On a Wednesday afternoon, an
8-year old boy came home from school, changed his clothes,
and went outside to play.
His family never saw him alive again.
While that may sound like a plot from a best-selling mystery
or a ripped-from-the-headlines TV movie, it actually
In March of 1944.
To a young boy named Billy Powers.
While doing research on another topic, Loraine came up with
information on a fascinating subject she thought might
interest me, and you, as well--the disappearance of, search
for, and discoveries regarding Billy Powers. Despite the
fact that World War Two was going on strong, despite the
fact that a presidential election was being waged, the
disappearance of an 8-year old boy galvanized Marquette.
Front-page newspapers stories were run daily, hourly updates
were broadcast on the radio.
For two months, residents of the city followed the saga of a
It all started on March 1st, 1944.
Billy Powers was a third-grade student at the old St. John's
School in Marquette, a block away from where he lived with
his grandparents. His dad, William, was serving in the Army,
while his mother was living in Detroit. He came home from
school on that fateful Wednesday, changed into play
clothes--including brown army mittens--and went out, like
kids still do today, to romp around in the snow.
He was observed by several people in the next hour,
including once at the 5th Street railroad crossing, where he
was noticed in the company of an older boy. When he failed
to return home that night, his grandparents, obviously
concerned, notified authorities. In the next two days,
searchers combed the city, looking through vacant buildings,
garages, even the Lower Harbor ore dock, but found no trace
of Billy. They asked bus drivers and train conductors if
they had seen the boy; none had. They searched through the
wreckage of the Piggly-Wiggly grocery store downtown. The
store had burned down several days earlier, and some thought
Billy might have fallen into a flooded cellar. They even
contacted his mother in Detroit, who said she had not heard
from him in some time.
Police were stumped. Billy was a bright kid who, in the
words of then Police Chief Don McCormack, "knew the city
like the back of his hand". They talked to Billy's friends,
who said they knew of nothing out of the ordinary. They had
last been with him playing by the downtown railroad trestle.
He was wearing his brown army mittens, and seemed to be in
good spirits. They also could not help police in determining
the identity of the "older boy" who had been with Billy at
the railroad crossing.
Over the next week, the search intensified. Billy's picture
was published in all U.P. newspapers, and WDMJ broadcast
updates as to the search, even putting his grandparents on
in an attempt to contact anyone who had any information.
Authorities were also interested in the disappearance of a
Manistique boy two weeks prior to Billy's disappearance; no
trace of that youth had been found, either. The FBI joined
the investigation, while Billy's father received an
emergency furlough to return home. Still, no sign of the boy
was uncovered, and the identity of the "older boy" was a
Marquette residents and authorities became alarmed as March
stretched into April, with still no break in the case.
Billy's picture was sent out by the FBI to several states
around Michigan, and while he hadn't been found, several
young runaways had been discovered because of the search.
Billy's classmates and friends were questioned over again,
and a new investigation failed to turn up any sign of the
"older boy" with whom he was last seen.
On May 1st, 1944, a Marquette father and son were fishing in
Lake Superior off of the South Rail Yards (pictured below),
and noticed something floating in the water. Pulling it to
shore, they noticed it was a body, and called the
authorities. Immediately, the police determined it was the
body of Billy Powers, still dressed like he was ready to
play outside. In fact, his brown army mittens were still on
Click the image to enlarge.
Investigators found no sign of foul play on Billy's body,
aside from a couple of superficial bruises. They have no
idea how he got into the water; the currents in the area
were not very strong, so his body obviously hadn't traveled
very far. Unless they could find the "older boy", they
concluded, they may never know what happened to Billy.
They never did find the "older boy". And to this day, as far
as we can tell, no one knows exactly what did happen to
Billy Powers on March 1st, 1944.
Unfortunately, this wouldn't be the only tragedy in the
Powers' family in 1944. Three months after his son died,
William Powers had to write home to tell his parents that
his brother, John, had been shot and killed while serving in
the Army in France.
He was the victim of a Nazi sniper while standing in line to
get his lunch.
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