Sheila Mackerley felt vaguely unsettled when she woke up on the morning of June 7, 1984. She was scheduled to have surgery that day, a tubal ligation that would be done on an out-patient basis. She knew she would be home later that evening, but surgery was never something to look forward. Sheila and her husband, Harold, had four children. Their oldest, named Harold after his father, was nine. Louis was seven, Sheila was three, and the baby, Eddie, was only a few month old. Harold, a manufacturing laborer, had to work that day, so Sheila had arranged for one of the children’s aunts to babysit.
The older two boys were in school all day. When they got home, Louis wanted to visit a neighbor who lived a few houses away from them. The neighbor, Helen, was an elderly woman who enjoyed receiving visits from the children in the neighborhood. She had grandchildren of her own, which meant she usually had toys and candy to share with visitors. Louis loved the woman and visited her frequently. He tried to convince his older brother to come along with him that day, but Harold wasn’t in the mood. He told his brother that he wanted to stay home and watch television. Louis decided to go without him, and after letting his aunt know where he was going, he left the apartment and headed down the street.
The Mackerleys had only been living in Allentown for a year, but Louis was friendly with many of the neighbors. He enjoyed wandering around outside, and it was common for him to stay outside until around 9:30pm each evening. Louis was a sweet child, but he could also be a handful. He had been diagnosed with a learning disability, and was supposed to begin special classes the following September. He also suffered from some emotional problems, had a very short attention span and had trouble listening. Doctors had recently started him on Ritalin, a narcotic amphetamine that was supposed to help him stay calmer and focused.
Louis left the apartment that day planning to visit with his neighbor, but these plans were quickly derailed. Two teenage boys saw Louis outside and began taunting him. When they started following him, he ran into Marco’s Doggie Shop, a local hot dog stand. Breathless, he told the owner of the stand that he was trying to hide from some teenagers who were chasing him. It was around 4:00pm when he entered the stand, and he remained there until around 4:45pm. At that point, he must have decided that the teenage boys were no longer a threat and it was safe for him to go back outside. Witnesses would later say that they saw Louis near the intersection of Fourth Street and Gordon Street, which was about a block away from his apartment. It’s unclear where he went after this.
When Louis didn’t come home for dinner, his family wasn’t very worried. He would often stay outside until after it got dark out. But when 9:30pm came and went without any sign of the boy, his parents grew concerned. Harold decided to go look for him, and Sheila, still somewhat woozy from having surgery earlier in the day, insisted on going with him. They walked up and down the streets where he usually hung out, calling his name and then listening in vain for a response. By 11:00pm, they had found no sign of Louis and they knew that something was seriously wrong.
At 11:10pm, Sheila called the police to report her son missing. Amazingly, despite the fact that Louis was only seven years old, the police told them they had to wait 24 hours before they could file a missing person report. The family did what they could to cover as much of the neighborhood as possible, but no one had seen Louis. His parents feared he had been abducted. If that was the case, by the time the police got involved the next day, Louis could have been anywhere in the country.
No one could have known it at the time, but the search for Louis would be one the largest in Allentown’s history — and one of the longest. Police canvassed the neighborhood, going door-to-door trying to find anyone who had seen Louis the day he disappeared. They interviewed the owner of the hot dog stand, and he told them about Louis using the stand as a safe haven from some teenagers that were bothering him. Police were able to track down the two boys who had been chasing Louis, and they were interviewed about what had happened that day. While they showed remarkably poor judgment by tormenting a child less than half their age, they were cleared of any involvement in Louis’s disappearance.
One witness came forward and told detectives that they had seen Louis near the river around 4:30pm on the day he went missing. According to the witness, Louis was talking to a man and a woman at that time. Police were unable to confirm this claim, and the time frame conflicted with that given by the owner of the hot dog stand, but without further information police couldn’t rule it out, either.
