Former Columbia County Sheriff Mike Loe is walking away from his half-century long career in law enforcement with satisfaction about every case but one.
The case of Mary “Bobo” Shinn.
Bobo was a 25-year-old woman who disappeared from Magnolia on July 20, 1978, after leaving her art studio to go show an unknown man a house for sale. She dabbled in real estate, but it was not her career. Her art was her passion and she enjoyed creating it and teaching art to students.
Bobo’s mother became worried when her daughter didn’t show up for supper and she was the first to begin searching that day. It was a search that has never ended.
Loe was first assigned the Bobo Shinn case as a member of the criminal division of the Arkansas State Police. The year was 1979 and the case was 10 months old when he received it.
Despite his retirement that took effect January 1, Loe, 70, said he has an agreement with his successor, Sheriff Leroy Martin, that he will continue to work on the case, and they will stay in contact about any developments.
“It’s a very solvable case,” Loe said. “It’s like picking keys out of a barrel until you get the right one to unlock the mystery.”
The search for what happened to Bobo Shinn on the day she answered the phone and agreed to meet the man who had seen her advertisement for the house for sale in the Banner-News is something that took Loe across the country, he said.
“Oh my gosh I went to law enforcement agencies from just about California to Florida and some I can’t even remember,” he said. “I’ve gone all over the place but it’s local. I’ve always said it’s local.”
Loe’s theory is something he has worked hard to develop and now works hard to protect.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss it,” he said. “It would jeopardize it if I talked about it.”
But sometimes keeping information close to the vest can be a lonely position to be in and Loe admits the case still sometimes haunts him.
He said he would relish solving it within his lifetime and naming the person who took Bobo Shinn from her family, friends and Magnolia. From the life she could have had. What could have been.
“It would just be a good feeling to get closure for the family and to let the public know what really happened.”
Although Bobo’s parents have now passed away, Loe still remains in contact with her brother, Jay Shinn, and her sister, Sarah Newton, about once or twice a year.
Newton, who now lives in Texas, is one of three of the remaining five children of the late Gresham and Sue Shinn of Magnolia.
She said she was in her 40s when Bobo disappeared and is now 79 and living in Texas. She said she thinks Loe has always followed the case with diligence.
“We have always thought a lot about him and realized he has worked hard on Bobo’s case. I think it will always be on his mind and I feel like he will continue to do what he can,” Newton said.
Jay Shinn, who also now lives in Texas, said the dedication throughout the years Loe has shown to his sister’s case has been something very appreciated by all members of the family.
“He has been very relentless in his search and for that we will always be indebted to him,” Jay Shinn said. “Besides his emotional attachment to the case, he is very professional.”
Jay Shinn, 65, said he and Newton’s other sibling lives in Texarkana. Having Loe commit to searching for his sister beyond his retirement is something commendable, he said.
“We are very grateful he would continue because he has a vast knowledge of what they have investigated and what they would need to investigate going further,” Jay Shinn said.
Another thing Jay Shinn shared about Loe is that he knew Bobo because they attended Southern State College, the present-day Southern Arkansas University, at the same time.
Loe confirmed this and said he shared a history class with Miss Shinn but would call her more of an acquaintance than a friend, but said they knew each other to speak when they passed by the other on campus.
The fact that he knew Bobo as a person has always made it more personal, he said.
“I remember vividly when I was a Highway Patrol Trooper in Hamburg and me and another trooper were sitting at Kent’s Cafe drinking coffee,” he said. “He laid the Arkansas Gazette down and there was a picture of Bobo Shinn on the front page and asked if I knew her and I said, ‘Yes I went to college with her.’”
LOE’S START IN LAW ENFORCEMENT
Loe was Columbia County’s longest-serving sheriff and served the county for 12 years. His law-enforcement career began years earlier.
A day before his 20th birthday and while at Southern State College, he began his first career in law enforcement as a marshal in Taylor, where he grew up and graduated from high school in 1971. After the first year of serving as a marshal in Taylor, he was a night marshal in Waldo as he continued his college studies.
But when the chance to become a part of the Arkansas State Police came around in 1974, he decided to go ahead into his career without completing his degree at Southern State College. However, he did later receive training from the College of Police Staff and Command from Illinois and the Northwestern University College of Police Staff and Command.
Although there are no longer as many applicants who are willing to put their life on the line for a career as an Arkansas State Trooper, that was not the case back in the 70s.
