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Hoag,Bill and Joey Howell,Craig May 10 1967; Hannibal, Missouri 14,13,10 yrs
Topic Started: Apr 22 2006, 07:04 AM (3,465 Views)
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Cave found at school site

No connection to missing boys

April 22, 2006


A construction crew working at the site of the new Stowell Elementary School on Missouri 79 has uncovered the entrance to a small cave. However, this is not expected to cause any delay in construction of the school. Nor is it expected to cause any problem with construction of the relocated Fulton Avenue, which will go over the cave entrance.

The discovery did cause a lot of excitement among local people, who were reminded of the tragedy that occurred in this area 39 years ago. This was when Missouri 79 was under construction, and three local boys disappeared and were never found.

The missing boys were Craig Dowell, 14, and brothers Bill Hoag, 10, and Joey Hoag, 13. They were last seen in late afternoon May 10, 1967. There were indications they planned to explore part of Murphy's Cave, an entrance that was uncovered when Missouri 79 was under construction. After they disappeared, thousands of people looked for them, including speleological organizations and rescue units, but they were never found.

Nothing involving the boys was found in the cave that was uncovered on Thursday, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation, which brought an expert to Hannibal Friday to explore it.

During a press conference Friday at the construction site, Kirk Juranas, MoDOT Northeast District engineer, said regarding the missing boys, "there was nothing like that whatsoever.

"There is a history here," Juranas said. "There were three children that lived very close to this site. We know there is a local concern about those kids. We just need to be open and honest and share all the information we have, so people can trust we are doing the right thing."

The cave entrance will be temporarily closed for the weekend, and early next week MoDOT will bring archeologists to study the cave.

Jill Janes, superintendent of Hannibal public schools, said there was speculation about where the boys disappeared. "I'm just glad that MoDOT is taking precautions and looking at all angles to make sure that the cave is alive or a cave that is not alive, and that they follow all of their rules."

Janes added that regarding the new school's construction, "it's not going to hinder our progress, because the school is being built north of here. This is affecting Fulton Avenue, so the city probably is a little more concerned, but I don't think it is going to slow the project down that much. It is just an inspection of the cave."

Martin Meyer of Architechnics, who designed the new school building, agreed that the cave's discovery will not affect the school construction. He said it could delay construction of the road (Fulton Avenue) site, "but not the school. We have the building pad clear." He added that the road site will not be changed.

Juranas said, "until we get this lined out, we'll have to consider what we do to move forward with the city street. But we've not at that point yet."

Because an arrow painted on the cave wall was found Friday by a MoDOT specialist, MoDOT is bringing in archeologists to check its significance, Juranas said. "We have talked to the school district and contractor and will work together to make sure we keep the area safe. Certainly this feature we found can fill up with water and would be very dangerous for anybody.

"Our next step is to have some archeologists come in from MoDOT and see what they find and they will check the significance of what was found, as far as the arrow and those kinds of things.

"They will make a recommendation to us," Juranas said. "Our intention is to be good stewards of the environment and keep everybody informed of where we are."

Marissa Brown, MoDOT community relations manager, reported Missouri 79 is not affected by the cave, because "the (cave) ceiling is strong enough that it wouldn't affect it." She said the main passage of the cave goes under the highway, with a shorter passage going in another direction.

Juranas agreed that, "we haven't had any problems with the highway. The roof of this structure looks like it is pretty thick."

He explained that in Missouri, "it is not unusual to find a cavern that has been washed out between rocks. We find them from time to time. That is what happens when you start digging in the earth. For this particular one, I have to wait and see what the archeologists say."

Biologist finds arrow drawn on cave wall

Alan Leary, a biologist and MoDOT senior environmental specialist, arrived Friday to visit the newly-found cave. "Most of it is tall enough you can walk, but we did have to crawl over mud," Leary said. "It is a tall cave, just not real long." It was hard to guess how long it is, he said, "but it is probably not more than 50 feet. Very little of it would be considered total darkness, which is some people's definition of a cave. But because of the cave formations, I would call it a cave and not a rock shelter."

