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  1. #1
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    MN - Jackie Theel, 6, Paynesville, 5 Sept 1944

    The Mystery of Jackie Theel
    By Michael Jacobson

    On Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1944, six-year-old Jackie Theel attended his first day of school in Paynesville. His mother later told the Press that he had talked about going to school for weeks and was so excited that he did not eat breakfast.
    As far as anyone knows, he did not eat lunch either.

    Jackie Theel attended only a half day of school. He left school to walk home for lunch that day and disappeared. "He was in first grade, his first day of school. He was supposed to come home for lunch, but we never saw him," said Fay, his younger brother, who was four-years-old when Jackie disappeared.

    "When he didn't come home from school, that's when (mom) called the sheriff," said his sister Annabelle (Theel) Krupke, who was 16 when Jackie disappeared.

    This picture of Jackie Theel was used in news stories and missing persons reports after his disappearance in Paynesville in September 1944.

    "I didn't think it was that big of deal," Annabelle continued, of her first reaction to her brother's disappearance. "In a town the size of Paynesville, I figured someone would see him."

    But the mayor and several businessmen could not find Jackie. Then, everybody looked.

    For days, family members, Boy Scouts, businessmen, farmers, and hundreds of volunteers searched for Jackie. Farmers were asked to look on their property. Every building in town was searched. The Civilian Air Patrol brought a plane to town to help the search, and bloodhounds were used to trace Jackie's movements.

    "It seems to me that the town of Paynesville was pretty much closed down for three days," said Fay, who now lives on Highway 23 between Roscoe and Richmond.

    There was nice weather on the first day of school that year, recalled Annabelle. Then, when they started searching for Jackie the next day, the weather turned cold, rainy, and nasty, she said.

    His disappearance was statewide news, covered by the daily newspapers and radio.

    Clues in the case were few.

    Jackie Theel, wearing a blue-and-white sailer's suit, walked from the Theel house - which stood on the corner of Lake Avenue and Railroad Street, a block west of downtown, now an abandoned lot - to school. In 1944, the school was located where the current elementary school stands now.

    At 11:30 a.m., his teacher sent Jackie home for lunch, asking him if he knew the way home before letting him go.

    Then, according to bloodhounds that later tracked his movements, he walked down Augusta Avenue, a block west of Washburne, when the Theel house was located a block east of Washburne. The bloodhounds tracked Jackie to the Crow River, just west of the North American Creamery (now AMPI). There, the tracks of a small boy were found, going west along the river.

    The bloodhounds found Jackie's scent on the west end of town along Highway 23, which ran along the same path in 1944 that it does today. But then the scent disappeared, just like Jackie.

    A couple returning from Long Lake, near Hawick that day, reported seeing a small boy wearing a blue suit standing along Highway 23 around 1 p.m. that afternoon.

    And, later that evening, two local boys reported seeing "a small boy enter a light grey car on Highway 23" around 4:45 p.m., the Press reported in September 1944.

    According to his missing person's description by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Jackie was 37 inches tall, weighed 45 pounds, had blue eyes, blond hair, and a medium build when he disappeared.

    "They had no clues," said Fay about the mystery. "They had searched everywhere they could."

    Almost immediately, too, rumors started to fly. Annabelle and Fay, in the 60 years since their brother disappeared, have heard all the stories: that Jackie was kidnapped, that he drowned, that their father killed him, that their father sold him, etc.

    Unfortunately, parents are suspects in these types of cases because sometimes they are responsible. But their father, according to Annabelle and Fay, was not home the day that Jackie disappeared. He was a trucker and had to be called in South St. Paul to come home, they said.

    That did not keep him from being a suspect, though. Their father, Harold, was a loner, said Annabelle. "A man of few words," according to his cousin Manford Theel, who still lives in Paynesville.

    They later found bones in the family well, said Annabelle, but they proved to belong to a dog.

    And, as to the rumor that their dad sold Jackie, if their dad could have sold kids for $500, he should have sold more, said Annabelle with a laugh. After all, their family did have 15 kids but little money in those days. "You could buy a piece of candy for a penny, and no one had a penny," said Annabelle.

    Annabelle and Fay don't believe their brother drown, either. "If he would have drown," said Fay, "they would have found his body eventually."

    While their father never showed much emotion, their mother was traumatized by Jackie's disappearance, according to Annabelle and Fay. "Ma turned grey overnight," said Fay. "She had salt-and-pepper hair, but she turned white practically overnight."

    His mother was still upset about Jackie's disappearance in the nursing home, said Fay, and it was "always a sore spot."

