Gone

My granddaughter S. went missing for a very short time several years ago. 

It happened on a Thursday during the first week of June. S. was a student at a wonderful public elementary school in the Clintonville neighborhood of Columbus. A picnic for the students, teachers, and parents was — and still is — annually held on the school playground during the closing hours of the last day of class. My son J. — her father — took an extended lunch hour from his job and dutifully presented at the time appointed. He was somewhat puzzled when he did not see S. among the students cavorting around the swings. J. approached S.’s teacher and inquired as to her whereabouts. The teacher asked another teacher, who asked another, who asked the school secretary, who asked the principal. Within the course of a few minutes, a hue and cry quietly started up, one that was on the verge of quickly rounding the corner to full-blown hysteria. J., having learned at his father’s knee how to react to an emergency, fought down the tide of his own rising panic and quickly called his neighbor to ask if S. was in sight. The neighbor advised that yes, S.  was on J’s front porch, bearing the look of someone who finds themselves in a situation resulting from an action that wasn’t entirely thought through prior to its execution.  

It was learned a bit later that S., being a somewhat willful child at that time, had concluded that she had experienced enough school for the year and decided to skip the picnic. She didn’t think to tell anyone about her decision, and with the skill of a Ms. Pac-Man circumvented the carefully maintained school security labyrinth which was in place to keep such a thing from occurring. She then walked the few blocks from her school to her home in order to jumpstart her summer vacation by a couple of hours.   

J. told the teachers that S. was at home. Those assembled collectively breathed a sigh of relief. As J. left the school to deal with the wayward S. he heard the name “Kelly Prosser” mentioned as the instructors talked among themselves. He wondered who she was. 

Kelly Ann Prosser in 1982 had been an eight-year-old student at a much-acclaimed alternative school in the same neighborhood as my granddaughter’s. The school year was barely three weeks old when Kelly disappeared while walking home. Her body was found two days later in a cornfield located in a quiet community contiguous to Columbus. She had been beaten, raped, and murdered. 

Several individuals were questioned by Columbus police detectives but no one was ever charged with Kelly Ann’s murder. J., who was four years old at the time, probably wondered why his parents held him and his younger siblings just a little more tightly and watched them just a bit more closely for the next, oh, thirty-eight years or so (and counting). For the teachers at Kelly Ann’s school, and virtually every school in the area., there was an additional nightmare a-borning. Whoever visited the horrors of Kelly Ann’s final hours upon her was, as far as anyone knew, still out there watching and waiting for another opportunity. While the safety of their students was uppermost in the minds of the teachers and administrators, I suspect that no one wanted to bear the burden of having another such act repeated on or after their watch. 

That fear carried over across the decades. The Columbus Police Department, for its part, never gave up on Kelly’s case. Decades passed. Forensic tools were created, improved, and sharpened. The Columbus Police  Cold Case Unit, announced on June 26, 2020, that the case had been closed. A DNA sample obtained from material originally gathered at the crime scene conclusively linked her attack and death to one Harold Warren Jarrell. He was no stranger to the criminal justice system. Jarrell had been arrested, tried, convicted, and incarcerated for abducting a little girl in 1977 from another Columbus neighborhood. He was released from prison after five years and had been walking among the innocent and unknowing for but a short time before Kelly Ann’s path crossed his. Jarrell for whatever reason was not considered a suspect in her murder at the time, and at some subsequent point left Columbus, drifting across the country with stops in Florida and Las Vegas among other places, more often than not attracting the attention of law enforcement before moving on rather quickly and without notice. He met his end at some point — how, where, and why is not immediately clear — and thus cannot face justice for Kelly Ann’s murder and the grief that ripples through time across the lives of her family members to this day. Investigations being conducted in other jurisdictions indicate that Jarrell’s horrible misdeeds continued. One can only hope that his end was slow and excruciating, one where any calls for help which he might have made were unanswered at least and mocked at best. 

It is people such as Jarrell who cause me to prefer the company of dogs and cats to people. That said, the tenaciousness of the personnel of the Columbus Police Cold Case Unit — with a mighty and timely assist from a forensic genealogical service named AdvancedDNA —  restores, at least partially, my faith in humanity.