Jamie Page, Hannibal city engineer, added his description of the cave. "There are some spaces that look like they might be 6-foot wide and about 10-foot tall. Then there are little spurs that go out in different directions that have gotten silted in from water over time washing through there."

When asked if there were any signs of people or animals, Page said, "not really. I didn't even see any kind prints from coons or anything that could be in there. There's a lot of mud and a tree root actually down in there pretty far, but they'll grow through about anything. Some of the rock is fractured a little bit, but that's why they have the professionals here to look at it and see if that's anything to be concerned about."

Leary said the cave is "probably at times linked with a larger cave system, but it takes on a lot of water, it's obvious in there. It's taken on a lot of water from the surface. Some of the passages might even fill all the way up with water.

"There wasn't very much cave life," Leary added. "There were some cave crickets and a couple of beetles, and then there was like some snails and stuff that came in there from the surface, that washed in with the rain water. Not much cave life I guess, because as far as we know there wasn't an open passage here until yesterday (Thursday) for things to get in and out. You can tell some of the walls are moist now, even though it doesn't look like you've gotten rain up here in a while.

"It definitely takes on a lot of water in a heavy rain," Leary said. "On one of the side passages that we found way in the back there are some cave formations, some speleothems from the ceiling, and it looks from that like it fills up with water, because any of the larger ones have broken off and they are down on the floor of the cave.

"In that same passage we found somebody has painted an arrow on the wall. There's like a circle, and then a line, and then an arrow."

He did not touch the arrow to learn if it was paint or charcoal, but Leary said it was not spray-painted.

"It points back to the end of the passage with the formations. It would seem as though that passage used to go further, because it would have made sense to point an arrow 20 feet from the end.

"You can see the end of the passage. ...Obviously there used to be an opening somewhere, because somebody has been in there before, and that somebody drew an arrow to find their way back out. But that passage is the one where I said it looks like it probably fills totally up with water."

As of Friday, no other entrance had been found, Leary said.

Finding a new cave is not surprising in Missouri, he said. "The state has about 6,500 known caves and this might make 6,501." He added that each one is different.


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Thursday, April 27, 2006 Mail to a friend Printer Friendly Version

Cave explorer, Rita Worden works with two men from the Missouri
Department of Transportation to measure part of Stowell Cave
Wednesday. In all, the cave measured 213 feet, and the team checking
it out discovered that it linked to a second cave discovered nearby.
Both cave entrances will be filled and construction a new Fulton
Avenue entrance will resume. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)

By Ann Pierceall

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

HANNIBAL, Mo. — Air inside Stowell cave was heavy with the scent of
moist earth and damp rock as a group of cave experts crawled into the
mouth of the structure.

Working their way down its steep, muddy grade into a narrow tunnel
that serves as an entrance Wednesday, the group focused on its
mission: To map the recently discovered cave, determine its
biological content and find out if a 39-year mystery could be solved.

Dave Sylvester, assistant district engineer for the Missouri
Department of Transportation, said the decision to bring in expert
cavers was done to record the cave's characteristics for those who
will never see it and ensure there was no sign of three boys who went
missing in 1967.

Brothers Joey and Billy Hoag and Craig Dowell, ages 11 to 14,
disappeared 39 years ago in May during the construction of Mo. 79.
For days, searchers combed the caves scattered throughout the area
trying to find them.

But Sylvester said no remains were found during Wednesday's effort.

"There's a lot of historical background in this area and the children
who were lost 39 years ago," Sylvester said. "Obviously there's a lot
of passion about what the area means and it's always something we've
kept in the back of our minds as we've worked around here."

Craig Dowell's half-brother, Bill Dean of Quincy, Ill., was on site
at the Stowell cave Wednesday morning before the cavers arrived. Dean
said he was there "just to make sure they

do look in the caves, make sure nothing's in there.

