Web posted April 27, 2006
Widen Search For Boys Rescuers Now Doubt Three Youths Are Trapped in
By Herb Powell and Howard Hoffmaster
May 12, 1967
From the archives of
The Hannibal Courier-Post
Rescuers gave up hope early this morning that three boys missing
since Wednesday afternoon (May 10, 1967) would be found in Murphy's
Cave and they widened their search for Joe Hoag, 13, William Hoag,
11, and Craig Dowell, 14.
Working in the glare of flood lights, workmen opened a new entrance
into a tunnel blocked by a landslide and after digging out the rubble
and finding nothing, a spokesman announced that it was now almost
certain that the boys were not in the cave.
The new entrance to the cave was punched through after midnight, 30
feet north of the opening that the boys reportedly used when they
began exploring the cave at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Rescuers are speculating that after taking a short exploration trip
into the cave, the boys may have left for another cave or wooded area.
Bill Karras, national president of the Speleological Society and
chief of the national rescue squad took charge of the rescue
operations after arriving in Hannibal with a five-man rescue crew
around 11:30 p.m. last night.
The new opening was widened with a backhoe furnished by the McIntyre
Mayor Harry Musgrove requested that the National Guard begin a search
this morning from the Universal Atlas Cement Plant at Ilasco north
along the river to a point beyond the cave area.
Gov. Warren Hearnes concurred in the request and ordered the National
Guard company D to join in the search.
Musgrove reacted in response to a request from the Hoag family, which
has been unanimous in feeling that the boys are not in the cave, but
perhaps in other caves uncovered by construction work or even perhaps
in the several pockets of wood and brush land around the cave area.
The Hoag family - mother, father, five remaining brothers and four
sisters - were unwilling to standby while others searched and they
organized their own search party. They covered the hills Thursday
At 9 a.m. today, the search for the lads had narrowed down to one
very small passage, which one "cave man" explained could not be
entered unless by someone "driven by fear or panic."
This passage was explored as far as possible and a digger is to be
used to open the outer wall on the north side of the new channel to
look into it.
The searchers felt certain, however, that if the boys are found in
the narrow grotto, approximately 14 feet from the surface, they would
not be found alive. There is no indication that the boys are in the
One rescuer, James Mroczkowski, 18, of St. Louis, became ill this
morning from exposure and fatigue and was taken to Levering Hospital.
Mroczkowski requested to be returned to the search area within one-
half hour of hospitalization, but rescue officials ordered that he be
kept at Levering.
Since the Murphy Cave area has been so thoroughly searched by now,
rescue workers feel that the brushy area south of the cave might
yield some clues, and the group has spread out into that area.
There are still some caves in the area which have not been searched.
Musgrove and State Representative Harold Volkmer were making
arrangements this morning for hot meals to be served to the searchers.
Captain Gorton of the Salvation Army thanked all the following firms
for their donations of food and drinks to workers at the cave the
last two nights: National Food Store, Bluff City Dairy, Pastry Box,
White Rose Diner, Pennewell's Oil Co. and the A&P.
During the digging last night some chalk was found, but could not be
linked to the missing boys since the Mark Twain Emergency Squad,
which initiated rescue operations, had used chalk to mark passageways
in the cave-riddled bluff, located in the Birch and Walnut street
area on the city's southside.
Rescue workers found sticks of dynamite in the area of the new
opening, but Karras reported that they were expended charges and
presented no danger.
R.S. Bill Jr., president of the Volunteer Mercy Corps., of Houston,
Texas, also arrived this morning to aid in rescue operations. Bill
was responsible for the rescue of Theresa Fregia, 2 1/2, of Votaw,
Texas, on March 18 after she had been trapped in an 8-inch concrete
pipe for 9 1/2 hours.
Groups assisting in the search are the Hondo Grotto Underground
Rescue, from St. Louis; the Chouteau Grotto Rescue, from Columbia and
hundreds of volunteer workers, some of whom are youths very familiar
with the caves and tunnels of the area.
