Here’s a very cold case of a family who vanished on January 7, 1949 in English, Indiana, in an area known as Hemlock Cliffs, also known as “Cave Country”.
I chose to write about this case because it is socially-stale. As of April 17, 2021, none of the three family members are in the Namus.gov database. Now, by the time you’re reading this article, they may have been assigned a detective again and been entered into Namus… that’s the goal! Also, at the time I am writing this article, there is hardly any publicity or online presence on this case. I had to really dig to find out information. Hopefully by the time you are reading this, people will bring this case a new light by sharing the article. This way, other news stations or social media in general will help publicize the case too.
The three family members who suddenly vanished include Thomas and Beatrice Vandiver, who had gotten married just five months prior in August of 1948, and Wanda Johnson. Wanda is Beatrice’s daughter from her first marriage.
⚫ Thomas “Tom” Roy Vandiver: Born in 1918, Thomas was 30 years old when he vanished. If alive today, he would be about 98 years old. Thomas is Wanda’s stepfather. He is a war veteran who served in World War II. He is Caucasian, with a light skin complexion, medium build, red hair, and blue eyes.
⚫ Elizabeth Beatrice Vandiver, nee Fisher (known as “Beatrice”): Born in about 1905, Beatrice was 44 years old when she vanished. If she were alive today, she would be about 116 years old. Her physical description is unknown.
⚫ Wanda Johnson (middle name may be Louise): Born in about 1933, Wanda was 16 or 17 when she disappeared. If alive today, she would be about 88 years old. Wanda’s mother is Beatrice. Her biological father is not Thomas. Her physical description is unknown. ** I found an online record that indicated Wanda may have been born in August of 1931, which would mean that she may have been 17 when she vanished. I also found discrepancies in some news articles; some stated she was 16, while others stated she was 17.
The Vandiver family’s house burnt down just a few months prior to their disappearance. They went to stay in Hemlock Cliffs with a man named William Dessie Messamore, who was the last known person to see the family. He did not report them missing until January 19, 1949, which is twelve days after they disappeared. Messamore later allegedly admitted to his cellmate, Wilbur Funk, of New Albany, Mississippi, to killing all three of the Vandiver family. Messamore had spent a large portion of his life in jail for prison escape and bank robbery. Other theories suggest suspicions that a handyman is to blame for their disappearance.
Messamore was rumored to have been dating Wanda at the time of the family’s disappearance, even though he was 32 and she was 16. He passed away in 1986.
Skeletal remains were found on Messamore’s property, which was owned by his mother, on March 3, 1983. The remains were analyzed by forensic experts in 1983 and said to have belonged to a Native American. This poses the questions, where is this body now? Did Messamore have anything to do with this body? Could this person be exhumed from the grave so that DNA could be extracted to identify this person? Or, was he/she already identified?
It is likely that the family is deceased. If they really were killed, their bodies may have already been found as unidentified remains, or they may be buried or hidden somewhere or even at sea. If in the event they were already found or are found in the future, it would be beneficial for a family member’s DNA for both Thomas and Beatrice to be entered into Codis / Namus / Gedmatch. If the remains are found and DNA is extracted, there’s a large chance the DNA won’t be viable, due to the age and degrading of the bones. Time is of the essence in this case.
I have contacted some of their extended family members in hopes to explain the process of submitting DNA. Currently, I do not believe this is an “active” investigation. However, old cases can be reopened if new clues arise.
The family members’ physical descriptions have not been public at all. But the goal is that after publishing and circulating this article, that other sites will update or publish the information. So, by the time you’re reading this, hopefully their descriptions found through other online searches. I was able to find Thomas’ physical description from his war registration card (as described in his profile above). I found Wanda’s photo (below) through a yearbook search. If this is Wanda, she is Caucasian, and her hair color appears light brown, possibly auburn or even blonde. Because it is an older photo, it is difficult to tell. I do not yet have Beatrice’s description.
I found a news article (last of the three below) that, at the time it was written, gave hope that the family could be alive. But after researching the case further, the “sighting” reported in this article may not have been legitimate. Other articles written months and even years after this one indicate the family of three was in fact still missing.
I found this book with more information on the case.
Some good theories about this case by online-handle “Stormy” are here.
If you have any information on this case, please contact:
Crawford County Sheriff Department
Tel: (812) 338-2802
Address: Judicial Plaza / PO Box 220, English, IN 47118
○Greensburg, IN Daily News, Article date: December 2, 1949, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/19147970/thomas-vandiver-wife-beatrice/
○Courier Journal, Article date: January 22, 1949. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/14393229/the-courier-journal/
○Crawford County Sheriff Department’s Facebook page
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