Robert Bishop stands at the home of his brother, Terry, in Big Stone Gap. Stephen Igo photo.
BIG STONE GAP — The mystery of what has become of a missing Big Stone Gap man stretched into a week today, and his family and friends are racked with worry.
Terry Jay Bishop, 60, was last seen by family members on May 8 at around 8 p.m. sitting in his porch swing. Big Stone Gap police have since discovered and retrieved a surveillance video from a local convenience store showing Bishop making a purchase and leaving at around 9:38 p.m. that same night.
That is the last verifiable whereabouts of the man his family and friends have always called Ghost.
That nickname now takes on an awkward tone, but it stuck to Bishop when he was a boy of about 9 or 10 in Lynch, Ky., where he was born and the family lived for a number of years.
Bishop’s brother Robert said Terry liked to jump out of a tree or from under a hedge, particularly at dusk or nighttime, just to say “boo” and get a hoot out of the reaction of other kids and passersby.
While all members of the Bishop family are close, the bond between Robert and Terry has been exceedingly tight. Robert visited his brother every day, without fail, with the exception of occasional out-of-state jaunts to visit other family members.
On that fateful May 8, Robert took his brother to Walmart so Terry could pay his light bill and brought Terry back home, where the pair shared a meal of burgers. Robert left at around 5 p.m. to go to his own home a few miles outside of Big Stone Gap, then later called another brother — who lives next door to Terry — to ask him to check on Terry.
Robert was a little concerned because Terry was acting a bit odd. Robert is more sensitive than most to Terry’s behavior because it is Robert who interacts with him every day and knows his brother’s medical needs better than anyone. Terry has been prescribed anti-depression medication and also needs a prescription to keep his blood sugar in check.
Early the next day, between 7:30-8 a.m., Robert attempted to call Terry but got no answer.
“I called a couple of times because he was off his medicines a little bit, is what I was thinking. He wasn’t acting quite right, like he’s done before when he’s off his medicine. Like you might ask him a question and he would answer ‘yes,’ and then a little bit later ask the same question and he would say ‘no,’ so you would know he wasn’t quite right.”
Robert arrived at his brother’s home in the Little Italy Bottom section of town around 9:30 a.m. last Thursday. Terry’s car was parked where it usually is in front of the house. The front window blinds were closed, something Terry always did before going to bed, Robert said. But the front door was unlocked, and that’s something Terry never did.
“He always locked his door if he was leaving the house, even if he was just going next door,” Robert said. Even more disturbing to Robert was finding the back door unlocked as well. Terry’s car and house keys were on the kitchen table. Other than finding the doors unlocked, Robert wasn’t allowing himself to get too concerned, at least initially. Another oddity to Robert was Terry’s bed seemed slept in but wasn’t made up.
Terry always made up his bed after getting up every morning, Robert said. In fact, for a lifelong bachelor, Terry kept the home he once shared with his mother — she died almost three years ago in her 90s — immaculate.
Robert checked outside behind the home, then the neighborhood immediately near the home. No Terry.
“I was thinking, well maybe he walked to the store. Sometimes he did that. After looking around the house and everything I drove around town talking to different people who know him,” Robert said. “I just had that gut feeling that something was wrong. It just wasn’t right. He never left his house unlocked like that. Never. None of this is like him. He just doesn’t go off like this.”
By shortly after noon last Thursday, Robert “started getting real worried because it’s not like him to stay gone, and then when it got after 1 (p.m.) I said to (heck) with this, I’m going to the police station.”
Robert said when he described the medications his brother needed, the police weren’t going to wait the usual 24- or 48-hour period. Besides, like most people in town, they were acquainted with the guy practically everybody called Ghost.
“Sgt. (W.) Hollinger immediately field a missing person report because I told him what medications (Terry) is on. In fact, I’m supposed to take Ghost back to see the doctor tomorrow,” Robert said. “And the search has been on ever since. The first thing I did when I got back from the police station was walk back to the riverbank, stomping through all the weeds and hollering for him and everything.”
The search swelled to family and friends, volunteer fire departments and rescue squads, ramping up big time since last Saturday. Hollinger and a partner spent some time beating the bushes again on Wednesday, but later said they found no trace.
“Everybody’s still looking for him. We’ve had nothing new to pop up yet,” Hollinger said.
Meanwhile, Robert only just managed to get a full night’s sleep the last night or two, mainly from exhaustion.
“Ghost is an easy going fellow. He will do almost anything for anybody if he can,” Robert said. “He is a homebody. This is completely out of the ordinary. It’s just not like him to just be gone. When he goes to the grocery store, he goes straight there and comes straight back. Goes to the post office, straight there, straight back. I couldn’t hardly get him out of the house at all sometimes.”
His brother’s house reveals no clues.
“He kept his house Spic and Span. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the house except those unlocked doors,” Robert said. “He kept a tidy house, living by himself and all. It’s just tore everybody up, just worried everybody to pieces.”
Robert and his son, Chad, even drove over to Lynch to see if Ghost had somehow or other showed up over there.
“We’re just trying anything and everything. If somebody comes up with an idea of where to look, OK, let’s do it,” he said.
“Under houses, in old houses and buildings, the river, the parks, the railroad tracks, you name it, we’re looking. No matter how foolish, we’ll try it. We will go and look no matter what idea somebody comes up with. We will do it. Everything’s went through my mind, it’s just about drove me crazy. There ain’t no bad place to check. We’ll check ’em all.”