Forty years later, case of missing Coffeyville native remains unsolved
BY ANDY TAYLOR
Forty years after the abduction of a Loy (Gillespie) Evitts, the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department continues to study any clue into the whereabouts of the Coffeyville native.
Evitts went missing on Feb. 28, 1977, during her lunch hour from a law firm located in Kansas City’s trendy Country Club Plaza district. Clues into her disappearance were scarce. No one saw her abducted (surveillance cameras were not prominent in that era). There was no evidence of a struggle. And, Evitts, who was age 29 at the time of her disappearance, herself gave no indication to co-workers of any domestic or job disputes that could have prompted a confrontation and possible abduction.
Instead, by the tone of the news accounts from 1977 and 1978, the story of Loy Evitts’ disappearance is one that baffled all levels of law enforcement . . . and her family, too.
Today, it remains the longest unsolved missing persons case in the Kansas City Police Department . . . and among the longest unsolved missing persons cases in the nation.
“It is a unique case,” said Sgt. Ben Caldwell of the Kansas City Police Department’s missing persons unit. “By all accounts, it is evident that Loy did not have any ties to a high-risk lifestyle — the type of thing that would cause a person to be connected to the criminal element.”
Caldwell said the case is officially classified as an “abduction” rather than “disappearance.” That’s because there were no witnesses who saw Evitts walk away from the Country Club Plaza, or walk along the sidewalks along that trendy Kansas City shopping district.
“Because no one saw her walking away from the Country Club Plaza, it gives us the idea that she was likely abducted,” said Caldwell.
In the weeks following her disappearance, more than 200 people were interviewed. More than 1,000 leads were put forth to law enforcement agencies. Bodies of water in Johnson County, Kan., where Evitts lived with her husband, Don, and Jackson County, Mo., were dragged for signs of a body or any other clues. Nothing was found but mud and silt.
Psychics volunteered their services to find Loy’s whereabouts. No luck.
Even the partial remains of a deceased woman that washed ashore on the banks of the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Ark., were studied for any possible clues. The identification of the decomposed remains did not match Evitts’ body frame.
Anything resembling a shallow grave was investigated, including one that led law enforcement to a highway construction project on I-470 in Kansas City. Police were following a tip that Evitts’ body might have been dumped at the construction site. Methane detection devices were summoned to help detect the methane gas coming from a possible decomposing corpse. Law enforcement came away with no body at all . . . and a big hole to fill.
What about her car? The yellow 1970 MG sports car that she drove to work each day was found parked squarely in the same parking stall at the law firm where she was employed — much like it was every other business day. Not one scratch on the car body, nor even the slightest shred of fiber from Evitts’ clothing, could be found on the vehicle.
Even when reward money was offered by the law firm where Evitts was employed, Kansas City police came away with no takers.
Just this year, Kansas City police officers interviewed Don Evitts, Loy’s husband, who continues to reside in Overland Park, Kan. Don Evitts was determined to not be a person of interest in the case in 1977. He cooperated openly with Kansas City police — and continues to share help with police today. Just this year, Kansas City police officer interviewed Don Evitts, who openly wept at discussing the loss of his wife, Caldwell said.
“He broke down and cried, much like he did in 1977 when he was interviewed by police,” said Caldwell. “He obviously is very heartbroken.”
Evitts has retained some of Loy’s possessions since 1977. Some of those possession contain snippets of DNA material that could help law enforcement make positive identification of remains — should such remains ever be found.
“Obviously, crime fighting has changed tremendously since 1977,” said Caldwell about the prospects of Loy’s genetic materials being used to identify her remains. “However, we’re not much further along in this case than we were 40 years ago.”
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The story of Loy Evitts’ mysterious absence rang throughout her hometown of Coffeyville, where family members at the time tried to solicit hope, prayer and support for law enforcement agencies in the Kansas City area. Loy’s parents were the late William and Jewell Gillespie. In a March 1977 story in the Coffeyville Journal, William Gillespie described deep anguish and despair not just in his daughter’s disappearance but in the few, if any, clues into her whereabouts.
“I’ve never been up against the wall or fenced in like this, but I am now,” he told the Journal.
For David Evitts, the disappearance of his sister-in-law is something difficult to grasp.
Sitting on the porch of his childhood home on Martin Street in Coffeyville, Evitts recalls the beautiful young woman who eventually married his younger brother, Don Evitts.
“She had such an elegant, attractive way to her,” recalled David. “Everyone in the family just adored her.”
News of her disappearance consumed not only the Evitts family but also the Gillespie family of Coffeyville, where Loy’s parents tried to seek any tidbits and clues from former classmates and friends. Both sides of the family not only were shocked to hear that Loy had disappeared but even more numb by the lack of closure to the story.
“It was just so difficult for any of us to comprehend,” said David.
David, a retired professional opera singer from New York City who returned to his hometown about 10 years ago, stays in contact with his brother, Don Evitts, who resides in Overland Park. The two brothers talk about sports (they both are huge fans of the Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas City Chiefs), but David is able to pull some feelings from his brother about the loss of his wife.
“Don never remarried, never dated again,” he said. “Loy was the one and only love of his life.”
David Evitts said his brother was harassed on multiple occasions by prank telephone callers, claiming to have had information about Loy’s whereabouts. Even when Don Evitts went to one of his favorite watering holes in the Westport bar area of Kansas City, he came home angry after a bar customer accused Don of killing his own wife.
“That type of stuff really got to Don,” said David. “It put him into a depression that I don’t think he has ever been able to overcome.”
