What Happened to the Whatleys?


Hey, y’all, and welcome to Southern Macabre! I’m Aeryn and I am so glad that you are joining me for the weekly missing person episode.

Today we’re going to Bastrop, Texas, a small town in Bastrop County about thirty miles southeast of Austin. It became a timber and farming powerhouse in the mid-nineteenth century which is likely what drew self-made millionaire John Whatley to Bastrop around 1956. John owned and operated a dairy farm in what is now Austin back in the 1920s. He sold it later for $500,000.  

John married Faye in 1972. She was his fifth wife and he was her second husband. He had a 41-year-old son named Barney and she had a daughter and a son. Sadly, her son died in a plane crash. They lived on a 1,500-acre ranch just outside Bastrop. John was worth between $2 and 7 million at the time. The couple didn’t flaunt their wealth, but they did own matching Mercedes Benz cars.

John and Faye were supposed to be in Houston for her granddaughter’s wedding rehearsal on January 30, 1976. When the couple didn’t show up for the rehearsal or the wedding the next day, their son-in-law called the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office to request a wellness check.

When police arrived, they found the couple’s cars in the garage and their dogs running around outside. There was no sign of the couple, though.

Finding the front door locked, the sheriff went through an open window. Inside he found John and Faye’s eyeglasses, wallets, and other personal belongings. What was missing is one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard of and I can’t imagine what the sheriff must have thought. What was missing? Their heavy mahogany bedroom door! There were marks on the frame of the front door suggesting the Whatley’s may have been carried out on the mahogany door.

There weren’t any signs of a struggle or foul play, but there were holes that appeared to be from a .22 caliber bullet. People who knew John knew that he owned two .22 caliber pistols, but only one was found in his home. No slugs were found, but there was a pile of bullet fragments in a corner of the bedroom floor.

Another interesting detail is no one really knows when John and Faye disappeared. The last confirmed sighting came from a contractor who was picking pecans on the farm. He said that he and John got into an argument on January 27th. He said that John appeared to be drunk. The next day, another ranch hand showed up and knocked on the door, but no one answered. I don’t think I need to point out how suspicious it is that the last person to see John alive was arguing with him.

Police believed the couple left on the 27th because that day’s newspaper was inside the house while the newspaper for the 28th was still in the mailbox. Some wolf hunters claimed that they saw a blue or green Ford van or pickup pulling a camper towards the Whatley’s home around 9:45pm on the 27th. Another witness said they saw the same vehicle leaving the Whatley’s about an hour later.

So what happened to John and Faye Whatley? We’ll speculate after I tell you about today’s sponsor.

Painting by Jon Flannagan.

At first people thought the Whatley’s may have been kidnapped due to their wealth, but there was never a ransom demand. John’s son, Barney, was a suspect because he lived in Austin and drove a green Ford pickup, like the one described to law enforcement. In 1976 he was making $1,000 as a weed inspector for the city’s sanitation department. Barney was set to inherit half of his father’s estate, but without a body he would have to wait seven years. I’m curious about who he would be splitting the family fortune with since he was an only child. It may have been Faye, but with her gone he would have gotten everything if she was the other beneficiary.

Barney never did cooperate with police. He hired an attorney and refused to take a polygraph test.

The missing bedroom door was found in the Whatley’s barn about a year after they vanished, even though police said they searched the barn many times.

In April of 1984, a notorious serial killer by the name of Henry Lee Lucas confessed to killing John and Faye. Lucas told police that he and his long-time partner in crime, Ottis Toole, had stabbed the couple to death before taking them to Nevada and dumping them in the desert. Unfortunately, Lucas wanted to be remembered as the serial killer with the highest body count so he admitted to about six hundred murders.

The sheriff in office when John and Faye went missing, Jimmy Nutt, had his own theory about what happened to the couple. He believed that John murdered Faye before fleeing back to Mexico where he was born. The sheriff’s office located a box in a dry well that contained divorce papers John had served Faye just fourteen weeks after they married. She in turn filed suit against him and said that he was mistreating her, but John had written “Lies” beside each allegation.

When they went to court, they changed their minds and decided to stay married. Their marriage, however, was still described as a rocky one.

Sheriff Nutt believed that the person in the Ford had driven up to help John get rid of Faye and then took him to Mexico. This would fit well if it really was Barney’s truck the neighbors saw. This theory also fits because there wasn’t any blood in the Whatley home and police said it appeared to have been cleaned recently. I don’t think you can murder two people, clean up the mess, and leave in about an hour.

The problem with this theory is that John’s sister said that John would have never returned to Mexico. He didn’t trust the government after their parents were killed for their land and they had to flee the country to avoid the same fate.

I think this case could be solved if someone decided to clear their conscience and came forward with information. It may not be possible to find John and Faye anymore, but their family deserves answers and justice.

I hope that you enjoyed today’s episode. If you did, please follow and or leave us a five star review, it helps others find Southern Macabre. If you want to read the transcript, you can do that here. To keep up with everything going on at Southern Macabre make sure that you like us on Facebook and make sure you follow Southern Macabre on Twitter and Instagram.

 I hope y’all have a great rest of your week and I will talk to y’all again soon!


John Whatley – The Charley Project

Faye Eva Whatley – The Charley Project

The 1976 Disappearances of John & Faye Whatley: Elderly Couple Vanishes from Their Ranch. A Bullet Hole is Found in Their Bedroom Window and the Entire Bedroom Door is Missing : UnresolvedMysteries (reddit.com)

John Whatley – The Charley Project Blog (wordpress.com)

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