Re: Tom Stump
My name is Bill Becker.
I have been following the recent postings on this message board, and until now, have resisted the urge to respond. Unfortunately, the level of misinformation, hurtfulness and rumor-mongering has risen to the point where a response is in order.
I know there are those who will close their minds and refuse to believe anything I have to say. I would only ask that you read this in the spirit it is written -- in the hope of bringing closure to seven years of personal anguish for everyone involved. Life is too short to continue this fruitless and destructive quest.† Please bear with me as I attempt to address some of the points that have been raised.
The Investigation. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have done a thorough and professional investigation of this case. In return, they have been subjected to unjust and unfounded criticism and abuse from the Stump family. To say that I can get away with murder because I work for a radio station would be laughable if it weren't so insulting to these dedicated law enforcement officers.
They asked me if I would be willing to take a polygraph test, and I agreed gladly. Whatever it takes, I said, to put this to rest. An hour later I was taking the two-hour test, the first I've ever taken. I neither prepared for it, nor considered ways to deceive it because I had no reason to. I have nothing to hide. And that was confirmed by the polygraph expert. Same for Bernie. And we'll do it again, if that's what it takes.
When the Sheriff's Office issued a "missing person" press release on Tom, I was the first to publicize it.
The Body. Before Tom left, he told Bernie "You'll never find me." And, so far, he's been right. Tom knew his way around these woods. There are miles and miles of dense mangrove thickets, remote and virtually impenetrable. Moist, tropical environments that swallow up dead organic material in a matter of days. Tom once told someone that if he ever committed suicide, he would tie himself to the mangrove roots at low tide, put a gun to his head, and let the tide and sea creatures do the rest.
No one looked longer or harder for Tom than I did. I was among a group of friends who rallied around Bernie and the family in the days and weeks after Tom's departure. We searched nearby woods and beyond. It was hot, sweaty, dangerous, mosquito-infested, time-consuming and frustrating, but it was our attempt to bring closure for the family. Tom has so far been successful in his prediction that he would never be found.
Scott Haskell. Tom's friend and business partner. One posting on this message board said that Scott had a monetary motive to get rid of Tom. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like the immediate family, Scott was a victim of Tom's disappearance, with a mountain of legal bills and unfinished projects, doing his best to share control of the company with a court-appointed conservator. It was a difficult process for everyone involved, especially Scott. To his credit, he has moved on, personally and professionally.
Mark Ripin. Mark has been a trusted and valuable friend and father-figure to both Bonnie and Sally. He has been a big part of their lives, and they love him dearly, as we do. He has played a major role in helping the family cope with this tragedy. To implicate him in any sort of conspiracy is both outrageous and sad.
Bonnie and Sally. They have grown to become beautiful, happy, healthy, well-adjusted young women. We've given them the freedom to make their own decisions, along with the responsibility for making the right choices. And they haven't disappointed us. Both are successful in and out of school. They are working toward ambitious career goals.
They are smart enough to make their own observations and judgments, and have been since I've known them. They were here that day. They know that Tom walked out of their lives and took his own. They have no doubt whatsoever. (Do you really think that we could have bonded into the solid family that we've become if either of the girls had the least suspicion that Bernie or I were somehow responsible for Tom's disappearance?) Remember, they were there the whole time. They know what they saw and heard. Rose, for you to reject their observations and their feelings on this critical matter is basically calling them liars and co-conspirators. You have essentially driven them away with your hate-filled diatribes. Your efforts to drive a wedge between us has only brought us closer together.† Sally was the first to see that. Her attitude was if Tom didn't want to be around, she wasn't going to waste time wondering why...it was his decision and no one else's. Sally moved on quickly. Her analogy was that you can't drive a car while looking in the rear-view mirror. She doesn't even want to know about the garbage on this website, and doesn't care. Remember, Tom did this on Sally's birthday...think about that one for a while.† I have adopted Sally. It was a mutual decision. Sally changed her last name to Becker. That was her decision. I'm raising her as my own, and we have a healthy, happy relationship. Lately, I've been teaching her to drive, as I did with Bonnie. She's well on her way to becoming a wonderful human being. I'm sorry you've taken yourself out of her life, Rose. You've missed a lot.
Bonnie took something of a different path. She took Tom's suicide very hard. She hoped desperately that he might return, but gradually she came to accept that he did exactly what he said he would do. He told her "You'll see me in your dreams" and he walked into the woods, leaving her, Sally and Bernie standing there crying and pleading with him to stop.† Bonnie kept in touch with you because she was sorry for you and hoped she could help you heal and accept Tom's suicide. Instead, you continued to reject her eye-witness account of that day, while accusing Bernie, Mark and I of orchestrating Tom's murder. The last straw was this website. When Bonnie saw your accusations in black and white she responded angrily and understandably. Your condescending and dismissive response ("Honey, you were so young...") only served to underscore how out of touch you are with reality. Bonnie was 13 when this all happened. She's 21 now, and all along has been fully capable of making her own decisions.