"It's just the uncertainty. That's the hard part — not knowing what
happened. It's been 40 years and they just disappeared off the face
of the earth. There's a few of us left that want some answers," he

Sylvester said the roof over the "pocket" cave was collapsed because
the ceiling had been "very unsafe." The two entrances to Stowell cave
will be filled.

Alan Leary, MoDOT environmental specialist, led the cavers. He said
the state tries to do a "biological inventory" of caves as often as

Called in to do that were Jim Kaufmann, a Missouri Department of
Conservation cave ecologist; Rita Worden, a cave expert and paramedic
from the University of Missouri-Columbia; and Jeffrey Crews,
president of the Missouri Speleological Society.

Kaufmann said the exploration was a good opportunity because there's
little recorded cave biological data for this area.

The cave was discovered Friday on Hannibal's south side as a
construction crew worked on the new approach to Fulton Avenue. The
road work is part of the $8 million construction project for the new
Stowell Elementary School.

"We're satisfied with what the cavers found today and with what we
needed to do with the environmental aspects," Sylvester said. He said
Bleigh Construction can resume work.

Two other apparent caves were later found, but after Wednesday's
exploration the spelunkers determined one connected to the original
cave, and the other was more of a pocket.

For more information check out MoDOT's Web site at www.modot.org or
www.modot.org/northeast. A map of the cave will be posted in the next
couple of weeks.

Contact Staff Writer Ann Pierceall at apierceall@... or (573)

"If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth." The late, great Roberto Clemente.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only.
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Web posted April 27, 2006

Widen Search For Boys Rescuers Now Doubt Three Youths Are Trapped in
By Herb Powell and Howard Hoffmaster

May 12, 1967

From the archives of
The Hannibal Courier-Post

Rescuers gave up hope early this morning that three boys missing
since Wednesday afternoon (May 10, 1967) would be found in Murphy's
Cave and they widened their search for Joe Hoag, 13, William Hoag,
11, and Craig Dowell, 14.

Working in the glare of flood lights, workmen opened a new entrance
into a tunnel blocked by a landslide and after digging out the rubble
and finding nothing, a spokesman announced that it was now almost
certain that the boys were not in the cave.

The new entrance to the cave was punched through after midnight, 30
feet north of the opening that the boys reportedly used when they
began exploring the cave at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Rescuers are speculating that after taking a short exploration trip
into the cave, the boys may have left for another cave or wooded area.

Bill Karras, national president of the Speleological Society and
chief of the national rescue squad took charge of the rescue
operations after arriving in Hannibal with a five-man rescue crew
around 11:30 p.m. last night.

The new opening was widened with a backhoe furnished by the McIntyre
Construction Company.

Mayor Harry Musgrove requested that the National Guard begin a search
this morning from the Universal Atlas Cement Plant at Ilasco north
along the river to a point beyond the cave area.

Gov. Warren Hearnes concurred in the request and ordered the National
Guard company D to join in the search.

Musgrove reacted in response to a request from the Hoag family, which
has been unanimous in feeling that the boys are not in the cave, but
perhaps in other caves uncovered by construction work or even perhaps
in the several pockets of wood and brush land around the cave area.

The Hoag family - mother, father, five remaining brothers and four
sisters - were unwilling to standby while others searched and they
organized their own search party. They covered the hills Thursday

At 9 a.m. today, the search for the lads had narrowed down to one
very small passage, which one "cave man" explained could not be
entered unless by someone "driven by fear or panic."

This passage was explored as far as possible and a digger is to be
used to open the outer wall on the north side of the new channel to
look into it.

