Left and Center: Jillian circa, 1987
Right: Age Progressed to age 34
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: August 13, 1987
Missing From: Norfolk, Madison County, Nebraska
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: February 19, 1978
Age: 9 years old
Height and Weight: 4’6″ and 65 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian Female, Blonde hair, Blue eyes, Jillian has a two-inch vertical scar on the crown of her head, a horizontal scar on her right upper lip, Jillian has crooked teeth, she was known to use the nickname “Jill”
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A dark purple colored shirt, underwear with little ice cream designs on them, a pair of blue jeans, socks and a new pair of white Nike tennis sneakers
NCMEC Number: 600904
Details of Disappearance
Jillian was last in Norfolk, Nebraska on August 13th 1987. She was staying with her father, Roger Cutshall, and her stepmother in their apartment in the McNeely Apartment Complex during the summer. She didn’t like staying in the apartment alone after they left for work as it was said to be seedy, noisy, and filled with transients. When Jillian finished her chores that morning, she left to walk to her babysitters residence which was six blocks away from her apartment at 6:00 am.
A witness later told police that they saw Jillian sitting on the steps of her babysitter’s home in the 100 block of South Eighth Street while she was tying her shoelaces at approximately 6:30 am. She was known to wait outside like this until someone in the house woke up. This is the last confirmed sighting of the child. Her babysitter’s live-in boyfriend later told police that she didn’t see the child outside his home when he left for work an hour later at 7:30 am.
She never went inside her babysitter’s residence and also never returned home either. She was never seen or heard from again. After Jillian’s stepmother got off work, she went to the babysitter to pick her up and discovered she had never made it to the residence that morning. After she failed to return home, Roger called the police at 6:05 pm and reported Jillian as missing.
Following Jillian’s disappearance, police and various agencies participated in extensive searches for the girl. Within the first four days of her being missing, over 150 people had worked on her case and many police officers worked 16-18 hour long shifts following leads and interviewing people in regards to her disappearance. Her neighborhood was searched several times but no trace of her was located.
Investigators looked into the possibility that Jillian ran away but there was no evidence to suggest this possibility and she took no personal possessions with her either. Her mother, Joyce Cutshall, was also looked at initially as a suspect. Jillian lived with her and her older brother, Jeff, in Great Bend, Kansas up until January of 1987 when she moved to Norfolk. Joyce and Roger had been divorced since 1985.
A custodial kidnapping by Joyce was easily ruled out as she didn’t have Jillian with her and there was evidence a custody issue was behind her disappearance. Investigators believe Jillian was abducted by a non-family member on the morning she disappeared. She had been previously warned about stranger danger but she was said to be extremely trusting of most people and she saw the good in even the worst people.
Little to no leads were developed regarding Jillian’s disappearance which was quickly classified as a kidnapping investigation when it became apparent she was not coming back soon. On September 1st 1987, police received a report in which a man stated he had seen a child matching Jillian’s description at a truck stop in near Omaha, Nebraska. The sighting specifically took place at an Interstate 80 truck stop at the Nebraska 50 interchange southwest of Omaha.
The witness told police he could recognize Jillian because the way her hair was cut at the time of her 1987 abduction. He said nothing seemed amiss or suspicious about the girl and whoever she was with but the resemblance was too much for the individual not to report it. The unidentified girl was seen driving in one of two vehicles with Texas state license plates traveling together east on Interstate 80. The sighting was never confirmed.
For months, investigators had no trace of Jillian until November 7th 1987 when a pheasant hunter and his two sons discovered her clothing that she had been wearing on the day of her disappearance and her house keys in the Wood Duck Wildlife Management Area. This was located approximately ten miles away from Norfolk. They were found in the early morning hours but the hunter didn’t report the discovery until later that day.
Upon analyzing the clothing, investigators determined that Jillian’s clothing had been exposed to the elements for a long time and they were sent in for testing. It’s unknown what results came of these tests. Her mother was adamant about seeing the items recovered but she was initially not allowed to do so. When she was able to see the clothing, she positively identified them as being her daughter’s.
Following the discovery of her clothing, investigators and others searched the 667-acre land which also had 71-acres of marshland. Included in the search were FBI agents, officers from the Stanton County Sheriffs Office, Madison County Sheriffs Office, Norfolk Police Department, and the Nebraska State Patrol. The wildlife area was also closed during the entire search. After five days of searching, however, investigators were unable to locate Jillian’s body.
It’s believed that whoever abducted Jillian knew the area that her clothing was found in well. Investigators stated that some random abductor would likely not know the location by chance or luck and that the suspect in the case was probably someone who knew the Norfolk area well as well.