I am well aware that in the majority of cases of sexual molestation and abuse the victim and the aggressor are known to each other. There is still a sizable group of opportunistic predators who randomly prey upon the innocent. There are tools available to combat them. Most if not all county sheriff departments now provide a sexual offenders’ database on their websites. There is also a smartphone app for iPhones named Offender Locator which I cannot vouch for, but I can for Truthfinder, an Android app that provides sobering information about sex offenders living and working within a given area.  You may want to consult this should you or a family member decide to move to a new neighborhood or take things a step further with that new acquaintance who might seem just a tad too friendly with your child. The writers and authors among you may also — and I am not making light of the problem by suggesting this, not at all — use this app as a means of obtaining inspiration for the truly wretched characters in your latest work in progress. The woods, as they say, are full of them. The lambs walk in sunlight and the wolves wait in darkness for one or more to stray into shadow. 

Be safe. Be well. Be alert. 

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

41 thoughts on “Gone

  1. Wow Joe. That is heavy stuff. I remember the Kelly Ann Prosser case in the news in my then home town in Pickerington. I was 14. And yes, between that and a couple of cases in our own neck of the woods I recall our parents being very protective.
    Interestingly immediately before seeing your post I just finished watching a documentary about an organization called V4CR, Veterans For Child Rescue, who work to end child trafficking by exposing and convicting the predators. It is titled Contraland, and made by retired Navy SEAL Craig Sawyer. Highly recommended.

    • Basil, somehow my reply got lost (actually, it didn’t get lost. I mailed it to you instead of posting it here).

      Thank you, Basil, particularly for the link to Contraland. I just watched the first half-hour and had to take a short break. It is an excellent reality check though it was extremely difficult for me to watch in places for reasons not appropriately discussed here. It’s not exaggerated.

      Let me know if you get back to Picktown and have a couple of free hours. Lunch at Cracker Barrel on 256 will be on me and I’ll give you the alley tour of the Columbus west side, where a number of the horrors described in Contraland take place on a daily basis.

    • Thank you, Jeffrey. It’s easy to forget until we are suddenly confronted with it…

  2. The lambs walk in sunlight and the wolves wait in darkness for one or more to stray into shadow.

    Love that line, Joe. Beautiful writing in such a tragic story. Those poor parents…

    • Thank you, Sue. Re: the parents…I have no idea how someone who experiences that can continue to put one foot in front of the other, year by year, day by day…

  3. Good morning, Joe. And thanks for such a powerful reminder, even on the morning that I am traveling to northern Ohio to visit three granddaughters.

    Thanks for the links to the resources to check out neighborhoods where our loved ones live. And I will certainly look into using this information in creating the villains and monsters in my next book.

    Hold your loved ones close.

    Thanks for this important post. Have a good weekend.

    • Good morning, Steve. Safe travels. I hope you enjoy your time with your fortunate granddaughters. My granddaughter is spending the weekend with me as well.

      Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments. You may well be unfortunately and unpleasantly surprised by what you find when you use that app. I know I was.

      Enjoy the weekend and keep your loved ones close. I know you do.

  4. Thanks for a sobering post, Joe.

    “He met his end at some point — how, where, and why is not immediately clear — and thus cannot face justice”

    We can only hope he faced a greater justice.

    • Yes, we can hope, Debbie, though it’s nice to have all the bases covered, particularly in cases like these where one’s instinct is, if it were possible, to dig the offender up and kill him again. Thanks for your kind words.

      • “…dig him up and kill him again.”

        Parents have a peculiar hold on their children, which surely will result in their being able to face their murderers some day and do this very thing. At least, I hope so.

  5. What a tragic story, Joe. I can’t imagine going through that as a parent or grandparent. Especially in the cases where the victim isn’t found for months, years, or ever again. As a mom, I think I’d never sleep again.

    The details of this case are eerily similar to the 4 year old girl who goes missing in my current WIP. She is found 3 months later in a ravine, beaten, tortured, raped, and half chewed up by coyotes. In the story, the perp is never found, and that wreaks havoc on my MC, who is the younger sister of the victim. But they never knew each other, as MC was born after victim became a victim. MC, even though she was just a twinkle in God’s eye during the case, was traumatized by it nevertheless.

