I’ve often wondered what it would take to disappear completely, to walk away from one life and start another. This fascination probably began sometime around my youth when I watched Julia Roberts do so in Sleeping With the Enemy. Except in my fantasy, I never fell in love with a plumber who happens to sport a mullet.
This month’s Wired has a story about one man who did vanish, Matthew Alan Sheppard.
So on a Friday two weeks later, Sheppard drove with his wife, Monica, their daughter, and his mother-in-law to a rented cabin in the foothills of the Ozarks on the picturesque Little Red River, an hour from Searcy. He called it a much-needed last-minute getaway for the family, and for most of the weekend, it was.
Then, in the fading Sunday afternoon light, with his daughter and mother-in-law occupied in the cabin, Sheppard walked down to the dock with Monica and their black lab, Fluke. When Monica looked away, Sheppard helped the dog — always eager for a swim, just as he’d counted on — off the platform and into the Little Red River’s notoriously deadly current. His wife looked back just in time to see Sheppard heave his own 300-pound frame into the river after their beloved lab.
Thrashing in the 39-degree water, Sheppard managed to hand the leash up to Monica, who hauled the dog to safety. But he struggled to swim back to the dock. Flailing desperately, he gasped that he was having trouble breathing. A moment later, as the current pulled him downstream, his head dipped below the surface and didn’t reappear.
A frantic 911 call from Monica minutes later launched a search-and-rescue operation involving more than 60 people. Dive teams scoured the river, and a plane scanned the area from overhead. The next morning, Sheppard’s shell-shocked coworkers brought their own boats up to help with the search. They found his fluorescent orange Eaton cap in shallow water not far downstream. But when 24 hours passed without another sign, the authorities abandoned — publicly, at least — any hope of finding him alive.
And in a twist of gonzo journalism, the author of the piece, Evan Ratliff, vanished himself on August 15. Clues to his whereabouts will be posted to @nxthompson. If you find him, you could win $5,000.