Neldon Harrison Neal, whose run-ins with the law are legendary, pulled the ultimate disappearing act last Tuesday after authorities said he murdered his Roby wife and fled into the rough terrain of the Missouri Ozarks, sparking a ground and aerial search not seen in Texas County for two decades.
Neal, 60, disappeared into the woods after a nasty argument with his wife that culminated with her fatal shooting outside a Highway 32 trailer at Roby, where lawmen over the years have traveled to investigate many offenses involving the career criminal.
Authorities say that Neal has made a life – an enterprise – out of crime. When Neal was held in the Miller County Jail in the late 1990s, he alleged mistreatment and received a $1 million judgment that later was reduced.
Today, he’s broke and either on the run or dead in the Mark Twain National Forest, where Neal spent most of his life, said Texas County Sheriff Carl Watson. As sheriff and as a criminal investigator with the Missouri State Patrol, Watson has been on Neal’s trail before.
Watson’s officers and others with the Missouri State Highway Patrol continue a strong presence in northwest Texas County, where a command post was dismantled Tuesday after few leads were coming in to the Roby Fire Department station. Troubled by health problems, Neal needs medication to survive, a Rolla nurse practitioner told lawmen.
“There is a good possibility he’s dead. Even if he didn’t kill himself, then dead from some type of medical problem,” Watson said.
Since the search began, no house break-ins or stolen vehicles have been reported. “There is no evidence that he’s there or that he’s anywhere else,” said Watson on Tuesday afternoon. Increased patrols continue and will carry on until there is evidence that Neal, who is nursing a wound from a previous altercation, is not a threat, Watson said.
On Friday, as officers began a three-mile hike into the wooded Ozark hills of northern Texas County to search for the suspected killer, Watson announced a $1,000 reward for information that leads to the location and apprehension of Neal.
The announcement came from a command post just 1/4 mile from the trailer where a drunken Neal allegedly shot and killed his wife. Those familiar with the marriage say it occurred in Oklahoma, but Lewis told them it was not a legal ceremony. Investigators found paperwork in the trailer that indicated research on common-law marriages was studied.
Authorities from multiple agencies continue to comb the area in the manhunt, the longest in modern Texas County history. In 1987, two jail escapees sparked a manhunt that lasted six days and ended at Boiling Springs south of Licking.
Water Patrol officers from Howell County set out on foot Friday morning to search a cave in the Paddy Creek area that Neal was known to be familiar with. The Missouri State Highway Patrol also resumed an aerial search Friday, and a helicopter remains on standby.
An outdoorsman who grew up in the area, Neal knows the land well.
“He’s been in these woods for all of his life,” Watson said. “He knows the locations and where everything is.”
On Saturday, a tip from Arkansas had authorities converging at a residence in Baxter County. With the sheriff department’s helicopter in the air overhead, officers made contact with a man, who reportedly looked like Neal, at the residence.
“We had a report of (Neal) being sighted in Midway,” Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery told The Baxter Bulletin. “But it was determined that it was not Neal.”
Baxter County authorities have increased patrols in the Gassville area where a woman, who was a victim in an incident many years ago, recently received threatening phone calls from Neal.
About Neldon Neal: Texas County and state law officers say over several decades they investigated many crimes involving Neal, who was released from his latest prison term in late 2005.
The common thread to the cases: Nearly all involve a crime conducted with a weapon. In fact, Watson said Sunday that Neal is nursing a wound from a recent shooting that was never reported to authorities.
It isn’t the first time Neal has been shot.
Thirty-five years ago, Neal was wounded south of Licking after a man said he shot the Roby resident in self-defense. In 1993, authorities said Neal pointed a semi-automatic weapon at a Licking man behind a tavern there. In 1979, Neal’s brother, Nolan, was shot in downtown Houston. He later died at the county hospital. Behind the trigger was Nolan Neal’s mother-in-law.
Neldon Neal’s most recent prison term resulted from his 1999 conviction of the robbery of a Falcon package store, where he stole a 12-pack of beer and two bottles of blackberry brandy. A Camden County jury, hearing the case on a change of venue, found Neal guilty in May 1999. A judge later sentenced him to 15 years in prison. On Feb. 23, 2005, Neal was paroled. But by April, he had violated his probation and was sent back. He has been free since his Nov. 9, 2005, release.
Watson said that all known Neal associates have been interviewed and accounted for by investigators on the case. A by-product of the investigation is that several outstanding warrants have been cleared by officers, Watson said.
Still, the sheriff said, any clues are welcome by the public. Both the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Missouri State Water Patrol officials pledged Tuesday to Watson that they would accelerate their manpower if requested.
Both agencies have contributed much to Watson’s investigation. On Sunday afternoon, investigators continued to take leads from area residents. One lady stopped to discuss an opened door on an abandoned trailer. The lead, said the sheriff, is typical of many received this past week from Roby residents, who admittedly are on edge. Watson said officers are experiencing great cooperation from county residents. Food was dropped off daily for officers at the command post.
Watson had praise Tuesday for the outpouring of support from those residents and numerous law enforcement agencies that continue to assist in the hunt for Neal. The sheriff said his department also has experienced nothing but cooperation from Neal’s family and associates.
Neal’s son also made a television appeal Sunday urging his father to turn himself in.
The sheriff and Texas County Prosecutor Mike Anderson said that Neal, upon his arrest, will be treated fairly and they want him to know that if he has access to media reports.
Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Neal should call the Texas County Sheriff’s Department (417-967-4165) or Troop G headquarters (417-469-3121).