Before the fall of 2006, not many people knew where Franklin county Missouri was, not even most people living in Saint Louis. Being in Rural Missouri most people would never have given it a second thought had it not been for the recent surge of national news that has made its way out of the area.
You may remember the story of Baby Abby whom taken by knifepoint from her home in September of 2006. The baby’s 21-year-old mother, Stephanie Ochsenbine, had her throat slashed during the attack in her rural Lonedell, Missouri home. Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke led the Baby Abby investigation, backing the FBI with many other local and state municipalities.
Shannon Beck, AKA Shannon Torrez, was the knife wielding attacker of the 21-year old mother of two small children. Asking to use the telephone, she pulled out a knife once she was inside the home. After slashing the mother’s throat, Shannon stole Baby Abby who was a week old at the time.
Speculation continues that Shannon recently lost a pregnancy, which may have provoked her attack. Shannon Torrez has told her family and police she learned about the new baby when she saw a homemade “Welcome Home Baby” yard sign made by Abby’s grandmother in the Ochsenbine’s front yard.
The strawberry birthmark on baby Abby’s forehead helped Shannon’s sister-in-law Dorothy Torrez to the kidnapped newborn. She noticed makeup covering the baby’s birthmark. When she confronted Shannon about the birthmark and the missing baby’s birthmark, Shannon Torrez admitted to the kidnapping and Dorothy Torrez contacted police.
The eleven-day-old baby finally back safely in her mother’s arms, a father grateful to have his family back together, and a great end of the year, for the soft-spoken Franklin County Sheriff with the baby blue eyes.
The Sheriff’s confidence in his department is obvious. He knows he has a good team; and it is obvious he is a good leader. Sheriff Toelke praised the many jurisdictions for their cooperation and help in finding and returning Baby Abby to her family. Strong, confident, and little did we know this was only the beginning of what we would see of Sheriff Gary Toelke in the year ahead.
Just four months later, in January 2007, Ben Ownby, age thirteen disappeared after getting off his school bus in Beaufort, Missouri, with a friend 15-year old, Mitchell Hults. The walk from his bus stop to his home is less than a quarter mile. Although no one saw Ben’s abduction, an alert Mitchell Hults did not recognized an older model white pickup truck that sped past him on the road as he drove toward his home.
After intensive questioning that erased Hults as a suspect, Sheriff Toelke released a description of the White pick up truck against the advice of associate law enforcement officials. Yet, Sheriff Toelke is his own man and a man who obviously not only has good judgment but great instinct.
By releasing, the description of the white pickup truck and keeping the description of the truck in the news the Sheriff gave the public a focus point. Sheriff Toelke knew the white pickup truck was the only lead, the only hope law enforcement of finding thirteen-year-old Ben Ownby. His instinct paid off.
A neighbor in an apartment complex in Kirkwood recognized a white pickup truck that fit the description. The neighbor alerted two Kirkwood officers who were delivering a warrant to another apartment and the race was on. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Department already had followed over 500 leads about white pickup trucks, yet this one paid off.
The pickup truck belonged to 41-year old, Michael J. Devlin, in Apartment D. Officers asked Devlin if they could search his apartment and of course, he said no. Therefore, the next day the FBI returned with warrants and in a discovery found 13-year old Ben Ownby missing 4 days and another missing child Shawn Hornbeck missing 4 ½ years.
When Sheriff Gary Toelke announced in a news conference that Ben Ownby and another missing child was found together alive, there were tears in those baby blue eyes of his. The media quickly labeled the rescue of Ben Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck as Missouri’s miracle.
Missouri’s Miracle is the instinct of one Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke. He is three for three when it comes to finding missing children. America’s Most Wanted is looking for the next All-Star. They hold a yearly contest for first responders, like police officers, EMT’s and firefighters; Sheriff Toelke was the finalist for week five. The contest ends April 15 and shortly after that time, one of the eight finalists will be the next AMW All-Star for 2007.
Sheriff Gary Toelke is Missouri’s All-Star. To learn even more about the Missouri Sheriff read his AMW All-Star Profile. Who says living in the rural areas is not safe in today’s world. With Sheriff Toelke in Franklin County, there is no safer place in America.
Until next time may, the Angels surround Missouri’s Miracle, Sheriff Toelke and keep him safe. Angels above you, Angels below you, Angels all around you, to keep you safe.