Inside The Mysterious 1962 Disappearance Of 3-Year-Old William Ebenezer Jones Jr

On the cold winter morning of December 17, 1962, William Ebenezer "Billy" Jones Jr. and his sister, Jill, excitedly put on their snowsuits and went to play outside their Vineland, New Jersey, home (via the Daily Journal). But when it was time for the siblings to come back to the house, only Jill returned, carrying a plastic potted poinsettia. What followed next was a manhunt that has since spanned over 50 years to become one of the Garden State's longest missing persons cases in history.

Every detail about Billy's disappearance tugged at the public's heartstrings and quickly became a national news story. After all, the missing boy was only weeks away from turning 4, and his disappearance took place in what was considered a safe neighborhood. However, perhaps the most attention-grabbing aspect of the saga was the information provided by Jill, who was then not even 3 years old. According to the Daily Journal, when Jill was asked about what happened to Billy, she told her mother that "the boogeyman" had taken him.

The Search for Billy and the Boogeyman

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, hundreds of policemen, firemen, and even troops from the National Guard combed through the surrounding area in the days following Billy Jones Jr.'s disappearance. However, authorities found few clues. One neighbor reportedly saw Billy around 11:45 a.m. that morning; Jill returned home alone around 1:00 p.m. Other than that, there were no sightings and no evidence left behind — including any trace of a body.

That wasn't because the police didn't search for one. According to the Daily Journal, the search team employed air support, bloodhounds, and more than 500 volunteers who traveled from as far off as Philadelphia. In order to leave no stone unturned, divers dragged the bottom of the nearby Maurice River and dug up the grounds of a place called the Palace of Depression, an abandoned automobile dump that was a popular landmark and hang-out spot. But the searches yielded nothing. Though there were a few theories — ranging from Billy just wandering off to a town florist snatching him — there were no concrete leads, and the hunt for both Billy and the mysterious boogeyman was relegated to the cold case file.

The Search Takes a Hypnotic Turn

While the authorities might have given up on Billy Jones Jr.'s whereabouts, his broken-hearted sister, Jill, did not. In a frantic attempt to learn more about her brother's disappearance, Jill decided to undergo hypnosis back in the 1980s to see if it could help her remember anything. But while it didn't help her remember her brother's abductor, the experience did help her retrieve some memories. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jill recalled holding hands with her brother and watching two men who fought with one another in front of an oil-drum fire at the Palace of Depression, where police had searched for Billy decades earlier.

However, it seems as if there was a gap in what happened next. "I remember running, and eventually I could see the door to my house," Jill said of the last of her recollections (via The Philadelphia Inquirer). Though it wasn't much, the visions added to Jill's belief that her brother was still alive. "It's a gut feeling for me, I know he's still alive," she told Fox News. "There's never been a body found, never been anything found. I don't believe he's dead."

Could Billy Still Be Alive?

While it seems natural that family members would hope that their missing loved one is still alive, detectives have actually noted that it is not an outlandish possibility. Vineland Detective Kristian Kirchner, who joined the force in 1998, notes that human trafficking was a lot easier in the decades prior. "If Billy [Jones Jr.] had been kidnapped, he very easily might have been taken out of the area," he explained, per The Philadelphia Inquirer. "In 1962, records were different, and it was easier to create a new identity for a 3-year-old."

Starting in 2009, the police and FBI started reexamining the case due to advances in DNA technology, which might lead them to the long-missing boy. In addition, the FBI released an age-progressed photo of Billy on the 50th anniversary of his disappearance to give the public an idea of what he might look like as an older man. Unfortunately, the trail remains cold, but Jill and the authorities still have hope.  "Somebody has to know something. I really do believe that," declared retired Vineland Police Sgt. Patrick Dougherty, 62, who was a kid himself when Billy went missing. "Until I see a body, I'm not going to rule out that he's alive."