    I ask myself, why in tarnation am I writing this into the story when it scares me to death just thinking about it? 🙁

    • Deb, like you, I can’t imagine being able to function.

      Thanks for the peek at your WIP. I think that sometimes we write most effectively when the subject matter is that which we fear the most. Let us know when your new book is published!

  6. I can imagine the fright it must have been for your son, if only briefly, because reading about it is frightening enough. Unfortunately, people have a base side, some much more so than others, and we must always use caution to protect ourselves and our loved ones—and hopefully care about society.

    But I guess that circles back to why a lot of us write–at least one motivation is the urge for justice, especially when you don’t see it in the real world around you.

  7. Very true, BK. Thanks.

    Re: my son, the school in question is at one of the city’s busier intersections. He very wisely took a moment and started with the closest possibility and worked his way outward. I’ve had a couple of different calls from him that have started with him saying, “First off, S, is okay…”

  8. A funny ending to that set up is a happy ending, indeed. I’m glad your granddaughter was safe.

    The unsolved missing child case that has haunted our area is the Jennifer Short case of August 15, 2002. Her parents were murdered in their home, and their little girl was gone. It took six weeks to find her body 45 minutes away, and her killer was never found. Both police departments, two state SBIs, and the FBI have never given up on this cold case, and neither have any of the TV and newspaper reporters who have followed this story. Here’s the beginning of a six-part detailed podcast if anyone is interested.

    https://myfox8.com/podcasts/who-killed-jennifer-short/who-killed-jennifer-short-the-podcast-episode-1-a-brutal-crime/

    • Thank you, Marilynn. That is a horrible story. That area looks to be somewhat off of the beaten path so I can understand why it took a while to find her body. Still…someone knows something. Hopefully her entire family will find peace.

  9. Hi Joe,

    The possibility that your child has gone missing has to be one of the worst fears that a parent or grand parent can have. I can well imagine the anxiety and fear one and all felt, from your son to the school staff, especially in light of Kelly Ann Prosser’s murder.

    My current work-in-progress, “Goblin Day,” is a modern day fantasy involving the kidnapping of twins from a foster home by supernatural creatures and my pair of human sorcerer-investigators who have to find the children. I’d drafted about twenty thousands words at a writer’s retreat last year, added some words afterwards, but then had to put the draft aside. When I came back to it, I realized one things lacking in it was the urgency and emotion that the investigators, especially my lead, a young woman, would feel in trying to rescue the children, even as they went about it in a professional manner. I’ve started a new draft, keeping that foremost in my mind.

    You told a gripping little story today, and used that as a fitting springboard into a tragic tale, something for all of us to keep in mind. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Dale. Re: urgency…the clock starts ticking very loudly the moment the child goes missing and begins chiming when someone realizes it. I may tell a story about another occurrence of a child gone missing, this one involving a large, guitar-playing rodent that sells pizza and game tokens…

      Good luck with your WIP, Dale! Let us know how it goes!

  10. Chilling recollections, Joe! I am supremely glad yours had a happy ending!
    It was strange to read this, as we here in northern Texas and neighboring Oklahoma are reeling from a recent legal decision.
    I mention this because, at its heart, is the case of a child, murdered under the most horrific of situations. The victim’s story has been lost beneath the onslaught of legal outcry over land rights reverting back to native possession. I hate to think that something this momentous had to come from such tragedy, all because the perpetrator sought to escape his fate by hiding under the hoped-for security of federal justice versus tribal.
    The article I’ve linked is indicative of most on the subject: the details of perpetrator & victim are buried under ramifications of land ownership, but if you’re curious, it’s a place to start.
    Strange times, my friends.
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/07/09/us/supreme-court-oklahoma-m

    • Thank you, Cyn. I did a bit of a deep dig on this case yesterday. It could probably be summarized as “A deal is a deal.” That aside, the perp in this case…well, I will just say that the “Rule of 5” might apply here, that being if one is caught doing an evil thing or things, multiple the known number times five to get an accurate account of their similar misdeeds.

