By Joy Ufford, Pinedale Roundup
SUBLETTE COUNTY – Four months ago, a convoy of investigators mounted a search over a trapper’s remote property near LaBarge looking for clues to the disappearance of his former girlfriend, reported missing in 2017.
The next day on June 20, Darrell L. “Pete” Petry, 66, left his isolated ranch on the Sublette-Lincoln county line apparently with no one noticing. It was the day after a county, state and federal team executed a search warrant for evidence of the whereabouts of Vanessa “Nessy” Sue Orren, with whom LaBarge residents and family members last saw in February 2016.
The first official press release about Orren’s “missing person” status, the search – and Petry’s death – came on June 30 from the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office.
Sgt. Travis Bingham wrote, “The (SCSO) has been actively investigating Ms. Orren’s disappearance since the missing person’s report was made (in January 2017). Ms. Orren was entered into National Crime Information Center and NamUs (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System) as a missing person.”
Petry’s body was found on June 22, his death ruled as “self-inflicted,” Bingham said.
Since then, Bingham has declined on detectives’ behalf to release any more information about Petry, who was not detained during the search. How, when and where Petry died were left unanswered. Although Petry was not named as a suspect in Orren’s disappearance, the few details released led to numerous rumors.
SCSO detectives’ focus shifted to analyzing potential evidence for Orren’s fate, mainly by Detective Ian Allen who filed the 2017 missing person report.
On Oct. 12, Bingham said, “This case is still an active investigation with the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office. Until the investigation concludes, we are not able to release any more information at this time. … They are still working the case and again when it’s complete we will have more details to release at that time.”
Investigators, perhaps acting on new information, undertook searching “for any evidence relating to the disappearance of Ms. Orren,” according to Bingham. Agencies including NecroSearch, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming Game and Fish, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and the Wyoming Highway Patrol assisted the SCSO.
What they took away and what they discovered about Orren’s location are as yet unknown. She was described in 2016 as being 5 feet to 5 feet, 5 inches tall, weighing 110 to 115 lbs. with reddish hair and blue eyes. Anyone with information can contact the SCSO Detectives’ Division at 307-267-4378.
After the detective reported Orren to NCIC as a missing person, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation also posted it.
Wyoming DCI completed a very recent update to its “Missing Persons” webpage, front and center, including Vanessa Orren’s information and photos – along with many other missing persons reported by Wyoming law enforcement since April 26, 1974.
DCI’s already-planned upgrade took on new urgency with the recent, heavily publicized search last month for missing woman Gabby Petito centered on northwest Wyoming. Social media went wild with rumors about the missing woman and her now-missing fiancé, and many turned to official and volunteer “missing persons” sites for updates.
Desirée Tinico of Casper, who started her Facebook page “Missing Persons in Wyoming” two years ago, credited DCI director Forrest “Frosty” Williams with the push to highlight people reported missing in Wyoming.
Tinico said Williams contacted her a couple of months ago – “before Gabby’s case” – about her Facebook page, where people submit missing person information that might help find their loved ones passing through or living in Wyoming. Often families have their own Facebook pages where updates are posted and tips passed on.
“They really ramped up their end of things,” she said of DCI’s efforts to modernize the state’s webpage. “They have been great to work with and we’re just trying to figure all of this out.”
She noted, as have others, the disparity between almost worldwide attention for Gabby Petito and others whose disappearances slide under the radar. The attention is welcome – “before Gabby,” her Facebook page had about 130,000 hits every 60 days that grew to 170,000 and the public is reenergized about helping resolve them.
“When the Gabby case first happened, it was a horrible situation and everyone was trying to navigate through a third party,” Tinico said. “There are families that don’t get covered at all. There are no happy endings for cases like that.”
Very recently, Tinico met with state officials including Wyoming’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force “to brainstorm ideas for a unified database.”
DCI’s current funding shortfall might be eased with legislative action, she noted.
“The old page – the DCI’s technology grew up around it and it got left behind,” she said, adding Wyoming is one of 14 states without an organized database “when someone goes missing.”
Ideally, a system could track “runaways, tribes’ missing persons and others who fall through the cracks,” she said.
Wyoming DCI’s homepage now has a visible link to “Wyoming Missing Persons,” listed chronologically back to April 26, 1974. Go to https://wyomingdci.wyo.gov/dci-homepage/missing-persons.
Trapper’s death determined ‘self-inflicted’
How, when and where Darrell “Pete” Petry died while investigators searched his remote property for evidence of missing woman Vanessa “Nessy” Orren went unanswered for weeks.
Although Petry was not named as a suspect in Orren’s disappearance, the few details released about his untimely death led to numerous rumors and questions.
Sublette County Coroner Curt Covill confirmed details about Petry’ death this week – the first shared since Sublette County investigators searched Petry’s property near LaBarge from June 19-23.
SCSO’s Sgt. Travis Bingham has declined to provide information about the man except to say Petry’s death was “self-inflicted” with no signs of foul play, citing the active investigation.
Covill was called when Petry’s body was found on June 22 and he determined Petry died on June 20 – the day he left his home. He was not in custody or detained during the search, Bingham said earlier.
It isn’t known if anyone spoke with Petry or was at his home when he left.
Deputies apparently lost track of him for several days; on June 22 they read a note left on his door and looked for him at Deadline Ridge, just inside the Sublette County border with Lincoln County.
Petry did not shoot himself, no gun was found at the scene and his toxicology reports came back negative, Covill said.
Petry was found outside, seated against a tree with a cord tied to him and the tree; when he sat down, he asphyxiated, the coroner said. Petry’s dog was in Petry’s Jeep Cherokee parked nearby.
“There was nothing to indicate foul play,” Covill said of the scene and his later exam, determining it was “suicide by ligature, strangulation.”
Petry’s body was taken to Covill Funeral Home, where a visual postmortem exam showed “no other trauma” such as fresh injuries or abrasions. Covill saw “nothing suspicious” to indicate an autopsy was needed and contacted Petry’s son Ira, who identified his father from photos.
Petry’s remains were later cremated and the ashes sent to his family. Covill filed a death certificate with the state of Wyoming; his coroner’s report is not finalized while he waits for detectives to conclude their report.