Out of the Frying Pan:   the Disappearance of Mark Himebaugh

Posted: July 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

Birthed in fire, the twenty-four year investigation into Mark Himebaugh’s disappearance appears to be heating up.


It was a conflagration that started it all; on November 25th, 1991 a marsh fire blazed in Del Haven, a quiet rural community on the shores of Delaware Bay in Middle Township, New Jersey.
As firefighters and onlookers descended on the scene
the inhabitants of the tidy colonial at 214 Sun Ray Beach Road enjoyed their last moments of normalcy—soon their world, like the adjoining scrubland, would be reduced to ash.

Prior to the kindling it had been the most routine of Mondays.
Maureen Himebaugh had fixed her sons Matthew and Mark breakfast and ushered the boys off to school;
she then ran errands, and when Mrs. Himebaugh arrived home at 2:30pm Mark,
freshly returned from Cape May County Special Services Alternative School,
was lolling on the sofa watching TV.
The Himebaughs had dubbed the eleven-year old “Curious George” due to his inquisitive nature,
and at 3pm Mark—lured by the siren song of the approaching firetrucks—requested and was granted permission to join the crowd of spectators assembling near the blaze.

Twenty minutes later, at 3:20pm,
Mrs. Himebaugh spotted Mark near the family driveway as she departed to chauffeur a neighbor to a nearby auto body shop. “Be right back,” she called out.
“Okay, Mom,” Mark replied, a banal exchange forever seared into Maureen Himebaugh’s memory.
Mark was subsequently sighted in the neighborhood by several area residents,
and at 3:45pm a ranger who was acquainted with Mark saw him entering a nearby park with a blonde girl
wearing a blue parka—Mark’s companion, who appeared ten or eleven years old in 1991,
has never been identified.
The nameless little girl and flame-haired boy
strolled through the entrance of Cape May County Park South and into the waiting arms of oblivion.


The fire. Natural in cause yet unnatural in consequence,
the fire aided and abetted Mark’s abduction as deftly as any flesh and blood accomplice.
Had the marsh gas failed to ignite on that fateful afternoon Mark may well have spent the remainder of the day
propped before the TV in the safety of the Himebaugh living room.
Mrs. Himebaugh’s quick jaunt to the auto body shop, normally a ten minute excursion,
instead took nearly an hour in the gridlock caused by the blaze;
traffic was diverted,
shepherding random vehicles into the neighborhood and heightening the probability of stranger danger.
Even if Mark was abducted by a familiar face
the fire furnished an effective distraction—-all eyes were drawn to the inferno,
the crackling of flames and caterwaul of sirens able to camouflage all but the most blood-curdling of screams.
Marsh fires are not uncommon in Del Haven,
but this particular combustion set in motion a series of events that made the improbable—a daylight abduction in a middle-class community—entirely possible.

When Mrs. Himebaugh arrived home at 4:15pm and discovered Mark had not yet returned she was unperturbed;
but as the sun set and his dinner grew cold she began to feel stirrings of panic.
As she later described the scene to a journalist from The Star Ledger:
“I remember standing there, holding his camouflage sweatshirt, and I had this awful feeling,” she said.
“I just knew that something was terribly wrong.”

The family had big plans that evening—Mark was smitten with his teacher’s daughter
and the Himebaughs were scheduled to visit the educator’s residence after supper.
Although his parents’ separation the previous winter had been a trying time
and Mark had some slight emotional difficulties—he’d been prescribed Prozac to control his obsessive compulsive disorder—there was no way he would’ve missed the much-anticipated outing.
At 6pm Mrs. Himebaugh launched the opening salvo in a campaign that would span decades:
she contacted the Middle Township Police Department and reported Mark as a missing person.


Law enforcement spared no expense during the search for the missing boy—by air, land and sea officers and volunteers scoured Del Haven from scrubland to shoreline and back again.
State police helicopters equipped with heat-seeking radar flew overhead,
boats dredged the bay,
and searchers sifted through the fire’s still-smoking ashes desperate for evidence of Mark’s fate.
Bloodhounds canvassed the area but,
hampered by soot and smoke,
the dogs were unable to isolate Mark’s scent.
Finally, at 8pm a clue emerged: a searcher stumbled upon an LA Gear sneaker abandoned on the beach approximately seventy-five yards from the Himebaugh home.
Like a breadcrumb dropped by Hansel and Gretel, the red and white athletic shoe, gently worn, marked the final imprint of Mark Joseph Himebaugh in the universe.

