Missing woman cold case: New leads about Shirley Banning disappearance lead to well in Arkansas

TULSA - Where is Shirley Banning?

A family takes a moment to pray.

"So we can have some peace and know where she is," prayed John Snow.

John last saw his mother when he was 14.

"She was bubbly, fun. A great mother," said John.

Since then, John finished school, got married and had kids of his own.

And he did it all while living with the most tragic of mysteries.

What happened to his mother? What happened to Shirley Banning?

The nearly 40-year-old mystery started on a spring morning in 1975.

"She took me to school that morning," said John.

After dropping off her kids, Shirley went to get her hair done at an east Tulsa strip mall at the intersection of 31st and Mingo.

What happened next is much less clear.

"A couple days later my aunt got a phone call and she said the way she sounded was not right.  Said she was somewhere, couldn't understand where," said John.
That's the last time anyone would hear from Shirley Banning.

Police found her car at a Tulsa hotel, and turned their attention to Shirley's common-law husband, Ace Banning.

"No one said that Ace was a nice man. Nobody," said Shirley's daughter-in-law, Sandra Snow.

"I've seen my mother a few times with black eyes," recalled John.

But Tulsa Police couldn't directly link Ace to Shirley's disappearance.

Decades went by and Ace went to prison for something else then died.

The case went cold, but finally in April of this year it started warming back up.

"Thirty-eight years later I get a phone call," said John.

It was the news John hoped would come.

It was a new piece of information brought to the Tulsa County Sheriffs Office by a man they call the informant.

"He had given us several pieces of information concerning homicides in Oklahoma and missing people in Oklahoma that did turn out to be credible," said Det. Marshall Eldridge with the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office.

This time, the informant had a startling claim. 

He said Ace Banning killed Shirley Banning in Tulsa, because she was about to reveal incriminating information about one of Ace's relatives.

With the help of his son, he took her body to Arkansas and dumped Shirley's body in a well on rural property owned by the Bannings.

More photos of the property in Arkansas, images of Shirley, old newspaper clippings and a rare photo of Ace Banning can be found in our gallery at http://bit.ly/banningphotos

The informant said he got the information directly from Ace's son, who is now also deceased, when he served time with him in prison.

"I believe she's on their property, Banning property in Arkansas," said John.

With the new information in hand,  investigators went to Franklin County Arkansas to dig up a well on the Banning property, but found nothing.

However, late in their search, investigators discovered another well on the property. Tulsa investigators would like it dug up too.

"I would like to go up there and actually send someone down in that well," said Det. Eldridge. "Or pump the water that's in it out and actually dig it up."

The Franklin County Arkansas Sheriff says that may require another search warrant, because the Banning family member who now owns the property doesn't want the well dug up.

"He would like to see us take other steps first, maybe pump it dry. Put divers in it," said Franklin County Sheriff Anthony Boen. "Do everything else that we can before we go to the extreme of tearing a piece of his family history down."

But John said his family is already torn apart by 38 years of not knowing.

"They're gonna have to get down there," said John.  "Pump the well out and get somebody down there who knows what they're doing."

The family can only hold on to hope, that someone will answer their prayers.
 "Amen," said John.

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