LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - For many people, pets are part of the family. People who have had pets that disappeared know how traumatic that can be. Now, some owners of lost pets say a man has been taking reward money for bogus information, raising their hopes, then leaving them crushed and out the reward money.
Scott and Erin Clark can't have children, so they treat their dogs like family. "He's like our missing child," Eric said. "We can't stop looking ."
The couple spent weeks putting up flyers after one of their two Plott hounds, a three-year-old named Derby, disappeared from their backyard. Scott and Erin scoured the city and posted an ad on Craigslist offering a reward for Derby's return.
Then came an apparent breakthrough. The Clarks got a text from someone who said he knew where Derby was.
"[I] cried, pretty much," Scott said.
"I was pacing around kind of almost shaking," Erin said. "My body was vibrating."
The text said the Clarks would "have to pay me something for the information." They agreed, gave the man $100, and he gave them a piece of paper with the address of where he claimed the Clarks could find their lost dog.
The couple staked out the apartment complex for days with no sign of Derby. Eventually, they called in police to search. But Derby wasn't there.
"How could you do that to somebody that was already hurting so much and so desperate," Erin said with tears streaming down her face.
The Clarks tried, but never heard from the man again.
His name is Darrell Willis. He's a 26-year-old man who days later tried to sell information about another lost dog.
This time, Willis responded to a lost dog ad posted by the animal shelter No Kill Louisville. The group was looking for a Mastiff that ran away from a foster home. But the lost dog community is a tight one, and when No Kill Louisville realized the phone number that texted them matched the phone number that had contacted the Clarks, they knew something wasn't right.
"We knew immediately it was a scam," said Karen Dickson, a former No Kill Louisville volunteer.
So the group asked the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter to meet the man with an undercover camera. On the undercover recording, Willis is heard saying he was passing on the information for a friend.
"The address on there is where the dog is," Willis said. "He said the name and the number is the lady the dog is with."
Willis also said he would deliver the money, upping the price from $100 to $150.
Once Willis got the $150, he handed over a piece of paper with the address of where he said the missing Mastiff was being held.
But the people who live there didn't know anything about a lost dog. And the phone number on that piece of paper matched the one on the paper Willis gave the Clarks. Multiple calls to that number have not been returned.
Willis wasn't finished. He answered a third ad. This one offering a $200 reward for a lost dog. What Willis didn't know is that ad, also posted by No Kill Louisville, was fake. There was no lost dog. Only questions about what Willis was doing.
"Why did you give me information about a dog that didn't exist?" the Troubleshooter asked Willis.
But Willis didn't stick around to answer our questions, driving away without making any comment. Records show Willis is a wanted man with outstanding warrants for not showing up to court on various charges. Police finally served those warrants on October 28 when Willis was busted for marijuana possession. When he was arrested, police say Willis tried to give them false information, too.
"I think he needs to be in jail," Erin Clark said, "so he can't do this to other people."
"Who knows how many people he's done it too," Erin's husband Scott said.
According to the Louisville Metro Police Department, what Willis is accused of doing to the Clarks would be considered theft, prosecuted as a misdemeanor because it's below $500.
Willis is not facing any charges for the information contained in our report.
If you know where Derby is, call Scott or Erin Clark at 502-802-7346.
If you know where the Mastiff that ran away from No Kill Louisville is, call the group at 502-727-7088.
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