Although it was the first and only clue in the investigation,
the significance of the abandoned sneaker at the water’s edge is not entirely clear.
Though it’s possible the shoe was lost during a struggle with an abductor
Maureen Himebaugh believes her son may have discarded his sneaker for innocuous reasons—Mark had recently broken his foot and often complained that footwear pinched his newly-healed tarsal bone.

Yet even if the sneaker had been cast aside in a moment of youthful abandon
police believe Mark subsequently tumbled into the clutches of a predator—the possibility the vanished youth had drowned in the Bay or plunged into quicksand
was thoroughly investigated but ultimately discarded.
Regardless of how or why
Mark’s shoe came to rest in its sandy berth the midday marsh fire had heralded the presence of evil in the community.


Like moths to a flame, psychics were drawn to the media hubbub surrounding Mark’s disappearance,
their meddling producing naught but anguish for the grieving family and spurious leads for investigators.
Although Mark’s father Jody Himebaugh told The Philadelphia Inquirer  the psychics never directly asked for money
their motivations weren’t altruistic—they were seeking publicity and a type of “spiritual validation,” he believed.
Even New Jersey’s most famous clairvoyant, Dorothy Allison,
took a crack at solving the crime;
trailed by a Japanese film crew during her Del Mar perambulations,
Allison’s much-vaunted psychic prowess apparently failed her—she unearthed nothing of note and gave the Himebaughs no useful information.
Yet despite this resounding failure Jody Himebaugh told The Inquirer  he remains open to the use of psychics
for reasons more practical than paranormal:
“I’ll never turn a psychic away,” he declared. “I’m grateful for the extra set of eyes out there looking for my son.”

Dorothy Allison

Dorothy Allison

The initial search for Mark was called off in early December 1991, and to commemorate the one year anniversary of his abduction
the New Jersey State Police released a composite sketch
of a man seen with the missing boy
shortly before his disappearance—the circumstances of this sighting
and the identity of the eyewitness who saw the pair together, however, has never been revealed.


Though a mere twenty-six residences line Sun Ray Beach Road a year and a half after Mark’s disappearance
another crime occurred on the sparsely-populated thoroughfare:
authorities arrested Joanna Cortez, fifty-two, and her live-in companion, Harry Conrad, age forty-nine,
on charges of child endangerment and criminal restraint for habitually imprisoning a little girl in a closet.
The abused child, eleven years old, was Cortez’s granddaughter—Mark and the victim had been playmates,
but investigators were ultimately unable to develop any connection
between Mark’s abduction and the abusive couple.
Cortez and Conrad were both sentenced
to a term of five years’ probation for their crimes, and the search for Mark Himebaugh ground on.


In February of 1993 a male sex worker contacted law enforcement with the most intriguing lead in the case to date:
a john named “Tommy” had screened a pornographic video during their assignation,
the tipster claimed—the film featured the rape of a red-haired juvenile, gagged and shackled and obviously in terror.
Due to the high-profile nature of his disappearance
the sex worker immediately recognized the boy in the film
as none other than missing child Mark Himebaugh.
An interview with the sex worker can be found here.

When asked, “Tommy” confirmed Mark was indeed the boy featured in the video;
he then confessed to kidnapping Mark,
alleging he’d placed the LA Gear sneaker on the beach to misdirect the investigation.
“Tommy” further claimed he’d abducted and murdered several children,
often driving far afield to procure his victims.
He then asked the rentboy to join him in his murderous pursuit,
but the tipster,
being a sex worker and not a maniac, declined the offer and contacted law enforcement.

Thomas Butcavage

Thomas Butcavage

Detectives were soon able to identify “Tommy” as Thomas Butcavage,
age twenty-seven,
a self-employed computer consultant
who dwelt in Haverford,
a town approximately an hour’s drive from Del Haven.
Haverford Township Police executed two separate raids of Butcavage’s apartment
but investigators never found the video described by the tipster;
detectives did, however, discover a bounty of adult pornography,
drug and bondage paraphernalia
and the ball gag Mark was allegedly wearing in the film.
Through his lawyer, Butcavage declined to speak to law enforcement.