The searchers felt certain, however, that if the boys are found in
the narrow grotto, approximately 14 feet from the surface, they would
not be found alive. There is no indication that the boys are in the

One rescuer, James Mroczkowski, 18, of St. Louis, became ill this
morning from exposure and fatigue and was taken to Levering Hospital.
Mroczkowski requested to be returned to the search area within one-
half hour of hospitalization, but rescue officials ordered that he be
kept at Levering.

Since the Murphy Cave area has been so thoroughly searched by now,
rescue workers feel that the brushy area south of the cave might
yield some clues, and the group has spread out into that area.

There are still some caves in the area which have not been searched.

Musgrove and State Representative Harold Volkmer were making
arrangements this morning for hot meals to be served to the searchers.

Captain Gorton of the Salvation Army thanked all the following firms
for their donations of food and drinks to workers at the cave the
last two nights: National Food Store, Bluff City Dairy, Pastry Box,
White Rose Diner, Pennewell's Oil Co. and the A&P.

During the digging last night some chalk was found, but could not be
linked to the missing boys since the Mark Twain Emergency Squad,
which initiated rescue operations, had used chalk to mark passageways
in the cave-riddled bluff, located in the Birch and Walnut street
area on the city's southside.

Rescue workers found sticks of dynamite in the area of the new
opening, but Karras reported that they were expended charges and
presented no danger.

R.S. Bill Jr., president of the Volunteer Mercy Corps., of Houston,
Texas, also arrived this morning to aid in rescue operations. Bill
was responsible for the rescue of Theresa Fregia, 2 1/2, of Votaw,
Texas, on March 18 after she had been trapped in an 8-inch concrete
pipe for 9 1/2 hours.

Groups assisting in the search are the Hondo Grotto Underground
Rescue, from St. Louis; the Chouteau Grotto Rescue, from Columbia and
hundreds of volunteer workers, some of whom are youths very familiar
with the caves and tunnels of the area.

Company D of the Hannibal National Guard, 175th MP Battalion,
assisted rescuers in controlling the crowds.

Two police dogs, "Nemo" handled by Jack Floyd of the Hannibal police
department, and "Ricter" handled by patrolman William Klaeys of the
St. Louis Police, were taken to the cave and both dogs went to the
side area and began scratching the mound of dirt and rock. This was
the reason the new entrance was made - to get behind the slide area.

Search for the three youths began Wednesday night by the Mark Twain
Emergency Squad, under the direction of Commander Bob Harrison and
Vice-Commander Bill Bridges.

Operations were taken over yesterday by the Hondo Grotto group from
St. Louis, under the control of Brother Marvin, of St. Mary's High
School in St. Louis. Brother Marvin and the Hondo Grotto were
replaced by Karras and his team from Washington, D.C., this morning.

R.S. Bill Jr., of the Volunteer Mercy Corps took no active part in
the rescue attempts.

The Hoag brothers and the Dowell boy were last seen by Lynn Strube,
14, of 405 Smith, and John Janes, 13, 1125 Sierra, Wednesday
afternoon as the trio entered the cave.

Lynn said the youths were carrying only flashlights and a shovel and
had no food.

John accompanied the other boys into the cave for 18 feet, and then
returned when the trio turned left at one of the hundreds of tunnels
that snake through the hill.

Lynn and John both said the Hoag brothers and the Dowell youth had
been planning an exploratory trip into the cave and that all three
were used to cave trips.

Lynn said that many youths in the area have explored the caves for as
long as three hours and that he feels certain that if the trio was in
the cave they would be frightened, but not panicky.

Lynn added that the boys in the area are taking the disappearance of
their three friends "pretty hard" but that he doubted that the cave
exploration would cease.

When asked if he planned to keep up the hobby of cave searching, Lynn
said he would definitely go in again, only he would take a ball of
string to find his way out again.

Other boys have been lost in Murphy's Cave up to seven hours, Lynn
reported, but they always manage to find their way back out.

At one time in the rescue attempt, five teams of three men each were
inside the cave, mapping out the four miles tunnels and scouring
every crack and room. The cave is only approximately four feet high
at the tallest point, which meant that rescuers were forced to crawl
around on their hands and knees for hours on end.

