Janice Pockett left her Tolland, Connecticut home on her metallic green bicycle around 3:30 pm on Thursday, July 26, 1973. The 7-year-old was determined to retrieve a dead butterfly she had hidden under a rock when she had been out walking with her family earlier. Her mother gave her an empty envelope to put the butterfly in and told her daughter to come right back. It was the first time the little girl had been allowed to go anywhere unaccompanied, but the rock was less than one-tenth of a mile from the Pockett home and visible from the front yard. Janice happily pedaled off to pick up the butterfly. She never returned home and she was never seen again.
When Janice didn’t come home after 30 minutes, Kathryn Pockett went to find her. The bike that belonged to her daughter was lying on the side of Rhodes Road. Kathryn knew something was wrong right away. I saw the bike lying on its side, and Janice always had it on its stand.
Kathryn tried calling Janice’s name a few times before giving up because she thought she might be nearby. She ran back to the house quickly and got there just as Ronald, her husband, got home from work. They looked all over the neighborhood for about 45 minutes but couldn’t find Janice or the envelope she was carrying.
At 4:50 p.m., Ronald called the police to say that his daughter was missing. As soon as the Connecticut State Police heard that Janice was missing, they began a large-scale search for the little girl. Police from dozens of towns were looking for Janice by Thursday evening, and firefighters from ten other towns soon joined them. They looked all over Tolland’s streets and woods for hours. As night fell, they went door-to-door in the area, hoping that Janice had gotten lost at a friend’s house and forgotten the time. The little girl had not been seen, which was a shame.
On Friday, the search for Janice got tougher. A lot of people, over 800 volunteers, helped with the search. Over 100 U.S. the Navy and Marines who were stationed in Groton, Connecticut, which is close by. A local motorcycle club joined volunteers on foot and horseback in the search. From above, a National Guard helicopter looked over the area. Divers from the Tolland County Fire and Rescue Squad looked in all three ponds in Janice’s neighborhood and in a part of the Willimantic River that is close by.
While Connecticut State Police spokesman Peter Walsh told reporters that they thought Janice was just lost, they also said that they hadn’t found any clues about where she was. “There aren’t any signs of foul play, but it hasn’t been ruled out either. The chances of it happening grow every hour the girl isn’t found.”
The search went on until Saturday night, but no signs of Janice’s whereabouts were found. A state police spokesman told reporters that they still hadn’t found any proof that the girl had been taken, and they weren’t going to stop searching until they were sure she wasn’t in the area. “The weather has been nice, and the child is healthy, so we can’t stop looking in the woods until we’re sure she’s not there.”
This past Sunday, the search was slowed down. Volunteers were no longer needed because a lot of Tolland had already been searched. However, police and the military were still looking for Janice. People who work for the company said, “We wanted to scale it down so we’d have more control.” We’re putting in a lot of work in a small area with lots of very dense forests.
Some pieces of clothing and footprints that looked like they were made by a child were found during the search, but it was decided that the clothes did not belong to Janice. Investigators said it was possible that the child who went missing had left the footprints, but they couldn’t say for sure.
Harold Worthington, the fire chief of Tolland, said, “I think this search is one of the largest organized hunts in New England. I have never seen a better organized search.” He told reporters that searchers had walked shoulder-to-shoulder through dense forest so they wouldn’t miss anything and were carefully looking for any signs that Janice had been there. He also thanked the people in the area for helping with the search. “Someone dropped by the Tolland Firehouse without giving their name and left food for the searchers.”
The Red Cross and the Salvation Army gave the searchers supplies, and the ladies’ auxiliaries of several fire departments spent hours making sandwiches, cooking hot meals, baking, and getting donations from stores in the area to make sure the searchers had food and water.
Investigators still hadn’t found any signs of foul play by Wednesday night, but they did say it was unlikely that Janice was still in the Tolland area. Janice knew she couldn’t go into the woods without one of her parents, so her family was sure she had been taken. They didn’t think she would have gotten lost there myself. John McParland, her godfather, told the press that Janice had always followed her parents’ rule about not going into the woods. Ronald and Kathryn would sometimes take Janice and her younger sister for walks through the woods, but neither girl had ever tried to go there by herself.
The Connecticut State Police added two more detectives to Janice’s case as the physical search was coming to an end. Investigators from five different state police barracks looked into every tip, but they said they didn’t have any solid information about what happened to the girl.
