Learning How to Breathe: The Endless and Fruitless Search for Chuck Standberry

Willie Stanberry has been trying to solve the mystery of his elderly father's disappearance for seven years. The police sure haven't helped; Stanberry and his own private investigator had to supply East Cleveland police with hard-earned notes on the case. The streets aren't coughing up answers, either. Willie, the kind of son who takes up the mantle of family when times get difficult, says he hasn't exhaled in seven years. He spoke with Scene at Franklin Circle Church during what he called a Celebration of Life, a large family reunion focused on cherishing the memory of Chuck Standberry.

(Read the original feature, first published in December 2013.)

Hard to believe that in seven years no real investigation has taken place in East Cleveland.

I think that's the part that hit me most. To be in community for 40 years? You pay taxes in your city for 40 years, and then they just don't care.

What's been going on all this time?

We had a couple news stories. But this is the part that gets me: They had a dog, a missing dog, on TV for eight days. They put my father on for 15 seconds. The priorities were totally different. I can't even explain it. Eight days! And he's still not even in the regional database.

I looked that up earlier this week and was very surprised to see that.

Somebody could have been riding in his car right past a police officer. And they would have never known. Maybe six days after, we went to the Third District and we were going to make another police report. We thought we could eliminate East Cleveland and just have Cleveland do it. Being that my sister had already filed the report in East Cleveland, they couldn't do it. I told [a Cleveland police officer] that my father was in the system, but he said that he wasn't. So we called East Cleveland and told them to get him in the database that covers all of northern Ohio. Evidently, they never put him in the system - to this day. And today makes seven years. I have nothing against East Cleveland, but I just would like them to step aside. Turn it loose and then Cleveland will be able to investigate. Until they let it go, our hands are tied.

That's absurd.

Cleveland wouldn't take the case because he was an East Cleveland resident. East Cleveland wouldn't take the case because he went missing in Cleveland. "Nope, it's your case." "Nope, it's your case." But we made the initial police report in East Cleveland, and that's the only reason why they took it.

You mentioned a private investigator. When did he begin to assist your search?

He's my angel. I don't know where he came from. I don't even know how he found out. He called one day out of the clear blue sky and said, "I want to help you guys." What I believe is that the stuff he took to the police -- if and when they call again, they're just going to use the stuff he gave them, the stuff we knew three or four years ago. The police didn't have anything - no investigation. He opened up doors that they said they couldn't. They told us they couldn't get phone records. He got phone records. I just want them to step aside. You never investigated, so stop the pretending.

What was your father like when you and he were younger?

My father played gospel music for a couple groups - one was the Cleveland All Stars. Everything he did, I tried to emulate. He was my idol. He played bass guitar; I learned how to play bass guitar. He had a perm, you know, like those singing groups. When I got older and played in those groups, I went through that. I said, "Pop, I played at the Universal Theatre in California! You just wouldn't believe it!" And every time, he would look at me and say, "But there's one place you haven't played. I played at the Apollo. I played at the Apollo twice." I looked at him and said, "OK, Pop, you got me with that one." (laughs) He was a happy-go-lucky guy. He was real down-to-earth and laid-back. He had a really good heart. I wanted to be like him.

You're calling today a Celebration of Life. What's your intention today?

Today marks the seventh year. We're having this so we can celebrate his life and show all the good that he did for me and show that I appreciate everything he told me, showed me. I didn't want to call it a "memorial." I'm in a good place. I'm in a good place.

What are your hopes going forward?

I don't believe that he's here. When my wife told me the news, I woke up the next morning and told her that I needed to get a black suit. She asked 'Why?' I told her that we were not going to find him. And I hate to say it, but I was right. Seven years later... That was the man in me. The kid in me was like, 'I gotta find my Daddy.' I did everything I could. I think he's looking down now, proud of what I've done. Happy.

I'd imagine he is.

If I could just find a shoe, I'd be happy. At least I'd know. Not knowing is the worst. I just want to know. How am I supposed to do that?

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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