In some cases, they had to literally walk on the walls, because the
bottoms of some of the tunnels were too small to put their feet.

Early yesterday afternoon, many rescuers were saying that it seems
highly unlikely that the boys were in the cave.

Joey Hoag is in the words of his family "a scientific nut," who likes
to poke into dark corners, climb hills, take long walks - anything
that will bring him close to his apparently limitless interests.

Joey's curiosity led him, in company with his 11-year-old brother,
Billy, and a playmate, 14-year-old Edwin Craig Dowell, into one of
the numerous caves under Hannibal, Mo., Mark Twain's home town,

The trio was last seen entering a new entrance to Murphy's Cave,
carved out by a construction crew building a road through the south
side of Hannibal.

Joey and Craig Dowell are eighth graders at Hannibal Junior High.
They seem to be interested in just about everything.

Billy, in the words of his sister, Lynn, has no particular interest.
He just likes to do what Joey does.

Joey owns a refractor telescope, which he makes an informed study of
the stars. He knows about astrophysics - he wants to be the first man
on the moon.

Joey also likes snakes, geology, and he likes caves.

Craig, according to his mother, is crazy about bicycles. And just
about everything else. He's also a bit stubborn.

"We've talked to him, talked to him, talked to him, about going into
these caves. But he's still a boy," said Mrs. Helen Dowell, a cook at
the Becky Thatcher Restaurant.

Joey and Billy have five brothers and four sisters. Craig has three
brothers, ranging in age from nine to 23.

Billy Hoag also is a bit stubborn. He was punished Tuesday night for
going into Murphy's Cave, but he went in again Wednesday.


"If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth." The late, great Roberto Clemente.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only.
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Appears these boys has still not been found..
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Hart: Hannibal boys' disappearance brought back to life in book
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Published: 1/19/2010 | Updated: 1/19/2010

THE STORY fascinates and sparks debate more than 40 years later -- the disappearance of three Hannibal boys on May 10, 1967.

C.W. Stewart calls it "the most tragic event to have occurred to the city of Hannibal." It's taken him many years, but he recently self-published a book called "A Sorrow of the Heart" about the mystery.

Stewart conducted interviews with former police officers, investigators, local residents and others who took part in the search. Stewart remembers watching news reports about the boys vanishing, and the case just seemed to stick with him.

"I'm not a conspiracy person," he says. "But there are some things mentioned in the book simply because they are there."

Stewart is a retired administrator and college fundraiser who has worked for Kemper Military School, Culver-Stockton College and Hannibal-LaGrange College. He says he has lived all over the world and calls Quincy home, though he resides in Hannibal now.

Craig Dowell and brothers Bill and Joey Hoag disappeared on that May afternoon in 1967. They were planning to explore Murphy's Cave, as the entrance was uncovered due to construction along Mo. 79 south of town.

Their disappearance prompted a massive search and national media coverage, but the boys were never found. Many, including Stewart, believe they are entombed under Mo. 79.

Stewart says he's found eerie parallels to Mark Twain's stories about Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. "There are 60 quotes from Twain's books which pertain to this story," Stewart says. "I put 25 of them in this book."

Stewart brings up instances of disappearances and murders in Quincy around the same time. Coincidence?

"I know that Paul Harvey once called Quincy, Illinois, the 'missing persons capital of the United States,' " Stewart claims.

Through the years, Stewart has collected articles and information about the disappearances. He says he interviewed people involved with searching for the boys and heard many stories about what might have happened.

Stewart says ground-penetrating radar might eventually locate the boys. "There may be a time when we have sensitive enough equipment. But I doubt it," he says.

The fact the boys simply vanished into thin air is the most fascinating and frustrating part of the story, he says.

"There was never a single trace. Nothing," Stewart says. "Outside of people saying they saw the boys going up that way, there was never a single trace, and that's compelling."

