Denton man's family seeks answers three years after his skeletal remains were identified | Local News |

2022-07-08 00:26:41 By : Ms. Alma li

Clear skies. Low near 80F. Winds SSE at 10 to 15 mph..

Clear skies. Low near 80F. Winds SSE at 10 to 15 mph.

Bill Sheppard is seen in this undated photo with his Labrador retriever, Chiquita.

Bill Sheppard is seen with Chiquita shortly before his death in 2019.

Bill Sheppard is seen in this undated photo with his Labrador retriever, Chiquita.

Chiquita was named after a banana.

The Labrador retriever was shaped like a banana when she curled up next to her owner, Bill Sheppard, who divided his time between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints off Old North Road and with his dogs in the woods around his home on the outskirts of Providence Village.

Bill had brought Chiquita from Pennsylvania along with Mile-a-Minute, a blind and deaf dog who wasn’t fond of sitting still. She died shortly after Bill’s mother's death in the early 2000s. He then rescued a Great Pyrenees named Goliath who was known to break through windows to escape.

At 62, Bill loved his dogs. They were his children. Bill’s friends spoke fondly of his love for his dogs and their walking adventures. A gay man who struggled with addiction, he was always scouring the woodlands, exploring dilapidated houses and bringing back trinkets they’d uncover. Sometimes he’d sleep out with the cows and come back the next day covered in chigger bites.

Pat Tune, a friend, claimed Bill “would walk from one end of Texas to another.”

Given his love for his dogs, Bill’s friends were shocked in early 2018 when he failed to return home after an argument with a roommate ended with him taking her car without permission. They found the car a few days later at another friend’s house.

Bill was nowhere to be found.

“He would never leave his dogs,” said Virginia Earnhardt, who lived with Bill for 16 years. “They were his. You never saw somebody as close to their pets as Bill and his dogs, especially with Chiquita. There is no way that he left them.”

Bill’s friends and his brother, Jim Sheppard, who didn't learn his brother was missing until early fall 2018, said they called Denton police to report him missing. All made a similar claim about what they were told: Bill was homeless and didn’t want to be found.

Jim Sheppard, a 40-year 911 dispatcher in Pennsylvania, said he knew well the criteria for filing a missing person report, one of which is a drug dependency. Yet, when he called to report his older brother missing, he said police told him that since Bill was homeless, they couldn’t enter him into the National Crime Information Center.

“That’s a fallacy,” Sheppard said. “Homeless people can be entered as missing persons.”

Frank Padgett, deputy chief of the Denton Police Department's criminal investigations bureau, agreed and said the missing person’s report should have been taken. He said police usually receive missing person reports numbering in the double-digits each year.

“Practice is to take those reports and take them all seriously,” Padgett said.

Five months after his friends and family tried to report him missing, Bill’s skeletal remains were found in the 5600 block of East McKinney Street. Seven months later, Denton police sought the public’s help to identify the remains, according to an Oct. 9, 2019, Denton Record-Chronicle report.

Bill’s death investigation is inactive, pending further evidence, according to Denton police.

Now, Jim Sheppard and Bill’s friends are demanding answers. An internal affairs investigation is pending.

“When I did try to report him missing, would my brother’s outcome have been different? No, but it would have sped up the identification,” Sheppard said. “It was over a year when I tried to report it, and they called to tell me he’d been found.”

Bill had always wanted to be a veterinarian. It was a dream he had held since he was 5 years old.

Bill and Jim Sheppard were typical brothers. They grew up together in an Ozzie and Harriet type of family, a household that Bill described to friends more like the Gallaghers from Shameless. In the ’60s and ’70s, they were living the “suburban dream” in the largest pre-planned community in the U.S. on the outskirts of Philadelphia and taking vacations to the Jersey Shore in Ocean City with extended family.

Jean Sheppard was a housewife who worked as a bookkeeper to help support the family. William Sheppard was a machinist at a ball bearing factory. They raised their children in the Lutheran Church.

Jim Sheppard said his older brother Bill was popular at their high school and had grown his hair long and listened to “Woodstock music.” Drugs were naturally the next step.

After high school, an 18-year-old Bill cleaned up and landed at Texas A&M University to study veterinary medicine. He made it two years into the program before he dropped out.

He returned to Philadelphia in the mid-’80s, a couple of years after his father’s death, yet always had a love for Texas. He’d given up on his veterinarian dream — but not on fueling his addiction.

Ten years passed, and Bill had become chronically unemployed, Sheppard said, and had gotten into legal problems, followed by jail time for DUIs and other minor charges, along with a falling-out with Jim over an issue the younger brother didn’t want published. It was serious enough that Bill had asked his brother to take him back to jail.

Jim Sheppard dropped Bill off in front of the jail. It was the last time he’d see him alive.

“If you believe in karma, as soon as I dropped him off, the song [by the Hollies] ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ began playing,” Sheppard said.

Bill Sheppard is seen with Chiquita shortly before his death in 2019.

Twenty years later, Jim Sheppard received the call about his brother that part of him had been expecting yet no doubt had been dreading. He hadn’t seen Bill since dropping him off in front of the jail in the late ’90s. He hadn’t spoken with him since their mother’s death in 2006. They were reconciling until Sheppard asked for half of his mother’s ashes.

Now, Denton police were asking if Bill had had back surgery, Sheppard said.

