May 10, 1967: Disappearance of Billy Hoag, Joey Hoag and Craig Dowell


On May 10, 1967, 3 boys went about their typical adventurous ways, only this time, they never returned.

The kids, brothers Billy and Joey Hoag (10 and 13 respectively) and 14-year-old Craig Dowell were routine cave explorers in Hannibal, Missouri. They set out, armed with flashlights and a shovel to find their next adventure 53 years ago today, and never came home.

Their disappearance remains a mystery, it seems they vanished without a trace.


The last known sighting of the children was at about 4:30 PM when a 14-year-old friend of the kids reported seeing them walking toward Murphy's Cave with their flashlight and shovel.

When they didn't come home, that account lead a rescue team to focus their efforts on Murphy's Cave. The Mark Twain Emergency Squad responded, entering the large cave system in search of the boys. Once the case continued to grow in notoriety, a national rescue team was put together with hundreds of spelunkers searching the cave system to find the kids.

But after 3 days of some of the best cave divers coming up short, doubts arose that they were even inside of Murphy's Cave. There were many small caves discovered while Missouri Highway 79 was being built. Friends came forward and claimed that the boys, and other boys from the area, had tried to adventure using those holes, the type of daring activity adolescent boys love.

As the search continued underground, a search began above ground, too. Trains leaving the area after the boys were last seen were searched, and down the river. Crews scoured islands in the Mississippi River. Families held out hope that their sons would be returned home safely.

Every abandoned house int he area was searched. The woods were combed in every surrounding area. But nothing turned up.

10 days after the kids went missing, the preliminary search was called off. Though the community still put together more localized searches in the following few days, by the end of June, all official searches had ceased.

The community mourned for the missing boys, and also for the Hoag and Dowell families who lost their kids to the unknown.


The most feasible theory is that the boys bit off a bit more than they could chew underground and became trapped or smothered underground, unable to be found. A terrifying, horrific way to die, but a likely explanation.

But others think they may have been met with foul play. A native of the area, John Wingate, wrote a book about the ordeal, and he believes there is a chance that they were victims of John Wayne Gacy, who had been murdering young boys in the Chicago area between 1972 and 1978.

The theory came to him after speaking to 3 different psychics who had similar visions of Gacy's involvement. They all said that the boys were tortured, sodomized, suffocated, strangled and buried. After the original psychic meetings, he heard from other clairvoyants that when they saw images of the boys, they would become flooded with images of John Wayne Gacy.

The theory isn't only based on the testimony of some psychics. Geographically, it also makes some sense. During that time, he was living in Waterloo, Iowa and is mother was living in Little Rock, Arkansas. To visit his mother, he would take the highway that goes right through Hannibal. Perhaps he had spotted the kids walking down the street and took them.

Wingate also alleged that during the time of the disappearance, a "mystery man" had been hanging around the town, specifically near the cave openings, and went away after the kids went missing.

But while an abduction theory may be corroborated by a slew of psychics, what is more plausible is that the children, who were seen near the caves and were regular cave explorers, got lost in the extensive cave system and became trapped, dying beneath the feet of those frantically looking for them. Without clear confirmation of where they entered, they could have been anywhere, and could have been trapped or crushed before search parties set out so they couldn't yell for help.

It has been 53 years and there have been no new developments in the case. It was never treated as an abduction, as they likely were not met with foul play. Some theorize that they may have run away, but it doesn't appear they had any real reason to, and to be seen last with flashlights and shovels assumes they had planned to go cave diving, a normal activity for them. More than likely, the bodies of those poor boys are underground, somewhere in the cave system. A collapsed ceiling or a wrong turn or a misjudged size could have lead to their fate.

Hopefully one day, someone exploring those caves can put an end to the mystery that has haunted Hannibal for more than half of a decade.




© 2023 by Train of Thoughts. Proudly created with