In recent months, missing persons cases have gained a new spotlight in the region.
Officials in March announced they identified remains found four years before as a West Chester woman never reported missing. Then a Greater Cincinnati story went national after a man found in northern Kentucky claimed to be a boy missing from Illinois, which was later disproved by DNA evidence.
Such incidents are painful of family members still searching for missing loved ones, such as Debbie Winkler Estes of Hamilton, who has been searching since 2011 for her son.
More than eight years after William DiSilvestro went missing from Hamilton, she still doesn’t know what happened.
“It really eats at you,” Estes said.
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DiSilvestro disappeared on a cold January night after spending time at a friend’s house in Rossville. He did not have a cell phone or money. Estes has used posters, social media and a private investigator in an effort to keep her son’s case from being forgotten.
When Estes heard in April that a person who said he was Timmothy Pitzen told residents of Newport neighborhood that he had escaped from two men who kept him captive for year, she said she was elated for the family.
“It was just wonderful. I thought what a great thing,” Estes said. “Then my thoughts went straight to Billy. Maybe he is alive, maybe he had a seizure or something. When you hear something like that, it gives you hope,”
Then police said the whole thing was a hoax and arrested Brian Michael Rini of Medina for the fake claim, and Estes’ response was anger.
“Oh yes, I saw red,” she said. “It has happened to me. But I have gotten smarter than I was in the beginning. I used to be pretty crazed and would run after anything and do anything.”
Estes was recently approached by a scammer who said he had found DiSilvestro in London and wanted her to send money so he could get back home.
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“I told him Billy has my phone number. It hasn’t changed, ” she said.
Estes said she also hired a psychic, who convinced her that she could bring DiSilvestro home.
“I don’t know why they want to break someone down who is already broke,” Estes said. “The emotion and hope never goes away, and to use my child that way for a scam is almost unbearable.”
Butler County Sheriff’s Sgt. Rob Whitlock said DiSilvestro’s case is investigated when officials get leads.
“I would like to bring him home before the end of my career, and we all want to get some closure for Debbie,” Whitlock said.
DiSilvestro is just one of an estimated 100,000 active missing cases nationwide, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System funded by the National Institute of Justice. It is also estimated there are 40,000 sets of human remains
that have not been identified.
The cases are challenging for la
w enforcement and can linger for years. Hamilton police continue to look for information that will lead them to Cynthia Louise Carmack, who was originally listed as a 16-year-old runaway in August 1988. She was last seen at a shopping center on the city’s west side.
Ronald Tammen is Butler County’s oldest missing person case. The Miami University student walked away from campus on April 19, 1953, leaving behind his possessions. In 2008, sheriff’s detectives in Butler County believed they had found the remains of Tammen, who has become an urban legend in Oxford known as the ghost of Fisher Hall.
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DNA from Tammen’s sister in Cleveland was tested with the remains of a badly decomposed body found in June 1953 in Walnut Grove, Ga., near Lafayette. The DNA was not a match.
In March, Butler County Coroner Lisa Mannix announced the skeletal remains of woman found March 7, 2015 by children playing in the woods behind their Gregory Creek Lane home in West Chester Twp. had been identified. The woman was identified as 61-year-old Darlene Norcross. West Chester police said the township resident had not been reported missing by her family.