WAYNESBURG, Pa. – Almost five years after his son was murdered, Bruce Shipe admitted something to his wife, Jan, for the first time: There are moments when he ponders becoming a vigilante and taking justice into his own hands.
The 67-year-old dentist knows these are crazy thoughts about acts that he would never commit. But he thinks them anyway since his sons killer has never been caught.
Sitting for an interview at his kitchen table in March in this town about an hours drive south of Pittsburgh, Shipe revealed this fantasy in which he exacts revenge against the unknown person who shot their only son, Greg Shipe, in the face on Sept. 17, 2005, in Washington, D.C., leaving the 34-year-old to die.
I have a pistol, and Ive thought, You know, Im going to go on that street, Shipe says. Im going to walk that street at night, daring somebody. You harbor these thoughts – its stupid, I know, really stupid, I know – but I thought it. I would never do it, but Ive harbored those thoughts.
Is that anger, is that vengeance? Im not sure. But I dont think anger – or bitterness – has ever been our theme. It wasnt his. We werent raised that way.
To this day, what happened on that Saturday night, in a quiet neighborhood popular with young Washington professionals, remains a mystery. The assailant took no cash or valuables, Jan Shipe, 61, says. All her son had with him was a cell phone and a bag to clean up after his dog, she says.
As the couple near retirement, they still grapple with Gregs death. Theyve lost hope that their sons killer will be brought to justice. Theres no way to make sense of it, they say. Theres no one to get answers from.
Its like having a disease, a debilitating disease like diabetes, says Jan Shipe, describing the pain of losing Greg. You hate that you have it. Youre mad that you have it. You dont want it. But youve got it. And you have to deal with it.
The Shipes are not alone. A Scripps Howard News Service investigation revealed that one-third of the estimated 565,600 homicides in the United States from 1980 to 2008 remain unsolved.
In Washington, D.C., the police have struggled for decades to solve homicides, according to an SHNS analysis of FBI data. The citys Metropolitan Police Department has cleared 53 percent of homicides from 1980 to 2008, well below the national average of 67 percent.
Detective Tony Patterson of the Metropolitan Police Department investigated Greg Shipes murder. He pursued two leads, but, with little evidence, he recently turned the probe over to the departments cold case unit.
The most likely way the crime will be solved is if an individual with knowledge of the case shares information with the police, Patterson says. I would hope that at some point, someone who knows something will come forward, he says. Im optimistic it will close. Of course, I said that three years ago.
Patterson isnt sure of the killers motive, and says theres little evidence to support any theory of why Shipe was murdered.
But Bruce Shipe cant help but think about the killers intentions.
You wonder. The police said it was a botched robbery. It couldve been gang bangers saying, I get a white kid and I get stripes or whatever. It could be anything, he said. Its just being at the wrong place at the right time. Or the right place at the wrong time. You cant make sense of it.
Shipes murder came as his adult life was just beginning to take shape. A year after receiving an MBA from Vanderbilt Universitys business school, Shipe had started a new job as an analyst at Ogilvy. He had recently moved into his apartment in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, and was walking his dog, Otis, when he was shot.
Thats whats so hard – not seeing what he could have become, Bruce Shipe says. He was just really getting started, I think.