Boyfriend Suspected in Tonya Whipp’s Homicide

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The search for missing Florida woman Tonya Whipp has taken a dramatic turn after almost a year, with her boyfriend arrested and behind bars and police now calling it a homicide investigation.

Police in Auburndale, Florida, said Russell Carroll is their “only suspect” in Whipp’s case and his arrest marks a step forward in the investigation even as Whipp’s family members continue to grieve her.

“I think I’ve ran out of tears, sometimes I feel that way,” said sister Robin Klotzbier. “I’ve ran out of tears.”

Tonya Whipp disappears

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Whipp’s disappearance from her home, where she lived with Carroll.

According to Auburndale police, Carroll told them Whipp was gone when he came home from work one day in late May 2023.

But Whipp’s paid-off car, her purse and her precious dog, Baby, were all left behind. Carroll never reported Whipp missing and didn’t help with community searches for her, telling her family she wanted space.

Whipp’s family told Truth Voices the story doesn’t add up.

“I just don’t believe she walked away. Not from everything. Not her dogs. Not her car. Not her family. I just don’t,” Klotzbier said.

A complicated relationship

Whipp’s relationship with Carroll was complicated. When they met in 2013, he had already spent time behind bars for the stabbing and attempted murder of his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend 10 years earlier.

In 2015, he went back to prison after being caught with narcotics during a traffic stop. He and Whipp stayed in touch during the years they were apart, and after he was released in early 2023 the couple moved in together.

Last October, police obtained a search warrant for Carroll’s home, leaving with his electronic records. At the time, Carroll told a reporter there would be nothing to find except for typical couples text messages between him and Whipp.

But on May 18, 2024, police got another search warrant, going back to Carroll’s home for another four days of searches, this time with backhoes and other equipment.

Nico Tusconi, an investigator with We Are The Essentials, had turned over evidence that led to Carroll’s arrest.

“One of the things I found was a receipt,” Tusconi said.

The receipt led investigators to an Advance Auto Parts store. Court documents say Whipp was seen on surveillance video there with Carroll on May 26, 2023. It was the last place she was seen.

“It was very emotional,” said Whipp’s sister Donna Martin. “At one point I was crying, at one point I was screaming. I was very excited that he was arrested because that’s the first step for justice for Tonya.”

Russell Carroll arrested

Police arrested Carroll on May 14, 2024, charging him with grand theft and unlawful use of personal identification information.

The arrest affidavit cited bank records, surveillance video and other evidence alleging that Carroll withdrew more than $7,500 from Whipp’s bank account after she went missing. The withdrawals were made between July 2023 and March 2024.

Throughout the year, hundreds of volunteers in the community have joined Whipp’s loved ones, searching close to 30 locations near Whipp’s house and wooded areas nearby. They’ve gone out on foot and used trucks, ATVs and drones, all looking for any kind of clue as to where she might be.

“They found all kinds of articles of clothing and stuff like that,” Tusconi said. “Unfortunately, none of it matched the clothing that we know Tonya was last wearing.”

Investigators are now calling the case a homicide, but Whipp’s body has never been found.

Her family said they won’t give up on trying to find her.

“It’s really hard to keep hope,” said Whipp’s aunt, Lisa Textor. “To think that something bad has happened, to say that our family isn’t ripped to pieces over this? We are. It’s killing us.”

While the search for Whipp’s body continues, her sisters have said there is some relief to be gained from recent developments and Carroll’s arrest.

“There’s a little bit of relief that finally it’s out there for the public to see that he is the prime suspect in her homicide,” Martin said.

Marni Hughes
Marni Hughes
Digital Reporter. Previously, Marni worked as a journalist and anchor for KMSP-TV in Minneapolis, Minnesota, KSTU-TV in Salt Lake City, Utah and WISE-TV in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She started her career as an associate producer at WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio.

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