Although authorities lacked sufficient evidence to issue an indictment for Mark’s abduction
Butcavage was arrested on drug charges pursuant to the items discovered during the searches. Five months later, in June of 1993, authorities released a second composite of an individual seen with Mark shortly before his disappearance—the man in the sketch is the spitting image of Thomas Butcavage.
The New Jersey State Police have never revealed the circumstances
under which this individual was observed with Mark
or explained the rationale for waiting until Butcavage was a person of interest before releasing the sketch.
Furthermore, it’s unclear what relationship the second composite
bears to the drawing of the pony-tailed man released on the one-year anniversary of Mark’s abduction.

Although Butcavage may have skirted charges related to Mark’s abduction his time outside prison walls would be brief;
on September 9th, 1998 he was arrested on multiple charges of deviate sexual intercourse,
sexual abuse of children, indecent assault and corruption of minors.
The two victims in the case were nine years old when the abuse began in 1996;
unlike Mark, however, these victims were procured
not by abduction but by seduction—Butcavage groomed the boys with attention, expensive gifts and alcohol.
After Butcavage’s arrest police found numerous videotapes chronicling the assaults of the 1998 victims
but the tape featuring Mark Himebaugh, if it does in fact exist,
has never been found.
Butcavage was sentenced to thirty-six years in prison for child rape; he will be eligible for parole in 2017.

Handy side-by-side comparison

Handy side-by-side comparison

Provocative though the sex worker’s allegations may be, Butcavage is not the only person of interest on law enforcement radar—over the years
detectives have investigated a bevy of predators with ties to the Tristate area
including suspected serial killer Jack Lee Colin and prolific child slayer Lewis Lent.
Lent, a sex offender straight out of central casting,
abducted and murdered pubescent children
of both sexes in the Northeast in the early 1990s; like Mark, several of his victims have never been found.

Lewis Lent: for some pedophiles grooming is not an option

Lewis Lent: for some pedophiles grooming is not an option

Jack Lee Colin’s connection to the Himebaugh case is more geographic than substantive; acquitted by reason of insanity for his parents’ murders in 1972,
Colin lived in Cape May at the time of Mark’s disappearance
Jack Lee Colin

Jack Lee Colin

and passed through Del Haven on his daily commute to work.
Colin is a prime suspect
in the dismemberment murders
of several local women,
but despite circumstantial evidence
detectives have been unable to obtain an indictment for these crimes.
Lewis Lent is serving three consecutive life sentences
for child murder
and Colin is currently imprisoned on child pornography
and weapons charges;
neither killer has been definitively linked to Mark’s abduction.

Finally, since no tale of pedophilia would be complete
without at least one suspect clad in a cassock,
in the early 1990s
investigators examined a possible connection
between Mark’s disappearance and a defrocked Roman Catholic priest named William O’Connell.
O’Connell, then in his early 70s,
had relocated to Cape May after serving time in a Rhode Island prison for child molestation;
at the time of Mark’s abduction
the disgraced cleric lived only two miles away from the Himebaugh residence on Sun Ray Beach Road.

William O'Connell circa 1963

William O’Connell circa 1963

Aware of O’Connell’s history, investigators considered the former priest a person of interest in the early days of the Himebaugh investigation
but no evidence was forthcoming. Like Thomas Butcavage,
O’Connell may have evaded charges in Mark’s abduction
but his sojourn as a free man would be brief:
in 1994, three years after Mark’s abduction,
O’Connell was again arrested
for child molestation; the convicted pedophile
had used his position of trust as a Cape May County Herald  photographer to exploit pubescent boys,
taking nude photos of his victims
and openly masturbating in their presence.
O’Connell died while serving a ten year sentence in a sex offender treatment facility;
as is the case with Jack Lee Colin and Lewis Lent,
investigators have never been able to develop any concrete evidence linking O’Connell to Mark’s disappearance.

Despite the passage of more than two decades New Jersey detectives have never faltered in their quest to locate Mark Himebaugh;
last month, stirring the embers of a case long since grown cold
authorities released a tip call received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2010.
Excerpts from the call, placed at 3:45am on December 27th from a pay phone in Port Richmond, Pennsylvania,
can be heard here.

Describing himself as the “son of the witness of the crime,”
the young male caller identifies Mark’s abductor as “Gilbert Patrick Marie.”
After the release of the recording
dozens of internet sleuths
began scouring public records for a Gilbert Patrick Marie-Maree-Moray-Murray with ties to the Tristate area.
Although Middletownship Police, recipients of a similar call,
have yet to locate an individual bearing that name
they’d like to identify the caller and remain hopeful the tip will lead to a break in the case:
“It could be real significant,” Middle Township Detective Allan McClure told a journalist from NBC Philadelphia.
“The caller’s voice sounded sincere.”

