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Crime News Dateline

Was 2-Year-Old Who Went Missing from Missouri Backyard Taken by “Someone Who Wanted a Baby”?

Elizabeth Ann Gill was just 2 years old when police believe the toddler was abducted from her Cape Girardeau, Missouri home on June 13, 1965.

By Jill Sederstrom
Elizabeth Ann Gill, featured on Dateline: Missing In America podcast

For nearly six decades, Elizabeth Ann Gill ‘s family has been left without answers.

Her siblings have grown up, gotten married, and had children of their own, but they’ve never stopped wondering what happened to their baby sister, Elizabeth, who vanished from the family’s backyard one Sunday afternoon in 1965 and was never seen again, according to the Dateline: Missing in America podcast.

Her family believes Elizabeth is still out there somewhere, likely unaware of the siblings so desperate to find her.

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“I won’t stop looking for her,” sister Martha Gill Hamilton told Dateline correspondent Josh Mankiewicz. “If she’s out there, and I believe she is, we have to be where she can find us.” 

What Happened to Elizabeth "Beth" Gill?

Elizabeth, the youngest of 10 children, was just 2 years old when she vanished from the family’s Cape Girardeau, Missouri home, just a few blocks off the Mississippi River, on June 13, 1965. 

Eight of the siblings, including Elizabeth or “Beth” as she was called, were enjoying the summer afternoon.

“It was a beautiful day,” sister Jeannie Gill Hinck recalled. “All of us kids were playing outside.” 

Around 4:15 p.m., the older children headed inside to get ready for church. Hinck remembers seeing her sister in the backyard, where she often played with the cats or animals. 

“She was tiny and her hair with either light brown or some would call her blonde and she had the most beautiful blue eyes,” Hamilton recalled.

When Hinck called for everyone to come inside 15 minutes later, they realized Beth was gone. 

Elizabeth Ann Gill, featured on Dateline: Missing In America podcast

At the time of the disappearance, their dad, Harry, had been working as an electrician in St. Louis while their mom, Anola, was driving back from Illinois with Hamilton and another sister. 

After scouring the neighborhood for any sign of their youngest sibling, Hinck called Cape Girardeau Police. Authorities knocked on every door in the neighborhood and searched the surrounding areas but there was no sign of the toddler. 

“I believe at one point there was approximately 300 volunteers and police officers that were helping police search for her,” said Bobby Newton, the police department’s current spokesman.

Police also did an extensive search of the nearby river but uncovered nothing of interest.

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Beth’s mother, Anola, remembered that about a week before Beth disappeared, she had been carrying things to the car when she noticed a heavyset, middle-aged or older woman in a 1965 Ford Thunderbird talking to Beth, who sat on the outdoor steps.

Police later believed the woman may have been staying in a new motel called the Downtowner, which essentially looked out into the Gill’s backyard, bringing a new clientele to the usually safe neighborhood.

They were able to confirm that a husband and wife, along with their older daughter and her husband, had been staying at the motel and drove the same vehicle, but the group checked out the day of the disappearance.

“Our feelings have always been that she was taken by someone who wanted a baby,” Hinck said.

A local car dealer also remembered interacting with the couples and described the family as driving two vehicles, a Ford Thunderbird and a Chevy truck. 

The four travelers had gone to the car dealership to get a part for their truck.

“The dealer told them, well, the part won’t be in for another week and they said, ‘No problem, we’re going to be around for a couple of weeks.’ So, they left the number for the motel to be reached through and Monday, the part came in. He called the motel and they said, ‘Oh, we’re sorry they checked out yesterday and left,’” Hamilton said.

An employee at a local gas station had also noticed the two couples and deemed the group a bit suspicious, so they wrote down their license plate number. When they returned to the station a few days later, they wrote down the license plate number again, but it was a different number, leading police to believe the group had been changing out their plates for some reason.

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“They were definitely involved in some sort of criminal activity. What exactly it was? I don’t know. But the average person does not swap license plates and use fake names unless they have something they’re trying to hide,” Newton said.

Before they disappeared, the group had been in town selling purses.

Police believe it may be one of their best leads in the case. 

“A lot of things point back to these individuals,” Newton said.

Years later, a witness would also come forward to report seeing a little girl at a general store about 45 minutes away, who was crying for her mother. The girl was traveling with a group driving a Thunderbird, further advancing the theory that the group may have been involved. 

But police have never been able to ever track down the four-some. 

Updates in the Elizabeth Gill Case

In the years that followed, Beth’s heartbroken family was desperate to find her. Her father, Harry, even wrote a letter to President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 pleading for help. 

“If these persons could be found, I feel certain our little girl will be found or at least we can learn from what happened to her,” he wrote. 

He got a response from then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who wrote that the Bureau had added Beth to their missing persons files, but there was nothing more he could do.

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Over the years, there have been potential breaks in the case. A prisoner told police in 1970 he had accidentally hit Beth with his car and panicked before disposing of her body. But when he was unable to lead authorities to the body, they concluded the man had only wanted to get out of prison for a few days to lead them on a wild goose chase.

In 2010, Cape Girardeau Police Det. Jimmy Smith added DNA samples obtained from Beth’s mother and sisters to the national database for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, hoping there might be a match. 

While about two dozen people have come forward believing they may be the long-lost Beth, none of their DNA has been found to be a match.

Yet her family is convinced that Beth is still alive and living somewhere under a different identity, likely unaware of her tragic past.

“My gut says she’s out there,” Hamilton said. “She’s waiting for us.”

Anyone with information about Elizabeth Ann Gill, who would now be 60 years old, is urged to contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.