Release of a true-crime video, news and social media posts, as well as meetings held between family members and police, have widened the spotlight in the past few weeks on the case of an 11-year-old Upland boy who disappeared without a trace 34 years ago.
Unfortunately, the recent media glare on the long-running case may be the only thing that has changed.
Barbara Betz, 73, front, holds the last picture of her son Shawn Betz who was 11 when he went missing from a pizza place in Upland in 1988. Shawn’s sister Pamela Betz holds a computer generated photo by National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of what Shawn could look like at age 42, as they are still looking for answers about him 34 years later in their home in Fontana on Friday, January 28, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Shawn Betz in third grade at Sierra Vista Elementary School in Upland. Betz went missing at age 11, on Jan. 20, 1988 and was never hear from again. His case will be the subject of a CrimeHound YouTube video (image courtesy of Lindy Baxter)
The photo at left is a photo of what Shawn Betz looked like at age 11, when he went missing from an Upland pizza store on Jan. 20, 1988. The next three are computer generated photos by National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of what Shawn could look like at ages—32, 38 and 42. The family is still looking for answers after Shawn’s disappearance 34 years later, in their home in Fontana on Friday, January 28, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Pamela Betz is over come with emotions as she talks about her brother Shawn Betz who disappeared 34-years ago from a pizza place in Upland. The family is still looking for answers about Shawn 34-years later in their home in Fontana on Friday, January 28, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Despite a plethora of new attention — including friends who watched or were reminded of the case on social media — the Upland Police Department reported no promising leads have arisen and they are no closer to finding out what happened to the boy who freely left an Upland pizza parlor on Jan. 20, 1988, never to be heard from again.
“I checked with the detective on the case. We haven’t received any new leads since the video (or the news article in this publication) came out,” said Lt. Anthony Kabayan, who oversees the detectives bureau of the Upland Police Department, on Wednesday, Feb. 23.
Earlier this month, Crime Hound, a YouTube channel that highlights missing persons and homicide victims newly identified, released a 20-minute video on the case entitled: “The Shawn Betz Story: Through His Family’s Eyes.”
The video received 2,756 views as of late Thursday, Feb. 24, the most of any missing persons-themed video in the channel’s history, said Lindy Baxter, a Montana mother who started the channel about a year ago. It has more than 5,000 subscribers.
Baxter released the video on Feb. 14 as a “premiere,” when more than 120 people viewed it simultaneously. It has been picking up viewers ever since, including many who’ve had loved ones who disappeared or were killed.
The video references 34 years of dead-end leads, misinformation and a tumultuous relationship between Barbara Betz, 73, Shawn’s mom, her daughters, Pamela and Crystal, and the local police. According to the video, soon after the family reported the boy missing, an Upland police officer said he probably ran away and would return when he was hungry.
Barbara Betz told the City Council in December 2021 that police did not actively look for her son for four months. The family put up fliers around town. Police did search under the Betz rental home in Upland in 1991 on a tip that Shawn was buried there but nothing was found, the family reported.
This created mistrust between the family and the Upland Police Department, according to Barbara and Pamela Betz. In the video, Baxter said police no longer had a difficult relationship with the Betz family and continue to investigate with their cooperation.
Barbara Betz said she and several family members had a two-hour meeting with Kabayan and Detective Stephen Wyno, who is on the case, on Feb. 15, 2022, the day after the Crime Hound video was posted. Kabayan confirmed the meeting with the family but didn’t talk about the details since the case is still open.
Barbara Betz said police asked her questions about her husband, Dennis, who passed away in 2009, and her other sons.
“They were trying to show us the things they looked into,” she said Wednesday. “I didn’t feel any better when I left.”
Said Kabayan: “This isn’t something that has been put on the shelf.”
Stephen Ondich, an Upland resident and owner of Commercial Forest Products in Fontana, who has been working with the Betz family to publicize the case, attended the family’s meeting with police. He said he came away flooded with conflicting emotions.
“They (Upland police) did a lot more work on the case than I assumed they did,” he said Wednesday. “I was most surprised by the stack of information they brought into the meeting.”
What happened to Upland’s Shawn Betz? Case gets new attention after 34 years https://t.co/H37DyYOpDG
— Commercial Forest (@Com4Pro) February 11, 2022
He said a friend of Shawn’s contacted him and gave him a list of names of friends that Ondich forwarded to the police and were followed up on but to no avail.
Ondich said he felt frustrated by the string of busted leads that led nowhere — like the time someone mistakenly reported that Shawn was camping in the mountains above San Antonio Heights. Or when someone said they spotted Shawn in Ontario and he looked so much like Shawn and was even named Shawn, too, but it was not Shawn Betz.
“They are doing a lot. But I don’t think they have a lot to work with,” Ondich said of police on the case. “I wish it was more fruitful.”
According to Barbara Betz, Upland detectives said during the last three-and-a-half decades they followed up on leads of Shawn sightings from Las Vegas to Utah.
“Since all this came out (in the media recently), I don’t know if they’ve gotten anything,” she said in a telephone interview, breaking down.
Crime Hound’s video is not the first to feature Shawn’s disappearance. The rock group Soul Asylum produced a video featuring many missing youth accompanying its hit song “Runaway Train” in 1993. One of the missing persons featured was Shawn Betz. The video received 171 million views on MTV and YouTube as of January 2022.
The video featured 36 mission person cases. Twenty-six were solved after the video aired, including the case of Aundria Bowman, whose remains were identified in 2020. Ten cases were left unsolved, including that of Shawn Betz.