    "You don't get over something like that," added Annabelle.

    "I'd say, after 10 or 15 years, they never said a word about it," said Fay. "It was alwa

    ys on my mother's mind." "You can only hash over something like that for so long," said Annabelle, especially when they are no answers.

    Jackie Theel's real name is Victor John, but the family always called him "Jackie," said Annabelle and Fay. Their mother never revealed his real name, said Fay, so she could use it to identify him if he ever came home.

    Their parents, Annabelle and Fay believe, always blamed the teacher for letting Jackie walk home alone. Their mother had sent a note that morning telling the new teacher to keep Jackie at school until a brother picked him up to walk home with him for lunch.

    According to the Press articles from September 1944, the teacher asked Jackie if he knew the way home and he pointed. But another news article said Jackie pointed west when the teacher asked him if he knew the way home, while the Theel home was northeast of the school building.

    A year later, Fay started school. But a few days before his first day, his mother walked him to school and then pretended to be lost, forcing him to find the way home, he said. Their mother never again allowed anyone to wear a sailer suit, which Jackie was wearing when he disappeared, said Fay.

    Jackie was "quiet" and a "homebody," according to Annabelle.

    Annabelle and Fay were told that Jackie was "slow," though it is not clear what that means. That word used to be used to indicate someone who was mentally challenged, though neither Annabelle nor Fay think Jackie was severely retarded, since he was sent to school.

    What they do remember clearly is that Jackie was not allowed to go far from home. "They never let him go anywhere," said Annabelle. "I think he pretty much stayed home."

    Though the kids always did the errands, their parents never sent Jackie uptown to buy groceries, said Annabelle.

    The kids would have to get water, fetch milk from a farm on the outskirts of town, and would go to their aunt's house, added Fay. "I knew that town backwards," said Fay.

    But, Jackie did not, they agreed.

    So, if Jackie had tried to walk home from school that day, and gotten lost, even if it looked familiar, he probably would not be able to find his way home, said Annabelle.

    Annabelle and Fay believe that the bloodhounds traced their brother's movements. That he probably tried to walk home but ended up two blocks west of their house and was lost. Then he followed the river to the west end of town, where two eyewitness reports place him along Highway 23.

    By then, said Annabelle, he probably would have been crying, and he might have been an easy target.

    "I tend to believe that someone saw him wandering and picked him up," said Annabelle. "I don't see how it could have been anything else."

    Fay, too, believes that Jackie was most likely kidnapped. At the time, soldiers could get out of the army if they had dependents, which could have been a motive, he said.

    Both Annabelle and Fay are suspicious of the sighting of car picking up a boy wearing a sailer's suit and looking like Jackie on the same day he disappeared. That someone else would be spotted in Paynesville who was dressed like Jackie and looked like Jackie on the same day he disappeared is quite a coincidence, according to Annabelle and Fay.

    Two local boys saw "a small boy enter a light grey car on Highway 23" at 4:45 p.m. that afternoon, according to the Press from Sept. 14, 1944. The Press reported that the Willmar Police checked this lead and found that the driver was a soldier traveling with his brother who stopped in Willmar to get his starter fixed.

    But both Annabelle and Fay wonder what the Willmar Police did to check that lead and find it odd that no one who knew Jackie was asked to identify that "brother."

    The Willmar Police Department does not have records dating back to the 1940s, according to their records department. And the newspaper accounts from 1944 raise some questions for Annabelle and Fay.

    If the local boys did not report seeing that car until Tuesday evening, was the car still in Willmar? If not, did the police actually speak to that driver and see his "brother"? Or did they just ask about the car the next day and were told at the garage that the man was a soldier who said he was traveling with his brother?

    Annabelle got a letter from a former Paynesville school teacher who reported seeing someone that resembled a Theel getting off a navy ship in California in the 1960s. He signed his name, "Jackie Theel," and told the teacher that he had been adopted. Was that their brother?

    "It's impossible to know," said Fay about his brother's fate. "You don't know if he's dead or alive."

    In the 1980s, Fay was told that a man came to Tuck's Cafe in Paynes-ville, looking for his family, but could not find any Theels in the phonebook.

    Though he reported this story to the FBI, which was the last time he was in contact with law enforcement about his brother's disappearance, Fay and Annabelle have doubts about the story. First, there were Theels in the Paynesville phone book in the 1980s, and second the man reportedly talked to an old-timer who would have known some Theels still in town.

