On Monday, November 25, 1991, around 3:30 p.m., Mark Himebaugh returned home from school and was thrilled to see a brush fire near his Del Haven, New Jersey, home. In the tiny town of Del Haven, which had fewer than a thousand residents, an 11-year-old boy found a brushfire to be an exciting and surprising event. After climbing onto his home’s roof to get a better view of the fire, Mark asked his mother Maureen if he could go over to the scene in order to get a closer look. He promised to return soon, and with Maureen’s permission, he went out.
Maureen received a call from a neighbor shortly after Mark left his house, asking for help getting home since her car had broken down. Maureen consented to collect her. When she saw Mark approaching the fire, she asked him if he wanted to go with her. But, Mark was adamant about getting near the fire, so he turned down her invitation. Maureen warned him to use caution and said she would be back soon. Then, not realizing that this was her last time seeing her son, she drove off.
Police started rerouting cars away from the scene to relieve the traffic jam that the brushfire had caused in the area. Maureen’s quick trip to pick up a neighbor took much longer than usual due to the traffic caused by the detour through Mark’s Del Haven neighborhood. When she got back home, it was past 4:00 pm. When she returned, Mark wasn’t at the house, so she figured he was still watching the brushfire.
Maureen became concerned at 4:30 p.m. when Mark hadn’t returned home. At this point, the brushfire had been put out and the people who had gathered to watch it had scattered. In the hopes that Mark might have stopped by to see one of his friends, Maureen called each and every one of them, but nobody had seen him. Her worry turned to panic as night fell. Mark had always followed the rule that he had to get home before dusk. Maureen reported her son missing to the Middle Township Police Department, fearing something had happened to him.
The missing boy was promptly searched for by the police. It was initially thought that Mark had fallen and possibly reinjured his foot, but Maureen informed them that Mark had broken his left foot a few months prior and had only recently had his cast removed. After the sun set, the temperature had dropped well below freezing, so they needed to find him as soon as possible.
Around one hundred volunteers, along with police and firefighters, began searching the area around Mark’s house and the scene of the brushfire. A white LA Gear sneaker that had not been discovered during an earlier search of the area was discovered by a team of firefighters at 9:30 p.m. on the beach approximately 100 yards from Mark’s home on Sunray Beach Road. When the shoe was shown to Maureen, she recognized it as her son’s right away.
Investigators were perplexed as to why only one shoe had been discovered. Though there were no signs of a struggle and footprints leading away from the area suggested that Mark had continued walking while wearing only one shoe, they couldn’t completely rule out the possibility that he had removed it himself.
Mark’s left shoe was discovered; given that he had just had a cast taken off of his left foot, it appeared plausible that he was in pain and reasoned that removing the shoe would help, but this was unlikely given the extremely low temperature. Furthermore, they were at a loss as to how the shoe could have escaped notice during their previous investigation in that vicinity; it was almost as if it had been placed there on purpose to ensure its discovery.
Detective Sgt. Walter Oliver of Middle Township was one of the first detectives assigned to the case. He was perplexed that they had only found one of Mark’s shoes despite saying, “We are not considering foul play at this time because we need more evidence than just the shoe,” in an early interview with reporters. “I doubt a child will bolt and leave a sneaker behind.”
Mark was still being sought after all night. More than 300 people had joined the hunt for the missing boy by the next day. In an interview with a reporter, his father Jody expressed his gratitude and amazement at the sheer number of people donating their time to help find his son. He observed that Mark tended to be a bit of a loner, spending most of his time alone or with Matthew, his older brother. He was not the kind of boy who would even consider running away from home; instead, he was cautious of strangers and always stayed close to home.
Searchers went through more than two square miles of land surrounding the location where Mark was last seen by the end of the day on Wednesday. A Coast Guard helicopter, hundreds of people, and search dogs were unable to locate the missing boy. His scent appeared to be detected by bloodhounds on the beach, but it vanished close to the road, suggesting he may have entered a car.
As the search continued, authorities reported that they were starting to suspect that foul play had played a role in Mark’s disappearance and no longer thought he had simply gotten lost or hurt himself.
