FORT BRAGG, 3/11/21 — Barbara Zhan Shealor was front-page news on New Years’ Day 1972. She was the first baby of that year born in Fort Bragg, at what was then the brand-new Mendocino Coast District Hospital. She and her mom, Tara, were featured in a story in the Fort Bragg Advocate News, as was the longtime newspaper custom. She was born at 7:32 am, weighing 6 lbs, 13 ounces, and delivered by Dr. Robert Kerwood.
Now her longtime best friend fears Barbie Shealor could be headline news on both ends of her life. “I fear Barbie is dead. She has never been gone from this area for any length of time,” said Brandy Sallinen, who also fears Barbie has been the victim of foul play.
Barbara Zhan Shealor-Crane, 49, was the subject of a missing persons press release put out last month by the Fort Bragg Police Department, which stated she last had contact with family in May 2020. Fort Bragg Police Chief John Naulty said the matter is being investigated by FBPD even though the case is county-based, outside Willits. Naulty said it was not uncommon for Shealor to drop out of contact for a month or two, but not for the amount of time that has passed. Shealor is one of three recent missing persons cases being investigated by the Fort Bragg Police Department, all three involving people living transient lifestyles who were not reported missing until most leads had gone cold.
Shealor, who goes by Barbie, has spent a number of years living on and off the streets, according to Sallinen and others who knew her. Barbie’s family, Sallinen, and the police department seek the public’s help in finding what happened to her. Sallinen knows people living on the fringes of society may disappear and not be missed right away. After Sallinen arrived and began playing sleuth and stirring up the trail, things have happened with the case, although its unsure exactly what role she played in moving the case along. Barbie has been the subject of a press release, and has now been entered into public missing persons databases. Police have been investigating the case all along, and have been following leads as they come, but Sallinen hopes to help shake something loose.
Barbie’s Fort Bragg roots run deep
Another family member had the first name Barbara, but the nickname “Barbie” fit the petite woman that Sallinen still calls her “sister.” Barbie and Brandy’s fathers both worked at the old Georgia Pacific Lumber Mill. Their grandmothers were both from Oklahoma and best friends. Their mothers were also best friends.
“I was raised with her like a sister, and we became best friends too. We carried on the tradition,” said Sallinen. For many years, the two women would send each other roses on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day, just to be sure they each knew there was somebody who loved her, whatever else was going on with life.
Barbie has two children and a grandchild. “I was there when her son was born,” Sallinen said. “When my baby died, she and her mom came from Whitethorn to be with me. Before she hit rock bottom, she was always there for me when I needed it.” Sallinen paused to think about their childhood. “Back when we were growing up here, I feel like this was a tighter community. We all knew each other and looked out for each other,” she said.
About seven years ago Barbie, who had substance abuse issues, was “spiraling downward, ” Salinen said. Around that time, Sallinen left Mendocino to start a new life in Lake County. “I never looked back,” said Sallinen.
But now she is back, helping to search for a woman she thinks may have been the victim of foul play, but whose lifestyle may have made her fall between the cracks. Sallinen knocked on doors at addresses where Barbie once lived or were listed on background search websites but found no warm leads. Sallinen made fliers and distributed them around Fort Bragg. She contacted an investigation firm, law enforcement, Barbie’s family members, and Alan Rexrode, who is the last known person to see her. Barbie had been staying with Rexrode at the Sleepy Time RV Park at 30661 US Hwy. 101 in Willits.
But now she is back and has made a major stir in the case. She contacted the Mendocino Voice the day before the press release was issued. She and the Mendocino Voice then found that Barbie was not found in any public missing persons databases, although the initial press release said she was. After Sallinen’s belated arrival in the case, Barbie is now listed in the databases. Sallinen knocked on doors at addresses where Barbie once lived or were listed on background search websites but found no warm leads. Sallinen made fliers and distributed them around Fort Bragg. She contacted an investigation firm, law enforcement, Barbie’s family members, and Alan Rexrode, who is the last known person to see her. Barbie had been staying with Rexrode at the Sleepy Time RV Park at 30661 US Hwy. 101 in WillitsSallinen said Rexrode is also one of Barbie’s longtime friends. Rexrode still has Barbie’s two chihuahuas, Baby Girl and Sissy.. “I asked him why he isn’t more worried about where she is?”