    Whatever happened to their brother - who would now be 66 years old, if alive - Annabelle and Fay hope for the best. "Hopefully, he had a good life," said Annabelle. "That's all we've ever said."

    Since Jackie was only six and did not have any assets and no reason to be declared dead for estate purposes, he is still listed as missing.

    Fay, though, recognizing that the people who knew Jackie as a child are getting scarce, thinks it may be time to honor his brother. Fay is considering putting a memorial to his brother in the Salem Cemetery. It would read something like this:

    Jackie Theel
    Born: February 15, 1938
    Missing: September 5, 1944

    Links
    http://www.doenetwork.us/cases/1383dmmn.html
    http://www.paynesvillearea.com/news/...0922theel.html

  2. #2
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    Very interesting case. If Jackie Theel is still going by his nickname and real last name I would think that an extensive name search would reveal his current whereabouts if he is indeed still alive. THe story of the teacher who recognized him as a Theel getting off a Navy ship in California is strange. DId the teacher approach him and speak with him? Also when the man returned to town looking for family I would think that everyone would recognize the name. Interesting story, I feel there might be a chance this boy is alive and may have indeed been told he was adopted. I wonder how hard these siblings have looked for their brother in recent years with the advent of the internet and everything the world is a much smaller place.

  3. #3
    I agree.............It would be reasonably easy to find such a person if he were living under the same name. Most people try and conceal abducted children and so any kind of searches don't show them up. They are firmly under the radar.

    But if Jackie was looking for his family, he might well know of his identity and just think he was legally adopted. He might even suspect otherwise and have vague memories................ he could very easily still be alive now and thinking of them.

    I wonder if Jackies family have thought about setting up a website and doing a little press to see what turns up? I have a feeling they might be pleasantly suprised.......................

  4. #4
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    Paynesville, Minnesota

    I believe that it has been through the efforts of the local paper in Paynesville that this story has come to light, 60 years after Jackie's disappearance. The world may seem a smaller place today with the internet and mass communications, but back in 1944 the small town of Paynesville (population less than a thousand) was Jackie's whole world. For someone to have simply vanished from the relative security of a rural farming town would have affected everyone there.
    I was particularly drawn to this story for a couple of reasons. First because of the long time interval since Jackie disappeared, and Second because I too "got lost" in a small Minnesota town when I was six years old. I can so easily imagine Jackie's confusion and feelings that day, going from total joy of the first day of school, to missing lunch and being alone and afraid.
    I had never heard of Jackie, but it is likely that everyone in Minnesota (at the time) knew of him. Perhaps that is why the Creamery man whom I approached for directions dropped everything he was doing to call my Grandfather - who in turn dropped what he was doing to drive two blocks to pick me up. I couldn't understand why it was such a big deal. I pretty well knew where I was, but had not gone far enough to reach my Grandfather's restaurant. I was the talk of the town for a couple of days as "the kid who got lost in Goodhue"! Hard to believe that I would become a Long Range Celestial Navigator in the Navy 17 years later.
    Although I personally doubt that Jackie is still living, it would indeed be interesting if he too had later become a Navy man. It would be nice to know what home port and ship the sailor in the story was assigned to. It would not be hard to check it out.
    Last edited by Richard; 10-18-2004 at 09:56 PM.

  5. #5
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    Very old cases

    That is a very interesting case Richard. Please keep posting-you have come up with some very interesting cases I never heard of. I agree with the other posters that with the internet and DNA, Jackie's family might have a chance to locate or at least maybe find out what happened to their brother. A very old case(well, one of many!) that has always been on my mind is Evelyn Hartley from LaCrosse, Wi, who went missing while babysitting on Oct 24, 1953. There were definite signs of a struggle and blood on the ground outside the house. There was an extensive search but she has never been found. I think it was a random abduction and she is most likely buried somewhere out in the countryside and the chances of finding her remains aren't very good. There is supposedly a book in the works on her disappearance.I've posted about her many times and if you scroll down to the 3rd page on this cold case forum you will see it, though one of the links doesn't work anymore. Sorry to go off topic and sounding repetitive, but I was just curious what your thoughts were on the Hartley case, (if you've even heard of it). since it is a very old case like the Jackie case.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by joellegirl
    That is a very interesting case Richard. Please keep posting-you have come up with some very interesting cases I never heard of. I agree with the other posters that with the internet and DNA, Jackie's family might have a chance to locate or at least maybe find out what happened to their brother. A very old case(well, one of many!) that has always been on my mind is Evelyn Hartley from LaCrosse, Wi, who went missing while babysitting on Oct 24, 1953. ..... I was just curious what your thoughts were on the Hartley case, (if you've even heard of it). since it is a very old case like the Jackie case.
    Yes I have heard of the case and I read some of this forum's earlier threads on it. I have not formed any theories on it yet, but would be very interested to learn more about it. Her photo looks familiar somehow, hard to say why. Maybe I have seen it before.
    My Grandfather - the same one I mentioned in my previous post - was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin and lived there as a boy before moving with his parents and family to Minnesota. I wonder how wide spread news of Evelyn's abduction was, and if he might have heard of it.
    La Crosse is right on the Mississippi River, which separates Minnesota from Wisconsin at that point. My guess is that Evelyn was either taken somewhere in Wisconsin, or to Minnesota initially.
    Since there was no report of any ransom demand, and no other known motives, I would think that she was probably killed by her abductor and buried somewhere within a hundred miles of La Crosse.
    That said, I do know of another case from 1950 of a girl who was abducted by an older man who kept her with him for over a year before she was able to escape and go to police. So there are a number of possible scenarios.

