Details of Disappearance
Kimberly and her young daughter, Haleigh Culwell
, were last seen on June 21, 2007. They resided in a log cabin on a forty-acre property. The driveway leading up to the residence has two locked gates and as a result, the cabin can only be reached on foot. The day she went missing, Kimberly went to her job at Cloverdale Manor Nursing Home in Scottsboro, Alabama to pick up some papers. She called a friend on the way back home to Section, Alabama, but they were unable to talk because the connection was bad. Kimberly promised to call her friend back in five minutes. She never did.
Kimberly's coworkers reported her disappearance on June 28, a week after she was last seen. Authorities interviewed her husband, Barry Van Whitton, who is Haleigh's stepfather. Barry stated Kimberly and Haleigh left their residence in a white Ford van or truck with Alabama license plates shortly after Kimberly arrived home from work. He said he gave his wife $20,000 in cash, and he never saw them after that. He stated they may have gone to Montana. They have never been heard from again.
Photographs of Barry are posted with this case summary. He had been married to Kimberly for eight years prior to her disappearance. He has a criminal record; he was convicted on charges of receiving stolen property in 1988 and 1991. After authorities searched his property for evidence in his wife and stepdaughter's disappearance, they arrested Barry on weapons charges. Guns were found on his property, and he is not legally permitted to own them due to his criminal history.
In September 2007, Barry pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of firearms. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. The typical sentence given for those charges is between 12 and 18 months, but the judge elected to sentence Barry to the maximum term due to the danger she believed he posed to the community; she described him as the most dangerous defendant she had seen in her judicial career.
The judge heard witnesses testify that Barry bragged about having murdered three people, discussed body disposal and removing trace evidence, and threatened to kill other individuals, including his mother-in-law and the judge who placed his eleven-year-old son in foster care after Kimberly and Haleigh's disappearances. Barry is considered a suspect in Kimberly and Haleigh's cases, although he has never confessed to harming them. Authorities stated they found blood in one of his pickup trucks and on a hatchet handle, but the source of the blood has not been revealed.
Barry's first wife, Michelle Townsend Whitton, also disappeared in late 1997. At the time Barry said she, like Kimberly and Haleigh, had simply left; he said Michelle went out to get breakfast and never came back. A photo of Michelle is posted with this case summary. She was found beaten and stabbed to death and buried in a shallow grave in DeKalb County, Alabama six weeks later, in January 1998. Barry and Kimberly met through a personals ad Barry placed in a magazine. They got married about a year after Michelle's death, after only four to six months of dating. It's unclear whether she knew his previous wife had been murdered or that he was considered a suspect.
While in jail on the gun charges, Barry allegedly told a cellmate he did not kill Michelle, but he knew who did and he had killed that person. In December 2014, a little less than a year before he was supposed to be released from federal prison, Barry was indicted for Michelle's murder. He was found guilty in September 2015 and sentenced to life in prison.
It's uncharacteristic of Kimberly and Haleigh to leave for an extended period without telling anyone. Kimberly had worked at the nursing home for seven years prior to her disappearance, and the only time she missed work was to take Haleigh on a school trip. Kimberly and Barry weren't having any known problems in their marriage in 2007, and Kimberly hadn't told anyone her husband was mistreating her. Barry hasn't faced any charges relating to their disappearances.
Kimberly and her daughter may have traveled to Montana after they went missing, but investigators suspect foul play was involved in their cases. Their disappearances remain unsolved.