Decades-old disappearance perplexes sheriff

Monday, October 25th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KINGFISHER, Okla. (AP) -- Evidence uncovered from a site in Turkey Creek may hold a clue to the disappearance of a 25-year-old woman 19 years ago.

Shirley Clift was a young mother when she disappeared without a trace in 1980, leaving behind a 1-year-old daughter, Amanda.

Kingfisher County Sheriff Danny Graham said the new evidence might lead to a murder charge against Mrs. Clift's husband, Gary
Clift, 44.

Clift has lived under a veil of suspicion since his wife's disappearance. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said Clift plans to take a polygraph test in an effort to clear
suspicions against him.

The couple had been married for four years when Amanda was born. Their troubled marriage broke up about a year later.

Mrs. Clift confided in her mother, Bonnie Anderson, before the breakup that she was fearful of Clift.

"She would tell me a few things about her life with Gary, and none of it was very pretty," Ms. Anderson told The Daily Oklahoman. "She was deathly afraid of him."

Custody of their daughter was contested, and Mrs. Clift was given primary custody of the girl.

The last time Mrs. Clift was seen alive she was leaving a baby-sitter's home in Hennessey with her husband in his car. Two days later, Clift reported his wife missing. He told authorities she left with a "group of Mexican men" the night before.

A missing person report was also filed by her mother.

After months went by, Clift became the primary caregiver for their daughter and moved to Albuquerque, N.M.

The case resurfaced nine years later.

A check was made on Mrs. Clift's Social Security number for any activity. There was none, a sign she was probably dead, said the

When Graham located Clift in New Mexico, he agreed to speak to deputies. He told them they could find his wife buried under 5 feet
of dirt near a Kingfisher County river bank.

Graham had Clift extradited to Oklahoma, and Amanda was taken into protective custody.

Clift recanted his 1980 missing persons story when he returned to Kingfisher.

Clift said an argument escalated and Mrs. Clift slapped him across the face. The statement said he struck her back, hitting her in the head.

He claims his wife then jumped out of the car, which was traveling about 50 mph. When he found her, he said, she was unconscious and not breathing. He returned to his Hennessey
apartment, where he realized she was dead.

Clift said he panicked and took her body to the banks of Turkey Creek and buried her.

The creek was searched, however all that was found was a button, no enough to warrant charges.
A search earlier this month of the creek was made, using a "cadaver dog" from the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution.

The dog indicated that it found something. Heavy equipment was brought in to try to locate her body. They didn't find Mrs. Clift,
but they did find something else.

Graham said the evidence could be the strongest link between Mrs. Clift's disappearance and Clift's statement 10 years ago.

The evidence is being tested by the FBI.