He's published about 1,000 copies of A Sorrow Of The Heart, and it's available at Java Jive in Hannibal and Great Debate Books in Quincy.

"I don't feel like I'm a good writer, but I do have excellent taste in topics," he says with a laugh.

-- rhart@whig.com/221-3370


"If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth." The late, great Roberto Clemente.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only.
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"If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth." The late, great Roberto Clemente.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only.
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‘I was surprised no one else had written it’
New book features Hannibal’s three lost boys

book cover for bev.jpg


It has been 43 years since three young Hannibal boys were lost to the cave systems on Hannibal's South Side. C.W. Stewart of Hannibal has a new book on the subject, which is now available at several Hannibal stores. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY/COURIER-POST

Hannibal Courier-Post
Posted Mar 21, 2010 @ 10:40 AM
Hannibal, MO — Although the tragedy that occurred in Hannibal on May 10, 1967, has never been solved, Charles (C.W.) Stewart decided to write a book about the disappearance of three young boys, who were never found. His book is titled, “A Sorrow of the Heart, the Story of Hannibal’s lost three little boys.”
Craig Dowell, 14, William Hoag, 10, and Joe Hoag, 10, disappeared between 4:20 p.m. and 5 p.m. on May 10, 1967, on Hannibal’s South Side.
They were presumed to have died in Murphy’s Cave in a cave-in that occurred during the construction of state Highway 79, because they had told people they were going to explore a cave near the highway project.
On the day they disappeared, the boys had told firefighters at a local fire station that they intended to enter Murphy Cave. They were last seen near a cave, carrying flashlights and a shovel.
Their disappearance brought hundreds of spelunkers to Hannibal to search the caves. The futile search continued for 38 days.
Stewart explained his book was written because he was not aware that any book about this had been published. “I was surprised no one else had written it,” Stewart said.
“I was about 25 when it happened. I have always been interested in the story. I started collecting information when it happened.” He was living in Quincy, Ill., at the time.
“I had no idea when I started this project I would ever live in Hannibal,” he said. However, Hannibal is now his home, which made it easy for him find people with whom to discuss the boys’ disappearance.

For more on this story see the weekend edition, March 20-21 of the Courier-Post.

Copyright 2010 Hannibal Courier-Post. Some rights reserved

"If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth." The late, great Roberto Clemente.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only.
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After 45 years, mystery surrounding missing boys remains

Sunday, June 3, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

BY DOMINIC GENETTI/Hannibal Courier-Post

HANNIBAL — Missouri's Route 79 is a beautiful roadway that cuts through the state's eastern hills and tiny, subtle towns.

It slithers and curves through the land just like the mighty Mississippi River. Adjacent to the deep muddy waters, it's the perfect route for the country's Great River Road. You could take it all the way down to New Orleans if you wanted to, and in Missouri it's quite picturesque for travelers making their way between the northeastern portions of the Show-Me State and the Greater St. Louis Metropolitan Area.

Motorists are always making their way along Route 79 at its origin, along the calm banks in Hannibal, and for many it's just a daily routine.

Yet there is a mystery on a portion of this roadway that hasn't been solved– a mystery as cold as a brisk Midwest winter. Some of the drivers may not know it, but a portion of Route 79 in Hannibal could be the final resting place of three missing boys.

Life in Hannibal was as it is today – relaxed. The sun shined brightly in the blue sky, and the temperature was very pleasant. The perfect weather for being outside. For Billy Hoag, 10, Joey Hoag, 13, it was more than perfect, because they had plans after school to go and do what they did best – exploring.

Hannibal's south side sits at the base of many high hills, and within those hills are a maze of many, many caves. Exploring the caves was something many of the local children did.

"They were so adventurous," said DeDe Hoag, the boys' older sister. "Billy, I'd say was a little bit more mischievous than Joey. Joey was a little more serious. He was into astrology and he was more grounded. Billy was a little stinker. He just had that red hair and those blue eyes and those freckles. He was an instigator, but not in a bad way."

