Sunday, October 25, 2009

Missing in Missouri by Robert A. Waters

Hero Mitchell Hults

October 21, 2009. As a young girl in Cole County, Missouri walked home from a friend’s house, she vanished. Two days later, Elizabeth Olten, 9, was found dead in a nearby wooded area. A fifteen-year-old acquaintance led cops to her body. He was later arrested and charged with her murder.

In 2002, Shawn Hornbeck, 11, was riding his bicycle one summer afternoon near Richwoods when he was abducted. Four years later, in the same area, thirteen-year-old Ben Ownby was kidnapped. Mitchell Hults, a neighbor of Ben’s, gave police a detailed description of a truck seen in that area. Because of this lead, both Shawn and Ben were rescued. Michael Devlin was convicted of the kidnappings and sentenced to life in prison.

Missouri is similar to many other Midwestern and southern states. Suburbia has crept into many sections, but there are still vast chunks of wilderness. As they’ve always done, children play along forest-lined streets or in isolated fields. The rural settings make perfect trolling grounds for predators.

On July 5, 1991, Charles Arlin Henderson, 11, was riding his bicycle near his Moscow Mills home when he vanished. Rumors and false confessions dogged the case, but the most logical explanation for the disappearance is a Devlin-style abduction. (When Devlin decided he wanted to kidnap a child, he drove to rural areas and stalked young boys. In the case of Shawn Hornbeck, Devlin used his truck to knock the youngster from his bike, then snatched him. Four years later, he used a handgun to force Ben Ownby into his truck.) It seems likely that such an event occurred with Charles Henderson. To this date, no one knows for sure.

Nine-year-old Scott Allen Kleeschulte was seen walking in his St. Charles neighborhood shortly before a tremendous thunderstorm deluged the area. It was June 8, 1988, when the child vanished without a trace. At first, investigators believed he may have drowned in a flash flood, but full-scale searches of nearby rivers and creeks and caves and tunnels never turned up any sign of the missing boy. Police now think that Scott was taken. Eleven years later, he remains missing.

On the night of August 5, 1989, Gina Dawn Brooks, 13, rode her bicycle toward her friend’s home in Fredericktown. At that time, a neighbor claimed to have seen a strange light-blue station wagon in the area. Another neighbor was said to have heard a girl screaming. Gina was never seen again. Her bicycle was found a few blocks away. Three men were eventually charged in her abduction and murder, but were never tried. Even though there is not enough evidence to convict, investigators still believe that some or all of these men are responsible. The truth is that Gina has never been seen since the night she vanished.

Other Missouri abductions are just as baffling. In 1999, Heather Kullorn, 9, was babysitting in Richmond Heights when she disappeared. Blood found on a couch in the home tested positive for Heather, indicating a gruesome end. Heather has never been found. In 1994, in Columbia, thirteen-year-old Kristina Renae Bishop disappeared while walking to school. Bianca Piper, also 13, disappeared near her Foley, Missouri home. It’s been four years since she was last seen.

Into the darkness they went, children as lost as yesterday.

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