Don Evitts and Loy Gillespie were separated by three years at Field Kindley High School (Don graduated in 1963; Loy earned her diploma in 1966). At her hometown high school, Loy was active in multiple activities. Her high school yearbook from her senior year indicates Loy was active in Kayettes, the senior play, French Club (serving as treasurer and secretary) and also attained a perfect attendance award her sophomore year.
She later attended Kansas State University, where her attractive looks garnered the attention of the student body. She was nominated as K-State homecoming queen in 1969.
Meanwhile, Don returned to the United States in 1970 after a stint in the U.S. military in South Vietnam.
“Don doesn’t talk much about Loy . . . or even his years in Vietnam,” said David Evitts. “But, when he does talk about either issue, there is a great deal of sadness in his voice. He obviously encountered a lot during his years in South Vietnam. And, then he has had to endure the loss of his wife for 40 years. Those two tragic experiences can take a toll on any person’s mind and body.”
David Evitts remains the only family member in the Coffeyville area from both sides of Loy’s family (Evitts and Gillespie).
* * * * *
The only undisputed details about the case of Loy Evitts are this:
• Loy Evitts went missing from her lunch hour on Feb. 28, 1977.
• Her purse was found three weeks later under a bridge in the southeastern portion of Kansas City. The purse was located by three boys who were searching for a lost dog.
• A Grandview, Mo., man was taken into questioning in July 1977, but the individual was never charged for any crime related to the Evitts case.
• Partial remains of a woman were found on the banks of the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Ark., in late 1977. The remains were determined to not carry the same clothing or characteristics of Loy Evitts.
• No charges or arrests were ever made in the Evitts case.
• Over the course of time, the lack of clues and evidence forced Donald Evitts to declare his missing wife as legally deceased.
Forty years later, the Evitts case file is the oldest — and among the thickest — in the missing persons unit of the Kansas City Police Department. A six-inch-thick binder spells out the leads and the clues that Kansas City police followed in the days, weeks and months following Loy’s abduction.
“It’s still an open case,” said Caldwell. “Maybe 40 years later, someone has some information that could help us close this case.”
Persons with any information about the abduction of Loy (Gillespie) Evitts can contact the Kansas City Police Department’s Missing Persons Unit at (816) 234-5136 or call the KCPD’s TIPS hotline, where anonymous tips can be given: (816) 434-TIPS.
Levels of sadness profound for spouse of missing woman
BY Glenn E. Rice
Kansas City Star
Montgomery County Chronicle
Nearly every surface inside Donald G. Evitts’ house in Overland Park is covered with model trains.
The 71-year-old Vietnam veteran took up the hobby of building model trains as a form of therapy several years after his wife, Loy Gillespie Evitts, a legal secretary, went out for a late afternoon lunch on Feb. 28, 1977, and mysteriously vanished.
“It helps me keep my mind off what happened that day,” Evitts said.
It was 40 years ago on Tuesday, when the strikingly beautiful, blond Coffeyville native walked out of the law office where she worked to run a few errands but was never seen again.
Today, the story of Loy Gillespie Evitts remains the Kansas City Police Department’s longest unsolved missing persons case. Police think she was abducted.
For Don Evitts, the anniversary of her disappearance brings another round of profound sadness.
“Someone asked me how I’ve coped with it, and I just tell people that it’s just sad . . . very sad,” said Don Evitts.
Don Evitts remembers the day of Feb. 28, 1977 . . . when she did not return to her work from her lunch break. Her boss called Don to ask if it was like Loy to miss work. Don was puzzled when he was told that Loy had not returned from lunch. He called several of her friends, but no one had seen her.
“And then I got pretty frantic about it and called the police,” he said.
Police told Evitts that they could not do anything until she had been missing for at least 24 hours.
After about 30 days had passed, Evitts came to the conclusion that his wife of four and a half years was likely dead. Time has only confirmed his fears.
“She’s been gone this long, you can’t expect her to come back and still be alive,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t think she ran off but we don’t know. We just don’t know.”
Evitts still lives in the same Overland Park home that he and Loy purchased after they were married and moved to the area.
The couple met in their hometown of Coffeyville after Don graduated from Field Kindley High School. He was 19 and she was 17. They went on their first date on Nov. 4, 1965, when they went to the movies to see “Cat Ballou.”
“I was driving a 1953 Studebaker and saw her walking along 8th Street, just west of the old city library,” he said. “I remember thinking how beautiful she was. I was smitten by her immediately.”
They continued to see each other while Donald earned an undergraduate degree at Pittsburg State University. In 1968, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was shipped over to fight in the Vietnam War.
Back home, Loy went to study nursing in Tulsa, Okla., before she transferred to Kansas State University, where she majored in retail.
Evitts let Loy drive his Firebird while he was overseas and wrote every week. Loy decorated a bulletin board she kept in her dorm room with his military photos.
They got married in a small ceremony at the First United Methodist Church in Coffeyville on Nov. 4, 1972. They eventually settled in a small bungalow in Overland Park where Don continues to live.
About a year after his wife disappeared, Evitts started hanging out in Westport bars in Kansas City.
“It cost me a couple of jobs because I was drinking too much,” he said. “I tried to tough it out but when I was alone, I cried. I really cried.”
He assuaged the pain by constructing model train sets and playing the guitar.
Evitts remains cautiously optimistic that someone may step forward and pass along a tip to police that would help them solve the decades-old mystery.
“I learned to never get my hopes up too much because they all failed in the end,” he said. “Surely, someone knows something.”