The Hoags were a family of 11 children and were known around town. They owned Hoag's Tavern, a popular restaurant along Hannibal's Historic Main Street.

One Tuesday night, Billy and Joey came home covered in mud. A new Route 79 (the one that's there today)was being constructed , and the deep holes dug into the hillside and had revealed a maze of passageways which led into the caves. The Hoag brothers did some exploring, but were back home when they were expected to be. DeDe Hoag recalls her mother, Helen Hoag, scolding the boys to wash their clothes and stay away from the construction zone. Unexplored caves or not, she didn't want her children being somewhere they shouldn't.

Billy and Joey made plans to go caving and recruited some of their friends at A.D. Stowell Elementary School the next day. Craig Dowell, 14, agreed to go with them. It was Wednesday, May 10, 1967. Greg Henderson was one of the neighborhood boys invited to come along. He and Billy were close friends.

"Went to school, seen Billy, and he said, 'We're going caving tonight'," Henderson said. "I went home and planned on going... I get ready to go, and I don't even get 50 feet from the house. Grandma hollered supper's ready.'"

The cave exploration would have to wait. Henderson, along with Billy and other neighborhood boys, had Royal Ambassadors meetings at church Wednesday nights, and there wasn't enough time to do both.

Meanwhile, DeDe Hoag was at her family's house on Fulton Avenue.

"Mom and Dad left to go over to Buehlers Market to get some meat. Tim (DeDe's younger brother) was getting off the bus. Before Mom left, she hollered at Tim. She said, "Keep an eye on the boys (Billy and Joey) because of what they had done the night before,'" DeDe Hoag said. "Joey and Billy came home from school. They were there in the house, and Joey went through the hallway. He had on a T-shirt and jeans."

DeDe Hoag and Billy crossed paths in the house.

"Where are you going?" DeDe Hoag asked Billy.

"Just outside," Billy said.

"Don't leave the yard," she told him.

When their parents returned home and asked where Billy and Joey were, DeDe Hoag had no idea. Tim Hoagcouldn't account for his younger brothers either, so Helen Hoag sent he and DeDe Hoag out into the neighborhood to find them.

"Tim took off one way, I took off another way," DeDe Hoag said. "We hollered, we yelled."

Billy and Joey were nowhere to be found. Tim Hoag came back after doing a quick cave search of his own. He thought his brothers might be wandering in the unknown areas underground.

"Tim went in there to a certain degree, and once he got in there, there were so many mazes," DeDeHoag said.

Tim Hoag told his mother to call the Mark Twain Emergency Squad, and she did.

Over at the church, the Royal Ambassadors were meeting. Henderson found it odd that Billy wasn't there.

"We had a little bit of a meeting and went outside for some odd reason, and that's when we found out," Henderson said.

The Hoag brothers and Craig were missing.

Only after the last tree has been
cut down;
Only after the last fish has been
Only after the last river has been
Only then will you realize
that money cannot be eaten.
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The lost boys: Mississippi River town haunted by unsolved disappearance 50 years later
By Cristina Corbin Published May 23, 2017 Fox News

Late one afternoon in May 1967 three Missouri boys slipped through their backyards to do what they loved: explore a labyrinth of caves in Hannibal -- the hometown of Mark Twain -- as if they were re-enacting the adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

They were never seen again.

The unknown fate of the children -- Billy Hoag, 10, Joey Hoag, 13, and Craig Dowell, 14 -- is one of Hannibal's greatest mysteries, haunting residents of the small Mississippi River town for 50 years.

Did the boys die inside the sprawling underground Murphy's Cave where they were reportedly seen heading? Or were they met with a sinister fate?

An exhaustive search, which included spelunkers and FBI agents, yielded no clues.

