A plastic bin in Jill Jones’ house contains photographs, decades-old newspaper clippings and baby clothes that belonged to her brother who went missing in 1962 from their Cumberland County home.
William Jones Jr., or “Billy” as Jill calls him, disappeared 55 years ago. The 3-year-old child was last seen playing outside with Jill, his younger sister, near their Taylor Avenue home in Vineland.
“I keep it because it’s my brother,” said Jill Jones, who now lives in Gloucester County, about the artifacts in the container. “When I’m dead, who’s going to know (about Billy)? This is all I got.”
Between 14,000 and 16,000 people are reported missing in New Jersey every year, according to State Police. Next month, the state will recognize “Missing Persons Day” for the first time by holding an event May 20 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
State Police are inviting family members and friends of missing people to gather to “heal, network, learn, and most importantly, keep hope alive,” according to a statement posted on the department’s Facebook page.
There are more than 1,100 unsolved missing persons cases in New Jersey dating to 1969, State Police said.
William Jones is not included in that statistic. Even so, authorities say they are still looking into his case.
“We continue to work it,” said FBI Special Agent John Mesisca, who’ is based at the agency’s office in Northfield. “We’re hoping we can resolve it.”
The FBI is assisting Vineland police in the investigation, which is in its fifth decade.
“It is difficult, and the longer it goes, the harder it is to solve,” Mesisca said. “At this point, because of the time, we’re going to really need that person to come forward.”
William Jones was reported missing at about 1 p.m. Dec. 17, 1962, according to the FBI. He was last seen by his mother at 11:45 a.m. By noon, neighbors had started to look for him, kicking off a four-day search that included hundreds of people, helicopters and bloodhounds, according to the agency.
“There’s not a big gap of time,” Mesisca said. “Based on the circumstance, yes, someone has to be aware.”
Tips have come in from across the country relating to Jones’ disappearance, according to Jessica Weisman, another FBI special agent based in Northfield.
“When leads come in, we run them down as fast as possible, as completely as possible,” Mesisca said.
“He’s somewhere,” added Weisman. “Something happened to him.”
Sometimes, Jill Jones’ mind wanders about what happened to her brother, and the possibilities can be unsettling, particularly when her thoughts settle on some of the more nefarious potential outcomes.
“That is just too much to handle,” said Jones, 57, of Franklin Township, Gloucester County.
“That’s what your brain does to you,” she added. “I just say to myself, ‘He’s alive. He’s always been alive. He’s happy.’”
William Jones’ disappearance forever affected Jill. In the beginning, it affected her family life. Her dad drank, and they didn’t talk about it much at home, she said. And it still affects her, now with her grandchildren. She doesn’t let them play outside by themselves.
“I trust no one,” Jones said. “I’m paranoid.”
Jill is the last remaining member of William Jones’ immediate family. On top of a cabinet in her home sit urns containing the cremated remains of her mother, father and younger brother.
“When someone you know dies, you know where they’re at,” she said.
But with Billy, “You don’t have an answer,” Jill said.