Mary Jane Vangilder
Mary Jane, circa 1945; Age-progression to 50 to 60 years of age (circa 1961 - 1971)
- Missing Since 03/08/1945
- Missing From Willard, Ohio
- Classification Endangered Missing
- Sex Female
- Race White
- Date of Birth 11/19/1911 (111)
- Age 33 years old
- Height and Weight 5'5, 165 pounds
- Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Brown hair, brown eyes. Mary Jane has freckles across the bridge of her nose, and she may have scars on her shoulder from when she was struck by an airplane propeller. She had decaying or damaged teeth at the time of her disappearance. Her maiden name is Croft.
Details of Disappearance
Mary Jane was born in West Virginia, attended school through the eighth grade, and married her husband, James Leslie Vangilder, in 1929, when she was seventeen years old. The couple had seven children, two of whom were stillborn, and Mary Jane did not work outside the home. James was an alcoholic, and Mary Jane alleged he was abusive towards her.
The Vangilders separated in 1943. Their children stayed with James, and Mary Jane initially moved to an apartment in Fairmont, West Virginia, taking waitressing and clerking jobs to support herself. At one point she allegedly invited James to take the children and move in with her, but he declined. Late in 1943 or early in 1944, Mary Jane moved to Ohio. She initially lived in the 300 block of Woodland Avenue in Willard, Ohio, then moved to Trux Street in Plymouth, seven miles south of Willard. She may have also lived on Sandusky Street in Plymouth.
On March 7, 1944, Mary Jane took a job as a storekeeper at the Air Force Depot in Shelby, Ohio. She was promoted to junior warehouseman on May 31. In February 1945, she filed a request to be transferred and reassigned as a high lift and forklift operator in the labor pool. She never got reassigned, however.
On March 8, one year and one day after she started working at the depot, she requested immediate release from her job, citing the reason as "added household duties." She gave her address as a post office box in Willard. March 8 is the official date of her disappearance, although a former associate reported seeing her in Willard a few weeks later.
While she was in Ohio, Mary Jane maintained contact with her eldest daughter Anna, then fourteen years old, by mail. She sent letters, clothes and war bonds. In 1945, she wrote to Anna asking them to mail her war bonds back to her. Anna returned the war bonds. A few weeks later, Mary Jane mailed Anna her last $25 war bond, with no note. All contact with her family abruptly stopped after that.
Mary Jane filed for divorce on February 14, 1945. Her divorce petitious accused James of "extreme cruelty and gross neglect of duty." This phrase, a common one used in divorce proceedings, is defined in Ohio as "failure to provide mutual respect, fidelity and support", both emotional and physical. On November 23, 1945, back in West Virginia, James also filed for divorce. The court records indicate that Mary Jane did not respond to the petition, either in person or through her attorney.
On November 26, the West Virginia divorce was granted, with James getting custody of the five children. He later remarried. On April 4, 1946, the divorce petition Mary Jane had filed in Ohio was dismissed because she failed to show up for court. The court costs were deducted from a sum of money she'd previously deposited with the court. This is the last sign of her.
Since 1945, Mary Jane's family has occasionally investigated her disappearance. Anna even wrote to the FBI on multiple occasions, but they did not have jurisdiction to open an investigation. James died in 1985, and the house he'd shared with Mary Jane burned down not long afterwards.
In 2005, a newspaper in Plymouth published a story about Mary Jane's disappearance and asked anyone who remembered her to contact her family. A man who had been thirteen years old in 1945 saw the article and wrote to Mary Jane's children.
The letter writer said his father and two older brothers had worked at the Air Force Depot at the same time as Mary Jane, and that she was friends with his parents. According to the man, Mary Jane could not drive and, during 1944 and 1945, she often got ride to work with his father and brothers. The witness could provide no valuable information about her disappearance, however.
Mary Jane's surviving children and grandchildren still hope to learn her fate. She was reported missing to the Shelby Police Department in 2018, seventy-three years after her family last heard from her.
Police think foul play is a strong possibility in his case, as they don't think Mary Jane would have completely cut off ties with her children and other family members. Her case remains unsolved.
- Shelby Police Department 419-347-2242
Updated 7 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated September 9, 2020; date of disappearance, height and weight corrected, details of disappearance updated.