Thanksgiving fell on a Thursday, but there was little reason for Mark’s family to celebrate. In order to allow volunteers to enjoy the holiday with their families, the search was temporarily lowered in scope. However, on Friday morning, it was fully resumed.
Investigators used a private plane to fly over the marshland surrounding Del Haven while police, volunteers, and seven bloodhounds conducted a methodical search. Unfortunately, they found nothing. They had hoped that a close examination of the videotape might reveal hints that they had overlooked during their search.
On Friday, Detective Sgt. Oliver disclosed that the investigation concluded Mark had been the victim of foul play. He said they didn’t think Mark was lost in the marshland and that they hadn’t discovered anything to suggest he was having issues at home or at school that would have caused him to want to flee. He spent a lot of time outdoors growing up here, so he knew the area like the back of his hand. He couldn’t have gone missing so close to his house; investigators thought he had been kidnapped.
On Saturday, the physical search for Mark was canceled. More than ten square miles of land had been searched by more than 300 searchers, but not a single hint leading to the boy’s location had been discovered. Reporters were informed by a representative of the Middle Township Police Department that detectives would keep investigating all leads and would restart their search in the event that they learned that Mark had been sighted in a specific location.
In an attempt to locate witnesses who had seen Mark on Monday afternoon, investigators questioned locals. A number of teenagers said they saw him walking away from the brushfire when they were approaching it. They’d laughed together and then parted ways, teasingly asking Mark if he was the one who had started the fire. That was when Mark was only a few blocks from home.
A few blocks from Mark’s residence, in Cape May County South Park, a small public park, has a custodian who reported to the police that he saw Mark just before 4:00 p.m. on Monday. Mark was in the park with a girl who appeared to be in his age range. The kids may have left the park together, but the custodian had not noticed.
Over the weekend, police set up a roadblock on Del Haven’s Bayshore Road in the hopes of locating more witnesses. Upon stopping hundreds of drivers, they distributed flyers about missing people and inquired if anyone had observed anything strange or suspicious on the day that Mark vanished. Nobody did.
One week after Mark was last seen, on December 2, 1991, the FBI became involved in the case. They retraced their steps around Sunray Beach Road with Middle Township investigators in the hopes of discovering a clue overlooked in the first investigation. They surmised that Mark had probably been kidnapped while returning from witnessing the brushfire on neighboring Bayshore Road on that particular road. Sadly, nothing that was pertinent to their inquiry was discovered.
Mark’s disappearance caused great distress to his family. Despite their divorce, Jody and Maureen had not fought over custody and had cooperated in the search for their son. A few days after he vanished, they declared that they would pay $10,000 for information that would lead to his location, and local heavyweight boxer Riddick Bowe added another $15,000 to the pot in exchange for Mark’s safe return. After Mark’s photo and the reward details were posted on posters around the neighborhood, detectives got a ton of tips but no strong leads.
America’s Most Wanted featured Mark’s disappearance and alleged kidnapping in an episode that aired December 13, 1991. Mark’s family expressed gratitude to reporters for the widespread publicity and assured them that they were making every effort to ensure that the public was aware of his disappearance.
After investigating every tip they received, investigators quickly ran out of leads. Detective Dave Garrison assured a reporter that every effort was being made to locate the missing 11-year-old. The detectives’ top priority was to safely return Mark home, but they had also received calls from people who claimed to have had dreams about his whereabouts, so they checked in on them.
Police said they had questioned a person of interest but had not been able to establish a clear connection between him and Mark’s disappearance three weeks after he had vanished from sight. Although they withheld his name from the public, they did reveal that he was a 50-year-old Cape May County resident with a criminal history. He was never mentioned again, so it seems that he was eventually cleared of any involvement despite their initial interest in him.
Police collaborated with the custodian to produce a composite sketch of the girl, hoping to identify her as the person who had been spotted in the park with Mark just before he was reported missing. Despite releasing the sketch to the press, she didn’t seem to be recognized in the area. Given that Del Haven was a small town where everyone knew one another, this worried the investigators. Detectives were concerned that the girl might have been used as a pawn to entice Mark because her lack of identification seemed to indicate that she was from out of the area.