In January of 1988, investigators named William Henry Redmond as a possible suspect in Jillian’s disappearance. He was a convicted child molester who was also charged with the 1951 murder of eight year old Jane Marie Althoff from Trainer, Pennsylvania. Jane was last seen at a carnival near her home on April 25th 1951. She was found murdered the next day in the front seat of a pickup truck at the carnival. She had been strangled to death.
Redmond’s fingerprints were found inside the pickup truck at the time but he managed to evade authorities and went into hiding for 37 years. He was arrested in Grand Island, Nebraska. Redmond was later extradited to Pennsylvania in order to face the murder charge in relation to Jane’s death. After learning his history which included the sexual assaults of two girls in 1935 in Lancaster, Ohio, investigators felt he likely had more victims.
William is also considered a suspect in the 1949 murder of eleven year old Joanne Ena Lynn in Hemlock, New York. She was last seen leaving her residence at 8:00 am on September 19th 1949 to walk to school. She never arrived and was reported missing when she didn’t return home either. Early on, it was suspected she had been abducted as a witness recalled seeing girl fitting her description walking toward a 1938-1940 gray sedan with Pennsylvania state license plates.
Five days after her disappearance, a fourteen year old girl who was gathering butternuts discovered Joanne’s body lying face down in a ditch. Her body was found in an area four miles away from Hemlock and two hundred yards off Route 15-A. She had been killed by two gunshot wounds and it appeared as though someone attempted to rape her but didn’t do it. Her sweater and undergarments were missing, however.
Redmond had been a suspect in Joanne’s murder since 1951. He worked a Ferris wheel operator and a truck driver before and after her murder. In fact, the Hemlock Fair and Carnival was in progress just six miles south of where her body was located and Redmond was supposedly working there at the time of her disappearance and death. He was never charged in the case.
Investigators also looked into the possibility that Redmond was behind the infamous 1951 abduction of Beverly Rose Potts from Cleveland, Ohio. Beverly was abducted while walking home from a local park at approximately 10:00 pm on the night of August 24th 1951. She was never found but it’s presumed she’s deceased. Redmond was an Ohio native and previously served time in prison there for sexual assault. It’s unclear if he was questioned about Potts or not.
William was also questioned about the case of Constance “Connie” Christine Smith who vanished from Salisbury, Connecticut on July 16th 1952. She had been attending a summer camp known as Camp Sloane and abruptly left the camp that morning, likely due to being homesick. It’s believed Connie was heading for the town of Lakeville to phone one of her parents but she never made it. She was never found.
Redmond denied being involved in Smith’s disappearance and passed a polygraph test in regards to the case. He’s also been linked to the 1955 murder of eight year old Barbara Gaca in Detroit, Michigan. She was last seen on the morning of March 24th 1955 when she left her residence to walk six blocks away to school. She never arrived and was reported missing when she didn’t return home that day for lunch.
Barbara’s body was discovered a week after her disappearance by a railroad worker in a dump site over twenty five miles away from her home in Detroit. She had been raped, strangled, stabbed, and then rolled into a Army blanket. Her murder remains unsolved and Redmond was again not charged with this crime. He was later ruled out when it was found he was in New Mexico at the time of Barbara’s murder.
Redmond faced a total of nine charges related to Jane Althoff’s death which included criminal homicide, murder, involuntary manslaughter, kidnapping, simple assault, aggravated assault, unlawful restraint, indecent assault and endangering the welfare of children. He had a warrant for his arrest in her death in January of 1952 but since he couldn’t be located, the warrant was never resolved.
He admitted to killing Althoff and stated he smothered her to death after she continuously bothered him for more rides on the Ferris wheel. A friend told police that they had seen Jane whispering to Redmond on the day she disappeared and told them she and him had a secret. He was let out on bail and allowed to return to his home in Nebraska. Redmond died in 1992 due to acute emphysema and heart troubles. He was never charged with Jillian’s disappearance and is no longer a suspect.
Joyce began a crusade to find her daughter immediately after finding out she was missing. Within a day, she was searching and making sure the police were on top of their work for the case. For months after Jillian’s disappearance, she would go to the Norfolk Police Department every morning at 10:00 am to get any and all updates on her disappearance. She also worked with a private investigator who specialized in missing children cases.
Joyce also accepted almost all interviews from local news stations, national newspapers, and multiple television and radio stations. She did everything she could to keep her daughter’s case in the spotlight in the hopes that she would be located. For years, Joyce held onto hope that Jillian was alive and would eventually escape her abductor(s) to come back home to her. However, Joyce now mostly believes Jillian is likely dead.
