Law enforcement officials brought an excavator across a narrow channel of the Rock River on Friday to continue work on an island near Colona as new leads are investigated in the disappearance of Trudy Appleby.
Trudy was 11 years old in 1996 when she went missing from her father’s yard in Moline.
On Friday, Trudy’s maternal grandmother, Ann Eddleman of East Moline, watched investigators from shore.
She said that in the years since Trudy disappeared, her family heard stories about the Colona area that “weren’t good.” One of those stories was that her granddaughter’s remains might be found on the Rock River at the location being searched.
“I’m not going to give up,” Eddleman said. “If I give up, there’s nothing.”
Eddleman said Trudy liked to go swimming, and on the day she went missing, a neighbor spotted her leaving with an older man in his car and taking along a swimming suit and towel. Eddleman added that Trudy was home by herself that day while her father was at work.
Eddleman said Trudy’s mother, Brenda Gordon, is taking the disappearance “day by day.”
Gordon has declined to comment about the latest development in the case.
Trudy’s father, Dennis Appleby, was at the Rock River scene on Friday. In the afternoon, he emerged from the woods on the island and walked barefoot across the channel to the mainland. He then talked for a while with Illinois State Police officers and left. He was not available for comment.
Moline Police Department Detective Scott Williams said Friday two FBI cadaver dogs were brought to the island earlier in the week to assist investigators in the search. He offered no new details about what investigators were looking for or what they may have found.
He added the latest development is just one of hundreds of leads investigators have followed since Trudy’s disappearance.
Williams said he wasn’t sure if investigators will return to the site over the weekend.
He did not comment on whether police were questioning any suspects or persons of interest in the case. He also declined to comment about previous persons of interest.
David Whipple, 51, a registered sex offender who lives in Colona, told the Quad-City Times on Friday that he has been a “person of interest” in Trudy’s disappearance since the beginning, even though he has denied any involvement.
Whipple said his daughter and Trudy were friends and often hung out together. He added that he had been friends with Dennis Appleby.
Whipple said police questioned him in part because the victim in his sex assault case, which occurred about six years after Trudy’s disappearance, was a girl around Trudy’s age.
According to Rock Island County Circuit Court electronic records, Whipple was charged with sex assault on Aug. 16, 2002. He pleaded guilty to one count of criminal sexual assault on Nov. 8 of that year and was sentenced to four years’ probation. He also served 172 days in jail.
His victim in that case was a 13-year-old female. Whipple was 41 at the time of his arrest.
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Whipple said again on Friday said he had no involvement in the Appleby case. “The other stuff that went on with me, it did,” he said in reference to his sexual assault conviction. Referring to the Appleby case, he added, “This is not me.”
Whipple said that on the day of Trudy’s disappearance, he was living on Campbell’s Island in East Moline and he was watching his children. His wife was at work and they had one car, he added.
First Baptist Church of East Moline is holding a vigil for Trudy on the Aug. 21 anniversary of her disappearance. The church, where Gordon and the Eddlemans are members, has held a vigil annually.
“August becomes a month of anxiety for us,” the Rev. Brian Fischer, First Baptist’s pastor, said.
Fischer said that while the latest development is hopeful, the family has been led down similar paths many times before.
“I hope they find an answer,” Fischer said. “The family needs closure.”
Fischer said he wants this year’s vigil to focus not just on Trudy’s case but other missing children cases, citing the Evansdale, Iowa, disappearance of Elizabeth Collins, 9, and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, three weeks ago.
“We want to pray for all who have lost a loved one in this matter,” Fischer said. “It’s very much in everyone’s conscience right now.”
About Trudy, he added, “This has become bigger than this family and this church. It affects the whole community. I don’t know of a soul who doesn’t know about Trudy Appleby.”