Although Mark’s de*ath was considered probable by the detectives, Maureen clung to the hope that he would be discovered alive. She revealed to a reporter that she couldn’t help but look up in anticipation of her youngest son entering through the front door. While acknowledging that losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, she made an effort to stay upbeat by saying that “a miracle could bring him home.”
Months passed with no breakthrough in the case. To commemorate the somber first anniversary of Mark’s disappearance, his loved ones organized a vigil. The area was still covered in pictures of the redhead smiling, but the chances of seeing him had begun to wane.
Re-interviewing residents in the hopes that someone would come forward with fresh information, investigators acknowledged that they had started from scratch. A composite sketch of a man that two witnesses had seen in Cape May County South Park the day that Mark disappeared was also made public.
Shortly after Mark was last seen, two teenagers came forward to say they had seen him with a man in his mid-20s. When questioned about it, Lt. John Hannah of the New Jersey State Police, superintendent of the missing persons unit, told reporters that they had been following up on other leads and hadn’t thought this one was pertinent to their investigation at the time. It was unclear why detectives hadn’t released this information earlier.
Police released a new composite sketch of a possible suspect on June 23, 1993. His long, dark hair was parted in the middle, and he was described as a white man in his 20s. At the time Mark vanished, he was thought to be driving a white compact car with a roof rack and wearing square-framed glasses. Mark was last seen by witnesses close to this man’s car before he disappeared.
In relation to Mark’s disappearance, investigators searched 27-year-old Thomas Butcavage’s Havertown, Pennsylvania, home in July 1993. A male Philadelphia prostitute came forward and reported to police that Butcavage had shown him a videotape of himself abusing a small boy who fit Mark’s description, which prompted the search. Although Butcavage refuted the charge and the search turned up no such videotape, he was still considered a person of interest.
The prostitute claimed that Butcavage had admitted to putting Mark’s sneaker on the beach to confuse investigators and that he liked to “drive outside of the local area and snatch a child off of a corner, take them somewhere, and kill them.” Although the information was intriguing, investigators were unable to discover any conclusive proof connecting Butcavage to Mark’s disappearance. He is still interesting, though, and he does look a lot like the second composite sketch that was made public.
Investigators pursued thousands of tips over the course of the following few years, but they made no significant headway in the case. After Mark was seen multiple times in Sacramento, California in March 1995, local volunteers put up over 4,000 posters asking for information about the missing person in an attempt to get more tips. But there were no more reports, and it was impossible to confirm the initial sightings.
Mark’s case eventually stopped making headlines. Every anniversary, local newspapers carried a brief summary of the case, but it was obvious that the investigation had long since stalled. Even though there was no improvement, Maureen was determined to find her son. She told reporters in 2016 that while she had come to terms with Mark’s likely d*eath, she hoped his body could be found so the family could find some closure.
Maureen never left the home where Mark was raised; she kept her address and phone number constant so that, should he ever be able to, he would know how to get in touch with her. Along with her son’s priceless chessboard remaining on display and pictures of him hanging on the walls, Maureen also commemorated her son’s birthday every year. “I don’t know if he’s still out there, but he might be,” she said.
Thirty years had passed since Maureen last saw her son on November 25, 2021. She was still holding out hope that the case would be resolved. The residents of Del Haven also did. The case of Mark may have slipped from the public’s consciousness, but Del Haven citizens never forgot it. The day Mark disappeared, the town lost its innocence, and they grieved with Maureen. All they want above all is to have things resolved.
Mark’s case is still being worked on, and investigators are actively following up on all leads. They are particularly interested in any photos or videos that were taken of the brushfire and would like to talk to anyone who was in the Del Haven area on the day that Mark vanished. Even though time has passed, they still think that this case can be resolved, and they anticipate that Mark will soon receive justice.
Detectives suspect that Mark Himebaugh, who vanished in 1991 at the age of eleven, was kidnapped by an unknown person and then killed. Mark weighed eighty-five pounds and stood four feet tall with red hair and freckles at the time of his disappearance. When he was last seen, he was donning white sneakers, a blue shirt, a gray jacket, and gray pants. Please call the Middle Township Police Department at 609-465-8700 if you know anything about Mark.