Joyce moved to Norfolk shortly after Jillian vanished and lived with her mother so she could be close to the search for her. During the fall of 1988, she began taking classes at Northeast Community College where she one day met a journalism student, Gail Pedersen, who wanted to interview Joyce for an article. She agreed and a few minutes into her interview, the student revealed to Joyce that she suspected her half-brother, David C. Phelps, was involved in Jillian’s abduction.
David was twenty three years old and lived in the McNeely Apartment Complex in 1987. He was previously accused of sexually abusing a child when he was a teenager and his half-sister said he had made inappropriate advances towards her friends children who he would take to the Wood Duck Wildlife Area, where Jillian’s clothing later turned up. She said she couldn’t guarantee that he was involved but that he was worth looking into.
Investigators had already questioned Phelps about Jillian’s presumed abduction but they had no evidence of his involvement and he wasn’t arrested at the time. He lived with another man named Kermit Baumgartner who was previously arrested and convicted of sexual assault. Kermit was also questioned about his involvement in the case but he denied taking Jillian.
The private investigator, Roy Stephens, who had worked on Jillian’s case since the onset of the investigation felt Phelp’s was involved and ended up pursuing the lead. He picked David up and drove him to the Wood Duck Wildlife Management Area. Roy gave him a shovel and asked him to show him where he had buried Jillian. Phelps continuously claimed he did not know anything about her disappearance.
Stephens was accompanied by a partner who later recalled that he shot his gun in the air when Phelps continued to claim he was innocent in the child’s disappearance. Stephens claimed that the gunshot was not made to be a threat but that he did it out of frustration. Phelps then led them to a nearby cemetery and began digging in one spot before he stopped and confessed that he did indeed participate in Jillian’s abduction but that he didn’t do anything to harm the girl, directly.
David stated that he was awoken by Kermit on the morning of Jillian’s disappearance and he told Phelps that he had a child in his car and that they were going for a ride. He recalled going to the refuge where he held Jillian down while Kermit molested her. He said Jillian was visibly distressed and nervous throughout the entire ordeal. He claimed that he became scared and drove back to Norfolk, leaving Jillian behind with Baumgartner.
After he made this recorded admission, David was brought to a Norfolk Motel where he agreed to be interviewed by an Omaha Television Crew. He repeated the same confession he had made to Stephens to the camera. He also went directly to police and confirmed his confession and that he was involved in Jillian’s disappearance. The reporter later stated she believed Phelps was making up the story of Jillian’s supposed kidnapping and molestation up as the interview went on.
Phelps later recanted his confession and denied being involved in the case. Kermit was again questioned about the case after David implicated him in Jillian’s abduction and molestation and he maintained his innocence, saying that Phelps was trying to cover his own tracks in the case. According to reports, Kermit had an alibi for that day supposedly but he’s still considered a possible suspect in the case.
Phelps did admit that he had a sexual attraction to young girls and that he “liked” Jillian’s blue eyes but that she was too old for his preference. Joyce was completely convinced that Phelps was responsible for her daughters abduction and likely death but there was no evidence available to arrest him. Tests on Jillian’s clothing also revealed no viable evidence to warrant an arrest either. She said she was enraged that Phelps was free to continue harming other children so she took matters into her own hands.
Joyce found out that under Nebraska Law, authorities had to convene a grand jury to investigate a criminal matter if presented with petitions from at least ten percent of county voters participating in the last gubernatorial election. In December of 1989, Joyce collected signatures from hundreds of people to have this happen. She went to a local mall and set up a table with a banner that said “Jill Cutshall Needs A Grand Jury.”
Dozens of volunteers also gathered signatures at the mall and even went through blizzards and snowstorms to get signatures door-to-door. The petitions were presented to authorities a day after what would’ve been Jillian’s twelfth birthday on February 20th 1990. She had certified over 1,471 signatures and an additional 500 from unregistered voters. Her efforts were enough and a grand jury was called to investigate the kidnapping case.
In June of 1990, Phelps was indicted for kidnapping with intent to defile in Jillian’s abduction. The jury stated they had enough evidence to charge him with the kidnapping. He was arrested and extradited to Nebraska from Iowa in July and he pleaded innocent to the crime. Phelps was held on a $100,000 bond and was ordered to stand trial for Jillian’s abduction on November 5th 1990.
Baumgartner was not charged with anything and he was shown to have given consistent information to the police regarding the case. It was hard enough getting him back to Nebraska to testify before a jury about the case. He had moved out of state sometime after Jillian’s disappearance. Phelps trial lasted months from November 1990 to March of 1991. During the trial, his defense attempted to undermine the main piece of evidence which was his confession.