  7. #7
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    Hi Richard,
    If your grandfather was in LaCrosse in 1953 he must have heard about Evelyn. Her abduction actually made the papers all over the country, and it was a major major story in LaCrosse. My dad was a teenager at the time and he and my Grandma (and the rest of his family and most who lived there at the time)remember that time very well when the city was turned upside down with endless searches and residents were very afraid -things like that never happened in LaCrosse before.It still is a big story in LaCrosse and two residents of the city are writing a book. I am very familiar with LaCrosse, having family there for all these years. My family and I were there twice this summer, and both times I drove past the house where Evelyn was abducted from. It is your typical small ranch in your typical 1950's subdivision. So hard to believe what happened there 51 years ago. It was real eerie to see the basement window where she was pulled out of before forever vanishing.In my thread way down on the 3rd page of this forum I have a link to an article about a man who said he and another man abducted and killed Evelyn and buried her near LaFarge, WI. (maybe 25 -30 miles south of the city)There have been many stories like this over the years with nothing coming of it, but I hope this story was looked into. I hope the book will be out soon. The LaCrosse Library website has several archived newspaper articles about the case.

    Sorry again for hijacking your thread about Jackie, which is a very sad story. You know, if both Jackie and Evelyn were alive today the would both be 66. Evelyn would have turned 67 this Nov 21 I believe ( a date I got from an old newspaper article).

  8. #8
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    >> A couple returning from Long Lake, near Hawick that day, reported seeing a small boy wearing a blue suit standing along Highway 23 around 1 p.m. that afternoon.
    And, later that evening, two local boys reported seeing "a small boy enter a light grey car on Highway 23" around 4:45 p.m., the Press reported in September 1944.<<

    These two excerpts from the Paynesville news story bother me. The first is probably accurate, but would have been made by someone after learning of Jackie's disappearance. Someone trying to help. And it pretty well matches other evidence in the case; time frame, clothing description, and later dog scenting.
    But the statement from the boys seeing Jackie almost four hours later? After school was long out? It could be that these boys knew more than they were telling, or it could be that they were simply trying to get some attention by "getting into the act". The big question would be "WHEN did this story come out?" Was it immediately after it happened, or was it after the case had become well known around town and in the press?

  9. #9
    I see what you mean. Its very unlikey that Jackie would be wandering round at that time without anyone spotting him. What time was Jackie reported missing I wonder? If it was before 4.45pm then everyone would be on the lookout ,which means a child wandering down the highway fitting Jackies description would have alerted people. Anyway, its just not plausible that it was him at 4.45pm, where had he been all day? Stood by the highway?!!

    So either- those 2 boys concocted that story in order to cover something up, or they were mistaken..................Maybe the boys panicked and heard the other story about the sighting of Jackie and decided to create a diversion. It really does depend on when this statement was given- and by who. How old were the boys? Were they alone? What were they doing on the highway anyway?

    Maybe the children came across Jackie on the highway some time before 4.45pm and something happened…….. ………………maybe they heard the story of the other sighting and decided to elaborate, as kids do. Maybe they saw a similar looking child getting into a car. In which case why wasn’t this person ever traced? I actually think that the least likely scenario is that they saw Jackie. Theres just too big a time gap. I wonder why, or if, the police investigating this didn’t think of it at the time? I wonder if a timeline was created for Jackie as it is for most missing people now?

