Jill Cutshall

Joyce Mosley believes that she will see her daughter, Jill, again.

She doesn’t know if that reunion will take place tomorrow, five years from now or in 40 years.

But she knows it will happen.

She doubts that the reunion will take place here on earth. At times, those feelings cause Joyce to wish it were her time to go to heaven so she could be reunited with Jill.

But she knows God has a plan for her life.

So for now, she’ll continue to do what she's been doing for 25 years — remembering her little girl with the blonde hair and bright smile. The girl who loved to write poetry, draw rainbows, dance and do karate. The girl who earned mostly A's in school and, like most girls, got in trouble now and then because she liked to talk a little too much.

"Jill had early signs of being a creative writer,” Joyce said. “She would often ask for a piece of paper and then write amazing stories about things in nature like the sun, plants and certain animals.”

* * *

Jill Cutshall vanished on Aug. 13, 1987, making Monday the 25th anniversary of her disappearance.

The clothing she wore that day was discovered by a hunter the following November at Wood Duck Wildlife Refuge between Norfolk and Stanton.

A Norfolk man has been convicted of kidnapping her and has been sentenced life in prison.

Yet Jill was never been found, which means Joyce has never been able to “lay her child to rest.”

* * *

Roger and Joyce Cutshall married when they were young and divorced in 1985. In 1987, Joyce lived in Kansas while Roger and his second wife, Sheila, lived in an apartment house on South Fourth Street in Norfolk. Nine-year-old Jill and her older brother, Jeff, lived with them during the summer.

By mid-August, Jeff had returned to Kansas, but Jill wanted to stay and spend time with friends and cousins.

The couple went to work early, and because Jill didn't like to be alone in the apartment building, she often spent the day at a babysitter's house on South Eighth Street.

On Aug. 13, Jill walked to that house and was last seen sitting on the steps, tying one of her shoes.

A law enforcement officer called Joyce later that day and asked if she knew where Jill was.

Joyce said, "No. Why are you asking?"

"Because she's missing" was the response on the other line.

"I'll be up there by morning," Joyce told the caller.

The next day, Joyce dedicated her life to finding her daughter.

For months, she went to the Norfolk Police Department every morning at 10 to get an update on the investigation.

She worked with a private investigator who specialized in finding missing children.

She promoted the cause by doing interviews with local and national newspapers and TV and radio stations.

"I had never stood in front of a camera before — through all of this, I only refused one interview," she said.

Still, Jill was never found.

A year after Jill disappeared, Joyce started taking classes at Northeast Community College. One day, a fellow student approached her and asked if she could interview her for an article. A few minutes into the interview, the student told Joyce she suspected her half-brother was involved in Jill's disappearance.

"She told me about his behavior with her friend's children . . . and how he would take them to Wood Duck," Joyce said. "She said she couldn't guarantee he was involved but that it was worth looking into."

The revelation shocked Joyce.

Yet, she had a "sense of hope . . . that there was a possibility of knowing (who took Jill)," she said.

Although law enforcement authorities questioned David Phelps of Norfolk — the man identified by the student — they never arrested him, which frustrated Joyce. So she collected enough petition signatures to convene a grand jury. Those jury members determined there was enough evidence to bring him to trial.

But Jill has never been found.

* * *

Joyce knows that some people criticized her for allowing her children to stay in the apartment house with their father and stepmother.

She also knows that some people were critical of the fact that Jill had to walk to the babysitter's house so early in the morning.

“I never took the time to recant or debate the criticism at that time because my goal was always to find Jill,” Joyce said. “When I agreed to allow Jill to stay, Roger was in the process of finding a better apartment. Plus, he didn’t leave for work until 9 a.m.

“But I didn’t know until after Jill's disappearance that the building was home to transients and people like David Phelps and Kermit Baumgartner, who had once been imprisoned for sexual assault,” she added.

When Jill didn't arrive at the babysitter’s house the morning of Aug. 13, the babysitter assumed that she had stayed home with her father.

"I don't have any ill feelings toward her (the babysitter)" Joyce said. "Jill knew there was a key in the mailbox."

Instead Joyce places the blame for Jill's disappearance on the "evil in the world" that used two people —  Phelps and Baumgartner — who were "open to his agenda," she said.

Joyce came face-to-face with the men during Phelps' trial. There she watched and listened to the stories of Phelps' past.

She also watched while Dave Domina, a Norfolk attorney who represented Phelps and now practices in Omaha, passed her daughter's clothing around to the jurors.

"That was one of the hardest things," Joyce said. "Domina took Jill's underclothing and handed it to one of the witnesses . . . then he took it and had each juror hold it. Then he dropped it in a box. Each time he took out an article of clothing (and put it back in the box), he got more violent. It was like he was throwing Jill or all that I had left of Jill in that box. I wanted to get up and scream, but I knew if I did, I wouldn't be allowed to be there (in the courtroom)," she said.

On March 20, 1991, Phelps was convicted of kidnapping, and on April 26, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Joyce would have preferred a murder conviction, but that wasn't possible without a body.

Although Baumgartner was questioned extensively by police — because of his history and because he lived in the same building where Jill lived — he had an alibi for the day and was never charged. He later moved out of state.

* * *

Joyce's "trials" didn't end when Phelps was convicted.

She did earn her associate's degree from Northeast Community College and had hopes of obtaining her bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology from Wayne State College. A car accident forced her to abandon those dreams.

She married "the love of her life," but the couple eventually divorced, and he has since died.

So have both of her parents, a number of siblings and her 15-year-old granddaughter. Three of those people died in the past year — her mother in September, her sister in November and her granddaughter in February.

There have been bright spots in her life, including her son and his family who she sees as often as possible. And she has siblings and friends who are supportive. Whenever possible, she shares her story — and her faith — with those in need.

After the trial, Joyce lived in Pilger, Creighton and Howells before settling back in Norfolk a few years ago.

Somehow, the boxes with Jill's drawings, poetry, clothing and other "special items" were lost in the transition.

"It was so traumatic," Joyce said. "I talked to God, and He said, 'You have memories. Those are things. You need to let go.' "

Until she's reunited with her daughter in heaven, Joyce said she'll continue to rely on God — the God she devoted her life to a year before Jill went missing.

"He’s given me the strength, perseverance and ability to not crumble" she said.

* * *

Coming tomorrow: The investigation of Jill Cutshall's disappearance and the role the media played in the case.

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