Rexrode told The Mendocino Voice on March 4 he is worried. There have been reported sightings since she disappeared and there is no working theory of what happened to her. “I wouldn’t know where to look,” he explained. Rexrode can’t remember what month Barbie left but said in an interview she left from the Willits Safeway Parking lot with a clean-cut guy, 35-40 years old in a Ford F-250 diesel red truck with Montana plates. Rexrode said he just watched her leave — he didn’t go up to the truck or meet the stranger.
“It looked like they were friends,” he told The Mendocino Voice.
He said when he got home he found all her stuff gone but the dogs and a note on how to feed them. Rexrode said she left instructions for “three-course meals” for the dogs. He said he and Barbie were not a couple but were longtime friends. He said she paid him $400 out of her first stimulus check while she was staying there.
“We were kind of free spirits,” Rexrode said. “I’m trying to stay positive. I figure she has to be coming back for the dogs. We weren’t super lovey-dovey but we were friends and I’m totally concerned about her.” Rexrode called this reporter in an effort to help find the missing woman, in the hopes what he saw might help find her. There are no suspects or even a public working theory of where Barbie is.
Many people have not heard Barbie is missing
“I just found out about Barbie being missing about a month and a half ago,” Sallinen said. That launched her on a mission that resulted in her being in Fort Bragg in March. “I was horrified, and it took a minute to wrap around the reality. And I had a dream about her.” She said many people who knew Barbie didn’t know she was missing until recently, after articles appeared in The Mendocino Voice, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and MendoFever. Those articles came after the press release, issued more than half a year after Barbie was seen leaving by Rexrode, which appears to have happened in summer of 2020, based on the account.
“When I started asking questions, people were surprised to hear that she wasn’t ok,” Sallinen said. “Most hadn’t heard anything about it. Barbie’s life was on the street where she would be seen and few people cared to take her life seriously.”
“You love people no matter what brings them down,” Sallinen said. “Barbie is a human being. She was a person who loved and was loved. She deserves better than this.”
Barbie’s brother, Dan Shealor of Fort Bragg, said at first he thought his sister had just drifted away, as she often did for a month or two. Now he worries she may have been the victim of foul play. He plans to make a full search, including talking to people in the Willits street scene. He thinks authorities may not have their “heart’ into searching for Barbie.
“On paper she is just a transient. But that’s my sister,” Dan Shealor said. He had not seen her for more than a year and had been out of touch. Could she just have left and not told anyone?
“That’s what I’m still hoping,” Shealor said. “Maybe she found somebody she likes and maybe she has money now. Maybe she is living the good life somewhere.”
Barbie’s daughter, Kylara Shealor, has been looking for her missing mother too, including posting on Mendocino SportsPlus’ Facebook, page, then run by the late Paul McCarthy. She reported her mom missing on July 25, saying she hadn’t seen her since Mother’s Day 2020. Kylara could not be reached for comment. Fort Bragg police are trying to determine when Barbie actually disappeared but they were given a late start on the case by the reports.
Barbie Shealor is approximately 5’4” inches tall and weighed approximately 125-135 pounds at the time she disappeared. She has dark black or auburn hair and brown eyes. Shealor also has multiple tattoos. The most notable tattoos are of a dragon on her shoulder, a poem on her other shoulder, and a rose tattoo on her ankle. Shealor is known to wear dark colors with dyed black hair, the press release said.
Naulty said in cases like this, the jurisdiction that receives the call reporting a missing person investigates to determine if a crime has occurred until they can hand it over to the department that would handle that crime report. For example, he said, the Fort Bragg Police Department continues to investigate what is probably the Fort Bragg area’s most famous currently missing person, that of Kristi Krebs, who vanished in 1993 at age 22, with her car found in the woods in the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s department.
One mystery is that Barbie spoke to someone in July when she was still in Willits—not Montana or apparently even missing, despite not having had contact with her family since May.
