SHELBY - A woman who disappeared from the Shelby area in 1945 is now the center of a recently opened police investigation.
She was born as Mary Jane Croft on Nov. 19, 1911, in Fairmont, W. Va., then became Mary Jane Vangilder on Jan. 29, 1929, when she married her husband, James. The couple had five children, but it appears James' abusive behavior forced her to move to Ohio sometime in 1943.
"That’s where the story gets mixed up," said the woman's granddaughter, Mindy Wilson.
Mary Jane got a job as a forklift operator at the Air Force depot in Shelby, and she lived in Plymouth. Wilson said her grandmother did not own a vehicle, so she got rides to and from Shelby from helpful coworkers.
Despite the separation, Mary Jane maintained contact with her children. Wilson said she would mail her war bonds to them, as well as letters and clothes.
But in 1945, things changed again. Mary Jane sent a letter to West Virginia, asking her children to send her war bonds back to her home in Plymouth. They complied, but a few weeks later, she appeared to have sent them her final war bond, with no explanation.
That was the last time the family heard from Mary Jane.
"There’s absolutely no trace of her," Wilson said. "We’ve searched every possible way."
The family has continued their investigation every few years. They've all sent DNA samples to various organizations that connect family trees, but have had no results. In 2004, an article about Mary Jane's disappearance ran in the Plymouth newspaper.
"I go through obituaries all the time looking for her," Wilson said. "She could be anywhere."
Wilson reached out to the Shelby police earlier this autumn, just to see if they had any updates, or suggestions. That's when Adam Turner of the Shelby Police Department learned about Mary Jane. It turns out her disappearance was never fully investigated. He opened a case in October.
Turner quickly realized there were few records on Mary Jane's life. No fingerprints, no DNA and only two photographs.
"We couldn't find her Social Security number," Turner said. "She might not have even had one."
He discovered that Mary Jane filed for divorce Feb. 12, 1945, in Huron County. It appears she quit her job about a month later. Her divorce was granted in November of that year.
Turner suspects that since she was a woman from another state who had no family in the area, Mary Jane's disappearance was barely noticed.
"Or there may have been a jurisdictional problem back then, where she lived in Plymouth, but worked in Shelby," Turner said.
Since seven decades have passed since she was last seen, Turner said it will be hard to discover whether Mary Jane was killed, met someone new and moved on to a new life in a new state, or something else.
"We're starting in the past, which is difficult," he said.
But there's hope that someone might remember a story or two that could help him and the family connect the dots. Turner said a man responded to the 2004 newspaper article, saying he was just a boy when his parents would give Mary Jane an occasional ride to and from the depot. He didn't remember seeing her after 1945.
Turner hopes anyone who remembers hearing any stories about Mary Jane Croft Vangilder will call his office at 419-347-2242.