Key West the Newspaper KEY WEST, FLORIDA JANUARY 31, 2003

Bombastic Website Spawns

New Interest In Case Of Man

Missing Since 1995

INVESTIGATORS GRILLED RADIO NEWSMAN BILL BECKER LAST YEAR: "DID YOU KILL TOM STUMP? BECKER PASSES POLYGRAPH EXAM

MOTHER OF MISSING MAN: "I AM NOT ACCUSING ANYBODY OF MURDER; I JUST WANT TO FIND THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TO MY SON

by Dennis Reeves Cooper Editor &Publisher

There is renewed interest in the case of a man who mysteriously disappeared from his Sugarloaf Key home more than seven years ago--- a case that has all the makings of a book and a made-for-TV movie.

        A grieving mother who refuses to give up her search for the truth about what really happened to her son;

        A prominent radio news man, allegedly the longtime lover of the missing man's wife, who moves in with her within weeks after the man's disappearance;

        Two police investigations, six years apart, neither able to determine conclusively what really happened to the missing man;

        Conflicting stories and unanswered questions;

        And a bombastic website with freely-flying allegations and innuendoes.

The story started back on July 25, 1995. As his wife and two young daughters watched, 41-year-old Tom Stump reportedly walked into the woods behind the family's home, never to be seen or heard from again. A search by two dozen volunteers and a police helicopter failed to find Tom, alive or dead. Police search dogs scoured the woods near the home, but lost the scent.

Bernadette, "Bernie Stump was interviewed by two detectives from the Sheriff's Office- first by a missing persons detective on July 28, 1995, and, then, by the head of the homicide unit on August 14, 1995.

Bernie told both investigators that Tom had been distraught because she had told him that she wanted a divorce. She said Tom had changed since they had gotten married l0 years earlier; he had become increasingly anti-social. They rarely went out. And, she said, he smoked too much marijuana.

But both investigators had heard the rumor that the real reason that she wanted to split with Tom was that she had been having a years-long affair with Bill Becker, US I Radio's news director- and Becker was in the process of divorcing his wile, Judge Ruth Becker.

The homicide investigator, who interviewed Bernie on August 14, also knew that on August 6, just 12 days after Tom's disappearance, a Sheriff's Deputy had checked out a suspicious car parked at Sugarloaf School late at night. The car belonged to Bill Becker. Sugarloaf School is across the street from the Stump residence.

Mama Stump: "I Do Not Believe

That Tom Stump Committed

Suicide

Both investigators asked Bernie about the rumor.

Both Bernie and Becker confirmed to investigators that they had lived together on two separate occasions in the past- back in the 1980s and, again, in 1986, during a period when Bernie had been separated from Tom. In fact, Tom had found out about Becker and had "threatened him, Bernie said.

But both vehemently denied that they had been together intimately since Bernie had reconciled with Tom in 1986.

The case was closed with-out a definitive conclusion as to what happened to Tom Stump.

Four months later, in December 1995, Bill Becker would move into the Stump residence with Bernie. The couple would marry in 2000, after Tom had been declared legally dead.

Through the years following Tom's disappearance, his mother, Rose Stump of Tiro, Ohio, refused to give up hope that she could, someday, find out what had really happened to her son.

"I simply want to find out the truth, she said. "I have never been able to accept the idea that Tom committed suicide. He loved those girls too much. He would not have just walked off and left them.

Mrs. Stump has requested and collected virtually every document that the case has generated. She has spent years calling and writing anyone who might have the slightest scrap of information that could shine some light on Tom's whereabouts. She has even run ads offering a reward "for information leading to the arrest and conviction of person or persons responsible in the disappearance of Tom Stump .

"I have never accused anyone of foul play, she said. "But I'm not ruling out foul play, either.

Probably because of Rose Stump's tenaciousness, both the Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) reopened their files on the Tom Stump case last year.

In February of 2002, Sheriff's Detective James Norman and Special Agent Scott Daniels of the FDLE summoned both Bill Becker and Bernie to two separate interviews. Both were asked the same question: "Did you cause the death of Thomas Stump or do you know who did?

Both answered "No.

RealCrimes Website Has Picked

Up the Story

And both agreed to take polygraph examinations. And the results of both examinations were: "No deception indicated."

Again closing the case, Detective Norman reported that the disappearance of Tom Stump was still a mystery-but he provided four equally-plausable alternative answers:

        Stump committed suicide, presumably in the woods near his home, and the body was simply never found;

        Stump set up a scenario to make his disappearance look like a suicide, then ran away to an undisclosed location. His wife told investigators that she had never found his passport.

        Stump died as the result of an accident again presumably in the woods, but the body was never found;

        Stump was murdered by person or persons unknown, and his body hidden.

But Rose Stump still refused to give up. Last year, she was able to get the case posted on the RealCrimes website (www.realcrimes.com), a site frequented by crime and mystery buffs. Response to the Stump case has been so great that the webmaster has had to install a separate message board where visitors to the site can ask questions and make comments.

Many of the comments posted on the site are thoughtful, with the apparent goal of consoling Tom's relatives and trying to help solve the mystery; but others are unabashedly vicious and hurtful.

Finally, last November 17, an exasperated Bill Becker posted his own response on the website.

BILL BECKER'S LETTER AND ROSE STUMP'S RESPONSE FOLLOWED THIS ARTICLE IN KEY WEST THE NEWSPAPER. THOSE TWO LETTERS APPEAR IN FIJLL ON THE TOM STUMP MESSAGE BOARD, DATED NOV. 17, 2002.