Betsy Gill Missing 45 Years

There will be a candlelight vigil for Elizabeth (Betsy) Gill at the site of the former Cape Girardeau Mississippi River bridge Sunday, June 13, at 8:15 p.m. The vigil will mark the anniversary of the toddler’s disappearance in 1965.

Here is a photo of her just before she went missing and a composite photo of what she might look like today.

Betsy’s sister, Jean, produced this moving video using family photos, illustrations and a haunting folk tune.

Messenger of Love

In looking through some of The Missourian’s archives, I came across a bizarre twist: Philip Odell Clark, who murdered Zola Clifton, his ex-wife’s grandmother, claimed from prison that he had hit Betsy with his car the night she disappeared. He had been drinking and was afraid to turn himself in, so he disposed of her body.

Phillip Odell Clark

I shot this photo of Clark coming out of the house where he had killed Mrs. Clifton and held family members and this paperboy hostage overnight. I later spent about 12 hours in a Cape County jail cell with him taping an account of his life. At no point did he ever mention Betsy Gill.

He was killed by another inmate while in prison. As far as I know, authorities didn’t put much stock in Clark’s claim.

17 Replies to “Betsy Gill Missing 45 Years”

  1. Ken,
    Thank you for posting Jeannie’s beautiful tribute and info about the vigil. I know Beth’s disappearance affected many Cape residents at the time. I remember the generosity of neighbors, Boy scouts and church groups who prayed and searched. This recent effort may not bring Beth home, but perhaps it will bring closure to some and gives us an opportunity to say “thank you” to the community.

  2. Anola,

    I have to admit that the first time I saw your name after all of these years, my first thought was of your sister, but I didn’t know how or whether to bring it up.

    It’s hard to believe that it’s been 45 years.

    I won’t be back in Cape in time for the vigil, but I’ll be with you in spirit. Light a candle for me, will you, please?

  3. i remember when this happened. philip’s mom was a good friend of my mothers..her name was lillie haultler? phillip had a troubled childhood..i could remember lillie talking to my mom about him.that was a strange time in cape didn’t the coroner kill someone and then himself? any more when i visit cape it’s like “the christmas carol” ghosts of things are sitting at the city limits waiting.i must tell how much i enjoy your site.

  4. I remember Phillip Clark in school. He was a troubled child. I rememeber one day he just got up out of his seat and went to the window ,and just looked out. Nothing was said to him.He was always in trouble. I knew the family where he killed the lady and was there the saturday morning the police moved in on him.I watched from across the street.I pass that house on the way when I visit my mom and reminds me of that day all these years later. Jerry Lincoln

    1. Jerry,

      I know it was only a few seconds that our eyes locked while he had the gun at the boy’s head, but it felt like it went on forever. I knew that his finger was going to tighten on the trigger and I was going to watch a 10-year-old boy get his head blown off.

      Fortunately, as Clark was walking along, a police officer coming around from behind the house saw that he was distracted looking at me and got his thumb under the hammer of the gun, keeping it from firing.

      Clark was a true sociopath. One of these days I’ll have to write about some of the stories he told me. If even half of them were true, he was guilty of murder many times over.

      Fifteen or 20 years ago, I listened to the tapes again and pulled out some of the more interesting segments. I’m sure my ears would have perked up if he had mentioned anything about hitting a little girl with his car.

  5. Betsy Gill’s disappearance is my first memory of a missing child. I remember thinking what if that had been my little sister? I also remember people talking about gypsies being around at the time. Perhaps that was to scare us kids into not wandering off. But wander we did all over town all day long in those wonderful lazy summer days. We knew we had to be home in time for supper generally that was the only rule except for doing chores before we rode off on our balloon tire bicycles. Today, that freedom for childhood rarely exists. Such a sad sad ordeal for a family to go through as did the Gill’s.

  6. I remember when this happened…I was 10 years old. All of Cape Girardeau was grieving over it and were afraid for the safety of their own little children. My sister was good friends with Betsy’s sister Jeannie so we were periodically updated on the investigation. The world has gotten so much worse since then.

  7. I remember Phillip Clark from May Greene grade school. He was a kid with a lot of problems. He had a brother or half brother that I was friends with. Kids at school were afraid of him and what he might do to them at any time.

  8. January 1, 2015

    I’ve just heard of the passing of James Patrick Gill, I think he was the 2nd youngest of the Gill family’s children. Also, “Pat” and his baby sister, Elizabeth Ann Gill, were very close in age and were “buddies” according to their older sibling, Martha Gill Hamilton. In hearing of Pat’s recent passing, it got me to thinking again of that awful person, Philip O’dell Clark, who apparently said he accidentally ran over little Elizabeth Gill back in 1965 and then disposed of her body. However, the authorities must have followed up on his claim, but never found the little girl’s remains. Clark said that he had been drinking at the time when he said he ran over her. And, I believe Ken Steinhoff would have remembered if Clark had admitted this “accident” while he was being questioned and taped. However, even though it is very possible that the gypsies who were selling purses door to door during the time of little Elizabeth’s disappearance actually did kidnap her; apparently Jim Smith and the Gill family members have reasons to believe this is what actually happened to their little sister. But, I still have this “lingering” doubt that perhaps Philip Clark still might have been the one who actually did run over the child and having been drinking might possibly have forgotten the exact location where he may have disposed of the little girl. From my reading of the different articles that have appeared in the Missourian over time that it seems like the Cape Girardeau policeman didn’t actually do all that good of a job in trying to investigate Elizabeth’s disappearance. And, I believe the file on Elizabeth Ann Gill disappeared many years ago(and that seems very odd to me). I truly do believe it was either the traveling gypsies who abducted the little girl or possibly it could have been Philip Clark who had killed her. By me thinking that the Cape police had not done a good job of investigating the case thoroughly, then perhaps it’s also possible that the law enforcement might have incorrectly assumed that Philip Clark had not killed her when in fact perhaps he did. I’ve always thought it so unusual that on that sunny, Sunday afternoon at 4pm in June of 1965 that NO ONE APPARENTLY SAW A LITTLE GIRL ABDUCTED RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER HOME OR PERHAPS EVEN STUCK DOWN BY AN AUTOMOBILE. Back in those days, people usually were outdoors relaxing on a Sunday afternoon or visiting with their neighbors or mowing their lawns or washing their cars. It is just unfathomable to me that NO ONE SAW ANYTHING HAPPEN to this small child. I sure hope ONE DAY SOON that the TRUTH WILL COME OUT AND EITHER ELIZABETH WILL BE FOUND SOMEWHERE AND BE PUT INTO CONTACT WITH HER BIOLOGICAL FAMILY OR AT LEAST THAT THE TRUTH WILL COME OUT AND THE GILL FAMILY WILL AT LEAST HAVE CLOSURE.

    1. If Philip Odell Clark did do it, I don’t remember him telling it to me when I spent hours with him telling me the most incredible stories about other bizarre parts of his life.

      Since Anola was a classmate and the story was so well known, I know my ears would have perked up if he even hinted that he was involved with her disappearance.

      It’s been at least 20 years since I last listened to his tapes so I could boil them down and move them to cassettes, but I’m sure I didn’t hear anything like that then, either.

      Sure wish I could shed some light on the matter.

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