"They disappeared without a trace," said 80-year-old Richard McHargue, who was a young local radio reporter when the boys disappeared.

"It was a traumatic experience for the locals here," McHargue said. "Even though this is the boyhood home of Mark Twain, we were not used to that kind of intense exposure."

"It took your breath away," he said.

On May 10, 1967, Joey Hoag stepped off the school bus outside his parents' home in Hannibal's Southside neighborhood where he was greeted by his 16-year-old sister, Debra "DeDe" Hoag. Billy was already inside the house, which he shared with his 10 siblings. Joey walked up to his bedroom and changed out of his school clothes.

The Hoag parents were shopping at a nearby meat market and DeDe was giving orders.

"I said, 'You stay in the yard now, you hear me?'" she recalled. "Billy didn’t answer."

The two brothers had ventured out the night before to the caves adjacent to Highway 79, which meandered through the land like the Mississippi River and which was under construction at the time. Workers were blasting through the earth as they built a new Route 79, leaving gaping holes in the hillside and exposing a network of passage ways leading into the caves.

"The night before, the boys had come home covered in red clay mud – they had been up on the road bed," DeDe told Fox News.

"Workers were blasting the old road and putting in a new one," she said. "Dad told them: 'Don’t you ever go into those holes again.'"

Whether the Hoag brothers and their neighborhood friend, Craig Dowell, entered Murphy's Cave is not known.

Witnesses reported seeing the trio walking in the direction of the cave, according to the Hannibal Courier-Post, and DeDe said flashlights and a homemade ladder were later found missing from the family home.

For the next 10 days, federal law enforcement and the national media descended upon Hannibal, a town of about 20,000 people at the time. Members from the National Speleological Society -- flown in from Washington on Presidential Jet 2 -- were also at the scene, according to archived reports from the Courier-Post.

Spelunkers made their way through Murphy's Cave, crawling through small spaces in the rock and mud looking for any sign of the boys.

"They mapped out that cave and they didn’t find anything," DeDe said.

The construction company, meanwhile, was immediately ordered by the mayor to keep the holes open, but workers sealed them only a few days after the disappearance, according to DeDe and her family.

"When they blasted those holes open, they didn’t put any kind of caution tape around them," DeDe said. "I think the boys got buried in one of the holes and I think someone from the construction company who ran the equipment knew that they had buried them."

With no sight of the boys in the caves, questions about their whereabouts grew even darker. Trains leaving Hannibal after 4:40 p.m. on May 10 were all searched for the boys, according to the Courier-Post. Speculation about a possible kidnapping spread throughout the town.

On May 12, the newspaper reported: "Mayor Harry Musgrove requested that the National Guard begin a search this morning from the Universal Atlas Cement Plant at Ilasco north along the river to a point beyond the cave area."

The paper also reported all kinds of tips: A lone sock thought to be Dowell's found in a quarry by members of the Mark Twain Emergency Squad and a red substance believed to be blood.

McHargue's son, Mike, was 8 years old when the boys disappeared. Now lieutenant of the Hannibal Police Department, the younger McHargue said, "It’s highly likely they got lost in a cave."

"They might have encountered a large pool of water down a slope," he said.

But, McHargue noted, "Under Missouri law, any missing person case is never closed. It stays open forever until it’s solved."

"Should we get a lead, we will investigate," he told Fox News.

For Dede Hoag, who lives three miles from the old caves, the anguish over her brothers soon turned into a chronic anxiety and claustrophobia she said she's lived with her entire adult life.

"When the boys disappeared, I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep," she said. "I used to think, 'How can I eat when they’re not eating? How can I put a blanket on myself when they don't have one?'"

Billy, red-haired and freckle-faced, was mischievous and a "funny little thing," she said. Joey was more serious, a science student often seen with a telescope he used to watch the stars.

Their void, DeDe said, is felt always.

"There isn't a day that goes by that there isn't something that makes me think about them," she said.
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