Updated: May 8
For a lot of people, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. For others, it’s a day off from work to relax and kick off the summer. But on Memorial Day weekend of 2003, a family in Utah experienced the ultimate nightmare. Let’s talk about the disappearance of Acacia Bishop.
Acacia Patience Bishop was born on October 29, 2001 to mom Casey Lodmell and dad Adam Bishop. As she grew, Acacia hit milestones that many other babies do: She learned to walk, to run and was beginning to learn to talk. Unfortunately, Casey and Adam wouldn’t get that much time with their daughter, as she hasn’t been publically seen since she was 19 months old.
On Sunday, May 25, 2003, Acacia was staying with her great-grandmother Linda Lodmell in Murray, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. Also along for this visit was Kelley Lodmell, Linda’s daughter and Acacia’s grandmother. Kelley Lodmell has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She was supposed to be taking medication at the time, but hadn’t taken any on the afternoon of May 25. According to The Charley Project, she only took her medication when she could afford to buy it. She’s considered dangerous with it and had been in trouble with the law multiple times by this point. She’d been charged for things like drunk driving, threats with a dangerous weapon, disorderly conduct and aggravated assault. She’d also tried to take Acacia before, though she was found after about half an hour. By May 2003, Kelley could only see her granddaughter on supervised visits.
Before we move on, I just want to make it clear: All these details are relevant to the case. They are not meant to be a statement on schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in general, or the people who have them.
Just after 6 pm, Linda Lodmell went to check on Acacia, but couldn’t find her. She asked her husband if he had her, but he didn’t. She realized at this point that Kelley had taken Acacia, and she called the police.
There was an AMBER Alert put out for Acacia, but it took 12 hours for it to actually be issued — meaning it wasn’t issued until Monday. It was also cancelled later that day, presumably for reasons we’ll see in a second.
Once Kelley took Acacia, she drove her over 200 miles to Idaho Falls, Idaho. From there, they checked into a Red Lion Hotel, where a hotel clerk said there was something unusual about the pair. A receptionist at the hotel also claimed there was a man with them.
Acacia Bishop was last spotted on Monday, May 26, 2003. A witness saw her close to the Snake River, accompanied by her grandmother and an unknown man. Later that day, Kelley showed up at a nearby power plant, soaking wet, saying she’d dropped Acacia in the river. The plant was shut down and the river searched.
Kelley Lodmell was arrested later that day and initially told police she’d planned on carrying out a murder/suicide. She also said she thought Acacia had somehow made it out of the water and survived. Later on, she changed her first story and said Acacia had accidentally fallen into the water while they were playing.
Divers spent four days searching the river. It was hard to search because it had become so dirty from debris, and they had to feel around the bottom with their hands and feet. They also used sonar devices. They didn’t find Acacia, but they found a pair of baby shoes, a pacifier, a doll, one of her grandmother’s shoes and two stockings.
Before the search was completed, Idaho Falls Police Sergeant Steve Hunt said: “We can't say positively that the baby went into the water, though that's what the grandma said originally.” But by May 29, he seemed to have changed his mind, saying: “The evidence we have is Kelley jumped into the water with Acacia, and Kelley swam out and Acacia stayed in.” Every article and source I’ve found written after this says the police, in general, believe Acacia is no longer alive and that her death was a homicide.
Kelley Lodmell was charged with murder and kidnapping in Idaho, and another kidnaping charge in federal court. While in jail, she wrote letters saying Acacia was being taken care of by someone else, but always referred to her in the past tense. She went on trial for the federal charge and, in 2005, was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity by a judge. She was sent to a mental hospital in Texas, where she remains today. The state charges against her were later dropped.
In October 2003, Acacia’s family held a party for her on what would have been her second birthday. They released one red balloon for every day she’d been missing. At the time, there was a $50,000 reward for information, though I’m not sure if that’s still active.
Casey Lodmell and Adam Bishop spent almost a year in Idaho Falls losing for Acacia before going back to Utah. By 2004, they planned on moving to get out of the spotlight and raising more money to investigate Acacia’s case. In 2007, they passed out over 200 fliers with an age progressed photo of Acacia to schools in Idaho, where they believe she still might be.
In their investigation, police said they found no evidence that Acacia was being raised by anyone else. They don’t believe the unknown man that witnesses claimed to have spotted on May 26 ever existed. However, I did find one source that said they commissioned a sketch of the man and that he’s wanted for questioning. This source was from around 2006 or 2007, so it may be outdated or just inaccurate. The sketch does exist; another source said it was commissioned by Acacia’s father, Adam Bishop.
Speaking of Acacia’s parents, they’re not so convinced she’s actually dead. They believe — or at least hope — that Acacia really was handed over to someone else to be raised, maybe this unknown man. They claim Kelley Lodmell was possessive of Acacia, but would never hurt her granddaughter or herself. They also noted that Kelley had bought diapers and milk for Acacia before she disappeared; a bit strange to do for someone you planned on killing, though not out of the realm of possibility. There’s also the fact that she drove Acacia over 200 miles to Idaho Falls. Acacia’s parents think Kelley drove this distance specifically to meet up with the unknown man and pass Acacia off to him. If Kelley wanted to kill Acacia, she could have done that in Utah.
Adam Bishop has also pointed out how strange it is that there were so few witnesses to what were presumably the moments before Acacia was killed, since they happened in a big tourist area on a holiday weekend. Witnesses also said they saw Acacia and Kelley on the bank of the river together, but never in the water. In addition, if Acacia had actually ended up in the water, grates should have prevented her from traveling from the water in the plant to the main part of the river. Said Adam on his daughter’s case: “There's too many possibilities of other people being involved that you can't turn your eye from it.”
Another family member who agrees with them is Linda Lodmell, Acacia’s great grandmother whose house she was kidnapped from. She thinks someone paid to take Acacia. When she asked Kelley what happened, she only said Acacia was in “good hands.”
Acacia Patience Bishop was 19 months old when she was last seen in Idaho Falls, Idaho on May 26, 2003. She is classified as endangered missing.
Acacia is a white female with blonde hair and blue eyes. At the time of her disappearance, she was 2 feet 6 inches tall and 35 pounds. She was last seen wearing a pink sundress with either sunflowers or daises on it. Her ears are pierced, and she has a birthmark on the left side of her abdomen about the size of a tennis ball. If she were alive today, she would be 19 years old.
Witnesses have also described an unknown man who was reportedly last seen with Acacia Bishop and Kelley Lodmell at a Red Lion Hotel in Idaho Falls on the 26th. He was described as being in his late 40’s or early 50’s with rough tan skin, graying hair, hazel eyes and large hands but a small build.
This is kind of a strange case. It seems at first like there’s only one conclusion, but there is some doubt in there as well. I am very curious to see what everyone thinks of this case in the comments.
If you have any information about the disappearance of Acacia Bishop, you can contact the Unified Police of Greater Salt Lake at (801)-743-7000. You can also contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE LOST (843-5678). There’s an online form you can use to submit tips as well, which you can find here.