CHAPEL HILL -- The wife of the Chapel Hill Herald's leading Thursday columnist has gone missing, according to a spokesperson for the Chapel Hill Police Department's Investigative Unit. Foul play is not suspected.
Sandra Grey Herring, 56, was last seen at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport early on Sunday morning.
Ms. Herring, who also sometimes goes by the name Sandy Gaddy, had been acting strangely for some time preceding her disappearance, according to friends and associates.
This is the second time in 20 months that an Orange County attorney has disappeared under suspicious circumstances. The first case, involving Chapel Hill attorney John McCormick, appears to have been the typical instance of substantial quantities of missing money, followed by a disappearing suspect.
Police officials say that in the Herring case there have been a series of credit card purchases, particularly notable were acquisitions over the past 18 months of banjos and banjo-related items, including strings, picks, cases, straps, numerous instructional CDs and DVDs as well as earrings and other banjo-themed clothing and paraphernalia.
These purchases, however, do not appear to have been made from Ms. Herring's clients’ trust funds. In fact, curiously, most of the dozens of purchases were made by her husband with credit cards held in his name.
Jim Huegerich, Crisis Intervention Unit Officer for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said that he has never seen a case exactly like this before, even though the general pattern was familiar.
"A disappearance preceded by a substantial increase in online activity such as contacts made through Meetup groups, Internet listservs, and Chat Rooms are typical of the syndrome I have seen many times before -- but never for someone fitting Ms. Herring's demographic profile. Usually it's 13-year-old girls or single males in their late 30's or early 40's -- never a woman of her age," said Huegerich.
Police have interviewed several persons who were thought to have knowledge of Ms. Herring’s recent activities, including Jesse E. Miller, the founder of the local chain of Music Loft stores. Under advisement from his attorney, Miller refused to provide any statement to investigators. All of the men congregated at Reno Sharpe's Store near Goldston refused comment as well.
Peter Wernick, a.k.a. Dr. Banjo, who has not been charged in any crime at this time, is, according to Chapel Hill police, "an individual of interest," saying they did not think that it was a coincidence that Wernick, according to the DrBanjo.com website, will be holding a "Banjo Camp" this week in Boulder, Colorado.
One theory is that Ms. Herring's disappearance is related to her preparation for a combined banjo and accordion festival to be hosted by a local accordion society. Sources close to the investigation say that they believe that it is highly unlikely that there is such an event in planning, and that this was just cover story or perhaps a delusion of Ms. Herring's related to her "future in bluegrass."
Elli Clausson of the victim's rights group "We're People Too" said that people who think of spouses "developing new interests" as "victimless endeavors" haven't seen "the devastation on those left behind."
A family spokesman said that Mr. Gaddy was currently being treated for "separation anxiety" in the Relationship Addictions Unit at UNC Hospitals.
Gary D. Gaddy, seriously, is pining away for his banjo-pickin' girl.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday January 17, 2008.
Copyright 2008 Gary D. Gaddy