Search Continues For Missing Woman After Ex-Boyfriend Turned Suspect Ends His Own Life

The search for a missing Pennsylvania woman continues after a suspect in her disappearance reportedly took his own life.

Darlene Harbison, 59, was last seen on Sept. 11 and was later reported missing by her daughter after several failed attempts to get ahold of her, according to the Allegheny County Police Department. On Sept. 13, county police were called to assist authorities in Frazer Township — about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh — after a welfare check yielded no results of the woman’s whereabouts.

Officials say Harbison was involved in a “volatile relationship” with a man named Eric Gibbs, 57, believed to be “the person responsible” for Harbison’s disappearance.

Gibbs died of an apparent suicide on Sept. 17 in West Deer Township, just a few miles from Frazer Township, according to police. NBC Pittsburgh affiliate WPXI reported hunters found Gibbs’ body in a densely wooded area.

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A cause of death has not been released, and requests by Oxygen.com to county officials were not immediately returned.

Harbison is presumed dead, and despite multiple searches, neither her body nor her Suzuki motorcycle have been found.

“We’re traveling roads, the back roads, any kind of pull-off, any kind of hillside,” Harbison’s sister, Betty Hoffman, told CBS Pittsburgh affiliate KDKA-TV.

Police handouts of Darlene Harbison and Eric Gibbs
Police handouts of Darlene Harbison and Eric Gibbs

Darlene Harbison and Eric Gibbs Photo: Allegheny County Police Department

Search organizers on Facebook previously said they believed Harbison’s body could possibly be found in a “highly wooded area” within a five-mile radius of Crawford Run Road in Rural Ridge, not far from Harbison’s Frazer Township hometown. However, an Oct. 8 search got them no closer to finding the missing woman.

Relatives have also posted fliers at local gun shops and sportsmen’s groups in the event Harbison’s body is in an area frequented by hunters, according to the CBS affiliate.

“I don’t know where they’ll find her,” Harbison’s mother, Charlotte Ruediger, stated. “It’s worse than a nightmare.”

Harbison’s brother, Robert Ruediger, was one of nearly 100 people to join a recent search in Cabot — about 10 miles north of Frazer Township — over the weekend, according to ABC Pittsburgh affiliate WTAE-TV.

“Look for fresh piles of leaves. Look for a culvert or a fresh grave or a tarp, it may be blue, or it may be silver,” said the brother. “We are asking hunters to be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.”

Police stated there had been several searches in “the western Pennsylvania area” with assistance from local fire departments, the Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group and the Steel City K-9 Emergency Response Team.

Johnia Berry featured in Sleeping with Death
Johnia Berry featured in Sleeping with Death

“She’s my sister; I won’t quit,” Robert Ruediger told KDKA-TV. “We have hope, we have faith; she will be found somewhere.”

WPXI obtained a copy of a Protection from Abuse order (PFA) filed by Harbison against Gibbs in the months before her disappearance. In the application, Harbison claimed Gibbs was physically abusive.

“He has picked me up and held me down in the hot tub,” Harbison alleged.

She also wrote Gibbs was “in the bedroom with a half-gallon of vodka and a firearm to his chin.” She accused Gibbs of threatening to kill himself if she tried to leave and of threatening to kill police officers if she notified authorities.

Harbison also accused Gibbs of shattering the driver’s side window of her car back in April after she tried to flee, according to WPXI. In that instance, authorities confiscated two rifles from Gibbs. One of the firearms had the serial number sanded off.

According to studies cited by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), the most dangerous time for a victim of intimate partner violence comes when the victim leaves or attempts to leave an abusive relationship.

A judge approved the PFA request after finding “immediate and present danger of further abuse” at the hands of Gibbs. However, Gibbs would go on to violate the order in June, for which he pleaded guilty just one day after Harbison disappeared, according to WPXI.

Oxy App
Oxy App

Two days before Harbison’s disappearance, police were called to her home and found a very intoxicated Gibbs hiding behind a vehicle, according to court documents. When asked about having any weapons, Gibbs proceeded to expose himself to officers.

He was arrested on trespassing charges.

Harbison is the mother of two daughters and a grandmother of four, according to KDKA-TV. One of Harbison’s daughters, Jennifer Harbison, told WTAE-TV it was “hard to put into words” how much Saturday’s search meant to loved ones.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Allegheny County Police tip line at 1-833-ALL-TIPS (1-833-255-8477) or via their social media, which contains photos of Gibbs’ two vehicles. Police hope to speak to anyone who spotted Gibbs’ Chevy Cobalt or Ford F-150 between Sept. 10 and Sept. 13.