  11. Apologies. That link in my initial comment broke for some reason!
    If you are at all curious, google McGirt v Oklahoma.

  12. Thank God that your granddaughter was safe.

    I have been reading about the current cases of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Native American and Canadian First Nations women who are disappearing–completely disappearing. There seems to be no clue as to why that is happening.

    I weep for their families. I can’t even begin to use the events in a fictional way.

    Several years ago now, I caught on to the the work of Dave Paulides, a retired law enforcement officers and business executive. He ran across the phenomenon of thousands of people disappearing in America over the decades. His work is far enough along that he has tracked many of the disappearances to be able to establish areas where clusters of people disappear, and he has shown that, for unexplained reasons, the mid-section of the nation, from Texas on north to the border, is relatively free of such disappearances. But in states either side of those areas, to the oceans in both directions, many, many people simply disappear. A lot of those disappearances occur in National forests and parks, and the federal administrations of those areas simply refuse to talk about the matter. One administrator has claimed that the forestry and parks services don’t even keep statistics about such disappearances. An infuriating thing is, one statistician–I can’t find his name anymore–has concluded that the disappearances are not disappearances at all. He thinks the people missing are really just a matter of bad numbers.

    I’d like for him to talk to the families of these missing ones about what his bad numbers mean to those whose loved ones have vanished.

    I fear, as you note, that these disappearances are the result of evil.

    • I’ve heard people speculate that those people who disappear in the woods were taken by Bigfoot or some other unknown predator. At first you laugh, but then you hear stories … like the family that bought a house that backed up to some woods in the Northwest. The living room had a huge floor to ceiling window. The little girl was playing in the living room, and came running to her mom saying, “That monster is watching me.” The mom went and looked, and there was this huge gorilla thing sitting in the trees, watching the little girl. He had an injured leg and walked with a limp, and had already eaten all of their chickens. The family was terrified to let their daughter play outside, and sold the house and got out of there.

      • Kessie, thanks for that story. One question…who got to shovel the room out after Mom went and looked? I would have taken up residence at an Embassy Suites until the sale closed. I don’t laugh at those stories at all. We don’t know everything.

      • Interesting to me, Kessie, is that Dave Paulides, whom I mentioned earlier, spearheaded a project looking into bigfoots, before he discerned the phenomenon of disappearing people.

        People of all stripe have tried to pressure him into speculating what is behind these disappearances. Their own theories range from alien abductions to bigfoot ambushes, and attacks by cryptid creatures and supernatural causes. He has not bowed to those pressures because he says he just does not know.

        The whole thing is very frightening to me.

    • Jim, I’m glad you mentioned this. My understanding — and I may be wrong — is that there have been accounts of Native girls and women going missing in the northwest U.S. up through Canada for over the last century. At least. I also understand that no records of the reported disappearances are kept. The supposed reason for this is that life on the reservation is hard and that some women simply leave on their own accord for what is hopefully a better life in Portland, Seattle, or Vancouver. I somehow doubt this. Something wicked this way comes, indeed. Thanks for the reminder.

    • My dad told me about a woman he knew that disappeared like that. It happened near the Gearheart Wilderness Area of south central Oregon. My dad and this woman’s husband were working for a logging company just outside of the wilderness area. The woman brought her husband lunch from their nearby camp, visited awhile, and the left for camp, less than a mile away. She never reached the camp. No search found her or any remains. My mother made that trip numerous times that summer and never encountered a problem. Boggles the mind how an adult can disappear without any trace and remain missing for decades.

      • Thanks, Cecilia. There are a some additional issues which occur when dealing with adults, especially since adults if they so desire can just…disappear. Then it is up to law enforcement to decide whether foul play is involved or otherwise. We have a disappearance in my little town that is attracting attention right now. I have my own ideas about what happened — as do many others — but who is to say?

  13. Fascinating post. Thank you.
    .
    I remember when I was in kindergarten in Alliance, Ohio, walking the three block to and from school every day all by myself. I’ve often asked myself if parents today are overprotective of their kids, paranoid. I do believe that this is the case, but I find myself being no less protective of my own.
    .
    I was walking home from kindergarten one day, I remember very clearly, a beat up station wagon rolled to a stop near me. The man inside called to me. He offered me a ride home. “I’m a friend of your dad’s”, he said. I had never seen this man or this car before in my six-year-old life. I remember being afraid. I remember I said nothing. I just put my head down and kept walking, fast. It ended there, but had I not been walking on a residential street with many houses around me, it may not have.

