Missing woman's husband jumps into sea after body parts wash up

By Michael E. Miller

The missing woman's husband jumped from San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Photo / Getty
The missing woman's husband jumped from San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Photo / Getty

On Tuesday afternoon, Paul Titchener stood in his backyard in Brisbane, California, and pleaded for help finding his wife. Shelly Titchener had disappeared after an argument 10 days earlier, he said. Now he feared she had had a stroke and was unable to find her way home.

"Maybe it was a red flag that her thinking wasn't that clear," he told a TV reporter from KRON4, adding of her disappearance: "It's kind of a nightmare that you never wake up from, that you hope will have a happy ending."

There would be no happy ending.

Even as Paul was giving his interview, police were fishing evidence out of the San Francisco Bay. Later that day, they linked the discovery of a woman's torso to Titchener's disappearance.

On Tuesday night, a tow truck driver responding to an abandoned car on the Bay Bridge spotted someone sitting on the railing.

It was Paul Titchener.

He jumped.

Paul's suicide put a sudden end to a strange San Francisco-area mystery. Although police have not said that the severed torso belongs to Shelly ("While we cannot confirm the body found is that of Shelly Titchener, we also cannot rule it out," the Brisbane Police Department said in a statement ), the couple's son posted a message to Facebook Wednesday night confirming that both his parents were dead.

Paul had been a person of interest, not a suspect, in his wife's disappearance. Now police are investigating whether his suicide is a sign of his remorse or a product of his depression over losing his wife of more than 20 years.

The double death has shaken the quiet neighborhood where the Titcheners lived, and torn open their family life to outside scrutiny.

"I think that they. . .didn't have a great relationship, but a lot of people don't have great relationships," neighbour Dee Dee Porter told KRON4. "It's disconcerting in that it's a small town and we've always really taken a lot of pride in it being a safe town, and it's just unnerving to have something like this happen."

Shelly Titchener was a vivacious hair stylist with an ever-changing assortment of pixie cuts. Her husband was a sombre, silver-haired brainiac with a graduate degree from Stanford.

She posted photos of her posing with Vidal Sassoon or taking their sons to an Oakland Raiders game on Facebook. He wrote on his company's website that he held "several patents in the areas of signal processing and electronic instrumentation and has published and presented a variety of technical papers on advanced applications of electronic hardware and software systems."

They were an odd couple and had reportedly experienced marital trouble in the past. Neighbours said he had moved out for a while, but returned, according to ABC7.

Whatever their life together was like, it shattered the day before Valentine's Day.

That evening, the couple got into an argument, Paul told KRON4. Shelly said she was going to go see a friend, leaving the house without her car, cellphone, laptop, medicine or much money, according to Paul, who added that his wife had a history of bipolar disorder and depression.

"She was a little upset at the time," he said.

When she hadn't returned home two days later, Paul called police.

As with most missing adults, police weren't overly concerned at first. They considered her "voluntarily missing."

After two more days, however, her sons began to get worried. They started a Facebook page called "Find Shelly Titchener" and urged anyone who had seen her to speak up.

A neighbour said she had seen Shelly on Monday, the day after Valentine's Day, and the two had chatted about flowers. Another person claimed to have seen her shopping at Nordstrom the same day.

Then there came a week of silence.

Finally, on Monday, Paul and one of his sons started putting up missing posters around their neighbourhood. Paul admitted that it was his son leading the search effort.

"I think he recognised that I wasn't in the shape to try what we needed to do," he told KRON4.

Neighbours said Paul seemed genuinely worried about his wife.

"The husband came up to our house and asked us if we've seen her or anything," Phil Tandecki told ABC7. "He was kind of broke down about it."

Unbeknownst to the public, however, police had already made a startling discovery. On Sunday evening, hours before Paul and his son put up missing posters, fishermen had spotted something pale and white beached on a pier near the Dumbarton Bridge, about 30 miles south of the Titcheners' home in Brisbane.

It was a woman's torso. The head and limbs had been purposefully severed, police determined.

For the next two days, authorities continued to search the marshy area where the torso had been found. On Tuesday, they discovered other body parts and evidence connecting the torso to the Titchener case, according to the San Jose Mercury News and NBC Bay Area.

Shortly after that discovery, Paul Titchener drove his car north to the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Shortly after sunset, he jumped off the bridge to his death, according to police.

He left behind two sons and his strange interview, filmed just hours earlier.

On Wednesday, the journalist who spoke to him remarked on the eerie interview.

"There were two things that struck me as odd about our interview," KRON4's Justine Waldman said on air. "One, he did not cry and he also was not wearing his wedding ring."

In hindsight, the interview might contain a hint of his suicidal intention.

"What happens if she doesn't come home?" Waldman asked Paul Titchener.

"Well, you know that's going to be very difficult," he said. "I'm trying to arm my sons for that."

But then he shifted to talking about losing both parents.

"I've lost both my parents and that's a very difficult thing, so I've gone through that experience with them and shared it with them how that that feels and what you do to deal with it," he continued.

"It's difficult but I think they hopefully won't have to have that experience, but I've kind of explained to them that it's part of life," he said. "Everyone eventually has to face that."

In the interview, Paul had said he missed his wife "tremendously."

After his suicide, however, his brother-in-law said he was suspicious of Paul.

"Made me think that maybe he was holding back information," Scott Carmichael told ABC7.

Carmichael said that until police officially identify the torso as his sister, he remained hopeful that Shelly was still alive.

"As the days go by," he admitted, "I'm less and less."

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- Washington Post

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