Robert Bishop, brother of the missing Terry "Ghost" Bishop.
BIG STONE GAP — The disappearance of a Big Stone Gap man is a baffling mystery that now spans over two months.
There are few if any credible leads for authorities to follow, and no answers for his family.
60-year old Terry Jay Bishop was last seen by his family members on May 8, at around 8 p.m. sitting on a porch swing at the home he once shared with his late mother, a modest wood frame home located in the Little Italy Bottom residential section of town.
Big Stone Gap police would later recover a convenience store video showing Bishop making a purchase about an hour and a half later. That was the last verified sighting of Bishop, a harmless, private, affable fellow who rarely wandered far from home on his own, relied on medications to control a generally mild mental condition as well as diabetes, and was an immaculate housekeeper.
That Bishop returned home after the convenience center, located a short walk from the house — or a very quick drive, because generally he would drive even short distances — seems certain from the available evidence. The beverages he'd bought had been consumed and the empty cans placed in a kitchen trash receptacle. His car parked out front as he always parked it. Car keys and house keys on the kitchen table.
What was unusual was the two unlocked doors his brother, Robert Bishop, discovered the following morning, not to mention no sign of the simple, loveable guy his family and friends all called Ghost.
That morning of May 9 began a nightmare for the Bishop family that continues to this day: where is their brother, their uncle, their kind and gentle friend?
The search for Ghost began as Robert fiddled around the house for an hour or so expecting, and hoping, his brother to wander up the street. That didn't happen. Not finding his brother at home, and the doors unlocked, got Robert a bit edgy right off the bat and he struggled to contain his growing anxiety.
For Robert is the brother who attended to Ghost daily, arriving every morning to see to his brother's needs if indeed he needed anything — making sure he was taking his medication at the top of the priority list — as well as brotherly things like bring along a sausage biscuit and coffee, or see to the paying of bills or whatnot, or chauffeur Ghost to a doctor's appointment, shopping at the local Walmart or supermarket, and in general see to the well being of his brother.
After searching the home and premises, then the immediate surroundings, and inquiring of next-door family members and then neighbors all over the immediate neighborhood, by 1 p.m. Robert went to the police, who didn't wait for any 48-hour waiting period but began sending out BOLO's with accompanying descriptions almost immediately.
"The keys were on the table. Both doors were unlocked, and he always locked the doors even if he was going (next door to the home of another brother). It looked like he'd slept in his bed, but he wasn't here," Robert said of his arrival at around 9:30 a.m. on May 9.
"It didn't look like there was nothing out of the ordinary about nothing. The house was clean as he always kept it -- except his bed wasn't made up, and he always made his bed — but other than that, and the doors, well, I knew right off that something wasn't right."
As usual Robert had been with Ghost the previous day, keeping a doctor's appointment, seeing about getting a prescription snafu unsnarled, perhaps paying a water bill, whatever, just the sort of running about the brothers did together.
At around 5 p.m. on May 8 the brothers dined on a takeout meal together at the home, then Robert went to his own home several miles west of Big Stone Gap located not far into Lee County.
What happened that night or early the next morning has left the family and authorities baffled.
All indications seem to point to the fact that Ghost, for whatever reason including possibly being off his meds, or not having his customary medication to treat schizophrenia — the prescription snafu involved that very thing -- simply walked away.
The fact he never left his house without making sure both doors were locked indicate something was awry, perhaps of a medical nature. The maddening part is that nobody knows for sure what happened or why. They only know there's a hole in the family that only Ghost could fill.
"It's worried us all to pieces because we're all a close, tight knit family," Robert said. "Sometimes I feel like he's left with somebody, or (somebody) forced him to leave, and you think everything in the world bad could have happened, and his car is here, his keys are here, and it just don't make no damn sense."
Perhaps more than anyone else in his family, Robert was sensitive to Ghost's behavior. His brother "was acting out of the ordinary a little bit" on May 8, he said. Their late mother had some framed certificates on a wall, and that day Robert noticed them on the kitchen table. He said he asked Ghost why he took down their mother's certificates and Ghost's response was, "I don't know," Robert said.
He had previously said Ghost was the sort who might run off and hide in some brush or seek refuge in an abandoned building because, off his meds, he might think he was being stalked by aliens. That's not such a huge stretch, Robert said, as outlandish as it sounds.
Still, his brother wouldn't have gone far on foot.
"He could have woke up thinking he was in somebody else's house, got scared and took off," Robert said. "I just don't know. That's what's killing us. We just don't know."
Early into the official investigation, upwards of 50 people made up of volunteers, members of the Big Stone Gap Police Department and local rescue squads and volunteer fire departments searched a nearby finger of the Powell River, the neighborhood, the town, railroad tracks and just about everywhere one could look except, of course, the one place where Ghost was or is.
Big Stone Gap Police Detective Sgt. Turk Hollinger, in charge of the investigation since day one, on Friday said tips have come in, but none have proved credible.
"Hopefully we will deal with more tips right now, it's about the only thing we can depend on and go on," he said Friday. "The other problem is, we don't know where to turn. But everybody here keeps trying so hopefully something will come."
Meanwhile, the family muddles through under a cloud of sadness laced with hope. Sisters have made forays to the area from their homes in Florida and Ohio to help search or prod new leads, all at this point to no avail.
As for Robert, truly his brother's keeper, the personal toll has been of particular anguish.
"Aw, it's worried me to death. I stay tensed up all the time. I can't eat. I can't sleep. I can't rest easy at all no more," he said. "It feels like I'm having a nightmare and can't wake up. Because every day it's right there. I look for him every day. In my heart I think somebody knows something out there and they're scared to come forth for some reason."
The family has posted a reward for information leading to the whereabouts of Terry L. Bishop, who earned the lifelong nickname Ghost because as a child he would drop out of a tree or jump from behind a bush and shout "Boo!" for the startling effect and playful benefit of his brothers, sisters and/or other playmates -- or unsuspecting adults, should any be conveniently available at the time.
Anyone with information should call the Big Stone Gap Police Department at 276-523-0117.