Last Updated on February 1, 2023 by Ben Oakley
Three boys entered a cave in Missouri and disappeared forever, in a tale involving a mad doctor, a ghost, and a labyrinthine cave system. They became known as the Lost Boys of Hannibal.
READ THE FULL STORY IN BIZARRE TRUE CRIME VOLUME 11.
They Disappeared in the Cave State.
Despite being the state with the second highest number of caves – Tennessee is the first – Missouri is often known as the cave state. In fact, there are over 7,000 of them!
The cave systems were discovered at the turn of the 19th Century and were partially mapped over the next hundred years. On 10th May 1967, two brothers and their friend vanished in the caves.
Joey Hoag, 13, his brother Billy, 11, and their friend Craig Dowell, 14, decided to explore what would become known as Murphy’s Cave in Hannibal, Missouri – and they never returned.
The Caves Were Exposed By Groundworks on Highway 79.
The cave entrance was around a metre in diameter and had been exposed after construction teams blasted away some of the ground when building Highway 79.
They hadn’t put a danger or warning sign up to repel adventurous boys. The construction team covered up the entrance at a later date, despite the mayor ordering they should be kept open.
This led some later researchers to suspect the construction company were covering up an accident to save their own skin.
A Schoolteacher Saw Them Heading to the Caves.
The three friends had visited the caves a day earlier but were warned by their parents not to head there due to the risks involved.
Despite being grounded, the boys met up after school and decided to head to the cave. They took shovels and torches with them as they would normally do when exploring the region.
One of their schoolteachers spotted the three of them heading towards the Highway 79 construction site a couple of hours before they were reported missing.
It Became the Largest Cave Search in U.S. History.
When their parents learned the boys had taken torches and shovels from the homes, they feared they had gone back to the caves.
A large search was put together involving local residents, professional spelunkers and professional search teams. Those who entered the caves reached all the areas they could but found no trace of the boys.
Realising they needed additional support, the local search team called in the National Guard. Together, they searched the local rivers and woods but had no success. The missing boys became known as the Lost Boys of Hannibal.
Abandoned Properties Were Searched.
The story reached the national press and the Lost Boys of Hannibal became headline news. Which naturally caused sightings to come flooding in – including from psychics.
Many psychics told the same story, that the boys would be found in an abandoned house. This led to many of the older properties, outhouses, and abandoned structures around Hannibal being searched.
No trace of the boys or their tools were found anywhere near the properties. When the search started to wind down, rumours of a mystery man began spreading.
READ THE FULL STORY IN BIZARRE TRUE CRIME VOLUME 11.
A Mystery Man Joined the Search.
It wasn’t uncommon for out-of-towners to join a search but this mystery man had come out of nowhere and vanished just as quickly.
It was deemed possible the boys hadn’t gone into the caves and instead visited the woods. Which led local residents to inform police of a mystery man who would spend most of his time in the woods.
The same man was often seen standing on the clifftop near the construction site overlooking the caves. He was witnessed joining the search but vanished soon after.
A Researcher Suggested John Wayne Gacy Had Killed Them.
One of the reasons why the story has persisted throughout true crime history, is not only because they are still listed as missing, but that documentarian Franki Cambeletta suggested something more nefarious.
He claimed the boys may have been abducted by an opportunistic serial killer who may have been the mystery man. He went as far as saying that John Wayne Gacy could have been involved.
Gacy killed 33 boys and young men from 1972 to 1978. At the time of the Lost Boys of Hannibal disappearances, he was living near Chicago’s main airport. It was only 300 miles away and he was known to have visited Hannibal on occasion.
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A New Cave Was Later Found at the Site.
In 2006, when construction workers returned to carry out remedial work on Highway 79, they uncovered new cave entrances and called in experts.
A new team of cave explorers went inside and mapped the new system but found no traces of the Lost Boys of Hannibal. Some locals were hoping they would at least find the remnants of the shovels.
The fact a new cave was discovered as recently as 2006 shows how much of underground Missouri remains unexplored.
A Mad Doctor Once Owned the Caves.
In 1840, Joseph Nash McDowell, purchased the Missouri caves and carried out illegal experiments on human corpses. When his 14-year-old daughter, Amanda, died, he took her body into the caves, believing he could talk to spirits.
He put her body in a large glass container of alcohol and hung it from the ceiling of the caves. Before he died two years later, he became known as the Mad Doctor.
The ghost of Amanda is said to haunt the caves to this day. No trace of the Lost Boys of Hannibal have ever been found. As their bodies remain unaccounted for, they remain listed as missing persons.
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