Details of Disappearance
John and his wife, Faye
, disappeared together. After they didn't show up for their granddaughter's wedding rehearsal in Houston, Texas on January 30, 1976, and then missed the actual wedding the next day, their family asked the police to do a wellness check. At 10:30 p.m. on January 31, a sheriff's deputy went to their house at Hill's Prairie, six miles south of Bastrop, Texas, and found it deserted.
There was a bullet hole through the windowpane and shade in the front of the house. It was later determined to be the size of a .22 bullet, and it had been fired from inside the house, not outside, at waist-level height. Besides the bullet hole, there were no indications that a struggle had taken place, and no bloodstains. The Whatleys' minister was surprised to hear the shade had been down; he stated they seldom if ever pulled their shades down.
Both the couple's vehicles were parked in the garage. Their personal belongings were inside the home, intact, including their eyeglasses and money inside their wallets. Curiously, the mahogany bedroom door had been taken off its hinges and was missing. A latch John had installed to keep the door from slamming when the windows were open had been forcibly damaged, and there was a splinter from the door on the floor. One theory is that the door was used as a stretcher to convey John and Faye, or their bodies, out of the house. There were scratch marks on the front door of the residence, which could have been made as the bedroom door passed through.
Although the last confirmed sighting of John and Faye happened on January 26, authorities believe the couple disappeared either late on January 27 or early January 28. They base this on the fact that there was a January 27 issue of the newspaper open inside the house, but the January 28 issue was still in the couple's mailbox.
A blue or green van or pickup truck had been seen by hunters at about 9:45 p.m. on January 27, speeding down the road to the Whatley residence. The vehicle came back in the opposite direction about an hour later. It has not been identified.
An extensive search of the local area turned up no sign of the Whatleys. The missing bedroom door was found about a year after the couple disappeared, in the loft of a barn that had been previously searched multiple times.
John was a self-made millionaire who had operated a small dairy in what is now Austin, Texas starting in the 1920s. He later sold the dairy and invested in some land which he resold for $500,000 cash. His assets at the time of his disappearance totaled somewhere between $2 and $7 million, and he and his wife both owned Mercedes-Benz cars, but they were not conspicuously wealthy and kept to themselves. John had moved to the Bastrop area about twenty years prior to his disappearance and he and Faye married in 1972. They had few close friends and no known enemies.
The serial killer Henry Lee Lucas confessed to John and Faye's murders in 1984. A photo of Lucas is posted with this case summary. He was convicted of the 1979 murder of a woman in Texas and sentenced to death. The state's former governor, George W. Bush, commuted his sentence to life imprisonment prior to Lucas's scheduled 1999 execution. He later died in prison. Lucas claimed to have killed approximately 600 people.
Lucas said he and an accomplice had stabbed the Whatleys to death, took their bodies to Nevada and dumped them in the desert. The police at the time stated they found his confession in the Whatley case to be credible and that they were considering filing murder charges against him, but charges were never filed. Lucas confessed to many crimes he did not commit and the exact number of his victims is unknown. It's unclear whether Lucas is still a suspect in the Whatleys' cases. He is also considered a possible suspect in the disappearances of Eva DeBruhl
, Elizabeth "Terri" Bishop
and Cheryl Scherer
No ransom demand was made in the Whatleys' disappearances, but investigators do believe they may have been kidnapped and killed. The motive for their possible abductions has never been established, however. Foul play is suspected in their cases, which remain unsolved.