“At the time there were over 1,000 applicants at the time I was selected,” he said. “They put me in the first State Police undercover squad they formed. There was a lot of danger. They sent us to school; they trained us and we went to work.”
Loe said going from being a small marshal in the cities of Taylor and Waldo to becoming a member of the Arkansas Police was something he was proud of, but it was something that had a lot of power with it too.
“It was a big change, a huge change,” he said. “You had all this training, this authority. You were working for the law enforcement agency for the State of Arkansas.”
His first assignment with the Arkansas State Police was to go on an undercover drug squad. And it was on this assignment that he experienced what he calls a “really scary” incident he will never forget.
“I almost got shot in a little community called Dover north of Russellville. It was over a drug deal and a guy put the gun to my nose. That was a close call.”
Loe said he will never forget the type of guy the man held -- a little .25 caliber semi-automatic -- aimed at his face because he suspected Loe was indeed undercover. And Loe said it could have easily ended there, but of course it didn’t.
Loe found himself on the couch with the man over him and in a position to take his life.
“I made a terrible mistake -- I had my handgun in the small of my back and I couldn’t reach it when he pulled the gun on me,” he said.
The only thing Loe could do to save his life in this situation was to bluff the drug dealer and convince him to sell him the heroin he had come for, only later to make a bust.
“I stood up and shoved him back and said he was going to get one of us killed,” he said.
Loe said he is lucky that this incident is the one close call he’s had throughout the years considering how long he has been wearing a badge.
JUST A FEW TOP ACCOMPLISHMENTS AS SHERIFF
Columbia County Sheriff’s Captain Mike McWilliams said he has worked for several great sheriffs in his career but ranks Loe near the top due to the professionalism he always brought to the sheriff’s department.
Loe demanded all workers to treat each other with respect, McWilliams said and when he came into the job, the new sheriff instructed those with dissension in the office to either straighten up or find another job.
But the one thing that will serve as a lasting testament to the type of job Loe did in office is all the advancements he made in technology, equipment and programs that will continue to serve the county long past his retirement, McWilliams said.
“We got a lot of stuff I never dreamed we would have. The radio system would not work so he put up different towers in our county,” McWilliams said.
When Loe took his post, one of the sheriff’s deputies’ cars had a lot to be desired, McWilliams said.
“I can’t even remember what all he did for us, but he got all of us new vehicles,” McWilliams said. “When he came, one vehicle didn’t even have a reverse. So, you would park it and put it in drive and take off.”
McWilliams said he has been with the sheriff’s department since 1997 and has seen horrible conditions like not having complete cars, guns and uniforms for the deputies.
“Before Loe came, along with our brass, our duty gear, our leather belts, our guns, our boots, everything we bought,” he said.
In 2011, Loe bought the sheriff’s office vehicles cameras so the public could see the interaction of the officer and suspects when necessary. The next step was to install body cameras on all deputies.
Loe helped establish Justice Bridge, which is a program that allows inmates who are at the Arkansas Department of Correction to meet with their attorney or the judge virtually over the Internet rather than having to cost the county transportation money.
A big money maker for the county which allowed for the purchase of new county cars occurred when Loe got a contract with City Tele Coin so that inmates could pay for phone cards to make phone calls and to play games at kiosks and study the Bible throughout the week. Another big seller Loe set up was the commissary where inmates could buy hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken baskets and fries three times a week as well as sodas, chips and candy.
Family and friends would put money on their commissary and the money would build up, Loe said.
Loe did many other lasting improvements for the county, but one thing he was not known for while being the county’s sheriff was staying in the public eye.
“I felt like the public didn’t want a sheriff in front of the camera all the time,” Loe said. “They wanted a sheriff to go and run the blasted thing.”
As for his retirement plans, one of the first things Loe must accomplish is learning he does not have to check his phone in the middle of the night as he has done for decades. Since his retirement at the end of 2022, he has sometimes called administrative assistant Heather Duke to check on how things are going in the middle of the night.
Now Loe, who has dealt with a back injury for a number of years, can take his time doing the things he wants to do and one of those will be purchasing a motorcycle trike to continue his long passion for motorcycles.
"I used to go out West and ride into the mountains every year," he said. "I'm going to start doing that again this summer."
And of course he will be spending time with his wife Donna, who has a list of suggested projects for him. He smiles when he calls them “honey dos.”