Local News

Police scour park in soldier's disappearance

Posted February 12, 2009 10:01 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Police using tracking dogs searched a city park for about an hour Thursday, looking for clues to the disappearance of a Fort Bragg soldier.

Spc. Joseph E. Putnam, 22, was last seen at a BP station at 1208 Bragg Blvd. at about 4:15 a.m. Tuesday, police said. He was intoxicated after a night of drinking with friends at Sharky's Cabaret a few blocks from the gas station, police said.

Investigators said their Thursday morning search of Mazarick Park, which is across the street from the BP station, turned up no leads.

"We are looking at this right now as a suspicious missing person's case," said Theresa Chance, spokeswoman for the Fayetteville Police Department.

Putnam's debit card was used twice later Tuesday to withdraw money from automated teller machines at two Fayetteville convenience stores, police said. Investigators haven't released the location of the first store, but they said it was used at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at a Kangaroo store at 1764 Ireland Drive.

The man who used the card at the Kangaroo was described as a black man in his late 30s to early 40s, about 6 feet 2 and 190 pounds. He was bald, had a close-trimmed beard and had recent burn marks to his abdomen. He was wearing a white T-shirt with blue exercise pants.

"This person spent a few minutes in the store," Chance said. "He was actually pulling up (his shirt) and showing his burn marks. He was conversing."

Police said they have a security video from the store showing the man they have called a "person of interest" in the case, but they hadn't released the video to the media by Thursday evening.

Putnam is assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team. He was assigned to Fort Bragg in September and had recently graduated from the 82nd Airborne's jump school.

Members of Putnam's unit called his mother in Arkansas Tuesday morning and asked if she knew of his whereabouts, and she immediately called police.

"I'm fighting the urge to get on the airplane and (come) out and (walk) door to door to door," his mother, Angela Stanford, said in a telephone interview.

Stanford said her son is the third generation of his family to serve in the military.

"All he ever wanted to do is be in the military. He wanted to be in airborne. He wants to be in Special Forces," she said.

Putnam was described as a white man, 5 feet, 10 inches tall and 150 pounds, with blond hair and blue eyes. He has tattoos of a cow skull and the words “Cowboy Up” on his left shoulder. He was wearing a white T-shirt, Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots.

"(He is known as a) very good soldier, very nice," Chance said. "There is no reason at all to suspect he would have just left and gone (absent without leave) or anything like that. That's why we're treating this as suspicious."

Sharky's Cabaret has been a trouble spot for soldiers in recent months. Sgt. Sergio Sanchez was shot to death near the club in April, and four men have been charged with murder and robbery in the case.

Fort Bragg gives newcomers a list of neighborhoods and businesses that are off-limits to soldiers because of high crime. Sharky's Cabaret isn't one of the nightclubs on the list.

Anyone with information on Putnam’s whereabouts or the identity of the man who used his debit card is asked to call the Fayetteville Police Department at 910-433-1856 or Crime Stoppers at 910-483-8477.