When Mark Himebaugh got home from school around 3:30 pm on Monday, November 25, 1991, he was excited to see that there was a brush fire close to his home in Del Haven, New Jersey. Del Haven was a small town with less than 1,000 residents; a brushfire was an unexpected and exciting event for an 11-year-old boy. Mark climbed onto the roof of his house to get a better look at the fire but couldn’t see it very well, so he asked his mother, Maureen, if he could walk over to it so he could get a closer look. Maureen gave him permission and he left, promising he would be back soon.
Shortly after Mark left his house, Maureen got a phone call from a neighbor who needed a ride home because her car had broken down. Maureen agreed to pick her up. She passed by Mark as he was walking towards the fire and asked if he wanted to go with her, but Mark was determined to get closer to the fire and declined the offer. Maureen told him that she would be back shortly and reminded him to be careful. She then drove off, not realizing that she had just seen her son for the last time.
The brushfire had backed up traffic in the area, so police started telling cars to go away from the scene of the crime. People were told to take a detour through Mark’s Del Haven neighborhood. Because of all the traffic, Maureen’s quick trip to pick up a neighbor took a lot longer than usual. When she got home, it was after 4:00 pm. When she got back, Mark wasn’t at the house, so she thought he was still watching the tree fire.
Maureen began to worry when Mark wasn’t home by 4:30 pm. This is when the brushfire went out, and the crowd that had gathered to watch it spread out. She called all of Mark’s friends to see if he had stopped by to see one of them, but no one had seen him. As night fell, her worry turned into fear. Mark had always followed the rule that he had to be home before it got dark. Maureen called the Middle Township Police Department to report her son missing because she thought something bad had happened to him.
A search for the missing boy was started right away by the police. They were told by Maureen that Mark had broken his left foot a few months ago and had just recently had the cast taken off. At first, they thought Mark had hurt his foot again when he fell down. As soon as the sun went down, the temperature dropped well below freezing, so they needed to find him quickly.
Around 100 volunteers, police, and firefighters began searching the area around Mark’s house and where the brushfire had happened. Around 9:30 pm, firefighters found a white LA Gear sneaker on the beach about 100 yards from Mark’s house on Sunray Beach Road. The shoe wasn’t there when the area was searched before. When Maureen saw the shoe, she knew right away that it belonged to her son.
Investigators didn’t understand why only one shoe had been found. They couldn’t say for sure that Mark didn’t take it off himself because there were no signs of a struggle and Mark’s footprints leading away from the scene showed that he kept walking with only one shoe on.
Mark’s left shoe was found. Since he had just had a cast taken off his left foot, it seemed possible that he was in pain and thought taking the shoe off would help, but it was awfully cold, so this was not likely. They also couldn’t explain how they missed the shoe the first time they looked in that area; it almost looked like someone put it there on purpose so they would find it.
Detective Sgt. Walter Oliver from Middle Township was one of the first people who was sent to look into the case. He told reporters early on, “We are not considering foul play at this time because we need more evidence than just the shoe.” He was still confused about why they had only found one of Mark’s shoes. “I do not believe a child will drop a shoe and run off.”
All through the night, people kept searching for Mark. The next day, more than 300 people were still looking for the boy. Jody, his father, was thankful and shocked. He told a reporter that he couldn’t believe so many people were giving their time to help look for his son. He said that Mark liked to be alone and that he spent most of his time with his older brother Matthew. He never left his house and was wary of new people. He was never the type of boy who would even think about running away from home.
Searchers had gone over more than two square miles of land around the last place Mark was seen by the end of the day on Wednesday. Many people, search dogs, and a Coast Guard helicopter all failed to find the missing boy. There was a sign that he might have gotten into a car because bloodhounds picked up his scent on the beach but lost it near the road.
As the search went on, authorities said they no longer thought Mark had hurt himself or gotten lost by accident. They started to think that him going missing was due to foul play.
