Officials Regroup On Case

By Amy Sherrill

Monday, January 4, 2010 9:51 AM CST
Sebastian County Sheriff’s investigators are retracing their path in an investigation of a man who went missing in April from the Jenny Lind area.

Billy Wayne Wheeler, 66, known by the nickname “Butch,” disappeared in the early morning hours April 21 from his ex-wife’s residence in the 2500 block of Boothe Road.
Wheeler, who had a Fort Smith residence, was staying at Shirley Wheeler’s home because he had become ill suffering from bouts of confusion. He was diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson’s disease, said investigator Capt. Kevin Nickson of the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities said Wheeler had gone to sleep at 10 p.m. April 20 and Shirley Wheeler checked on him about 12:30 a.m. and he was asleep in his bed. At 5:30 a.m. April 21, he was gone. His shoes, size 9, were still inside the house. It is believed that Wheeler may have left the house barefoot.

A massive operation, spearheaded by the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office in April and consisting of 100 rescue personnel searching either on foot, horseback, ATV or from helicopter went on for several days before being called off.

Rescue workers and members of law enforcement and rural fire departments from Sebastian, Crawford and Franklin counties searched the rural expanse of Jenny Lind for Wheeler. The Arkansas State Police and Civil Air Patrol contributed pilots and aircraft to search from the sky, but Wheeler was not located.

Thermal and infrared technology and a cadaver dog were used as well, but the only thing investigators found at the time was a size 9 barefoot footprint near an old strip mine that’s now a pond at the east of the residence.

Investigators are hoping that fresh eyes on the case as well as conducting interviews again with all family members and potential witnesses might lead to Wheeler’s location, Nickson said.

At the time of Wheeler’s disappearance, authorities subpoenaed his bank records but found no activity. Recently, investigators subpoenaed them again to see if there was any activity, said investigator Cpl. Hobie Runion.

“There is still no activity,” Runion said.

During the investigation, authorities learned Wheeler had several girlfriends and acquaintances, but they are not sure that matters.

In hopes that friends, relatives and acquaintances may remember something they did not at the time, investigators will be interviewing several people in the next few weeks.

Authorities have all but ruled out foul play, but they are cautious about completely ruling it out.

“We just don’t know what happened,” Runion said.

Wheeler is described as having gray hair and is around 6 feet tall. When last seen, he was wearing a red flannel shirt and gray pants.

Anyone with information regarding Wheeler’s whereabouts may call the Sheriff’s Office at 783-1051.

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