the area, for regular get-togethers. Her house is filled with collectibles, including movie memorabilia, and she has a booth out of the Parkville antique mall.
And she was active with the Film Society of Greater Kansas City. That love of film was a holdover: With her ex-husband, John Shipp, she was co-owner of the Bijou movie theater in Westport.
"As far as we know, she was the first woman to operate a theater locally, " John Shipp said.
John Shipp said she also worked on the film crews of local efforts.
And Shipp always figured heavily in her friends' plans.
Last January, she vacationed in Jamaica with Linda Carroll and her husband.
"We just knew that she would enjoy just hanging out, " Carroll said.
"She takes delight in small pleasures, " she said.
She frequently took boarders into her three-story, six-bedroom house. An exchange student was staying on the third floor when Shipp disappeared.
"It kind of gives her a sense of security knowing there's people in the house, " Brandy Shipp said. "She doesn't want to be totally alone."
But Shipp also had to work, and she did contract jobs for a number of employers.
It was an employer, Anita Campbell, owner of Interviewing Kansas City, who first noticed that she was missing. Shipp was due at work Dec. 9 to survey grocery store customers in Lee's Summit. She never showed up.
Brandy Shipp later discovered that Alex hadn't been let out in days.
Eventually, Campbell called Brandy Shipp. Word, and dread, spread quickly in Shipp's social circles.
Holly Miller, one of the last friends to speak to Shipp, got one of the first calls.
"Her daughter called and asked, `Did you and mom go to the movie last night? Well something has gone terribly wrong.'"
Shipp's friends and family still are waiting to find out just what that was.