They claimed that Phelps was coerced into confessing to Jillian’s abduction and molestation and that he incorrectly identified her clothing that she was wearing on the day of her disappearance. He claimed in his videotaped confession in 1989 that Jillian was wearing underwear that was white or white with little swirls on them. Jillian’s underwear had little ice cream designs on them though.
They also pointed out that Roy Stephens was previously in prison for burglary in 1976 and had lied about his criminal record in order to obtain a detectives license. Stephens admitted to lying and handed in his detectives license in 1990 before the trial occurred. He continued to work with missing children in the region afterwards.
The prosecution also brought forth several witnesses to testify against Phelps during his trial. One witness was his landlord who told the court that David once told him that he fantasized about kidnapping, raping, and murdering a young girl and then completely getting away with it. He reportedly told the landlord in Plainview while watching a television program on child abduction that he could get away with such a crime.
The prosecution also had a Norfolk Police officer testify about conversions he had with Phelps on April 22nd 1988 while he was being interviewed about Jillian’s disappearance. David reportedly told the officer that he had at least five instances where he had sexual contact with young girls. Some of the incidents dated back to 1980. The defense attempted to say he made the stories up but nevertheless he was not believed.
On March 20th 1991, Phelps was convicted of first degree kidnapping with intent to commit sexual molestation against a child. He was sentenced to life in prison for Jillian’s kidnapping on April 26th 1991. Despite the conviction and sentence that Phelps received, Joyce was still hopeful to find her daughters remains. She had hoped for a murder conviction but that was impossible without Jillian’s body.
Even after being convicted, Phelps maintained his innocence in Jillian’s abduction and claimed he was not involved whatsoever. He continued to claim that he was threatened and coerced into confessing by Roy Stephens but he has not won an appeal to be released. In 2007, Phelps attempted to get his case reviewed by having the evidence recovered in Jillian’s case tested for DNA but this request was denied.
In 2012, he once again tried to get his case reviewed on the basis that new evidence was found in Jillian’s case pointing to another suspect. In that same year, a man identified as 46 year old John Oldson was charged with the 1989 murder of Catherine “Cathy” Beard. She disappeared after leaving a tavern in Ord, Nebraska on May 31st 1989. Her skeletal remains were discovered on a dirt road outside of Ord on April 26th 1992.
Catherine had been killed by blunt and sharp force trauma but no evidence pointed to who killed her. Oldson was later convicted of assaulting a 51 year old woman in 1989 in Burwell, Nebraska and was sentenced to nine months in prison. He was also convicted of two separate assault cases of woman in April and September of 1992 and for felony child abuse in 2003. This came after he stuck needles in the stomachs of his two stepdaughters.
After his arrest, a diary of John’s surfaced which included the names of several other women and children who were murdered or went missing. He supposedly stated they had been tortured and murdered. The list includes at least four women and four children. One person mentioned was Karen Weeks. She was 28 years old when she was murdered and found dead in a bathtub in October of 1987. She was discovered in a Spearfish, South Dakota motel. Her husband was charged with her murder but was later acquitted.
Another person mentioned in the diary was believed to be Sharon Bald Eagle. She was 12 years old when she and a female acquaintance, Sandi, ran away from Eagle Butte, South Dakota on September 18th 1984. They were abducted by another suspect when they were in Casper, Wyoming and while Sandi managed to escape their captor’s home, he and Sharon vanished. The man was later convicted of kidnapping Sharon was sentenced to life in prison.
The diary also referenced someone named “Jill Dee.” Jillian’a nickname was Jill and was largely referred to as Jill in newspapers and police agencies and Dee is her middle name. Phelps attempted to insinuate that the diary showed he was innocent of Jillian’s abduction but authorities have long ruled the diary as a hoax and Oldson is not a suspect in any other case besides Catherine’s.
At the time of Jillian’s disappearance, she was said to be extremely close to her mother and father. She was said to write poetry, draw rainbows, dance, and do karate. She loved talking and was intelligent. She mostly earned A’s in her school reports and according to Joyce, was showing signs of becoming a creative writer. She would ask her mother for a piece of paper and then proceeded to write the most amazing stories about things like nature and certain animals.
Jillian’s disappearance deeply affected her family. Her older brother, Jeff, was protective of his little sister and was deeply saddened by her abduction. He was taunted by classmates who said they knew where Jill was and he even considered suicide in this entire ordeal. Joyce fought hard to ensure she got justice for her daughter and continues to hope for her return.
Although Phelps is in prison for kidnapping, investigators have stated they still don’t know what happened to Jillian and ask for anyone who has information to contact them. Jillian’s disappearance remains unsolved and foul play is suspected. She was declared legally dead after Phelps’s conviction and a memorial service was held for her at her grandmothers church a few years later.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Norfolk Police Department 402-644-8700