The police officer who was Janice’s godfather told reporters that he and the Pockett family were very impressed with how the investigation was being run by the state police. In his nine years of work, he said the search efforts were “the best I’ve ever seen” and the detectives were “fantastic, just fantastic.”
Representatives from the state police said that detectives were talking to all of Janice’s neighbors to find out if any of them remembered seeing anything strange in the days before the girl went missing. “Right now we’re focusing on the criminal part of the case.”
Even though they hadn’t seen any signs of a fight along Janice’s bike path, Kathryn was sure that her daughter wouldn’t have willingly gotten into a car with anyone. She is shy sometimes, but she is very smart.
Eight local businessmen said they would pay $8,000 for information that led to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Janice’s disappearance, two weeks after she was last seen. A spokesperson for the state police told reporters that the reward money had been deposited in a local bank and the offer would be good for one year. The businessmen did not want to be named in public. “This offer is meant to bring about more information.”
By September, the reward for information had grown to $10,000, but detectives were still having a hard time finding solid leads. Kathryn told reporters that she was still holding out hope that her daughter would be found safe and sound. Janice’s body hadn’t been found yet, which gave her hope that she was still alive. She was thankful that the men who had started the reward fund were still unknown.
Ronald and Kathryn had a hard time getting used to life without Janice. Kathryn even said she needed medical help in the days after her daughter went missing. Ronald, a truck driver, had been off work for five weeks because he couldn’t sleep. He said, “I take mild tranquilizers whenever I need them.”
A man who called the house in August and said some disturbing things to Ronald about the case made the family’s emotional problems worse. In October, the police said they had arrested Robert Bell, 48, and charged him with one count of harassment for making the call.
State police released a composite sketch of a man they want to question about Janice’s disappearance three months after she was last seen. The composite was made from what a woman who lived close to Janice said about her. Around the time Janice went missing, she saw the man driving a late-model medium-brown car with a dark brown top around the neighborhood.
Early in November, George Athanson, the mayor of Hartford, said he was going to ask the FBI to help with the investigation. Members of the city’s Board of Selectmen put out a petition asking President Richard Nixon to tell the FBI to help the Connecticut State Police. They quickly surpassed their goal of 50,000 signatures. Over 100,000 people had signed by the end of the month. Even though many people wanted the FBI to help, Director Clarence Kelly said that they couldn’t do anything until they had proof of a kidnapping.
That holiday season, Ronald, Kathryn, and Mary Jane, Janice’s younger sister, didn’t have much to be happy about. Even though they tried to stay positive, it got harder as the weeks and months went by and nothing in the case changed.
By February, it looked like the investigation had come to a stop. It had been a couple of months since state police had any new leads. The FBI looked into the case but didn’t find any evidence of a federal crime and refused to join the investigation. But on February 8, 1974, the U.S. The Justice Department told the FBI to help look for Janice.
Kathryn was very happy that the FBI was going to help with the case. Reporters asked her if she had any problems with how the state police had handled the case so far. She said, “The FBI is more experienced in matters like this.” It had been six months since she had seen her daughter, but she tried to stay positive. “I feel so bad about myself…but there’s always that little hope.”
It was terrible for Janice’s family not to know what had happened to her. Janey Mary Jane missed her big sister and didn’t know why she wasn’t home yet. Kathryn hoped that the FBI could help them find out what was going on. “The way things stand right now, you can’t even make a change—you’re just suspended.”
The Connecticut State Police said in April 1974 that they were going to search the woods near Janice’s house again. According to reporters, Sgt. Tony Kalkus said that the search wasn’t based on any new information but was just another attempt to find Janice’s whereabouts. Along with about 150 volunteers, the FBI helped with the search. It’s too bad that nothing was found.
A year after Janice went missing, police said they had two possible suspects in her disappearance. Both men had been arrested on separate morals charges, but police couldn’t question them about Janice because their lawyers told them not to talk to police. Capt. Thomas McDonnell of the State Police wouldn’t name the suspects, but he did say that there was no proof that they had anything to do with the missing girl. “A confession is what really needs to break the case, since there isn’t likely to be an eyewitness.”
In August, the police said that the two possible suspects had been found not to be involved with Janice’s disappearance. The police said they didn’t know much more than they did on the day Janice went missing after more than a year of looking into it. Capt. McDonnell told the press that he didn’t think Janice was still alive, but the police still didn’t know what had happened to her.
