Testing of unidentified female remains found in 1968 in Preble County is continuing to determine if they might be a mother missing from Shelby, Ohio since 1945. Any identification would bring closure to a family whose grandchildren have taken up the torch to find out what happened to Mary Jane Croft VanGilder.
At the same time, each new story about searching for missing people or trying to identify remains — like the story of the Preble County remains recently reported by the Journal-News — brings to minds other painful cases that are causing Butler County families to continue searching.
New technology and online databases for missing and unidentified remains have given a rebirth of hope to families and law enforcement officers putting fresh eyes on missing persons cases.
Two Butler County mothers know the anguish and continued hope as they seek answers about their missing sons.
William “Billy” DiSilvestro vanished from Hamilton 10 years ago. The son of Debbie Winkler Estes was 28 when he went missing. She still searches daily, on foot or through social media for “Billy D.”
searches daily, on foot or through social media for “Billy D.”
It was bitter cold during the early morning hours of Feb. 7, 2011, when DiSilvestro left a Rossville neighborhood house after a party and was never seen again. He left his phone at a friend’s house and had no money.
Sheriff’s detectives have followed multiple tips, some passed on by Estes, in their search for DiSilvestro. In July 2011, a rescue team spent two days searching murky canal water on Joe Nuxhall Boulevard. An inmate passed a tip that DiSilvestro had been killed, put in a barrel and thrown in the water. But the search only turned up hubcaps and discarded furniture.
Also in 2011, a retired Chicago police officer called detectives after seeing DiSilvestro’s face on a missing person ad in a trade magazine. The man thought he saw DiSilvestro at a gas station between the Florida state line and Tampa, but he could not pinpoint the location.
In 2015, a tip led Butler County Sheriff’s detectives on a massive search, as they dug up a wooded area near New Miami in search of DiSilvestro. But after a five-hour hunt with cadaver dogs, no sign was found at the St. Clair Twp. location pointed out by a confidential informant.
Butler County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Mike Craft said detectives acted on a tip just last week and went to a location where someone found bones. Again, it did not bring closure.
“Yes it is a cold case, but it is an active cold case. We still get tips and we look into them,” he said.
Thanks to Estes, her son’s face has been everywhere over the years — billboards, benches, playing cards featuring unsolved cases, telephone poles, store fronts and even construction equipment.
“I have walked everywhere searching,” Estes said. “If I saw a house condemned or about to be torn down, I went in looking. I have even left his picture and a note on Bobcats outside asking them to please look for remains.”
Estes said it “tears her apart to see the desperation of other families” suffering from a missing loved one. Her advice is those families is to be relentless in keeping the case alive.
“You have got to put him out there because if you don’t, nobody will,” Estes said.
There are times Estes believes her son may still alive, but she knows that is not realistic.
“I just want him back, I don’t care what happened to him, I will worry about that another time,” she said
Yalonda Middleton’s 28-year-old son, Michael McKenney of Fairfield Twp., has been missing for a year, and she too works to keep her son’s face in the forefront
McKenney loved the outdoors and often spent time at Hueston Woods State Park and Rentschler Forest. That’s were his car was found parked on the Preble County side of state park. But there was no trace of McKenney.
Fairfield Twp. police Sgt. Brandon McCroskey said McKenney was last heard from on May. 23, 2020. His car was found on May 30, 2020 by a Ohio Department of Natural Resources officer, and his phone and some belongings were inside.
Groups have searched areas of the large state park but found no trace of McKenney. The Butler County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol helped searching some areas near ravines, according to Fairfield Twp. police.
In recent months, Capt. Doug Lanier said the department has received tips about bones found and even searched a body of water, but nothing turned up.
Middleton said she was at Hueston Woods last week searching herself.
“There’s somebody who knows,” she said. “I am praying that he took off somewhere. I worry every day.”
Middleton said she believes her son is alive.
“I still have hope,” she said. “Until I have proof otherwise.”
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