Even though it was Thanksgiving Thursday, Mark’s family didn’t have much to be thankful for. The search was temporarily slowed down so that volunteers could spend the holiday with their families. On Friday morning, the search began again with all its might.
Investigators flew over in a private plane and filmed as they went while police, volunteers, and seven bloodhounds searched the marshland around Del Haven in a methodical way. They thought that carefully going over the videotape might give them clues that they had missed while searching, but it didn’t.
On Friday, Detective Sgt. Oliver said that investigators thought Mark had been killed by someone else. He said that they had not found any signs that Mark was having issues at school or home that would have made him want to run away, and they did not think he was lost in the marshland. He was born and raised in the area and spent a lot of time outside. He knew it very well. His home was so close that he couldn’t have gotten lost. Detectives thought he had been taken away.
On Saturday, the search for Mark in person was stopped. More than 300 people had searched over more than 10 square miles of land but had not found any signs of where the boy might be. A spokesperson for the Middle Township Police Department told reporters that investigators would keep looking into all tips they got and would start looking again if they heard that Mark had been seen in a certain area.
Investigators talked to people in the area to try to find people who saw Mark on Monday afternoon. Several teens said they saw him as they walked toward the brushfire. At that time, he was walking away from it. It was a joke that they asked Mark if he started the fire. After laughing with him, they went their separate ways. At that point, Mark was only a few blocks from his house.
Cape May County South Park is a small public park just a few blocks from Mark’s house. A park ranger told police that he saw him Monday just before 4:00 pm. Mark was in the park with a girl who looked about the same age as him. The person in charge hadn’t seen if the kids left the park together.
Over the weekend, police put up a roadblock on Bayshore Road in Del Haven in order to find more witnesses. They pulled over a huge number of drivers, handed out missing person flyers, and asked if anyone had seen anything fishy or strange on the day Mark went missing. Not a single one.
After a week without seeing Mark, on December 2, 1991, the FBI joined the search. Together with detectives from Middle Township, they went back through the area near Sunray Beach Road to look for a clue that had been missed the first time around. They thought Mark had probably been taken from him on that road on his way back from watching the fire on Bayshore Road, which was close by. Sadly, they didn’t find anything that was relevant to their investigation.
Mark’s family was shocked when he didn’t come home. Jody and Maureen were divorced, but they didn’t fight over who would have custody of their son, and they worked together to find him. A few days after he went missing, they said they would pay $10,000 for information that led to his location. Then, a local heavyweight boxer named Riddick Bowe offered an extra $15,000 to make sure Mark got home safely. Posters with Mark’s picture and information about the reward were put up all over the area. Police got a lot of tips, but no solid leads.
On December 13, 1991, an episode of America’s Most Wanted talked about Mark’s disappearance and how he was likely taken by someone else. His family was glad that the story went all over the country and told reporters that they were doing everything they could to let everyone know that Mark was missing.
Investigators followed up on every tip they got, but they quickly ran out of leads. A reporter talked to Detective Dave Garrison, who said that they were searching everywhere for the missing 11-year-old. “Someone called us to say they had a dream about where he was, and we checked it out.” The detectives’ main goal was to get Mark home safely.
Three weeks after Mark was last seen, police said they had questioned a person of interest but couldn’t prove that he had anything to do with Mark’s disappearance. They didn’t tell anyone his name, but they did say he was 50 years old, lived in Cape May County, and had a criminal record. Even though they were interested in him at first, he was never mentioned again, so it seemed like he was eventually cleared of any involvement.
Police worked with the park’s guard to make a composite sketch of the girl who had been seen with Mark right before he went missing. They were hoping to find her. The sketch was shown to the media, but no one in the area seemed to recognize her. The police were worried about this because Del Haven was a small town where everyone knew each other. No one could identify the girl, which made detectives think she might not have been from the area. They were afraid she might have been used to trick Mark.
