A skull found in a restaurant flower box reignites debate over whether a Missouri man orchestrated his wife’s disappearance.
The Sherman Family
In Bridgeton, Missouri, at the Casa Gallardo Restaurant, two women having lunch noticed something strange outside the window. There, in the bushes, was a human skull. Police Chief Walter Mutert described the bizarre scene:
“It's a very well-manicured area. Plants and gravel and what have you. And the way it was situated, it would give one the impression that, you know, somebody put it there so you would see it. During that time period, there was the relocating of a cemetery that was in the area, and a lot of bodies were being exhumed, graves were being moved, so it gives you the impression now that this may be a prank, and there would be no reason to suspect that there was any foul play.”
The skull, determined to be from an adult woman, went into the evidence room at the morgue and was soon forgotten. One year later, at a police station 25 miles away, a mysterious letter arrived. It stated, “The Bridgeton Police have L. Sherman's skull.”
Dental records showed the skull was, in fact, that of Linda Sherman, a 27-year-old wife and mother who had been reported missing five years earlier, on April 22, 1985.
Does Linda’s husband know more than he’s saying?
A missing person’s case suddenly became a puzzling murder mystery with many unanswered questions: What motive would someone have for leaving Linda Sherman’s skull outside the restaurant? Where was the rest of her body? And, most importantly, who was responsible for her death?
Linda was only 17 when she married Don Sherman, her high-school sweetheart. When her daughter Patty was born, Linda could always count on her mom to watch the baby while she completed her senior year. Don Sherman said he took a job at a local gas station to support his new family:
“It was hard, but it was rewarding. We were very happy together. The relationship was rocky later on in our marriage, but not in the early years.”
Where is the rest of Linda Sherman’s body?
Money problems and working opposite shifts at their jobs strained the relationship. During the 10-year marriage, Linda took Patty and moved out several times, but the couple always reconciled. According to Linda's older brother, Dennis Lutz, Don was obsessed with knowing Linda's every move:
“Don was very possessive of her. She said, ‘When I get off of work, if I'm not home within five minutes, he wants to know what's goin' on, who are you seein'? What are you doin' out that late?’ He was always hitting her and things just weren't right.”
Linda told her family that she was afraid of Don's violent temper. According to Sam Miller, Linda’s brother-in-Law, Linda once got a restraining order to keep Don away:
“She'd already made the decision to move out. She had filed for divorce. She had definitely made plans to start a new life.”
On April 22nd, 1985, Linda left her night job at around two in the morning. Don Sherman offered his account of that night:
“She didn't come home from work until about 3:00 in the morning. We got into an argument about the fact that she wouldn't tell me where she'd been. And we stayed up until at least 4:00 in the morning discussing that.”
Linda was lying on the sofa later that morning when her daughter Patty left for school:
“She always took me to school, but my dad took me to school that day. And I remember her laying on the couch with her face to the back of the couch. And she didn't get up. She didn't get up to kiss me good-bye. She didn't say anything to me. She was just laying there.”
That would be the last time Patty ever saw her mother. Don claimed that when he returned to the house that afternoon, Linda was on edge:
“When I came back home, Linda was still there. She should've been at work by then. And she was mad 'cause she was running late.”
Don says Linda drove off at about 6 p.m., but there are no witnesses that saw her leave. Linda never arrived at work and never returned home. Don claimed to know nothing about her disappearance:
“When she didn't come back, I assumed it was typical of the previous times that she had left and I thought that she took off with somebody.”
Linda’s brother, Sam, said he knew Linda had met a violent end:
“We knew that if she left, there's no way she's leaving without the daughter. And the daughter was still at home, and so there was definitely foul play.”
Linda’s parents insisted that Don go to the police station to file a missing person’s report. Meanwhile, Sam and Fran searched frantically for Linda. On a hunch, according to Sam, they headed to the local airport:
“As we pulled into the short-term parking, why, there's Linda's car sitting right there. We went to look inside the car and we could see her schoolbooks and her hat and everything. So we contacted the airport police. And they came, and the car was locked, but they tried the trunk, and the trunk was open. They'd said, ‘Well, we fully expected Linda to be in there.’ And she wasn't.”
Don claimed he saw Linda with another man in the days after her disappearance. He said that she drove past him in a van and quickly ducked out of sight. Don’s sighting was the last time anyone reported seeing Linda. Five years later, when the skull turned up at the restaurant, no one even thought it might be Linda’s. In what seems like a bizarre coincidence, Don revealed that the restaurant was one of his favorite hangouts:
“I was at the restaurant that evening, after the skull had been found. I'd heard about it that day, when it happened, but never any connection to it until later on.”
No one made a connection until a year later, when the mysterious letter arrived at the Vinita Park police station. Lieutenant Michael Webb interpreted the display of Linda’s skull as a brazen message from her killer:
“I was rather astounded. It was obvious to me that someone wanted us to know that we had obviously missed something and was trying to tell us that Linda’s remains had been recovered.”
Don Sherman said he was just as incredulous as anyone:
“It was scary. And somebody that put those remains here at the restaurant obviously knew me, or knew that I hung out there. We're not talking about a place that I casually visited. We're talking about a place that I would visit two, three times a week.”
Was it possible that the killer placed the skull there to threaten Don? Or did Don have a reason to put it there himself? Some speculated that Don wanted to remarry and needed proof that Linda was dead. Only one thing is certain: for Don, the skull provided the perfect piece of evidence. But for Linda’s daughter Patty, the find was devastating:
“When the skull was found, I just kinda lost all hope in life. I didn't know that she was dead. I guess there was always some hope that she had just left.”
For Lt. Michael Webb, the evidence pointed in only one direction:
“The only suspect that I've been unable to eliminate is Don Sherman. At this point in time, he has never been ruled out as a suspect.”
Don’s daughter Patty doesn’t see how it can be any other way:
“In my heart, I think that he might've done it. You know, I can't think of anybody else who would've.”
And Don Sherman has never stopped proclaiming his innocence:
“I had nothing to do with Linda Sherman's disappearance or her death. I still think that she left with someone and obviously met with foul play and died.”
Police hope new technology in soil sampling will someday lead them to Linda’s body and, eventually, her killer.