Details of Disappearance
Jackie attended his first day of school in Paynesville, Minnesota on September 5, 1944. It was a half-day; he was supposed to come home for lunch and stay there. His mother had sent him to school with a note for the teacher saying Jackie's older brother would pick him up. But at 11:30 a.m., Jackie's teacher sent him on his way home alone, asking first if he knew the way.
His home was on the corner of Lake Avenue south and east Railroad Street in Paynesville; that address is now a vacant lot. He never arrived there and has never been heard from again.
Bloodhounds traced Jackie's scent down Augusta Avenue, a block west of Washburne Street. His home was a block east of Washburne Street. The trail continued to the Crow River, just west of the North American Creamery. The tracks of a child were found leading west along the river. They went as far as Highway 23 and both the tracks and the scent vanished. This was the only indication of his whereabouts after he left school that day.
Witnesses reported seeing a small boy matching Jackie's description standing along Highway 23 at 1:00 p.m. that day. Other witnesses claim they saw a small boy getting into a gray car on Highway 23 at 4:45 p.m. It has not been confirmed that either child was Jackie.
Jackie's surviving family members remember him as a "slow" child who, unlike his siblings, was never allowed to run errands in town or go far from home without his parents. They don't believe he was seriously mentally disabled, however, since he was able to attend school.
His loved ones believe that he became lost and was picked up by a stranger along Highway 23. Soldiers stationed in the Army at the time could get discharged if they had dependents; Jackie may have been taken by a soldier for that reason.
In the 1960s, one of Jackie's former teachers saw a young man matching his description and calling himself Jackie Theel, getting off a Navy ship in California. The man told the teacher he had been adopted. It has not been confirmed that he was the same Jackie Theel who disappeared in 1944, however.
Jackie is one of fifteen children. One of his sisters and one of his brothers still live in the Paynesville area and are still searching for him, but the police no longer have the records of their investigation; their archives go back only to 1960. He has never been declared legally dead and his case remains unsolved.