Search for Cape girl who vanished in 1965 continues with help of Florida private investigator

Friday, April 13, 2012
Private investigator Mike Neverett of Sarasota, Fla., left, detective Jim Smith of the Cape Girardeau Police Department and Martha Gill Hamilton outside the house on S. Lorimer Thursday, April 12, 2012 where Hamilton's 2-year-old sister, Elizabeth Ann Gill, disappeared from in 1965. (Laura Simon)

Jim Smith doesn't deny it -- everyone loves a good mystery. But, for the detective with the Cape Girardeau Police Department, finding out what happened to Elizabeth Gill on that Sunday afternoon in 1965 is only marginally about closing the books on a cold case.

Smith wants to find an answer mostly for Gill's long-suffering family, who hasn't seen the girl they call Beth since she was a blonde-haired toddler toting a sand pail in front of the family home on South Lorimier Street.

"If you have a family and children, you've got to think about what this family's been through all these years," Smith said. "What do they think about every night, every holiday, every birthday? Their family's never been complete. They're always going to wonder what happened to Elizabeth. If I could give them an answer, that would be one of the greatest things that's ever happened to me as a law enforcement officer."

That's why Smith doesn't mind at all that Gill's family has brought in private detective Mike Neverett of Sarasota, Fla., who is in town this week on a pro-bono quest to scratch away at the past in hopes of digging up clues about exactly how the little girl disappeared and -- hopefully -- where she is today, alive and well as an adult perhaps unaware herself of her true identity.

Elizabeth Gill is shown here in a photograph taken before she went missing. (Southeast Missourian archive photo)

Smith, who reopened the case in 2003, said the "more the merrier," and that Neverett may have access to more information throughout the country than a Cape Girardeau cop, without the encumbrances attached to being in law enforcement. Neverett said he has worked more than 200 cases, including lending a hand in the high-profile case of Monica Libao, who believes she was abducted as an infant after the woman who Libao thought was her mother admitted she could not bear children at the time of Libao's conception.

A composite image of what Elizabeth Gill might look like today. (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

Neverett is confident the case still can be solved. He has been assisting on the case for seven years. Libao even for a time thought she might be Gill until DNA tests compared to Gill's sisters' genetic markers ruled her out. Neverett wanted to come to Cape Girardeau to see where the crime happened, to talk to Smith and meet Gill's sister, Martha Hamilton and her mother, Anola Bowerman, face to face.

Getting answers for Bowerman is what compels Neverett to help.

"She is the driving force for me in taking this case. There's no doubt about it," he said. "She's endured. I feel I have something to offer and maybe can even turn the tide. And I have more time and I can dedicate all my resources to this one case as opposed to law enforcement, which has a heavier workload."

Neverett agrees with a theory that is shared by Gill's family and Smith -- that a group of "gypsy travelers" snatched Gill from the yard and disappeared with her. The so-called gypsies were staying at a nearby hotel and family members had seen them beckon to little Beth on two occasions to come to their car in the days before her disappearance. They had even ordered an automobile part to be picked up Monday from a local dealership, but they never showed up.

Hamilton doesn't know if they wanted to sell her sister to would-be parents willing to fork over cash or they wanted to raise the child as their own. While the case for decades has been categorized as a missing persons case, the FBI became involved in 2010, reclassifying it as a kidnapping. Rebecca Wu, spokeswoman for the bureau's St. Louis division, on Thursday said the FBI does not comment on specifics about a case, but she did urge anyone with information to contact them at 314-589-2500.

Smith said information that he could not specify led him to interview an elderly woman whose sister and brother-in-law were in Cape Girardeau on that date in 1965 and drove a vehicle that matched the description of the one linked to Gill's possible kidnapping. The woman told Smith they traveled the "flea-market circuit" selling purses. Later, the FBI interviewed the elderly woman's sister at a nursing home in South Carolina, the woman that Hamilton thinks kidnapped her sister, but learned she was suffering from Alzheimer's.

Smith, the FBI and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children have fielded calls from 10 people who thought they could have been Gill. DNA tests have ruled out nine and one is still pending.

Smith hopes that Neverett can help solve the puzzle.

"Locally, I think we've done everything we can do with what we've had to work with," Smith said. "We've got to hope if Elizabeth Gill is still living, and we have every reason to believe she is, that she wants to be found. If she doesn't, we'll probably never find her."

As for Hamilton, she said she and her family have talked about what they would say to Beth when they see her again.

"We would want her to know that we missed her every day that she's been gone," Hamilton said. "We love her and we would accept her for whoever she is. And we would hope that she would accept us."


Pertinent address:

324 S. Lorimier St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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