John Weisbecker went shopping with his mother on the morning of Wednesday, March 11, 2009. The 21-year-old, who lived with his mom and sister in Ocean City, New Jersey, was scheduled to start a new job the following day and his mother had bought him some new shirts to wear and then dropped him off at home. John was there when the mail was delivered at 11:00 am, but when his mother returned to the house around 8:30 pm, he was gone. He never returned home and he was never seen again.
John’s mother, Jennifer Powell, was concerned when she couldn’t find her son but not panicked; he was an adult and she assumed he had gone out with friends. John never walked anywhere; even if he was only going a short distance, he always drove. When his mother got home from work, his car was parked in the driveway so she assumed that he had been picked up by one of his friends. Jennifer tried calling John’s cell phone but her call went straight to voicemail. When he hadn’t called her back by midnight, she called the police and reported him missing.
Jennifer told investigators that nothing was missing from the home and no overt signs that anything violent had happened to John there. Some of the stools in the kitchen were knocked over, however, as if several people had been in the kitchen and left quickly. It was possible John had invited some of his friends inside and then ended up leaving with them, but it was uncharacteristic of him not to check in with his mother.
John, who was planning to start culinary school in the fall, was scheduled to start working at Kessel’s Korner, a restaurant in Ocean City. He had worked there the previous year but had been laid off after the tourist season ended. He was excited about getting back to work after being unemployed and his mother was certain he wouldn’t have willingly missed his first day at the restaurant.
Joseph Weisbecker, John’s father, says that a mail carrier was the last person who saw John alive before he went missing. When he brought the mail that day, the side door to the house was open. “When he brought the mail, he saw him in the living room.” When John brought the mail inside, his unemployment check was on the kitchen counter. But no one knew what happened to him after that.
Ocean City Police Lt. Steven Ang asked people to help them find John. He said that the missing man wasn’t in any trouble with the law at the time he went missing and had no reason to leave on his own. Since he disappeared, he hadn’t used his cell phone or logged into his bank account either. “We’re looking into every possibility because we don’t want anything bad to happen to him.”
Joseph told the news media that his son would never leave without telling someone where he would be. “He might be hanging out with the wrong people. We’re just not feeling anything.” We just want him to come home and know that he’s safe somewhere.
Jennifer said her son was always a popular kid with lots of friends. He was also very close to his mom and sister, she said. At age 21, he was finally starting to think about his future seriously. He liked to watch movies and play video games. After graduating from Ocean City High School in 2006, John wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for a living at first. He eventually decided he wanted to go to culinary school after getting a job as a cook in a nearby restaurant. He was excited about the idea.
Detectives were having a hard time figuring out what happened to John six weeks after he was last seen. Cape May County Sheriff Gary Schaffer said they were setting up a tip hotline that would accept text messages from anyone. He did this in the hopes of getting more tips. The messages would be sent through a third-party app that would hide the user’s phone number. This way, people could send messages without worrying that the police would figure out who they were. Sheriff Schaffer hoped this would help them find out more about what had happened to John.
Jennifer told reporters at the press conference where the new tip line was announced that all she wanted to do was find her son. “John must be somewhere out there.” This isn’t him. “He doesn’t just disappear.” People who called his cell phone still got voicemail, which made his family and friends worry about his safety.
In June 2009, Jennifer asked the public again for help finding John. “It’s like he disappeared. That’s not how people act. There must be something wrong with him because he’s living in a nightmare. For moms’ peace of mind, there are ways to tell me without being seen. Kindly let me know.” There were not many clues in his case, and police could not find anyone who said they had seen John after his mother took him shopping on the day he disappeared.
To reporters, Lt. Ang said that the case was frustrating. “It’s hard to believe that someone could disappear in Ocean City from that spot during the day and no one saw him or knows where he went.” Someone knows what they’re not saying. It was his understanding that detectives were going over the case all over again in the hopes of finding something they missed the first time around.
Detectives thought John had left his house voluntarily with a person he knew. They looked around the neighborhood to see if anyone could remember seeing who picked him up, but no one remembered seeing anything. From the street, you couldn’t see the side door to the house that John usually used.
Months went by, and John was still not found. Investigators couldn’t make any progress on the case because they were sure that someone in the community knew what happened to John but wasn’t willing to say anything. John’s family and friends held a candlelight vigil on December 11, 2009, to remind people that the man had still not been found.
Jennifer told reporters that her son’s room still looked the same as it did nine months ago, when he moved out. The tags were still on the new shirts she bought him for work that he brought home in a bag. John left his shoes on the porch of the house, and they were still there. Jennifer found it harder and harder to deal with not knowing what would happen to him. “Until we find out something, I just want to close my eyes and not open them again.”
Detectives said that John’s disappearance seemed odd, but they said they hadn’t been able to find any solid clues in the case. “Unfortunately, we’re not getting anything new from the public,” Lt. Ang said. The county tip lines are not giving us any information. There are no calls coming into the office.”
The FBI, the Ocean City Police Department, and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office said they would give a $50,000 reward for information that led to John’s location on the first anniversary of his disappearance. Lt. Ang hoped this would help catch the person. “Over the course of the year, we’ve tried different ways to keep this issue in the public eye. Now, we can offer a reward for any information that helps us solve this investigation.”
While announcing the new reward, Lt. Ang told the press that John wasn’t by himself when he left his house for the last time. “We think he left the house with other people.” We don’t know if he was forced to leave it.
Special Agent Joe Furey of the FBI thought that the people who were involved in John’s disappearance knew their way around Cape May County and may have been friends of John’s. “There are some people who have been hesitant to fully help with the investigation.”
The investigation stopped for years. Detectives talked to John’s friends and acquaintances many times, but none of them could tell them what happened to the missing man. John had not been seen or heard from for seven years by March 2016, and police still didn’t know anything new about his disappearance. Jennifer had moved from the Ocean City house where her son was last seen. He brought all of his things with her to her new home, even his new work shirts. She kept praying for the case to be solved. “I just hope someone will tell me one day…”I need to know what happened very badly.”
The Ocean City Police Department started a Facebook page in 2016 and made an appeal for anyone with information about John’s disappearance to submit tips online. Detective Marshall Cradock from the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, noted, “It happened in daylight hours. It’s hard for us to believe somebody didn’t see something. It’s a matter of us finding that person.”
Sgt. Dennis Jones told reporters that John’s friends hadn’t been very helpful. “His friends have been a letdown. Step up…be a friend and come forward.” All of the investigators involved in the case were hoping that someone with knowledge about the case would finally decide to do the right thing and speak with detectives.
Jennifer admitted it was hard watching John’s younger sister celebrate milestones such as her high school graduation, wedding, and the birth of her two children, without having John there. His sister named her son after her missing brother as a lasting tribute to the older brother she still missed.
As of July 2023, John has been missing for more than 14 years and his case remains open. Detectives believe he was a victim of foul play but they have been unable to determine exactly what happened to him; they believe multiple people were involved and hope that someone will listen to their conscience and come forward so John’s family can get the answers they so desperately want.
John Weisbecker was just 21 years old when he went missing from Ocean City, New Jersey in March 2009. He was a friendly and outgoing young man who was looking forward to going to culinary school and starting a new job. John has blue eyes and brown hair, and at the time of his disappearance, he was 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 190 pounds. If you have any information about John’s disappearance, please contact the Ocean City Police Department at 609–399–9111 or the Cape May County Sheriff’s Office at 609–465–2800. There is currently a $50,000 reward being offered for information leading to the resolution of this case.