COLUMBIA — Last year, the Missouri River flooded and swallowed acres of farmland. Now, as the river recedes, Charlie Bell Sr. watches its muddy bottoms for the wreckage of a red Ducati motorcycle. He might find the body of his 34-year-old son lying near the wreckage.
On Sept. 15, 2011, Charlie Bell Jr. hopped on a red Ducati motorcycle and traveled south from his home on Route E toward Columbia. He never returned for an afternoon hunting trip.
Several days later, Bell Sr. received a phone call from his son's wife, Nichole. Within a few days, Bell Sr. organized a 100-man search by foot and automobile. People involved in the search walked and drove routes into Columbia.
A red motorcycle should be easy to spot from the air as trees lose their leaves, said Bell, who is a licensed pilot.
Helicopter searches last year by the Boone County Sheriff's Department failed to find the lost motorcycle.
The father's other theory is that someone killed his son.
"There are probably other individuals involved," Bell said. "Anytime there is more than one, it is hard to keep a secret. So I have raised a reward for information to $50,000."
Bell Sr. said his son would not run off without contacting family. His son has three daughters, ages 3, 5 and 9.
The Boone County Sheriff's Department conducted an air search. National Guard and highway patrol helicopters flew in northwest Boone County and southeast Howard County. Police investigators also scoured online databases for Bell's credit cards and personal documents.
"No credit cards, no utilities, no purchase of vehicles. In this day and age, it's extremely difficult to vanish without a trace," Detective Tom O'Sullivan said.
Bell Jr.'s cellphone died three hours after he went missing. It sent its last signal to a cellphone tower west of Columbia, near Route J, around 1:30 p.m.
In his Columbia office, Bell Sr. lifts a plastic milk crate onto his desk. It is full of office folders that contain documents about his son.
"I've chased a lot of rumors. ... It always turns out to be the wrong motorcycle or the wrong people," he said.
Bell said he doesn't think his son will turn up alive.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.
Anyone with information about the location of Charlie Bell Jr. may contact Detective Tom O'Sullivan at the Boone County Sheriff's Department or call, text or email the Charlie Jr. Hotline at 573-355-0359 or Findcharliejr@gmail.com.