A survey crew, according to Denton police, had found skeletal remains not far from the Ashli Oaks mobile home park off McKinney Street. They had stumbled upon Bill’s skull. Metal plates were also found among the remains, indicating the person may have had back surgery.

“They thought he may have been there for a while,” Sheppard said.

Denton police don't have a record of calls to Sheppard, but that doesn’t mean an officer didn’t call him, Padgett said.

Sheppard wasn’t sure if his brother had had back surgery. He knew Bill and their mother had moved to Texas in early 2000 shortly after Bill’s jail stint. A few years after the move, she fell ill and died. She was a heavy smoker, Sheppard said. The family claimed she may have been abused at the nursing home in Denton.

“I started the process of filing a lawsuit shortly after her passing, but everything got so hectic with my personal life that I never followed through,” Sheppard said.

After his mother’s death, Bill fell on hard times. He was working for home health, yet his addiction, Earnhardt said, had kicked into overdrive. He began shooting meth. At the time, he lived next door to Earnhardt. As a home health caretaker, he had taken care of her, and she then invited him into her home so she could care for him.

They lived together for the next 16 years — first in her apartment and then at a mobile home in Ashli Oaks — until a nursing home forced them apart.

“We lost the trailer and everything,” Earnhardt said. “They [the nursing home] wiped me out every month. … It just got really rough.”

Bill, who may have lived off Social Security, found another roommate who, nine months later, got tired of paying all the bills. Bill’s friend Pat Tune persuaded her friend Diane Wynn to let him move in with Wynn at her small home off a dirt road on the outskirts of Providence Village.

Earnhardt said Bill was in a traffic accident before he came to Texas. His injuries required back surgery and metal plates. There’s a more recent photograph of him in a hospital gown awaiting another back surgery. His friends said he began abusing pills after the surgery. Sheppard said Bill had had a fondness for pain pills since high school.

It was one of several issues, he said, to drive a wedge between them.

Two years after Bill moved in with Wynn, Sheppard received a phone call from Wynn, who told him Bill was missing, after Sheppard wrote a social media post in early fall 2018 asking people if they'd seen his brother. At that point, Bill had been missing for several months, and neither Wynn nor Tune knew about his brother. 

Wynn told Sheppard she had been in the hospital with pneumonia in early 2018 when Bill asked to use her car. She told him no because he didn’t have a license. He was also known for disappearing with loved ones’ cars without permission for a few days.

A few days later, Wynn went with a friend, Tune, to pick her car up from a friend’s at Ashli Oaks. Wynn’s friend, whom neither Tune or Earnhardt knew, had taken the car keys from Bill, who then got angry and took off walking down the street. He planned to walk to his home near Providence Village, where he had left his heart medicine.

Earnhardt said Bill suffered from atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat the Mayo Clinic reports can lead to increased risk for heart failure, stroke or other heart-related complications.

“I kept telling him, ‘Bill, you are going to get out there walking and going to have a heart attack,’” she said.

About six months later, a survey crew discovered Bill's remains less than a mile from Ashli Oaks. A year would pass before he was identified.

Three years after Bill’s remains were found, Sheppard is demanding answers. When he initially tried to report that his brother was missing, he said it had taken him a while to process what the Denton police officer had told him about his brother being homeless and not being able to enter him into the NCIC database.

Sheppard said when, in March 2020, he learned they were Bill’s remains, there was “no love lost,” yet he felt someone needed to be held accountable. He compared it to the old Hollies song — "He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother" — that played on his car stereo when he dropped Bill off in front of the jail.

In late May, Denton police opened an internal affairs investigation, which Padgett said is ongoing.

Sheppard wasn’t the only one who tried to file a missing person’s report. Tune said Wynn, who died nine months ago, had tried to do so also. Tune tried to report it. Earnhardt also tried to report it. All said they were told the same thing: “He wants to be homeless.”

“He wouldn’t leave the dogs,” Tune said.

Earnhardt said when she heard the news, she came to Denton to search for Bill. She went to all his old hangouts, to every person they knew. No one had heard from him. Then, she went to the Police Department. She said she spoke with a detective who repeated the homeless claim and recalled him saying, “They don’t spend resources on cases like that.”

“They were convinced that he had moved on,” Earnhardt said. “Everybody that knew him knew that he wouldn’t leave his dogs. He was going to take care of his babies. That was what they were: his babies.”

Padgett said Denton police couldn’t confirm whether the calls were made to report Bill as a missing person. “That will be part of the internal investigation,” he said. “We will have to look at all the calls during that time frame to determine which might be related to this situation.”

Bill was cremated at the county’s expense. His ashes were sent to a cousin, Andrea Zindel-Smith, who was close with Bill when they were children. She keeps his ashes on a mantle.

“The case should be open,” said Zindel-Smith, a former investigative journalist in Philadelphia. “He wouldn’t just disappear and walk away, and they didn’t start looking for him. That is very vague to me.”

Bill’s friends held a small memorial for him at the Mormon church off Old North Road. The church didn’t return calls seeking comment about Bill.

Sheppard didn’t attend his brother’s memorial but said he did contact the Denton mayor and City Council to file an official complaint.

“Nobody deserves to go that way,” he said. “Regardless of what they may or may not have done or accomplished in life. It’s almost like he didn’t matter.”

CHRISTIAN McPHATE can be reached at (940)220-4299 and via Twitter at @writerontheedge.

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