The possibility that Louis had been seen talking to a male and female near the time he disappeared was significant to his family. A few months before he went missing, Louis had gone to both his parents and a school nurse and said that he had been molested by a man and a woman named Frank and Elizabeth. He gave differing accounts of just what had happened — in one account, he said the incident occurred down by the river, in another account he said that the couple had taken him to their apartment and molested him there, then gave him a ride back to the area where he lived. Police took the accusation seriously, but without additional information, there was little they could do to identify the alleged perpetrators. Louis had no idea what their last names were, and was unable to recall where they lived. But Louis had told his older brother, Harold, that he had been warned by the couple that they would make him disappear if he went to the police. For Harold, this was too much of a coincidence. The police had been informed of the incident, and now Louis was missing. Harold was sure that the couple had done something to his younger brother.
Police didn’t rule out the possibility that the alleged molestation could have had something to do with Louis’s disappearance, but they had no evidence to back it up, either. They needed to keep an open mind and investigate all the possible scenarios.
It was 1984, and the recent abductions of Etan Patz and Adam Walsh had been covered across the nation. The idea that there were sexual predators out there that specifically targeted children was just starting to take hold, and it was not something that police had experience dealing with. In most child abuse cases, it was far more likely that one of the child’s parents was to blame than a stranger. It soon became clear that the investigators believed that Louis’s parents had something to do with his disappearance. It would be a point of contention in the years to come.
When they decided to focus the investigation on Harold and Sheila, police had statistics on their side. Investigating the parents was a prudent move, at least at first. Obviously, when they discovered that police believed they had somehow harmed their son, Louis’s parents were angry, but not necessarily surprised. It’s likely they were aware that police would eventually need to rule them out as potential suspects. While it hurt to learn that the officers thought they were capable of harming Louis, it was something that every parent of a missing child was forced to go through. They were repeatedly interviewed by detectives. They knew they had nothing to hide and they opened their home up to both police and the news media. They had alibis that police were able to check out — Harold had been at work, and Sheila had been in the hospital. But with no other leads, police kept coming back to the couple. Finally, three weeks into the investigation, the police and the FBI approached the parents and asked them to take polygraphs regarding the disappearance. They agreed without hesitation, and they both passed. Although investigators would still occasionally circle back and look at them again, they were eventually ruled out as suspects.
Louis’s disappearance wasn’t just hard on his parents. His siblings suffered shockwaves from it as well. It was especially hard on Harold, who had declined to accompany Louis on the day he went missing. His younger siblings had age in their favor, as they weren’t old enough to fully appreciate what was going on. Eddie, still an infant, would never get the chance to see what his parents were like before the disappearance and would have no memories of his lost older brother. Sheila, who was just a toddler, would have only vague recollections of life before Louis went missing. For Harold, not a day went by that he didn’t think about Louis. He saw how the incident had devastated his parents. His mother was constantly crying, and his father didn’t like to leave the house, preferring to stay by the phone just in case someone were to call about Louis. Both parents became way more overprotective in the aftermath of Louis’s disappearance, and the remaining three children had strict limitations placed on them.
Harold was also angry at what he perceived was unfair treatment of his parents by the police. He was still a little kid, and in his world, parents didn’t hurt their children. He couldn’t understand why police seemed so intent on linking his parents to the crime. He felt that due to the cops focusing on his parents, they let the real culprit get away.
While police did focus on Louis’s parents in the earlier stages of the investigation, it wasn’t to the exclusion of any suspects. They followed up on hundreds of leads. Possible sightings of Louis were reported all around the country, and the detectives carefully investigated each one. On one occasion, a tip came in that Louis was attending school in another city under a different name. Police went to check into it, and they took Louis’s mother with them. She was able to observe the boy suspected of being her son, but unfortunately, it wasn’t Louis. On another occasion, someone called detectives after seeing a boy in New Jersey who fit Louis’s description and was also taking Ritalin. Harold and Sheila tried not to get their hopes up, but it seemed to be the best lead they had gotten up to that point. Investigators tracked the boy down — and discovered that it was actually one of Louis’s cousins. It was a stunning coincidence, but yet another let down for Louis’s parents.
