Larry Joe Phebus was born in Mt. Carmel, Indiana, on May 8, 1948, to Robert and Mary Phebus, who later divorced. He had two brothers, Donald and Chester, two sisters, Peggy and Linda, and a stepsister, Synda Garrett.
Larry attended Owensville schools until around April 1962, when he left Indiana after Chester found work in a North Dakota oil field near the small town of Tioga. Chester, 21, and Larry, 14, lived at the Traveler’s Motel in Tioga, about 200 miles northwest of Bismarck.
On March 28, 1963, Clark Jenner and John Mann found Larry’s nearly nude body in a desolate rural field 2.5 miles south of Alexander, about 80 miles southwest of Tioga. The two men had been removing rocks from the area.
Larry’s jeans and boxer shorts were pushed down to his ankles, and his shoes lay nearby. A cord was tightly wrapped around the boy’s neck and hands, and he had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
Larry carried no identification and only had $1.40 and a flashlight bulb in his pocket. At the scene, the police found several beer cans, pop bottles, a brown jersey glove, and a piece of green material, possibly a towel or part of a car seat cover.
Authorities believed Larry was killed shortly after he disappeared.
Chester’s coworker and roommate, Sam Wallace, 19, identified the clothing on the body as belonging to Larry.
“I know it’s his jacket,” Chester said. “I gave him the money to buy it. I know it’s him.”
Chester said he last saw Larry around October 20, 1962, when he and a friend drove about 50 miles to Williston on a double date. Larry was last seen wearing a green, reddish-brown, and white sports shirt, a black zippered sports jacket, blue jeans, dark socks, and black loafers.
According to the McKenzie County Farmer, Chester recalled the last thing Larry said to him before he vanished: “You’ll be sorry you aren’t taking me with you.” It is unknown whether the police verified the double date.
Chester went back to Indiana in December 1962. By March 1963, he and his mother lived in Lompoc, California. Chester returned to North Dakota to assist in identifying the body. However, he was not convinced the body was his brother and requested an X-ray because Larry had broken his collarbone when he was younger. However, a Tioga dentist who had worked on Larry’s teeth confirmed the dental records matched.
Chester and Sam passed polygraph tests, and police ruled them out in Larry’s killing.
Larry’s friends said he loved hitching a ride from one western North Dakota town to another. They believed that was how he met his killer. Maybe he tried hitchhiking to Williston, where Chester and Sam were on a double date.
Sadly, the murder investigation fizzled. At the end of 1963, Williams County said they turned it over to McKenzie County officials, who denied they were investigating it. A district attorney maintained both counties were working on the homicide. Nobody wanted to do their job and find a child killer who likely murdered before and after Larry. It is possible the killer also worked in the oil fields and moved frequently around the country.
Larry’s murder remains unsolved 60 years later. It is North Dakota’s oldest unsolved homicide.
Larry was a sixth grader at a Tioga school but was older than most students and struggled with schoolwork. He hated the cold North Dakota winters and discussed going to Texas.
Chester lived in Lompoc for the rest of his life. He married twice and had a daughter from his first marriage. She died at the age of seven in 1970 due to a sudden illness. Chester later married Kimberly, 15 years his junior. He died in 1996 in Lompoc, followed by Kimberly in 2022.
“Chester Phebus Asks, Will Take Lie Tests Here.” The Bismarck Tribune. April 8, 1963.
Dullenty, Jim. “One Year Later, Larry Jo Phebus’ Murder is Still Unsolved and Little is Being Done.” The Bismarck Tribune. October 17, 1963.
“Murdered Boy’s Brother Arrives to Aid in Probe.” The Bismarck Tribune. April 2, 1963.
“Pin Hopes on Brother’s Slaying.” The Bismarck Tribune. March 30, 1963.
“X-Ray Planned on Body of Young Slaying Victim.” The Bismarck Tribune. April 5, 1963.