Man's family has questions about 1966 Hannibal death


This year marks the 45th anniversary of the death of a Hannibal man.

The body of 24-year-old Vernon Wayne Hill was found floating in Bear Creek on Mother's Day in 1966.

The death was ruled an accident, but Hill's family has its suspicions about what really happened.

KHQA's Rajah Maples spoke with Hill's sister, who says the mystery has haunted her and her family for years.

Shari Gilbert said, "This is 45 years later, and all these years, I've always wondered what happened to my brother. If it was an accident, fine, but what happened? He was a very important person in my life, and one night he left, and he didn't come back."

Hill's death came decades before Lt. John Zerbonia arrived at the Hannibal Police Department. But he was able to pull up Hill's case file.

Lt. John Zerbonia said, "Vernon Hill was reported missing May 1, 1966. His body was found floating in Bear Creek seven days later.The investigating officers and the medical examiner determined the cause of death to be accidental drowning, and the case was closed. From reviewing the case file from that incident, it appears that the investigating officers talked with several witnesses and employers of Mr. Hill's and nothing indicating foul play ever surfaced."

Gilbert said, "They found him on Mother's Day, and they had said that he had drowned, and they were going to do an investigation and find out what had happened, because no one had had any details, and no one had been bringing any information to us."

What are some of the challenges that go along with these older cases?

Zerbonia said, "The older the case gets, it's harder to investigate. Evidence gets old. Witnesses either move or die. They have a hard time remembering events as they occurred. It just gets harder to get the exact occurrence the way they happen the older the case gets."

Do you have any reason to believe it wasn't an accident?

Zerbonia said, "No. From reviewing the report, it all seems like it was an accident."

Gilbert said, "To our knowledge, it was an open case. That was why I contacted to start with 'cause, in my opinion, and everyone in my family, we were under the assumption that it was still an open case."

Why does this just not jell that it was an accident?

Gilbert said, "He had been in the Navy. He was a strong swimmer. The water wasn't deep. There were some rumors in the rumor mill that there were people who were not happy with him. He was involved with a woman, and my understanding was she had an ex-husband, and this is hearsay that I've heard over the years. I can't imagine my brother going swimming in Bear Creek in April, because you know it was going to be chilly, so if they're saying it's an accident, and that it's closed, I would've thought someone in our family would've been notified. It has haunted me for years. He's my brother, and this is 45 years later, and I still miss him."

What would you like to see happen?

Gilbert said, "I would just like to see some closure. If it was an accident, and somebody knows something, then tell us what happened. If someone knows anything...I don't care if they send a letter anonymously. If we just had some kind of closure, because I don't think my brother was done justice."

If you have any information about this case, you're asked to contact Hannibal police or Hill's sister, Shari Gilbert at P.O. Box 62 Saverton, MO 63467

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