    • Carl, thank you for that story. It certainly had a happy ending. I’m glad that you did not get into that car.

      By the time my youngest child was old enough to go walking by herself children were carrying their own phones. She was at a park with some friends when a guy came up and asked her/them to help find his dog, who he claimed had run off. My daughter said, as she had been taught, “Sure! Let me call my dad. He’s a policeman. He’ll help us.” The guy turned around and walked/ran away. The bad guys are everywhere.

  14. This got me thinking about how to use such things in a story, since it gets a powerful response and it comes out of left field. While the old, “Little Timmy fell down a well. Run for help, Lassie!” schtick is good, the one I like best is to have a hunt for a missing child disrupt the execution of The Perfect Crime by an unrelated set of criminals.

    There are some delicious possibilities here, including having The Perfect Criminals be the heroes of the piece, or having our main character, a detective, stumble over one set of criminals while pursuing the other, and either rescue the child while ignoring the Crime of the Century, or solving them both through sheer skill, or solving them both in a bumbling, Inspector Clouseau manner.

    Not to mention that the abductor might be intercepted and perhaps eaten by something unworldly, to the great satisfaction of the readers, only to whisk the child away to someplace dire. Our Hero, piecing the clues together, has his feelings hurt when no one believes that the SWAT team needs to go through the portal in the old outhouse, and has to rescue the child alone. A bad time is had by all. How can one go wrong?

    But it also occurs to me that we can torment our readers by matter-of-factly setting our stories before the Eighties, when children were expected to be playing around the neighborhood without supervision until the street lights came on.

    • Robert, thank you for so generously sharing your ideas, particularly the one dealing with the outhouse portal. As for the wheels coming off in the 1980s…agreed. There were still dangers — parents warned their kids not to hang around public restrooms or get into a car with a stranger — but generally one could play outside in the evening without fear and with caution. Now, every place is safe until it isn’t.

      • In my series, a woman has premonitions of child abductions. Of course, those are unreliable evidence of a crime and no one will listen to her. So, of course she intervenes at great risk to herself and rescues the child. Not all criminals go down easily. I took great satisfaction in devising the demise/and or/ arrest of the pedophiles.

        My heroine didn’t have a magic portal. That would have made it much easier, even if it was in an outhouse/port a potty. 😉

  15. It is testimony to our greatest fears that this reply list is so long. As a mother and grandmother, I can’t abide dwelling on this horrible stuff. If I were a murderer (and we’ve all imagined that, I’ll bet) my first target would be one of these 😈. I once threw King’s CUJO on the wall because the dog was after the four-year-old in the car. (One of my sons was four years old at the time.) After your story, that dog is looking pretty good.

    • Thanks, Nancy. I had the same reaction to the same book, as well as to King’s Pet Sematary, for entirely different reasons. I’ve since reached the conclusion that the worst monsters walk on two legs, not on four.

  16. That’s indeed chilling, Joe. I remember how I felt when I got off the high school bus and was walking up the lane to go home when a car slowly drove past on the main road and the driver beckoned me to come and go with him. He motioned with his head. It’s really scary. It must be far worse now. Thanks for the information link. —- Suzanne

  17. Thank you, Suzanne. It might be obvious but I’ll say it anyway…I am so glad you did not get in that car. Be well.

  18. The first book in my series deals with child kidnappings and murders. Amid the sad stories, I took encouragement from organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They do a wonderful job coordinating Amber Alerts with local law enforcement, along with a host of other services. Their website depicts both missing kids, kids at risk, and those who have been rescued and returned to their families.

    As a young girl, I was too often approached by shady characters, but bless my mother, she instructed my sister and I on what to do. Run home and tell her. We did, and she followed up on every incident.

    However, it is sad and terrifying to read of children snatched from their yards and their beds.

    Intersting post as always, Joe.

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