Tragically, young William never got the chance to play with his news toys; maybe he never got a chance to play with any toys ever again because on that fateful day, William vanished.
It started out like a typical busy pre-holiday day. William’s father departed the home that morning to start his shift at the New York Shipbuilding Co. in Camden. Evelyn ran some errands in the morning with the children; William got a haircut and then they stopped at the bank. Upon returning home, William and Jill went to play outside with the family dogs, a Basset hound and a Collie. While playing outside with his sister, William was wearing a blue-grey snowsuit, a matching hat, and tan high tops with yellow laces.
The toddler had bright blue eyes, big ears, and a vaccination scar that was shaped like a giraffe on his upper left arm. William loved dogs, reading and playing with toy cars. He was just three months shy of his 4th birthday and had a habit of twisting curls in his hair and walking with a quirky shuffle.1
At around 11:45AM, a neighbour spotted William on his own and suggested that he go back home. Then at 1PM, Evelyn heard a knock at the door. She opened the door and was shocked to see only Jill standing in the doorway. Jill, who was only 2-years-old at the time entered the home carrying a plastic potted poinsettia that she told Evelyn she got from William. She also told Evelyn that “the bogeyman” had taken William. Mrs. Jones rushed from the home and frantically ran up and down the street looking for William. While searching, an unknown man approached Evelyn in his green car and asked: “Are you Mrs. Jones?” Evelyn didn’t reply; she didn’t know the man and didn’t ask for his name or ask why he was looking for her.2 She continued her search but when William was nowhere to be seen, he was reported missing by Evelyn.
The family’s Basset hound, Baby, was also missing. However, she was later found a short distance from the home, soaking wet.3 Meanwhile, neighbours were already searching for him, kicking off a four-day search which included hundreds of police officers, firefighters, national guard troops and volunteers alike.
All of the area’s emergency services were called in and they trawled through the area on foot, by boat and by air. They searched the woods and swampland in the vicinity of William’s home and Maurice River was searched. Two Navy helicopters were flown in to scour the area from above. Bloodhounds from Philadelphia were also shipped in but they lost the scent near the family home; the entire area had already been stomped over and driven over. Unfortunately, the search was unfruitful; there was no sign of William anywhere.
The disappearance evoked fear in the city and made national news. Understandably, William’s parents couldn’t come to terms with his disappearance and moved away from the city shortly afterwards. William’s father began to drink and the family didn’t speak much about the disappearance at home. As a result of the disappearance, Mr. and Mrs. Jones became extremely overprotective.
One early line of investigation was the plastic poinsettia. It became somewhat a cause célèbre in the investigation. There were early reports that somebody had been selling the flowers around the neighborhood shortly before William vanished. However, it was later uncovered that it had simply come from a neighbor’s trash and had been passed around by several local children. After learning there was a trash collection in the area between 1:30PM and 2PM on the day William disappeared, investigators questioned whether he could have crawled into a trash bin or even whether he could have been killed and thrown into a trash bin. They questioned the trash men who said they hadn’t seen the boy and they wouldn’t noticed him being emptied into the truck. Nevertheless, investigators went to the landfill to search for any sign of the boy but to no avail.
At one point in the investigation, the Jones family turned to a local psychic who claimed that William was still alive. She told the family that he had been abducted by a man whose wife was having a mental breakdown due to the death of her own toddler son. She theorised that William was taken to an Amish area in Pennsylvania and raised by a new family. However, investigators doubted this theory, stating that William would have memories of his real family and would have informed somebody of his true identity as he got older.4
In 1964, another local psychic told investigators that William had been struck and killed by somebody who did not intend to harm him. They panicked and then buried William in a nearby area. The psychic gave investigators a description of the man’s car and appearance.
Years later, Jill would be put under hypnosis in the hopes that she could recount more information about the day her brother disappeared. She recalled holding hands with William as two men fought in front of an oil-drum fire at the Palace of Depression, a landmark near the family’s home. “I remember running, and eventually I could see the door to my house,” she said. During the investigation, the Palace of Depression – an attraction built from discarded materials – was extensively searched as it was theorised that William could have wandered in there or could have been hit by a car and disposed if there. In the wake of the disappearance, Jill had dreams about her brother: “It’s like he’s on the other side of a brick wall, and he’s calling me, and I have to find a way to get to him,” she said. “I still say I’m going to find him.”
Over the forthcoming years, age progressions of William have been released showing what he may look like as an adult. Information about William’s disappearance was entered into the National Crime Information Center system. His sister provided a DNA sample. Despite hundreds of leads and tips, no body was found, no arrests were made, and no credible sightings have ever been reported. “Somebody has to know something. I really do believe that,” said retired Vineland Police Sgt. Patrick Dougherty. “Until I see a body, I’m not going to rule out that he’s alive.”
It’s now generally believed that William was abducted as opposed to wandered off. Despite a lengthy search and extensive investigation, William remains missing. Jill is now the last remaining member of William’s immediate family. On top of a cabinet in her home, she has an urn containing the ashes of her mother, father and younger brother. “When someone dies, you know where they’re at,” she said. “But with Billy, you don’t have an answer…”5
Anyone with information about Billy Jones’ disappearance is asked to call the Vineland Police Department at 856-691-4111.
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, 25 December, 2012 – “Vineland Missing-Person Case Resonates 50 Years Later”
- USA Today, 17 December, 1987 – “Anniversaries Usually Are Reserved for Remembering Weddings, Honouring Long Years of Service, Recognizing Great Moments in History”
- The Daily Journal, 28 December, 1999 – “Murders, Disappearances Made Headlines Over Century”
- The Daily Journal, 30 November, 1978 – “Billy Jones Case Still Open After 16 Years”
- The Press of Atlantic City, 25 April, 2017 – “55 Years Later, Search Continue for Missing Vineland Boy”