The release of the Gilbert Patrick Marie phone call reenergized the Himebaugh investigation;
seizing the zeitgeist authorities launched a cold case review of Mark’s abduction;
as Middle Township Police Chief Christopher Leusner told The Press of Atlantic City,
“We felt that now that we have the public’s attention on the case, we would look at it again.”

Last month a police spokesperson announced the formation of a joint task force
comprised of local detectives and investigators from the FBI,
Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children;
if anything can reignite this coldest of cases
it’s the glare of publicity and the heat generated by a renewed investigation.

Maureen Himebaugh, Mark's mother

Maureen Himebaugh, Mark’s mother

Regardless of whether the case sizzles with activity or lays silent as a grave Mark’s mother Maureen Himebaugh,
keeper of the flame, waits.
She’s kept the same phone number and still resides in the same house as she did nearly twenty-five years ago
when Mark disappeared:
“I don’t think I can ever leave,” she told a Cape May County Herald  reporter during an interview in the Himebaugh residence, decor flush with mementos of her missing son.
“He may find his way home.”
If Mark’s abduction is a tale awash in fire then Mrs. Himebaugh is Prometheus, shackled to the boulder of her grief and uncertainty.

                “Life may change, but it may fly not;
                Hope may vanish, but can die not;
                Truth be veiled, but still it burneth;
                Love repulsed—but it returneth.”

—Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound

Here’s hoping Mark Himebaugh rises phoenix-like from the ashes and finally finds his way back home.

Age enhanced photo

Age enhanced photo

ADDENDUM: Jack Lee Colin has since been released. Mea culpa!

  1. carolyndelaney says:

    jack Colin is not dead! He was released from prison about five years ago and lives in dennisville I know this because my old neighbor in rio grand , her “special, mentally challenged” daughter age 60 something paid jacks taxes on his home for the years he was away and after he was released

  2. Kristen says:

    Maybe Gilbert Patrick Marie or Murray isn’t one name/one person. Could be three names of three people no?

  3. I pray that God will send the answer to all the questions you have. May Gods peace be with you and His wisdom guide you.

  4. Nancy Hart says:

    My youngest son, who attends the same school as Mark did, has no speech. I have often shuttered when reading about Marks disappearance. This is my most primal fear the abduction of a child.
    I often wonder the strength of the Himebaugh family to wake each day and move forward. With this list of predators, Mark’s outcome is frightening. As well as sickening. But why were the leads suppressed until now? Especially that phone call? The probability that someone may have moved or died, been incarcerated or now unable to speak, must grind the investigation to a halt.
    We continue to believe. One day Mark’s family will have the answers they so desperately need for closure.

  5. Maybe it’s time to call more psychics. I think the Long Island Medium, Theresa Caputo, who has a show on TLC channel, should be brought in to see what she can come up with.
    God bless you Mrs Himebaugh for never giving up! The pain must be unbearable!!! But like you said…… He may find his way home one day. I pray he does!

    • MPerry says:

      Was Paul Guard an older man or was cleared during the investigation or had an alibi? Because I am just curious as to why this man has not been mentioned again (since the time line) and being that HE was the one who said that HE saw Mark and the little girl in the blue coat walk off alone. It just almost sounds like, “Hey, the last time that I have seen so and so was here or there” and then, come to find out that it was this person who made up the entire thing about the girl in the blue jacket who was never found. The other suspicion that I had was that maybe the little girl in the blue coat was used by an adult to “lure” Mark away during this entire chaos of the fire. Somebody used that fire as an opportune time to strike and the fact that they have not found this person or Mark by now is because this person was going to use anything of an opportunity or for many to be distracted. It just seems to neat to go off the tracks like this. There is something more basic and it almost often is. It is something that is seen all the time, but then, isn’t seen. I think that this case need to begin again to that night and to round up all of the people who lived on that block at that time. It is time to do a geographic forensic investigation. Were there thoroughfares in this community? This person had to of course had a vehicle, but that’s just it isn’t. The last person to see Mark is Paul Guard. What was his story? Was he given a lie detecting test? Did this man have a past record? What about the people who had guests in their homes that night who happen to be a pedophilier? If they did have guests, were they gone longer than necessary? Has any of the former neighbours been properly investigated? If not, why not? There is something being overlooked and it happened right before everyone’s eyes. Why weren’t homes on that block checked or home to the next block?