    I found this on the Doe Network …………snip “according to bloodhounds that later tracked his movements, he walked down Augusta Avenue, a block west of Washburne, when the Theel house was located a block east of Washburne. The bloodhounds tracked Jackie to the Crow River, just west of the North American Creamery (now AMPI). There, the tracks of a small boy were found, going west along the river.
    The bloodhounds found Jackie's scent on the west end of town along Highway 23, but then the scent disappeared”……………….”
    http://www.doenetwork.us/cases/1383dmmn.html Theres a photo on here as well.

    So at some stage he was on the highway that much we know. He scent disappeared there ,which would lead us to believe that someone picked him up. Or knocked him down and took him with them. How busy was the highway then I wonder? Would there have been sufficient witnesses to a car accident?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by emma l
    I see what you mean. Its very unlikey that Jackie would be wandering round at that time without anyone spotting him. What time was Jackie reported missing I wonder<<

    >> So at some stage he was on the highway that much we know. He scent disappeared there ,which would lead us to believe that someone picked him up. Or knocked him down and took him with them. How busy was the highway then I wonder? Would there have been sufficient witnesses to a car accident?
    The story states that Jackie was reported missing when he failed to return from school. That makes me wonder if his mother reported him missing when he failed to show for lunch, or if it was when school let out (Probably around 3PM?)

    If you check out the link to the Paynesville Newspaper, and scroll to the end of the article, there is a map which shows the town and Jackie's probable route. Highway 23 actually runs through a part of the town.
    Remember the time was 1944, and gas rationing was the order of the day. The slogan "Is this trip necessary?" was posted in many places. Traffic back then was nothing at all like it is today, but it is likely that a number of cars would have passed through/by on Hwy 23.
    My feelings about the later 4:45PM sighting are like yours. It just does not make sense. I feel that this little boy was probably picked up at or around 1PM. Although folks back then would not have been as wary of letting children go off to explore and play, it would have been obvious to most townsfolk that it was the first day of school, and a lone little boy wandering around the highway would not have gone unnoticed for long. Someone from that town would have done something to return the little boy to his mother in the space of 4 hours! And certainly, little Jackie knew where the town was! Even if he had gotten turned around a bit, he would probably have gone up to some house or store after a while.
    It would be interesting to know who the "local boys" were, what their ages, and where they were all afternoon. Were they in school? Also, what the circumstances were that prompted them to present their 4:45PM little boy-getting-into-a-gray-car scenario. In a small town like Paynesville, every kid KNEW all the other kids. Wouldn't they have known something was not right and have reported it?
    How did police narrow the car down to the one with the two men so quickly? Did the boys give them a license plate number? Or did they describe the car in such detail, that the mechanic immediately called in his information? Perhaps the answers might lie in other newspaper stories and old police files.


  11. #11
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    So it sounds like the next step for someone trying to solve this today would be to see if these"local boys" names are in the police files and use the internet to try and see if they are still alive and be questioned. Or maybe they and/or family are still in the area. I know that is easier said than done, and these "boys" would most like be (if alive)in their 70's now, but who knows, maybe two old men are walking around harboring a dark secret(then again maybe not). It was a whole different mindset then and I can see how no one seemed to think the boys had anything to do with it, but I agree that this later sighting of Jackie seems the less likely of the two sightings. Even though in general people didn't think much of a child wandering around a small town in those days I would think someone would have saw him and at least asked him if he were lost or needed help, especially with him walking along a highway. But it was mentioned that his siblings remembered that while they were allowed to wander and run errands, Jackie was never allowed to. Maybe he didn't know the town as well and was too shy to speak up.. Still I would think some one would have noticed him before 4:45pm. I don't know much about law enforcement but I'm guessing it's probably not as easy as it sounds to question these men without enough evidence. Maybe there is hope though, that people looking at this case with today's eyes and wisdom may see something the people and law enforcement back then didn't see.

  12. #12
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    Did a Whitepages.com search...

    ...and came up with this:

    Theel, Jackie
    1829 Harvard Ave
    Independence, MO 64052-3823
    (816) 833-0061

    Hmmm....

  13. #13
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    I wonder if it is him. Does anyone have contact infor for the family to give that to them?

  14. #14
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    I did that search and came up with Jackie Theel in Independance, MO, which is only 3 hours from me. What are the odds that it is the same guy? Is there a way to age verify the person?

  15. #15
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    I looked on anybirthday.com but didn't find a Jackie Theel, or Victor Theel. I found a Jack Theel but he was born in 1951. Not everyone is on this site, but try your own name and it might come up. I'm not sure what records this site uses but quite a few people I know are on there. There are many people with the last name of Theel-wonder how many might be directly related to him.

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