DEL HAVEN — Since Nov. 25, 1991, millions have seen Mark Himebaugh’s photo, now age-enhanced to show a red-haired, 27-year-old, but with that same beguiling, freckled grin his mother last saw shortly before 4 p.m. that day.
The 16-year-old case, considered a “non-family abduction,” continues to perplex Middle Township Police, N.J. State Police and the FBI.
Himebaugh’s image has appeared on Fox-TV’s “America’s Most Wanted,” on countless milk cartons and billboards, and his case has been entered into the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
To this day, no trace, other than Mark’s left sneaker, has been found, and that was about 75 yards from his Sun Ray Beach Road home.
On that same fateful day, there was a massive marsh fire across the street from the Himebaughs’ house.
His mother, Maureen, dropped Mark off at home and went to a garage, she wasn’t gone 15 minutes. She never saw him again.
When Mark disappeared, he was described as being a white male with red hair and blue eyes, 4 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 85 pounds. He was also taking medication.
He was last seen wearing a blue sweatshirt, gray jacket, gray pants and sneakers.
The case baffled investigators from the outset.
It has been classified in the category as other local missing person cases: Craig White, gone since 1989. William Gerald disappeared in 1978. Their bodies, likewise, have never been discovered.
How could an 11-year-old boy simply vanish from rural Del Haven?
As soon as the blackened marsh acreage cooled, over 200 volunteers fanned out in a massive search party. They swept every inch of ground for the boy.
Subsequently, trained canines were pressed into service; none found a scent.
An Essex County psychic, Dorothy Allison of Nutley, had similarly disheartening results locating Mark using a paranormal plan.
Since that chilling landmark day in 1991, Middle Township police chiefs, detectives and officers who worked the case came and went. All that remains is the thick missing person file on Mark Himebaugh.
The initial search was called off in early December 1991.
Mrs. Himebaugh never surrendered hope that her boy would come bounding up the front steps once again, and all would be well.
Himebaugh was a student at the Cape May County Special Services Alternative School. His father, Jody Himebaugh, termed him a “near genius.”
Originally, police asked that anyone with a videotape of the marsh fire contact them, in the hope that Himebaugh would be spotted on one of the frames.
He never appeared.
In a letter to the Herald on Dec. 11, 1991, Maureen Himebaugh and her family and Jody, and his family, wrote of the loss that seared their souls.
“A massive five-day air, sea, and land search uncovered nothing nor did the ensuing investigation,” they wrote.
“Some searchers were, at times, waist deep in cold, muddy water as they trudged through the meadows surrounding Mark’s home.
“The ‘not knowing’ is indeed very painful for our family to deal with. However, it is because of the sincere outpouring of concern including moral support, assurance of continuing searches, compassionate news coverage, and everyone’s earnest belief that Mark will be found, that we are able to keep up hope,” they wrote.
Also in December 1991, “Friends of Mark” was organized as a trust fund, which accepted donations in an effort to offer a reward if Mark was found. Chuck Knutson was chairman of the group.
In Atlantic City, heavyweight boxer Riddick Bowe dedicated a bout against Elijah Tillery to Mark’s return.
Bowe wore Himebaugh’s picture on his boxing robe and trunks at the Convention Hall bout watched by an estimated 17 million viewers.
Additionally, Bowe gave $15,000 to the reward fund, which brought the amount to $25,000 for Mark’s safe return.
Hopes rose in December 1991 after the FBI announced it was “aggressively” pursuing an individual in connection with Himebaugh’s disappearance. The lead led nowhere.
Mark’s brother, Matthew, 12, in 1991, took then Middle Township Juvenile Officer, now Capt. Scott Webster to various play forts where he and his brother spent time. Those searches, too, were fruitless.
At the time, the public was told that Mark’s left foot was recently healed from being broken, which may have led him to remove his sneaker, said his mother.
Temperatures during the first days of Mark’s disappearance dropped into the low 30s. Because of that, police were led to believe that if the boy was outside, it was likely he would not survive.
A State Police helicopter, equipped with infrared camera, to detect heat sources, swept over vast acres near the Himebaugh home. It found no trace of Mark.
The search included marshlands and forests in the vicinity between Del Haven and Villas and along Delaware Bay.
On the first anniversary of Mark’s disappearance, six State Troopers assisted Middle Township Police at a checkpoint on Bayshore Road near Cape May County Park South, where Himebaugh was last seen.
A composite sketch of a dark-haired man seen talking to Himebaugh prior to his disappearance was circulated, but to no avail.
In addition, on the first anniversary, a candlelight vigil was held at Cape May County Park South. Maureen cried as the Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” filled the night air.
In February 1992, Mark’s father wrote, “I’m going to venture to say that when Mark is found, Cape May County is probably going to have one of the grandest homecoming parties in its history.”
In that letter, Himebaugh asked for continued prayers for Mark’s safe return, “and for the strength I need to find him.”
“One thing positive is happening: Parents are definitely more aware of where their kids are now,” he concluded.
Anyone with information about Mark should call The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 1-800-843-5678, Middle Township Police Major Crime Unit, (609) 465-8700 or the local FBI office.
Contact Campbell at (609) 886-8600 Ext 28 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org