Two area missing-person cases still open

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The discovery of two missing Missouri boys alive and safe Friday revived the hopes of a local woman whose sister has been missing for four decades.

Ben Ownby, 13, and Shawn Hornbeck, 15, were found in a Kirkwood, Mo., apartment belonging to Michael Devlin, 41. Devlin has been charged with one count of first-degree kidnapping.

Hornbeck's family is scheduled to appear on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Thursday to discuss their reunion with Shawn and their four-year ordeal since he disappeared while riding his bike from his rural Washington County home in 2002. Ben Ownby went missing Jan. 8 after being dropped off by a school bus.

Jeannie Hinck of Cape Girardeau can empathize with the agony the boys' families endured during their absence. Hinck's baby sister, Elizabeth Ann Gill, was 2 years old when she disappeared from her Lorimier Street front yard in June 1965.

Despite intensive investigations by police and extensive media coverage, Betsy, as she was called by her family, has never been found. She would be 44 years old today.

"It was very surreal the first couple of weeks," Hinck recalled, "like walking in a dream."

When the reality of Betsy's disappearance finally took hold, the family was devastated.

"It just horribly affected us," Hinck said. "Not knowing what happened to her kept us on the edge of our seats."

Hinck said the family does not believe Betsy wandered off but may have been taken by someone. Betsy's nine brothers and sisters, two of whom have since died along with her father, Harry, have never given up hope Betsy may be found.

Betsy had blue eyes and light brown hair. Her only distinguishing mark was a chickenpox scar about the size of a quarter on her arm, which today may be a small mark.

Never has the family given up hope of finding Betsy, Hinck said.

"The best we can do is keep searching and looking," she said.

And dreaming of a reunion. "It would be such a grand reuniting," Hinck said.

Cape Girardeau police chief Carl Kinnison said such disappearances are rare in the city. "We have not had any stranger abductions where someone is missing for any period of time," he said. Most missing persons involve runaway teens, parental kidnappings in which abducted children are found and the occasional adult who leaves of his own volition.

Another missing-persons case in Scott County is also still open and continues to be investigated.

Chief deputy Tom Beardslee remembers hearing the call about 19-year-old Cheryl Ann Scherer's disappearance from a Rhodes Pump-Ur-Own Station in Scott City where she was employed in April 1979.

While $480 was gone from the gas station cash register, Scherer's purse, checkbook and car were left behind.

All four of Scott County's deputies at the time worked on the case with Scott City's police to no avail. Scherer is still missing. Today she would be 46 years old.

"We began a search, but we really didn't have anything," Beardslee said.

At the time the streams were high and low-water bridges were flooded, limiting places for someone to go other than Interstate 55. While Beardslee and other deputies investigated back roads, the Missouri State Highway Patrol checked the interstate.

At the time of her disappearance, Scherer was a college student working her way through school. She was considered reliable, arriving to work on time, Beardslee said.

Five years after the incident, the Scott County Sheriff's Department followed up on a lead involving two men later convicted of killing people across the country. But an investigation into whether Odis Tool of Jacksonville, Fla., and Henry Lee Lucas of Georgetown, Texas, could have abducted Scherer proved futile.

"It's the biggest case where we didn't find the person," Beardslee said. "We've had people walk off and we've found them, children walk off and we found them. As far as an actual kidnapping, this is rare."

Attempts to contact Scherer's remaining relatives were unsuccessful.

Scherer's DNA has been entered in the National Crime Information Center database, Lt. Jerry Bledsoe said.

Police say today's technology and public awareness have contributed to finding missing persons more quickly than could be accomplished years ago. However, police still depend heavily on help from the public.

"We need their help in everything, but especially in missing persons," Kinnison said.

The Scott County's Sheriff's Department can be reached at (573) 545-3235. The Cape Girardeau Police Department can be reached at 335-6621.

carel@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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