Details of Disappearance
Thomas was last seen playing in the front yard of his family's residence in rural Azalea, Oregon at approximately 11:30 a.m. on March 18, 1991. He has never been seen again.
Thomas's father, Larry Gibson, then the Douglas County Deputy Sheriff, told authorities he took a jog around the family's property in Azalea during the late morning hours of his son's disappearance. Larry carried a handgun with him to shoot stray cats, many of which had been living on the property.
Larry claimed he shot at a cat near the area where Thomas was playing, but missed the animal. He then continued on his jog and learned his son was missing after returning to the house approximately 45 minutes later. A photo of Larry is posted with this case summary.
The family summoned law enforcement later in the day to search the property. Larry was told not to report to work at the sheriff's office, but apparently dressed in his uniform and left the property for approximately 25 minutes during the investigation.
He stated that his four-year-old daughter witnessed an unidentified couple pull into their driveway and abduct Thomas. Larry said he was checking a local rest area for signs of Thomas and the couple. While members of the community searched for Thomas, Larry sat at home; at one point he told the searchers to give up and go home because it was snowing.
Authorities believed that Larry shot at a stray cat and killed the animal, as a deceased cat was located on the Gibsons' property near Thomas's last known location.
Investigators believed that the bullet traveled through the cat and struck Thomas as he played, killing him. They theorized that Larry noticed Thomas's body after returning from his jog and buried the child in an effort to conceal the crime.
Larry denied this scenario and maintained his innocence throughout the investigation. He resigned from the sheriff's office and moved to his native Montana after his son's disappearance. He and his wife separated in 1994, and she took their three other children and moved back to Oregon.
Larry's estranged wife and his daughter later changed their stories to authorities and said that his daughter witnessed her father hitting Thomas. Larry then put the child's body in a black plastic garbage bag, put the bag in the back of his patrol car and drove away. He was charged with murder in Thomas's case in 1994.
Prosecutors argued that Larry had a history of abusing his children and was under stress at the time of Thomas's disappearance, as he had to care for the children while his wife was taking college classes. They theorized that, if he did not accidentally shoot his son, Larry lost his temper and beat the child to death.
Larry was ultimately convicted of second-degree manslaughter in 1995, although he continues to deny any involvement. He was released from prison in 1996 and has since published a website appealing for information on the whereabouts of his son.
Thomas has never been located. His case remains classified as a non-family abduction.