Inside Janice Pockett's Kidnapping

In 1973, the town of Tolland, Connecticut, suffered the loss of one of its youngest citizens, Janice Kathryn Pockett, who went missing near her home. As the Charley Project reports, Pockett was a 7-year-old Caucasian girl with blond hair and blue eyes. She was just four feet tall and had a gap in her front teeth. The day she went missing, Pockett was wearing navy blue shorts with an American flag on them, a white and blue striped shirt, white socks, and blue shoes.

According to Courant, Pockett was riding her bike on July 26, 1973, when she was abducted. Her family had just gotten back from a grocery shopping trip. She hopped on her metallic green bike with a banana seat and a bell and pedaled down Anthony Road, the street her family lived on (via Charley Project). Pockett was carrying an empty envelope because she was planning to retrieve a dead butterfly that she had placed under a rock a few days earlier. 

This trip was unusual because it was the first time she had been permitted to ride around by herself. It was the beginning of the tragic tale of Janice Pockett, the child behind a case that has never been closed, even more than four decades later.

In search of a butterfly

As Janice's sister, Mary Engelbrecht, told CNN, she remembered that she and her sister had been arguing that day. She said, "My sister and I had been bickering over something stupid — a toothbrush, I think," Engelbrecht said. So their mother was glad to let Janice bike outside to burn some energy.

After about a half-hour, Pockett's mom and sister grew worried about her whereabouts and started searching for her. They found her bike near the house, but there was no sign of little Janice. As Forensics Colleges reports, her sister, Mary Engelbrecht, called out her name over and over, but there was no answer.

A huge search party covered the surrounding area, searching nearby roads and fields. But there was no evidence, clothing, or DNA to be found (via Journal Inquirer). That didn't stop locals from trying to find her. The search spanned weeks, with more than 800 people pitching in to canvass the area. As CNN reports, police searched for her on horseback in order to spot any bike or tire tracks that might have been left behind.

Leads trickle in

Janice Pockett was never found. The envelope, butterfly, and the rock Pockett had stored it under, were never discovered either.

According to officials, reports the Charley Project, what likely happened was that Pockett picked up her butterfly and put it in the envelope, and was abducted after that. Despite pouring resources and manpower into the case, this cold case remains a mystery.

As Courant details, Pockett was not the only kid to go missing in the Vernon/Tolland in the same time period. Four other girls, ages 13, 13, 18, and 20, also went missing between 1968-1975, although for the older two, their remains were discovered. The two 13-year-olds have never been found.

Per the Charley Project, a pedophile lived nearby throughout the 1950s into the 1970s and actually admitted to killing Pockett and another child, 3-year-old Angelo Puglisi. Puglisi went missing in 1979 and was never found. The pedophile, Charles Pierce, said that he buried the two children in separate graves in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Although this was a promising lead, no graves that match that description have ever been uncovered.

New DNA and evidence

Then, there was another lead in 2000. In Great Falls, Montana, a child's bone fragments were found in the garage of a known child abductor. The man, Nathaniel Bar-Jonah, was sent to prison on charges of child abduction and child murder back in 1977. The man has also been accused of cannibalism, and two counts of child molestation, in 2002. Bar-Jonah says he is innocent of each charge.

Nathaniel Bar-Jonah had lived just 20 miles from Pockett's house when she was abducted. As the Charley Project reports, Bar-Jonah was only 14 years old in 1973 -– but even at that young age, he had already strangled another child.

It was a promising lead, but it quickly fizzled. The bones found in Bar-Jonah's garage underwent DNA testing in 2001. But the results showed that the bones did not match Janice Pockett's DNA, nor did it match with several other missing children who had been reported in the area (via the Charley Project).

Hundreds of suspects

Mary Engelbrecht continually hopes for her sister's return, and follows similar cases from the time period in case of new evidence. For example, Marc Karun was recently arrested for his suspected involvement in the assault and murder of Mary Flynn, age 11, in 1986. She lived in Norwalk, about 85 miles from Tolland. Engelbrecht follows the DNA evidence and testimonies. She told Journal Inquirer, "I am always hopeful that something will come up."

Even with a lack of forensic evidence, Cargill said that Janice Pockett's case still receives tips every once in a while. Connecticut State Police are still working the case even years later, and encourage anyone with information to call and leave a report. 

But as Detective Dan Cargill explained to CNN, "​​There were hundreds of names of possible suspects, but many were ruled out. Some who are still on the list, we simply didn't have corroborating evidence to substantiate them as suspects.

Remembering Janice Pockett

Today, Pockett would be 56 years old, and the Charley Project features an age-progression picture of what she might look like if she is out in the world somewhere. In 2018, the 45th anniversary of Pockett's kidnapping, her family held a vigil for the lost child. Janice Pockett's sister, Mary Engelbrecht, told the crowd, "It's hard to believe that it's been 45 years of not knowing what happened to my sister ... I will never give up hope that her case and the others will someday be solved," (via Courant).

The woods where Pockett's bike was found and where her search took place have now been replaced by a school and a recreation center (via Courant). Pockett's parents, Kathryn and Ronald Pockett have since died. Engelbrecht longs to find her sister to "bring her home to rest in peace with my parents," she told the Journal Inquirer in 2019.

Engelbrecht also told the Journal Inquirer that she thinks about her sister every day. "Every time I see a butterfly, that is my sister," she said.