Detectives thought Mark was probably dead, but Maureen kept hoping that he would be found alive. She told the news service that she kept expecting to see her youngest son walk through the front door when she looked up. It was her worst nightmare to have a child go missing, but she tried to stay positive by saying, “a miracle could bring him home.”
The case didn’t move forward much for months. Mark’s family and friends held a vigil to mark the sad first anniversary of his disappearance. There were still pictures of the happy redhead all over the area, but people were losing hope of finding him.
Investigators said they were starting from scratch and were now talking to residents again in the hopes that someone would come forward with new information. A sketch of a man seen by two witnesses in Cape May County South Park on the day Mark disappeared was also made public.
Soon after Mark was last seen, two teens came forward to say they saw him with a man in his mid-20s. It wasn’t clear why detectives hadn’t shared this information earlier. When reporters asked about it, New Jersey State Police Lt. John Hannah, superintendent of the missing persons unit, said that they had been looking into other leads and didn’t think this one was relevant to their investigation at the time.
The police released a new composite sketch of a possible suspect on June 23, 1993. He was said to be a white man in his 20s with long, dark hair that was parted down the middle. He was thought to have been driving a white compact car with a roof rack when Mark went missing. His glasses had a square frame. Mark was seen close to this man’s car right before he disappeared.
In July 1993, police searched the home of 27-year-old Thomas Butcavage in Havertown, Pennsylvania, because they thought it might have something to do with Mark’s disappearance. A male prostitute from Philadelphia told police that Butcavage had shown him a videotape of himself sexually assaulting a young boy who looked a lot like Mark. This led to the search. Butcavage denied the charge, and the search did not turn up any such videotape. He was still being looked into, though.
The prostitute said that Butcavage told him that he liked to “drive outside of the local area and snatch a child off of a corner, take them somewhere, and kill them.” The prostitute also said that Butcavage admitted to hidden Mark’s shoe on the beach to trick police. Even though the information was interesting, detectives were not able to find any solid proof that Butcavage was connected to Mark’s disappearance. He does, however, look a lot like the second composite sketch that was released, and he is still a person of interest.
Police followed up on thousands of tips over the next few years, but they didn’t make any real progress in the case. When Mark was seen several times in Sacramento, California, in March 1995, volunteers put up more than 4,000 missing person posters around the city in the hopes of getting more information. But there were no more reports, and the first sightings could not be confirmed.
Mark’s case stopped being in the news for a while. Every anniversary, a local newspaper wrote a short news story about the case, but it was clear that the investigation had stopped for good. Maureen didn’t give up on finding her son, even though things weren’t going anywhere. That same year, she told reporters that she knew Mark was probably dead but still hoped his body could be found so the family could have some peace of mind.
Mark grew up in Maureen’s house, and she never moved. She kept her address and phone number the same so that Mark would always know how to reach her. There were pictures of him on the walls and his favorite chessboard was always out in the open. Every year, Maureen celebrated her son’s birthday. It was true, “I don’t know if he’s still out there, but he might be.”
It had been 30 years since Maureen had seen her son last, on November 25, 2021. She was still hopeful that the case would be solved. The town of Del Haven did too. People across the country may have forgotten about Mark’s case, but people in Del Haven never forgot about it. It was no longer a happy place in town when Mark disappeared, and everyone was sad with Maureen. More than anything else, they all just want things to end.
Mark’s case is still being looked into, and investigators are actively following all leads. They want to talk to anyone who was in the Del Haven area on the day Mark went missing. They are especially interested in any photos or videos of the brushfire. Even though a lot of time has passed, they still think this case can be solved, and they hope that Mark will soon get justice.
Mark Himebaugh was just 11 years old when he went missing in 1991; detectives believe he was abducted by a stranger and most likely murdered. Mark had blue eyes, red hair, and freckles; at the time of his disappearance, he was 4 feet tall and weighed 85 pounds. He was last seen wearing gray pants, a blue shirt, a gray jacket, and white sneakers. If you have any information about Mark, please contact the Middle Township Police Department at 609–465–8700.