JR Shoemaker - Strange disappearances from U.S. wilderness

Victor Dwight Shoemaker Jr, " J.R.", disappeared May 1st 1994, kirkby, West Virginia

JR Shoemaker disappearance virginia

Victor Dwight (or Dewight) Shoemaker Jr, called J.R., was five years old when he went to visit his grandfather, Oscar Wolford. His mobile home, was located in Kirby (south of Augusta) near Short Mountain Wildlife area in west Virginia. He was playing with his two cousins, 8 and 9, just behind his grandfather's home on on May 1st, 1994, when he mysteriously vanished without a trace. 

J.R.'s father, Victor Sr., was a maintenance man at a Leesburg apartment building, and his mother, Nettie, worked on an assembly line at an electronics plant in Loudoun. They drove from Leesburg to the Wolford property on Saturday, April 30th.

At 8 a.m. Sunday, May 1st, J.R. and two of his cousins -- 8-year-old Lloyd Wolford and 9-year-old Tommy Martin, went outside to roam the woods. "They went a-huntin'," said Oscar Wolford, chuckling as he considered his grandsons' lively imaginations. "That was their hobby. They'd come back and say, 'Oh, I killed a big buck.'

The boys played for about thirty minutes until approximately 8:30 a.m., when J.R. got hungry and said he was returning to his grandfather's home for food alone. But when Tommy and Lloyd returned to the trailer there was no sign of J.R..

Search teams began looking within an hour, West Virginia State Police said. They have focused on a four-square-mile area around the trailer, believing that the boy lacks the endurance to get any further than that. 

The boys had wandered safely in the woods together many times before and it was one of the few places where Nettie Shoemaker, who had tried for years to have a baby before conceiving J.R., would let her son play out of her sight.

Short Mountain Wildlife Reserve

At the time of his disappearance, he was wearing red Bugs Bunny T-shirt, red shorts and white X-Men sneakers. J.R. was familiar with the mountainside and always knew his way back.

Although J.R. was said to be strong for his age and fond of the outdoors, the rugged mountainside terrain was no place for a 5-year-old on his own. The paths are steep and twisting; the forest is thick; houses are few and far between and a treacherously dense layer of leaves covers gullies and rocks.

Searchers using a helicopter equipped with infrared equipment to detect heat and dog teams searched the ground. Lisa K. Hannon, who helped coordinate an all-night search was killed Tuesday May 3rd, 1994, when her car ran off a road and struck a tree.

The search for J.R. lasted for five days in rainy weather with temperatures in the 30s before being called off on Thursday, May 5th, in the evening. Over the next five months, National Guard and Army Reserve units used weekend training time to search for signs of the boy. In addition, the FBI was called in, suggesting that the authorities believed that foul play might have been involved.

Victor Shoemaker Sr and wife Nettie Shoemaker 2014

Victor Shoemaker Sr and wife Nettie Shoemaker 2014

Investigators conducted several interviews of the cousins, who told police they lost track of J.R. Parents Victor Dwight Shoemaker Sr and Nettie Shoemaker stated that they believed the cousins acted strangely when the came out of the woods and they haven't talked to that family since. When Victor Shoemaker tried to talk to the other boys, 'they wouldn't say anything about it.' One cousin's family lived in a mobile home on the mountain, the other was from a small town in Pennsylvania.

Victor believes his son was abducted but there have been no arrests. No suspects have been identified, and police have found no indication of foul play or family involvement. The Shoemakers speculate that the son was brainwashed and is alive but living a different identity.

In 2014, 'At this time, all investigative leads have been exhausted,' said FBI supervisory special agent Greg Heeb in Pittsburgh. In 1997, the FBI said it was made aware of a report that a dark-coloured pickup truck had been spotted in the area the day J.R. vanished. But the tip never led to anything. Another unconfirmed theory: instead of keeping its nose to the ground, a police dog looking for scents of the boy held its nose in the air as it travelled across a grassy field, leading to speculation that someone had carried the boy from where he was last seen down to the road.

'You talk about a cold case. That is a cold case,' said former Sgt. B.L. Burner, a state police spokesman who retired in 2001. 'There was nothing concrete. Everybody there had their suspicions.'

What happened to J.R, out in those woods while playing with his cousins that day in May 1994? Was he injured by his cousins, got lost on his way back to his grandparent's property or abducted as his parents believe? The suspicious behaviour of the cousins could be guilt or perhaps Post Traumatic Stress from some incident which happened during J.R.'s disappearance. Twenty four years on, no sign of him or his remains has been found.


Eric Smith - Strange disappearances from U.S. wilderness

Eric Grady Smith, disappeared November 8th, 2013, Cedar Bluff, Virginia. 

Eric Smith, Cedar Bluff disappearance

On Friday, November 8th, 2013, Eric Smith left his home on West Hurt buggy Road in Cedar Bluff in Virginia to go hunting on his 40 acre property. That was the last time he was seen and over four years later Eric has never been found. 

That evening Eric hadn't returned and with temperatures dropping, his wife first went to see his mother at a local church with her concerns. The congregation of the church then sprang into action to begin the informal search and subsequently authorities were notified.

Eric was a foreman at a local Consol Energy owned Buchanan No. 1 coal mine, in charge of over 500 people. Unusually for him, his wife had called in sick on his behalf for several days before his disappearance saying he had flu-like symptoms. He was blind in one eye. 

He was wearing camouflage-print hunting clothes and a titanium Timex watch and carrying a Thompson Center .50 calibre muzzle-loading gun with a stainless steel barrel and a camouflage-print stock. Unusually,  he left his cellphone behind at his house. 

A Virginia state police helicopter with FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) was used that night and the next day a search began using sniffer dogs.  Several scents leading from the Smith residence were detected but went nowhere. At least one of these trails appear to head back to the home but could have been some days old. 

Cedar Bluff Police Chief David Mills said “Smith carried a muzzleloader with him, with one shot likely already loaded so search coordinators brought explosive detection dogs into the search yesterday from the Virginia State Police and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. These dogs are trained to detect material that goes into explosive devices with includes gun powder.”

By Sunday afternoon, November 10th, around 60 people were involved including trained search and rescue teams from across the region, coworkers from Consol Energy, fire department members, and other members of the community. Six air scent dogs were also used. Cedar Bluff Police Chief David Mills, coordinator of the search said with Smith wearing high tech camo the search was much more difficult. “He can be lying down and he would be impossible to see,” Mills said. The terrain was also a big problem in the search. With thick underbrush and steep hills, it is necessary to cover an area multiple times to be thorough.

Despite a $20,000 reward for information leading to his location and or recovery nothing was found or reported

Eric hunted on his property year after year and knew them inside out. His tree stand was less than a mile from his home so if he was overcome by illness/weakness it would have been expected he would have been found quickly. Yet there has never been any sign of Eric, his clothing or his weapon despite extensive searches. Some believe he was never on the property and may have run off, but this seems unlikely as he was close to his family. Others have speculated that his wife may have been involved, as Eric was not heard from or seen because of his apparent illness for days before he vanished.  Another theory was that Eric was accidentally shot by someone hunting in the area where his stand was and hid his body or he came across illegal hunters or meth producers who may have harmed him. Some have postulated that he fell in a sinkhole or cave and that is the reason that neither his firearm or bones have turned up. It is certainly strange that no trace has ever been found and it does raise suspicions that he was intentionally removed from the area or disappeared of his own accord.