Around 8:40 p.m. Monday, a robber came up to Byron Shipman’s minivan after he had delivered his grandchildren to their south Wichita apartment. The robber pointed a semi-automatic handgun at his face and demanded his wallet.
Shipman, a 73-year-old retired Boeing inspector, did what police advise people to do when they have a gun pointed at them – comply. When he returned home about two hours after the robbery, he was consumed by fear that the robber would know his address and come to the house he shared with his wife of 46 years, with a sign above the front door saying, “Enter with a happy heart.”
He told his wife his stomach hurt, drank some Pepto-Bismol and laid a heating pad over his aching abdomen. When his wife asked if it was from the stress of the robbery, he said it probably was. By early in the morning, about five hours after he faced the gun barrel, he told his wife he had to go to the ER. He was crying out in pain. She quickly got dressed, but when she returned to his bed, he was quiet, not breathing. She called 911, and at 2:15 a.m. paramedics determined he had died.
In an interview at the couple’s home later Tuesday, she blamed the robber for causing her husband’s death. “I can’t help but think that’s what brought it on,” she said. Her husband had high blood pressure but had it under control; his stomach pain was new.
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If police catch the robber, she said, he should be charged with causing her husband’s death. For security reasons, she asked that her name not be divulged.
Earlier Tuesday, police Lt. Joe Schroeder said investigators didn’t have evidence showing the death was related to the robbery.
Shipman’s wife said she learned Tuesday afternoon from the coroner’s office that her husband suffered an aortic aneurysm.
Police think the gunman who robbed Shipman might have committed two other robberies. All occurred in south and west parts of the city between Monday night and early Tuesday morning. In all three cases, a gunman approached people outside their vehicles and left in a vehicle with a loud muffler, in at least one instance driven by a female.
According to Schroeder, the three robberies occurred starting about 8:40 p.m. Monday in the 800 block of West 26th South, where Shipman was robbed. The second robbery came about 10 p.m. in the 3400 block of South Leonine, and the third about 3:20 a.m. in the 1900 block of West May.
Schroeder asked that anyone who might have information about any of the robberies call investigators at 268-4177.
He said police are concerned any time someone is committing robbery after robbery and that “we are going to dedicate a lot of our resources to track these two (suspects) down.”
As for safety advice, Schroeder said, the reason to comply if someone has a gun drawn on you is “they’re going to shoot you before you can react. Dying over a cell phone or a wallet is not necessary.”
Shipman’s son, Chris, said his father was leaving the parking lot outside the son’s apartment on West 26th Street. Chris Shipman, 44, didn’t see the robbery but knew something was wrong when he heard his father back outside his apartment door, on a cell phone talking with emergency dispatchers about his robbery.
His father, who had served in Vietnam but not in “the heat of it,” told him that the robbery had him more scared than anything he had experienced in the war, Chris Shipman said.
He last saw his father around 10 p.m. Monday, about an hour and 20 minutes after the robbery. As his father was walking away, he got his father’s attention. Byron Shipman stopped and turned, and “I gave him a big hug and told him I loved him and I’m glad I did,” Chris Shipman said Tuesday afternoon at his mother’s house.
Around 2 a.m. Tuesday, his mother called to say that paramedics were trying to help his father and that it wasn’t good. After he hung up the phone, he prayed to himself: “God, help him live.”
He agreed with his mother about a link between the robbery and the death.
“I believe it is connected,” Chris Shipman said. “I believe that what happened to him was probably caused or worsened by the shock and stress of the robbery.”
Police provided these summaries of the three robberies:
In the first robbery, involving Shipman about 8:40 p.m. Monday in the 800 block of West 26th South: As the victim was driving out of a parking lot, an unknown white male opened a car door, pointed a semi-automatic handgun in the victim’s face, demanded his wallet and the victim complied. The robber got into another vehicle, driven by an unknown person. The robber’s vehicle was a dark color and had a loud muffler.
In the second robbery, about 10 p.m. Monday in the 3400 block of South Leonine, a 43-year-old man was getting out of a van when a man on foot approached, pointed a handgun, told him to get on the ground and took his wallet, cell phone and keys. The robber got into a 1990s four-door with a loud exhaust, driven by a white female. The robber was described as a white man age 30 to 35, about 5 feet 9 inches tall and 160 pounds and wearing a dark jacket and blue jeans.
In the third robbery, about 3:20 a.m. Monday, a 33-year-old man and 53-year-old woman were outside a residence when a suspect pointed a black handgun and demanded money and keys. The robber started their vehicle, jumped out and fled in a dark silver four-door car. He was described as a white man about 5 feet 7 inches and 160 pounds, with a medium build. He was wearing a black ski mask, black leather jacket, black pants and dark gloves. The driver of the robber’s vehicle was not seen.