Thomas Leavitt, who is in charge of Connecticut for the FBI, said that the biggest problem in Janice’s case was that there were no clues at all. To solve the Pockett case, it will be very hard unless someone is caught on another charge and confesses.
Jenice’s mother said she didn’t think she would be found alive two years after the last time she saw her. “She was so little.” It’s a fact that she’s dead. She said that she still got updates from the police on the case every once in a while, but they rarely had anything new to say.
Since Janice died many years ago, the Pockett family slowly got used to living without her. Detectives kept following up on every tip they got, but as time went on, tips stopped coming in and the case went cold. Police thought there might be a link between Janice’s case and those of two other girls who went missing: Lisa White, from Vernon, Connecticut, in November 1974, and Debra Spickler, from Mystic, Connecticut, in July 1968. In any of the disappearances, they didn’t have any leads.
A tip told state police in November 1979 that Janice’s body might be in a pond in Vernon, Connecticut. So, they sent divers to look for it. When reporters asked about the tip, police spokesman Joe Crowley said it came from a psychic, but they felt they had to look into it. The police said, “We don’t think there’s a good chance she’s there, but we’re going to check anyway.” They didn’t find anything.
In August 1980, a man who used to work at a carnival and was now in prison in Massachusetts admitted to killing Janice. Charles Pierce, who was in prison for life for a murder and sexual assault that had nothing to do with this case, said that he buried Janice on Earl Beebe’s land, who was the tax collector for Tolland. This property was part of the first search area in 1973, and investigators went back and dug for several days in the area Charles said Janice was buried. They didn’t find anything. Charles later said he killed more than a dozen people, but there was no proof that he did any of these crimes. He changed his mind about what he had said on his deathbed.
During the next ten years, investigators got a few random tips about the case and looked into each one. No matter how hard they tried, they were never able to find Janice’s kidnapper. People in Tolland said that the unsolved crime made them feel uneasy, especially since only people who lived in the area knew the dirt road where Janice was last seen. They thought there might be a killer living among them.
In January 2001, police said they were looking into the possibility that Nathaniel Bar-Jonah, who had been arrested in Montana for killing 10-year-old Zachary Ramsey, was the person who took Janice. Bar-Jonah lived in Webster, Massachusetts, which is about 20 miles from Tolland, Connecticut. He was 14 years old in 1973 at the time. When his Montana home was searched after he was arrested, police found pieces of human bone under the dirt floor in his garage. DNA tests showed that the bone did not belong to Janice, but police did not want to rule him out as a possible suspect in her disappearance.
More research did not find any proof that Bar-Jonah was related to Janice. He was eventually found guilty of kidnapping and sexually assaulting three boys and given a 130-year prison sentence. He died in 2008.
On the 40th anniversary of Janice’s disappearance in 2013, people in Tolland dedicated a bench at the Cross Farms Recreation Complex, which was close to where she was last seen, to her memory. Mary Englebrecht, Janice’s sister, was glad that people in the town hadn’t forgotten about her, even though Kathryn and Ronald were dead. “I wish my parents were here with me.” I am sure that the bench would honor them.
Mary was the only family member left alive, so she did everything she could to keep the case of her sister in the public eye. Even though it had been a while, she still hoped that the case would be solved and Janice would be brought home. “I’m still looking for answers, and I hope someone knows what happened.”
In 2015, the Tolland County Cold Case Squad was asked to look into Janice’s case again, along with those of Lisa White and Debra Spickler. They said that there would be a $50,000 reward for information about each case. Over the next year, they got 95 tips about the girls’ disappearances and talked to more than 50 people. They also made a list of possible places where the girls could be buried. The investigations into each disappearance are still going on.
Researchers still hope that they can help Janice’s sister find some peace of mind even though she hasn’t been seen in almost 50 years. Mary said that every day she still thinks about how her sister got away. “Right now, my biggest hope is to find her and bring her home to be buried properly.”
Janice Kathryn Pockett went missing in Tolland, Connecticut, in July 1973. She was only 7 years old at the time. She was really looking forward to riding her bike down the street to get a butterfly she had found, but she never got back home. Detectives think she was taken and probably killed. The last time we saw Janice, she was 4 feet tall and weighed 65 pounds. She has blue eyes and blonde hair. She wore a blue and white shirt, blue shorts with American flags and stars on them, white socks, and blue sneakers the last time she was seen. She had a white envelope that was empty in her hand. Please call the Connecticut State Police at 860–685–8000 if you know anything about Janice.