Details of Disappearance
Sarah was last seen with her five-year-old sister at the end of Richards Street in Joliet, Illinois on July 21, 1981. The girls met friends at that location and Sarah walked across the street, away from the group, after having an argument with another child.
She was reported missing by her family at approximately 9:00 p.m. that evening, but no trace of her was found. Sarah has never been seen again.
A former neighbor of the Avon family, Ernest Wilson Sr., died in Arkansas in January 1993. After his death, his nephew, Robert Tadej, went to the police and said Wilson had made a "deathbed revelation" about Sarah's disappearance. Wilson was unable to speak at this point, but drew a distinctive triangular shape on a piece of paper and put a circle inside the triangle. Some of his family members thought the drawing was meant to represent the triangular-shaped lot in Joliet where Wilson had lived in 1981.
According to Tadej, Wilson's son had implicated himself and another boy in Sarah's death. He was fifteen years old in 1981 and was known to be mentally disturbed. In a subsequent conversation with Tadej, the nephew admitted he had sexually molested Sarah and was in the house when she was murdered. Tadej said he thought Wilson had buried Sarah's body on his Joliet property in order to protect his son.
A witness has backed up the story, saying that in 1981, when the witness was a teenager, he went outside during the night and saw Wilson digging a deep hole in the yard with a shovel. The hole was chest-deep. When the witness asked Wilson why he was digging, Wilson said he planned to transplant sunflower plants.
On another night, the same witness saw Wilson operating his bulldozer, pushing mounds of dirt near Hickory Creek and knocking down trees at the junction of Hickory Creek and Spring Creek. Later, the Wilson family moved their above-ground swimming pool to near the location where Wilson had used his bulldozer to pile up dirt.
After getting the tip from Tadej, police dug up the vacant lot on Miller Avenue that had been Wilson's property in 1981. The search turned up nothing and was called off after a few days. However, one official involved believed the area being excavated was too small for them to be sure Sarah's body wasn't buried on the lot. The witness who saw Wilson digging the chest-deep hole thought the authorities were not excavating deep enough during their search for Sarah, and he told them so, but they paid no attention.
In January 1985, three and a half years after Sarah vanished, police thought they saw her picture in the apartment of David R. Collins. Collins, who has a long criminal record and uses many aliases, was charged with kidnapping one teenager in California and sexually abusing several others in New Orleans, Louisiana. 25 pictures of young girls were found in his apartment; police published them in newspapers in hopes that the public could identify the people in them.
One of the subjects in the pictures was believed to be Sarah, but was eventually identified as another person. One other photograph was thought of be of Nelida Del Valle, a nine-year-old who disappeared from Massachusetts in 1976, but this possibility was also ruled out. Collins is not believed to have been involved in either girl's case.
William R. "Billy" Redden is another person of interest in Sarah's case. A decade before Sarah's disappearance, he was convicted of aggravated battery against a toddler and served more than three years in prison for this. He lived with his mother in the 200 block of Reichman Street, just a few minutes walk from Sarah's home. He was a cousin of Sarah's father, knew the child and regularly visited her home.
Redden died in 2010 without ever having been charged in Sarah's case. Authorities searched his former home and excavated the crawl space in 2019, but found no evidence. A photo of Redden is posted with this case summary.
Sarah's disappearance remains unsolved.