What happened to the internationally recognized percussionist Joe Cripps is a still an unanswered question. Cripps was best known for his work with Denton-based, Grammy Award-winning polka band Brave Combo. He moved from Denton to his hometown of Little Rock in 2015 but still regularly visited North Texas.
He was last seen Oct. 19, 2016, at the White Water Tavern in Little Rock. He was scheduled to perform a gig a couple of days later but never showed. Local police asked for the public's help to find Cripps a couple of weeks after he disappeared.
James Cripps told Little Rock's KARK-TV that his brother didn’t have a working vehicle, so he could not have driven away from the city. James Cripps filed a missing person’s report after he found his brother’s medication and a bag with drumsticks and mallets, items he said his brother wouldn’t leave behind if he were heading out of town.
News of Joe Cripps' disappearance quickly spread on social media. “Hope and praying for Joe Cripps to be found soon!” wrote one of Cripps’ former University of North Texas classmates. “Joe is someone who embraces life and brings joy to all who are lucky enough to interact with him.”
The Dallas Observer last published an update about Cripps in January. Bubba Hernandez, who once played with Brave Combo, had trekked to Arkansas to search for his friend and former bandmate. He retraced Cripps’ footsteps, visited the tavern where he was last seen and went to a church Cripps was known to attend from time to time. He spoke with witnesses, trying to glean some kind of insight.
“Nobody deserves to go out that way,” Hernandez told the Observer in January. “Nobody should get lost like that. ... I just want him to be at peace.”
Hernandez learned that Cripps was paid about $2,000 the day he disappeared and had gone to a bar. Cripps was drunk when the bartender stopped serving him. He then ordered a taxi on his phone and walked out of the bar. No reports have indicated whether Cripps ever got into a taxi.
The Observer reached out to Hernandez to find out if he’s heard anything since January. “Nadda,” he wrote in a text message. The Cripps family in Little Rock declined to speak.
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Hernandez told the Observer in January that he offered to set up a GoFundMe account for family members to hire a private investigator, but they declined the offer. He said they wanted to let the police handle the search.
“We’re still going to keep looking for him,” Little Rock police Detective Jacob Passman told the Observer in early January. “We know he was a beloved member of bands in this area.”
Passman has since been transferred to another division. Sgt. Damon Whitener says the investigation is still open but wouldn’t comment on whether foul play was involved. “I can’t comment on an open investigation if you’re not a family member,” he said.
Brave Combo founder and frontman Carl Finch said the band will perform at an event honoring Cripps on Jan. 5 at Dan’s Silver Leaf in Denton. “Unfortunately, I know no more than I knew a year ago,” he says.