    • MPerry says:

      The little girl with Mark story seems so pitched and not authentic to me. It to place someone any one with the victim, so that the attention is thrown way over in the other direction. You know what? It worked. Look at those leads. None come back to Mark’s disappearance. It just doesn’t. It is something much closer and this case needs a set of fresh eyes to place this all together. If the dogs picked up no scent, then he wasn’t there. Simple as that. He wasn’t there. But he was somewhere close. See, once you have some on looking else , they will. They only had the dogs sniffing in THAT direction. They didn’t pick up any scent because no one knew who the little girl was because there may have been no little girl. Look at Paul Guard. What was his age at that time? Who was in his house on that night? Who is Paul Guard and who were his guests on that night?

  6. MPerry says:

    Look at Paul Guard. What was his age at that time? Who was in his house on that night. Notice that his description of the little girl was overly described.

    Who notices so many things on a little girl? Even the colour of her jacket? And not one girl who lives in his neighbourhood, on his block or at the school even stood up to claim that THEY were the little girl. DID a little girl wear that coat and stopped wearing that coat after this crime.

    Was Mark lured by other kids that he may have known? Did the little girl come from another community? The problem that I have with Paul’s description is about the little girl.

    The little girl was described by Paul Guard and I see nothing about this man being investigated at all having given this distinct and overly detailed posting of the little girl. She sounds made up.

    I think all of these other stories should be ruled out and go back to that day in question. Who remembers (particularly a male adult) the colours and the length of a little girl’s coat? Why did he remember them THAT day? What made it stand out?

    Still, the dogs smell nothing? Even after the dogs having given a test of the boy’s belongings, clothing, a hat? Okay,

    Are they saying that dogs, who have 280 times the smelling capability than humans have? Dogs, known to weed out scents when given a particular scent of the little boy and at focus can locate the scent of a person?

    That’s why we pay for these dogs. Because of their particular gift of scents. We wouldn’t pay for them if police officers felt that this did not work.

    Well, isn’t the absence of scent a louder clue than one that isn’t there when the last person who has seen this child alive has? Something is very wrong with his story.

    He either did this or he knows someone who did? They dropped the ball on this guy and they have to admit that to themselves. They need to find him and figure out what he did since he has moved if he has moved.

    If he hasn’t moved, even there, more of a reason that this child may be buried in someone’s house? Too many stories were given, and true, they should be investigated, every one of those stories. They have to go back to the beginning and create conditions as if it were the night of the fire.

    They collected an abandoned shoe, right? AND the dogs never picked up Mark’s scent because HE didn’t go there. Only the killer went there. Mark has a broken foot. How far is he going to go with this little girl.

    The little girl is a story and all of those people above, that’s right, they found no evidence because they didn’t do it. It is someone who is free and someone who is very local? Someone who threw the shoes in the marsh that day into the night.

    If Paul Guard did not do it, then Paul Guard is quite the story teller and it is someone local. Very local and investigators need to keep the focus very local and look up ALL of the names of the people who lived on that block and if they were ever arrested for anything involving children. And also look for the presence if he was being bullied by a set of children.

    Children also commit crimes, though we would never think that they could. Especially then and now since then. It’s worth a shot for Mark and someone should turn in what I am saying to the police or to Mark’s mother.

    Ask Mark’s mother did Mark seem afraid at school?Was his injury due to running away from children who were bullying him?

    Did Mark tell anyone how he was injured? What really was happening at school? Re-check stories from Mark’s class and Mark’s age at that time who may have bullied him.

    Young boys don’t like talking about these things. These kids are older now and do not have the same loyalties as they had in those days.

    It is worth looking at. Someone saw something real and it was not Paul Guard. Paul Guard should be investigated deeply all the way through his family, brothers, other children in the house, whoever was in his house.

    I sense kids, I sense Paul Guard.Keep Re-investigating this crime.

  7. Lee says:

    That age enhanced photo is not of Mark….. it is his brother Matt.

  8. Brian says:


    Butcavage undoubtedly did this and will walk out of a prison next year to do this again. How are they not still pursuing this monster?

  9. Sandra J Finley says:

    God bless the Himebaugh family.

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