UNDERGROUND MYSTERIES — November 30, 2021
We are increasingly hearing more about advocates helping untangle cold missing person cases. So, how did the magnificent teamwork leading to the identification of Viola A. Butler, a woman who mysteriously vanished in Pleasantville, New Jersey in 1987, fly under the radar?
There has been no publicity to date of the conjoined efforts among the Websleuths community, Butler’s family, the New York Coroner’s Office, and the Atlantic City Police Department, who all assisted in helping to locate Butler. Let us acknowledge this cooperative endeavor!
On February 18, 1987, 38-year-old Viola A. Butler took a taxi cab from her home to a shuttle bus stop station, where she waited for a shuttle bus, in hopes travel to her job in Atlantic City, where she worked as a parking lot attendant at Bally’s Park Place, a popular casino. She never arrived to her job that day and did not return home. A missing person case was filed immediately, and law enforcement searched for her, to no avail. A witness came forth to state that she saw Butler enter a red sports car with tinted windows. At the time of her disappearance, she had been wearing a pink coat that went down to her ankles, black pants, and a yellow sweater on top of another yellow shirt.
At the time of her disappearance, she had been residing at 10 West Pleasant Avenue, Apartment #12, in Pleasantville, New Jersey, with her husband and children. Being from New Jersey myself and having traveled this very area many times, this case has stuck with me.
I learned of Viola Butler’s case for several years ago. When I first started my “Missing Map” project, Viola Butler’s case was still listed in NamUs, the governmental database for missing people. I started to research and write about her case, as I do for all of the cases for which I advocate, only to learn by reading her Websleuths thread that she had recently been located deceased. No other news agency had written about her discovery since she was located. Hopefully that will change with the circulation of this article!
For anyone unfamiliar, Pleasantville is a town that was and still is largely populated with commuters, most of which who work at the casinos, hotels, and restaurants in Atlantic City. The general area thrived with tourism for many decades, which declined around 2010, when more states introduced casino gambling. Back in 1989, Atlantic City brought in loads of revenue, mostly from its gambling, beach, and boardwalk. Pleasantville is just miles away from Atlantic City, and the commute was — and is — fairly simple. Public transportation from Pleasantville to Atlantic City was prominent and used heavily back in 1989. What were the safety concerns, though, for a woman who may have been standing or sitting alone at a bus stop?
How she was finally located:
Surveillance cameras were not common during this year in the casinos or on the streets. Law enforcement had little information to use as clues when she vanished. Foul play was instantly suspected by authorities after she disappeared, as it was out of her character to leave her children, especially her son, who was a diabetic and relied on insulin. For years, no one connected the dots from Butler’s case to a Jane Doe (unidentified remains) case… that was, until one day, when two Websleuths members cracked the case, along with law enforcement and Butler’s daughter.
I reached out to Giuseppe La Starza, who goes by Moonwalker9 on Websleuths. He informed me that he had been researching unidentified person cases in the NamUs database, as many advocates do. He was specifically searching for a new case for which he could advocate– one that did not already have a Websleuths thread. (For those who are unaware, Websleuths is a community in which many missing and unidentified people advocates share research in hopes of locating missing people or identifying unidentified people.) La Starza posted not only the unidentified female’s case for which he began to advocate, but also for Butler’s missing person case. (At that time, since Butler was still missing, there were two cases for the same person: one missing person case and one unidentified case. Of course, now we know that the person behind these two cases are “one of the same”.) After Moonwalker9 had posted both threads, another member whose handle is YaYa_521 connected the dots between those two cases. She just had a feeling that it was a match. She had noted on the Websleuths thread that the person behind each case shared similar features, had the same attire, and shared the same height and weight. The missing and unidentified case death dates also matched. La Starza then contacted authorities to provide the tip.
Right before the tip was given, it was discovered that there was actually a previous thread on Websleuths for Butler, created by Butler’s daughter, unbeknownst to the other Websleuths members at the time.
The pair reached out to Butler’s daughter. Her reaction was nothing less than certainty; she instantly knew that the unidentified female under case number UP9629 was in fact her mother. This further fueled the identification process through law enforcement.
It was not long after authorities were contacted that they were able to positively identify the Jane Doe as Viola Butler by using DNA. By 2021, Butler’s case was removed from NamUs.
So, what happened to Butler in 1989? Butler was strangled to death and dumped out of state in Harlem, New York, an approximate two and a half hour drive. No measures were taken by the assailant to conceal her body. Although, keep in mind that back in 1989, many criminals did not anticipate the future of having DNA being able to solve crimes, and they knew they could get away with more back then due to lack of surveillance cameras. To clarify, DNA was still used back then, but it was an unfamiliar territory. DNA was often saved and stored in evidence bins, only to be linked to a person many years later.
The perpetrator behind Butler’s murder is still unknown. It is uncertain if a rape kit was done on her in case she was raped, and if that kit was saved as evidence. It is also uncertain if there was any touch DNA left on her body that could have been examined.
Butler had ties to New York City, New York. Prior to living in Pleasantville, New Jersey, she resided at 84 Menahan Street in Brooklyn, New York City, New York. Could there be any link to this crime involving an old friend or acquaintance from her previous connections in New York?
Is there an investigation being done? Will there be justice?
Butler surely was not missed. Her daughter was full of emotions and relieved to know her mother was located. Also, her old co-worker from Bally’s wrote on the Websleuths thread:
“Hello All, new user here & I signed up because of this very thread. I understand that it’s an old thread, but I was one of Viola Butler’s co-workers on the night she went missing. We awaited her arrival but she never showed. Every few years I do a search for her name & this is the first time that I got a hit. I am in tears right now & my heart is full. In my mind I had resigned to the idea that she was deceased, but I always held out hope. I am devastated! There are some inconsistencies in the info here, but I’m guessing her daughter submitted DNA & had a positive match. Rest In Peace Viola.”(https://www.websleuths.com/forums/threads/nyc-blk-fem-20-35-up9629-found-strangled-on-street-feb-1989-viola-butler.450122/page-2)
I wanted to point out a common theme among many missing person cases that even affected this case. Butler’s original case file was also said to have been “lost”. This is one of the reasons why many missing people who passed away have not yet been linked to a Doe. There is an astronomical amount of cases that got lost, were misplaced, were mistakenly deleted out of a computer system, or simply never made it into a computer system. This could be due to the expansion of newer systems, data transfers, system resets, and, of course, from fires or natural disasters affecting original physical documents that may not have yet made it to a digital database. It is difficult to believe– but true– that many missing person case files also go “missing”. So, not only did the Butler go missing, but her original file was said to have gone missing, too. This also happened with many other cases for which I advocate. I have located many missing people as well whose actual files “cannot be located”. (Sometimes, a report is filed on paper, but may never make it into an internal database.) Even with modern technology, this still happens today. Also, because many states are not legally required to enter their missing person cases into NamUs, the case can more easily become lost without publicizing the case online. That is one reason why I dig up old cases that I find in old newspaper articles and publicize them; many of these case files have been lost. In other words, no missing person report can be located. Many cases are not even lucky to get a newspaper article. Not all missing person cases are made public.
Please share the word about Butler’s case. Someone out there may hold clues to her murder. The perpetrator may still be on the loose. If you have any information about her murder, please contact the Pleasantville Police Department at 609-641-6100.
Guiseppe La Starza
True People Search
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