Left and Center: Sarah circa, 1981
Right: Age Progressed to age 38
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: July 21, 1981
Missing From: Joliet Township, Will County, Illinois
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: January 6, 1975
Age: 6 years old
Height and Weight: 4’0″ and 45 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian Female, Blonde hair, Brown eyes
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A Joliet District soccer shirt, blue/red/white colored jogging pants, and blue sneakers with a white stripe
NCMEC Number: 600166
Details of Disappearance
Sarah was last seen in Joliet, Illinois on July 21st 1981. She was accompanied by her sister and met a group of friends at the end of Richards street. Sarah apparently walked away after an argument occurred between her and a playmate. She was last sighted in the front years of her home on Oscar Avenue. Sarah was never seen or heard from again and her family reported her missing at approximately 9:00 pm that night.
Searches for the girl produced no trace of her whereabouts. Various volunteers searched the areas surrounding the Avon home and the street she disappeared from. A quarry was also dragged in search of Sarah but nothing was found as a result of the intensive efforts by police and her family. It’s strongly believed that Sarah was the victim of a non-family abduction and that she likely was murdered sometime after she disappeared.
In January of 1985, a photograph that was thought to have depicted Sarah was found in the apartment of David R. Collins. He was previously convicted of kidnapping a teenager from California and was also convicted of assault in several other cases. At least 25 pictures were found in his apartment. It was thought that another girl was Nelida Del Valle who was abducted in 1976 from Massachusetts. The photos were later found to be someone else. Authorities do not believe that Collins had anything to do with Avon’s or Del Valle’s disappearances.
In 1993, a former neighbor of the Avon family, Ernest Wilson Sr., died in Arkansas. After he died, his nephew, Robert Tadej summoned authorities and told them that Wilson had made a “deathbed revelation” in connection to Sarah’s disappearance. Wilson drew a triangular shape on a piece of paper. This drawing stuck out to the family because it resembles the triangular shaped lot that the family home once stood in Joliet.
Wilson’s son and another boy allegedly implicated themselves in Sarah’s abduction and murder. His son was 15 years old and was considered mentally disturbed. Tadej said that when he had a conversation with the nephew, he admitted to sexually molesting Sarah on the night she disappeared. He also said he was in the house when Sarah was killed.
Investigators and Tadej believe that Wilson found Sarah deceased and that he buried Sarah’s body on their property so that he could protect his son. A man came forward after the revelation and stated he may have witnessed Wilson burying Sarah’s remains. The witness was a teenager at the time and he reportedly went outside during the night to see Wilson digging a large, deep hole with a shovel.
The hole was deep until Wilson’s chest was not visible. The witness actually asked Wilson why he was digging the hole and he responded by saying that he planned to transplant sunflower seeds to that location. The witness said he had seen Wilson on one other occasion digging or operating in his backyard during the nights after Sarah’s disappearance.
This time, Wilson was using his bulldozer and was seen pushing mounds of dirt near Hickory Creek and was also knocking over trees at the junction of Hickory Creek and Spring Creek. Later on, the Wilsons reportedly moved their above ground swimming pool near the location where he used the bulldozer to pile up dirt.
After getting this information, investigators excavated the vacant lot which was located on Miller Avenue. This is where Wilson’s property was located in 1981. While the initial search did not yield anything, an official involved in the search believes that the area they dug up was too small for them to be absolutely sure that Sarah’s remains weren’t located on the lot.
The man who saw Wilson digging was quoted as saying the hole was chest deep and thought authorities were not excavating deep enough during the search. The man brought this up to them but they paid no attention to his statements. Sarah’s body was not found in the area and there’s no evidence her remains wet ever there. It’s unclear if there will be any further excavations to follow.
Authorities continue to keep the case open and have searched relentlessly for her. In 2004, authorities dug underneath an old garage on Noel Road which was south of Joliet. Authorities were hoping to locate Sarah’s remains but only unearthed clothing and no evidence relating to Sarah’s disappearance.
In 2020, investigators revealed that they had a strong person of interest in Sarah’s presumed death. The man was identified as William R. “Billy” Redden who was a convicted child molester. In 1971, he was convicted of sexual battery against a 19 month old child. He served more than three years for the crime at the Menard Correctional Center before being released in May of 1975.
Redden was a family member as he was a cousin of Sarah’s father. He lived approximately two minutes away from her home and was a regular visitor to the Avon family home. He lived in an older two story house in the 200 block of Reichman Street with his mother in 1981. He was said to drive an older model pickup truck as well at the time.
After it became apparent that Sarah was kidnapped, multiple neighborhood residents felt it was Redden who had committed the crime. They noted how weird he acted and many elected to stay away from him due to his odd and creepy behavior. Sarah’s former babysitter had a teenager daughter who worked a passer route in the area and was said to always be scared to deliver papers or pick up payment from Redden’s residence. He would allegedly say inappropriate comments to her.
Police did question him in 1981 and performed a cursory investigation of his home with his consent but didn’t find anything to indicate he was involved in her disappearance. He was never arrested or charged in the case either. Redden passed away in 2010 at the age of 69. In May of 2019, investigators searched his home again and excavated the crawlspace for Sarah’s body but didn’t find anything.
Sarah’s neighbors believe her remains might be buried somewhere on the property of Redden’s Reichman home that he resided in 1981. However it’s unclear if any excavations of the surrounding areas have been completed. Investigators also searched a 2-acre property on Noel Road in unincorporated Jackson Township in October of 2019. The property was owned by Redden up until the mid-1990s. The search turned up no trace of Sarah.
The sheriffs office has pleaded to the general public for any information about Redden from the time of Sarah’s abduction in 1981. They hope to positively link him to the case and hopefully locate her remains as well.
At the time of her disappearance, Sarah was described as acting older than her actual age and was known to talk to the adults she knew around the neighborhood. She was said to be friendly as well. Sarah’s apparent abduction changed her neighborhood and many felt unsafe letting their children play or explore leisurely after it happened. Many of Sarah’s old neighbors still live in the neighborhood and hope for her case to be solved.
Sarah’s disappearance remains unsolved and foul play is highly suspected. Her mother, Mary Avon, and her younger sister, Marie, moved away from the area some years after she disappeared but they are in constant contact with the police investigating her disappearance and hope for a resolution.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Will County Sheriffs Office 815-727-8574
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children