Bernie and I. We dated in 1980, and even lived together for a while. We parted amicably and went our separate ways. We have worked on the same island for more than twenty years, so it was not unusual for our paths to cross. We considered ourselves friends, nothing more. Contrary to the rumors, it wasn't an affair, much less a murder conspiracy.
When Bernie told Tom that she wanted a divorce his response was to threaten suicide. It was just such controlling, abusive, intimidating behavior that Bernie was seeking to be free of. She was seeing a marriage counselor, but Tom refused to do so. To her credit, Bernie refused to be coerced, recognizing that the threat of suicide is not the glue keeps a healthy relationship intact. When Tom's trump card didn't work and Bernie called his bluff, he saw no way out but to keep his word and take his own life. Hiding his body may have been his way of avoiding embarassment or exacting revenge. We'll never know.
Bernie still cries a lot. She'll always be tortured by the thought that she could have done something to stop Tom from leaving. But short of staying together under threat of suicide, Tom left her with no options. He made his decision, and we all now live with the consequences.
Tom's stuff. Again, contrary to rumors, Bernie still has her marriage license and old photo albums. She never went to the dump with a truckload of Tom's stuff. When Tom was declared dead in 2000, Bernie boxed up a lot of Tom's memorabilia -- family heirlooms, old family photos, Tom's baby cowboy boots, etc. -- and sent them to Rose. (No acknowledgement was ever received.) Bernie did get rid of Tom's arsenal (including the AK-47 and 2000 rounds of ammunition that he kept under their bed) except for the Glock 9mm that Tom took with him.
The truth is sometimes hard to accept. Some of you have already arrived at your own conclusions, and now seek desperately to find any shred of evidence to support them. Your search will be in vain because there's nothing there. As long as you continue in denial of reality -- that Tom walked off and took his own life -- you'll never have closure. For seven years now you've been torturing yourself, those around you, and us. You need to accept that Tom did what he did. Accept it and move on. Instead of trying to destroy this family, you should be glad that we have been able to survive a major family tragedy and have not given in to the forces that would tear us apart.
Unlike the anonymous, bottom-feeding lowlifes who post their unsigned, hate-filled messages here, I sign my name to what I have to say because it is the truth. I have nothing to hide.
Anyone with questions about anything I have said here is welcome to contact me personally. You know where to reach me.
Rose Stump responds:
Bill Becker is a master wordsmith and a better writer than most of us less educated people. But his emotional letter does not address the real issues.
I have never stated that he, Bernie and/or Mark Ripkin murdered Tom. I don't know who was responsible for Tom's death. I just know the facts that are stated in the police reports, (the same facts that appear in the Real Crimes report), and those facts don't indicate suicide. The conflicting information in the statements taped by investigators show that certain people are lying. And itís been my experience that people only lie when they have something to cover up.
Bill Becker is in no position to state what did and didn't occur on the day Tom disappeared. †Bill Becker wasn't there!† All he knows is what Bernie told him, and Bernie's stories keep changing.† The loyal children keep trying to support their motherís statements, but they can't keep up with her fluctuating stories any more than Mr. Becker can.
Becker says Tom "walked into the woods, leaving her (Bonnie), Sally and Bernie standing there crying and pleading with him to stop." Yet police reports quote 8-yr-old Sally as saying she saw her father drive off in a car. And they quote Bernie as telling Hertz car rental that Tom went out in a boat and drowned himself in the ocean.† In a later interview, Bernie told police she did not see Tom walk into the woods at all, she just heard the fence creak. And Sally, (by now a teenager), then changed her story and said she saw Tom walk into the woods wearing shorts and tennis shoes, although Bonnie had already stated she watched Tom put on his boots.† And Bonnie has since stated that Sally never saw Tom at all on the day he disappeared.† Is it any wonder I have questions about what really happened?
Even in their posts on this message board, the statements of the Beckers and their extended family contradict each other. Bill Becker states, "(Bernie) never went to the dump with a truckload of Tom's stuff." Yet Bonnie's best friend, Kimmy, states in her post that Bernie "threw that stuff away."† Unless Becker was with Bernie night and day-- which he claims he was not -- he has no way of knowing what she did during that time period.†
In one of her posts, Bonnie claims her natural father, Mark Ripin, "is not an ex-convict in any way." †Yet Mark, in his own signed post, admits that he is one.† Mark has also posted a series of bizarre messages under a string of aliases, claiming to have important information about Tomís disappearance and representing himself as an attorney, a psychologist, a private detective, a mortgage broker, an alchemist, a "mole" and ďthe Black Hornet,Ē threatening to sting people.† This is the man Becker says he regards as "a trusted and valuable friend and father-figure to both Bonnie and Sally"?† I hope heís joking.
There are a few statements in Bill Becker's letter that I agree with:
(1) It's ludicrous to think that Tom's friend and business partner, Scott Haskell, was involved in Tom's death.
(2) The Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement did all they were capable of doing under the circumstances. But they did NOT conclude, as Becker implies in his post, that Tom committed suicide. Their conclusion was that it was equally possible that Tom was murdered.