Details of Disappearance
Jillian was last seen at approximately 6:30 a.m. on August 13, 1987 in Norfolk, Nebraska. Her parents are divorced and she lived in Grand Bend, Kansas with her mother, Joyce Cutshall, and her brother.
She was visiting her stepmother and her father, Roger Cutshall, in Norfolk when she disappeared. They lived in McNeely Apartments. She didn't like to stay in their apartment alone, so when they left for work early that morning, she started walking to her babysitter's residence four blocks away.
Jillian never arrived and has not been seen again. Her babysitter assumed she'd decided to stay home, and she wasn't missed until after 3:00 p.m., when her stepmother went to the babysitter's home to pick her up and found out she wasn't there.
Three months after her disappearance, her clothes, shoes and keys were found in the Wood Duck Wildlife Refuge in Stanton, Nebraska, ten miles from her father's home.
In 1988, a tip led Joyce to David C. Phelps, a man who lived in Roger's apartment building and had met Jillian. Police interviewed him twice in the spring of 1988.
In the second interview, he told a detective he had been molesting children since he was in his teens and preferred blonde girls between the ages of four and six. He described six incidents of sexual contact with girls. Charges were never filed in connection with any of the alleged assaults. Phelps stated he liked Jillian's blue eyes, but that she was "too old" for his liking.
In January 1989, a private investigator hired by Joyce drove Phelps to the wildlife refuge where Jillian's clothes were found. Later that day, Phelps gave a statement to a television crew the investigator had waiting and stated that he and another neighbor, Kermit Baumgartner, who had a record for sexual assault, took Jillian to the refuge.
Phelps described the child's clothes and undergarments correctly and said he held her down while Baumgartner molested her. He stated he became nervous and left Baumgartner and Jillian alone in the refuge and drove back home, and he never saw the child again.
Baumgartner denied having had anything to do with Jillian's disappearance and he has never been charged in connection with it. When police interviewed Phelps, he recanted his previous statements, stating they were coerced by the private investigator.
He was released without charge, as authorities didn't think they had enough evidence. Both men left the state shortly afterwards; Baumgartner went to California and Phelps to Iowa.
Joyce started a petition drive that forced a grand jury to convene and open an investigation. The grand jury indicted Phelps for abduction with intent to commit sexual assault. He was convicted in the spring of 1991 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Joyce died in Norfolk in 2022 at the age of 68, 35 years after her daughter's disappearance. In her obituary, it was noted that Jillian predeceased her. Jillian's brother and his children are alive, as well as other members of the extended family.
No one has been charged with causing Jillian's death, although she was declared legally dead after Phelps's conviction. She has never been located.