“On 07/28/2020, Shealor spoke with an advisor regarding financial support while in Willits, CA,” the police press release stated. Naulty said that lead is being investigated to see if it was indeed Barbara Shealor who made the contact.
Could Barbie have simply left of her own accord or even dropped out of contact with friends and family?
Sallinen believes that is not possible. She said Barbie was not an “adventuresome type” and depends on her people. And Barbie never strayed far from Fort Bragg. “And she wouldn’t have left her dogs,” Sallinen explained. “She babied them. She was a weirdo about her dogs. I remember her sleeping in her car rather than in the house because the dogs couldn’t be in there.”
Naulty said the department is actively looking at the case and pursuing several lines of investigation.
A scary aspect of the case for Sallinen has been finding out how many missing adults there are in California, many of them seemingly forgotten. Sallinen has been looking through pictures of unidentified dead women and reading and talking about missing persons cases to people who work with the transient population, both locally and online.
“There are a lot of missing people and where did they go?” Sallinen asks. “When people are anywhere on the outskirts of life, regular people don’t know when they go missing. If you are busy with having a regular life, you might not know anything about what your fellow human beings out there are going through every day.”
The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) database showed on March 4, 2021, 20,133 missing persons nationwide as well as 13,616 unidentified (deceased) persons. NamUs has assisted in resolving more than 2000 missing persons cases and more than 2000 cases of unidentified persons.
During the first week of March, this reporter checked all the databases and Barbie was not listed. But then as of at least March 10, Shealor is now listed on NamUs among 34 active missing persons listed in Mendocino County dating back to 1971, which includes well known cases such as Kristi Krebs and Khadijah Rose Britton, both of whom are feared to have fallen victim to foul play. According to a search performed by this reporter, the Mendocino County missing persons list includes nobody else missing in 2020 or 2021. NamUs is a public database and anyone can enter people into it. Family members often are the ones to enter people into NamUs, not law enforcement.
Naulty said she was entered into a system used by law enforcement called MUPS (Missing and Unidentified Persons System) .
Anyone with information related to the investigation should contact Officer Zavala at (707) 961-2800 ext. 189 or by e-mail at [email protected]. Anonymous tips may be left on the anonymous Crime Tip Hotline at (707) 961-3049.
Three people listed as missing in Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg police have three current missing persons investigations ongoing. In addition to Shealor is Duane Lawrence, a homeless man who was reported missing in March 2019 but who had been missing for several months before the report was made.
Fort Bragg Police Capt. Thomas O’Neal said sadly people who live transient lifestyles are often not reported missing quickly enough for investigators to find them. “If you are a street person and you haven’t seen someone for a while, you might think they went to Ukiah or they went somewhere else,” O’Neal said. “It’s usually a family member who expects a call once a month who ends up reporting it. It really complicates our investigation when we start out several months behind.”
“Even if it doesn’t occur in our jurisdiction we throw everything we have at it,” said O’Neal.
Duane Lawrence was 52 when he disappeared two years ago, is approximately 5’9” tall and weighed approximately 180 pounds when he went missing. Lawrence has brown hair and blue eyes and commonly maintained a full beard. He has a tattoo of a dragon near his right shoulder. Anyone with information related to this investigation should contact O’Neal at (707) 961-2800 ext. 120 or by e-mail at [email protected]
Michael Miller, 30, the third missing person being investigated by FBPD, is approximately 5’8” tall and weighed approximately 140-150 pounds when his family last saw him. Miller has brown hair and brown eyes. Miller also has multiple upper body tattoos. The most notable tattoos are of two “Praetorian Diamond Star” symbols near the left and right collarbone, a FBPD press release states.
Said a 2019 FBPD press release: “On Nov. 30, 2019, the Fort Bragg Police Department was notified that Michael Miller had not been in contact with family members since May 15, 2019. As Miller was entered into the Missing and Unidentified Persons System (MUPS), Officers learned that Miller had absconded from his California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Parole. As of May 1, 2019, Michael Miller has not been located and is still listed as a missing person in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.”
Those with information about any of the cases can also contact this reporter at [email protected]
Thanks to the Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast Historical Society for pictures and the Fort Bragg Advocate News article of 1972.