From 2012: Man charged in the death of Summer Shipp

Originally published Aug. 4, 2012

A man who had long been of interest in the disappearance of Summer Shipp was charged Friday with first-degree murder in her death.

Barely two hours after Jeffrey S. Sauerbry was convicted of murder in a separate case, the Jackson County prosecutor's office announced the charge relating to Shipp, a Kansas City woman who disappeared in Independence in 2004.

According to court records, Sauerbry confessed in 2008 to a childhood acquaintance that he had killed Shipp because he thought she was a spy. Sauerbry allegedly said he cut Shipp's throat and dismembered her body.

Shipp's remains were discovered in 2007 along the banks of the Little Blue River in Independence.

"Justice may be delayed, but it is not denied, " Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Friday in announcing the new charge against Sauerbry.

Baker said Shipp's daughter, Brandy, was told of the charge Friday afternoon. Brandy Shipp had attended much of Sauerbry's trial this week in the separate case. She did not attend Baker's announcement and could not be reached later.

Summer Shipp's cousin, Tracy Guenther, was happy Friday to hear of the murder charge.

"I think it will let Brandy have some closure, " said Guenther, who had helped in the search for her cousin. "Not that there's ever closure, or understanding."

Sauerbry, 40, was convicted Friday of first-degree murder in the unrelated death of William Kellett, whose body was found by Independence police in July 1998. Kellett was shot in the neck and stabbed several times.

Baker said her office wanted to wait until that trial was over before revealing the new charge regarding Shipp because she did not want the news to interfere with that case.

Summer Shipp disappeared on Dec. 8, 2004, from a northwest Independence neighborhood where she had been doing a door-to-door survey. Police and volunteers searched extensively for her.

Brandy Shipp held out hope for years that her mother was still alive. After the remains were found, the family held a packed memorial service for the woman who always had an "aura of goodness."

Shipp had many friends and was a former owner of the Westport movie house The Bijou. She enjoyed her work in marketing, taking surveys and meeting new people.

A $100,000 reward was offered for information leading to her safe return.

Sauerbry had been questioned shortly after Shipp's disappearance. The small, 54-year-old woman was last seen in the 1500 block of West Cottage Terrace in Independence. A witness told police he saw Sauerbry and Shipp walking together to a house in that block where Sauerbry lived with his mother. Shipp's car was later discovered parked across the street from that house.

Days later, Sauerbry was arrested for outstanding warrants and questioned about Shipp. He said he had been at work that day and denied having anything to do with her disappearance. He later denied she was ever at his house. Police searched the property but found nothing.

According to court documents, a witness told police that Sauerbry told him in 2005 that he had raped Shipp and that she was not coming back.

In 2006, Sauerbry was sentenced by a federal judge to a year in prison for violating probation from a 2003 weapons conviction. In October 2007, Shipp's remains were found along with a plastic garbage bag.

A break in the case came in June this year when police interviewed a person described as someone who has known Sauerbry since childhood, court documents said. The witness said that in early 2008, he was with Sauerbry, who was looking up information about Shipp on the Internet. The witness asked Sauerbry if he knew anything about that case.

"I know a lot, " Sauerbry allegedly replied, adding that Shipp was "a spy for the government. ... She was spying on me."

According to the court filing, the witness said Sauerbry admitted that he choked Shipp and cut her throat before dismembering her body, placing the pieces in a trash bag and loading it in his van.

The witness told police he asked Sauerbry if he really killed Shipp because he thought she was a spy.

"You can't take no chances, " Sauerbry allegedly replied.

Baker said Friday that before authorities learned of that alleged confession, there had not been enough evidence to charge Sauerbry.

According to federal court records, Sauerbry at one time was hospitalized for mental health issues because he thought unidentified people in Independence were trying to kill him by putting illicit drugs into his body.

The Kellett trial this week stemmed from a case dating to 1998. Prosecutors told a Jackson County jury that Sauerbry had become angry with Kellett after the two clashed on several occasions. The men once fought during a poker game.

In July 1998, Independence police found Kellett, 53, of Independence, dead in a recreational-vehicle-style trailer at 650 E. U.S. 24, the site of a used car dealership. Kellett had worked there as a night security guard. Sauerbry also worked at the dealership.

Ted Hunt, an assistant Jackson County prosecutor, said Sauerbry shot and stabbed Kellett.

"This was a crime of rage, " Hunt told jurors.

Authorities searched a residence in the 2300 block of South Englewood Avenue in Independence, where Sauerbry was living at the time, and recovered a .410 shotgun and a hunting knife that were consistent with the injuries Kellett suffered.

Several relatives of Shipp were present during the weeklong trial on the Kellett murder.

Sauerbry is in the Jackson County Jail.