UPDATE JULY 31, 2017
North Carolina’s Henderson County Sheriff’s Office announced late Sunday, July 30, 2017 that searchers found the remains of Thomas Bryson in a corn field off Glenn Bridge Road in Arden, N.C. (Buncombe County). The cause of death was not yet determined but Henderson County Sheriff Charlie McDonald said Stroupe will likely face a murder charge in the coming days.
Authorities also said Phillip Michael Stroupe, father of Phillip Michael Stroupe II, has been arrested and charged with Felony Accessory After the Fact of First Degree Kidnapping. Phillip Michael Stroupe, 65, of 93 Winter Star Loop, Burnsville, N.C., is being held in the Henderson County Jail on a $250,000.00 secured bond. His first appearance is scheduled in District Court in Henderson County later Monday.
A fugitive that led North Carolina authorities on a five-day manhunt traveled to Gatlinburg and Sevierville the day he allegedly kidnapped an elderly man and stole his pickup truck. That man remains missing and a $15,000 reward is offered for information in the case.
North Carolina’s Henderson County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on Saturday that the vehicle of Thomas Bryson, a 68-year-old man missing from Mills River, N.C., was in the areas of Gatlinburg and Sevierville sometime after 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. Police believe Bryson was kidnapped earlier that morning by 38-year-old Phillip Michael Stroupe II, a suspect in an armed robbery who was captured Thursday after being spotted in Bryson’s silver Honda Ridgeline.
The North Carolina manhunt for Stroupe began on July 22 when Transylvania County Sheriff’s officers pursued him in connection to a break-in and vehicle theft. After abandoning the stolen vehicle, Stroupe allegedly stole a mountain bike at gunpoint and fled into the Pisgah National Forest.
On July 25, officials announced that K-9’s and tactical officers tracked him toward the North Mills River area of Henderson County. The next morning, Bryson disappeared after leaving his home in Mills River to pick up a nearby family member and never arrived.
Officers apprehended Stroupe on July 27 in McDowell County after a chase. He appeared in court the following day to face charges of possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of methamphetamine, and charges related to his fleeing from law enforcement.
At the time of his arrest, Stroupe was out on bond from a charge of armed robbery of a convenience store in Weaverville during June 2017. Records show he served 15 years in prison for a felony robbery with a dangerous weapon conviction in 1999 and was released in April 2015.
Authorities arrested three people they say helped Stroupe evade arrest.
Jennifer Elaine Hawkins, 40, of 4 Rocky Lane in Baranardsville, N.C.; charged with felony harboring escapee on July 28, 2017.
Frederick Aurther Badgero, Jr., 45, of 605 Free Patch Drive, Nebo, N.C.; charged with felony harboring escapee on July 28, 2017.
Larry Jay Hawkins, III, 23 of 4 Rocky Lane in Baranardsville, N.C., charged with felony harboring escapee on July 29, 2017.
Law enforcement and emergency services personnel have performed multiple grid, K9, aerial, kayak and waterway searches of the Mills River area searching for Bryson. They continue to try to piece together Stroupe’s movements following Bryson’s kidnapping and are partnering with other agencies to mobilize search teams in areas Stroupe may have travelled.
With Stroupe in custody and the Bryson’s silver Honda Ridgeline recovered, authorities say they are focused on firming up Stroupe’s movements in an effort to locate Bryson. Authorities are piecing together a timeline of events and the route that Stroupe traveled from Mills River, N.C. through Eastern Tennessee, and back into North Carolina. They are asking the public to report sightings of that silver Honda Ridgeline, Phillip Stroupe or Thomas Bryson since 8:35 am on Wednesday, July 26.
Victim Description (Still Missing): Thomas A. Bryson, is a 68 year old man, approximately 5’9”, 175 lbs. with gray mustache and hair. He left his residence in the South Mills River Road area in Henderson County, N.C. at approximately 8:35 a.m. on July 26, 2017. He was last seen wearing a plaid, dark colored shirt, brown cargo shorts and tennis shoes.
Suspect Description (Arrested on 7/27/17): Phillip Michael Stroupe II, is a 38 year old white male, approximately 5’8”-5’10” tall, with a small build; he has a shaved head and a large, distinct tattoo on his neck just under his chin as well as tattoos on his arms and chest.
Vehicle Description (Vehicle located): Thomas Bryson’s vehicle was being driven by Phillip Stroupe at the time of his arrest. It is a 2007 silver Honda Ridgeline with North Carolina tag number AAR-7345. The vehicle has a West Henderson Falcons tag on the front and a West Henderson magnet on the back of the vehicle.
Contact the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office at (828) 697-4911 or your local law enforcement with any information.