Eventually, Louis’s picture would appear on milk cartons, fliers, billboards, and even shopping bags. The exposure generated leads from all over the country, but none of them led to Louis. The case has been cold for years now, though detectives still get an occasional lead to follow up on. Police still believe that there is someone out there who knows what happened to Louis, and they hope that one day they will get the information they need to crack the case.
Detectives considered a number of different theories about what happened to Louis, but the most logical explanation is that he was abducted. Although he was very independent for his age, no one believes that he would have run away from home. At seven, he was simply far too young to survive on his own. If he had attempted to run away, or even just managed to somehow get lost in his own neighborhood, it is almost certain that he would have been located quickly. While teenage runaways can usually manage to stay under the radar, a little boy who was not much older than a toddler would have been far more noticeable.
The only logical conclusion is that Louis was abducted, but the question of who abducted him has been perplexing law enforcement for more than 30 years. While Allentown is not a large city when compared to Philadelphia or New York, it is still a city. Strangers do not stick out in cities the way they do in small towns. It’s possible that Louis was abducted by someone who was just passing through the area, saw the young boy alone, and took the opportunity to grab him. Louis’s age would have worked against him in this situation, as he was still young enough that he was trusting of most people. He was a naturally friendly child, and he enjoyed wandering around the city chatting with people. He wasn’t wary of strangers because he had never needed to be. Although he was sometimes teased by other children, he viewed adults as being safe. This was why he took shelter in the hot dog stand when he was being taunted by teenagers. It’s possible that he ran into more trouble with those teenagers after he left the hot dog stand. If he felt threatened, and there wasn’t a storefront close enough for him to take shelter in, he likely would have headed for the closest adult he could see. Unfortunately, it may not have been one that he could trust.
The possibility that his disappearance was the work of the couple that he claimed had molested him must be taken into account as well. One witness claimed to have seen Louis talking to a man and a woman near Jordan Creek. They told police they believed it had been around 4:30pm when they saw this, which conflicted with the story told by the owner of the hot dog stand. He said that Louis didn’t leave the stand until around 4:45pm. But the hot dog stand and the area where the witness claimed to have seen the boy were not that far apart, only a couple of blocks. Either witness could have been slightly off with their time estimate, which means it is possible that Louis did run into a couple after leaving the hot dog stand. Whether or not these two people were the same people that he claimed had molested him is unclear, but it is an intriguing possibility. If what Louis told his older brother was correct, the couple that molested him did say they would make him disappear if he went to police and told them what had happened.
It has been more than three decades since Louis walked out of his apartment and into the realm of the unknown, and a lot of things have changed. Parents are much more aware of the danger sexual predators can pose to children, and as a result children growing up today have far less freedom then previous generations. While it may have been considered acceptable decades ago for a seven-year-old to be allowed to wander around alone after dark, any parent who allowed that to happen today would risk being arrested and charged with neglect or child endangerment. Unfortunately, these reforms came about far too late to help save Louis.
Louis Mackerley was only seven years old when he disappeared. He is a white male with dark blonde hair and blue eyes. At the time he went missing, Louis was missing his four top front teeth, and was about 4’0” and weighed around 45 pounds. He had two circular-shaped burn scars on the right side of his chest, and had a very distinctive gait. He walked quite slowly and would lean forward while walking. He also had a habit of putting his hands on his hips whenever he was speaking. When last seen, he was wearing a green striped shirt, blue jeans with a red tag on the back that said “Doggie,” a belt with a buckle shaped like a train, pinkish socks, and brown shoes. He was taking medication for ADHD and did not have any of his medication with him when he disappeared. If you have any information on Louis, please contact the Allentown Police Department at 610–437–7721.