Company D of the Hannibal National Guard, 175th MP Battalion,
assisted rescuers in controlling the crowds.
Two police dogs, "Nemo" handled by Jack Floyd of the Hannibal police
department, and "Ricter" handled by patrolman William Klaeys of the
St. Louis Police, were taken to the cave and both dogs went to the
side area and began scratching the mound of dirt and rock. This was
the reason the new entrance was made - to get behind the slide area.
Search for the three youths began Wednesday night by the Mark Twain
Emergency Squad, under the direction of Commander Bob Harrison and
Vice-Commander Bill Bridges.
Operations were taken over yesterday by the Hondo Grotto group from
St. Louis, under the control of Brother Marvin, of St. Mary's High
School in St. Louis. Brother Marvin and the Hondo Grotto were
replaced by Karras and his team from Washington, D.C., this morning.
R.S. Bill Jr., of the Volunteer Mercy Corps took no active part in
the rescue attempts.
The Hoag brothers and the Dowell boy were last seen by Lynn Strube,
14, of 405 Smith, and John Janes, 13, 1125 Sierra, Wednesday
afternoon as the trio entered the cave.
Lynn said the youths were carrying only flashlights and a shovel and
had no food.
John accompanied the other boys into the cave for 18 feet, and then
returned when the trio turned left at one of the hundreds of tunnels
that snake through the hill.
Lynn and John both said the Hoag brothers and the Dowell youth had
been planning an exploratory trip into the cave and that all three
were used to cave trips.
Lynn said that many youths in the area have explored the caves for as
long as three hours and that he feels certain that if the trio was in
the cave they would be frightened, but not panicky.
Lynn added that the boys in the area are taking the disappearance of
their three friends "pretty hard" but that he doubted that the cave
exploration would cease.
When asked if he planned to keep up the hobby of cave searching, Lynn
said he would definitely go in again, only he would take a ball of
string to find his way out again.
Other boys have been lost in Murphy's Cave up to seven hours, Lynn
reported, but they always manage to find their way back out.
At one time in the rescue attempt, five teams of three men each were
inside the cave, mapping out the four miles tunnels and scouring
every crack and room. The cave is only approximately four feet high
at the tallest point, which meant that rescuers were forced to crawl
around on their hands and knees for hours on end.
In some cases, they had to literally walk on the walls, because the
bottoms of some of the tunnels were too small to put their feet.
Early yesterday afternoon, many rescuers were saying that it seems
highly unlikely that the boys were in the cave.
Joey Hoag is in the words of his family "a scientific nut," who likes
to poke into dark corners, climb hills, take long walks - anything
that will bring him close to his apparently limitless interests.
Joey's curiosity led him, in company with his 11-year-old brother,
Billy, and a playmate, 14-year-old Edwin Craig Dowell, into one of
the numerous caves under Hannibal, Mo., Mark Twain's home town,
The trio was last seen entering a new entrance to Murphy's Cave,
carved out by a construction crew building a road through the south
side of Hannibal.
Joey and Craig Dowell are eighth graders at Hannibal Junior High.
They seem to be interested in just about everything.
Billy, in the words of his sister, Lynn, has no particular interest.
He just likes to do what Joey does.
Joey owns a refractor telescope, which he makes an informed study of
the stars. He knows about astrophysics - he wants to be the first man
on the moon.
Joey also likes snakes, geology, and he likes caves.
Craig, according to his mother, is crazy about bicycles. And just
about everything else. He's also a bit stubborn.
"We've talked to him, talked to him, talked to him, about going into
these caves. But he's still a boy," said Mrs. Helen Dowell, a cook at
the Becky Thatcher Restaurant.
Joey and Billy have five brothers and four sisters. Craig has three
brothers, ranging in age from nine to 23.
Billy Hoag also is a bit stubborn. He was punished Tuesday night for
going into Murphy's Cave, but he went in again Wednesday.