Originally published in The Rock River Times.
When Everett Hawley said goodbye to his wife Etha on February 19, 1976, they had no way of knowing that the day would not go according to plan. Everett usually spent part of his day with his business partner, Clarence Owens. The two men worked together for years buying and selling real estate. Everett owned the company and the two friends would spend their time driving the back roads of northern Illinois looking for farms to buy and sell. Everett told his wife that he would return around 5:00p.m. The 70-year old Etha was struggling with medical issues and Everett usually helped out with the meals and chores. Everett was 72 in 1976 and blessed with relatively good health. The couple had been married for 47 years and Everett was from all accounts, completely devoted to his wife.
On that Thursday morning, Clarence picked Everett at his Stockton home up in his newly painted car. The 1966 Chevrolet Impala had been painted bright gold and Clarence was excited to show it off. The two men were headed to Pecatonica where they planned to attend a political rally at the American Legion. James Thompson was hoping to be elected for governor of Illinois that year and the two men were curious about a candidate who would add the little town of Pecatonica as a campaign stop.
After the rally, the men walked over to one of their regular stops, Rocky’s Café for a piece of pie and some coffee. They lingered there a while before heading to Clarence’s son’s house. Clarence wanted to show him the new paint job, too.
Clarence’s son was not home but the men spoke briefly with Clarence’s daughter –in-law. The two men mentioned that they were going to stop at a local auction on their way to an appraisal appointment. The two men loved to visit auctions and always had cash on hand just in case they saw a good bargain. The auctioneer at the Borgmann’s farm auction would state later that he saw Everett walk up the drive-way while Clarence waited in the car. He also mentioned that both men were dressed in their usual attire of business suits. Since the February day was unusually warm, they had light over coats instead of their heavier jackets. The auctioneer would be the last person that could be verified to have seen the two men. After they drove away from the Borgmann Farm, Everett and Clarence seemed to disappear into thin air.
This case would quickly become the most baffling mystery that anyone could remember. The police were contacted the next morning by the families when the men hadn’t returned home. The authorities tried to reassure the families that the men probably had been involved in a car accident or some other scenario that incapacitated their car. They fully expected to find the men, probably embarrassed, but unharmed. The authorities began their search following the routes that the men were known to use.
Their theories changed rapidly as the case unfolded and no clues were found. Both men had families; Everett had one son and Clarence had three, including one who served as a police officer. They quickly became a driving force for an expanded search. It reached record numbers as various departments from different jurisdictions worked together to organize the search. The Civil Defense units joined the authorities to bring in man power to help with the ground search. They also arranged five airplanes to help scan the many miles of roadways between the men’s homes and where they were last seen.
The authorities expanded their proposed scenario of an accident to include the men either running away or being victims of foul play. They looked into every aspect of the men’s lives to see if someone would have a motive to harm either of them.
They were left with an impression of men who were hard working and dedicated to their families. Many of the people interviewed were upset by the thought that either of these men would abandon their families. They spoke of Clarence’s love of his sons and Everett’s dedication to his son and Etha.
The authorities also learned that men were popular with the farmers and the auctioneers they conducted business with. They had no known enemies and no one could think of a motive for their disappearance. Though the authorities worked the case from many angles, they were left with no avenues to explore.
Etha Hawley died shortly after the first year anniversary of her husband’s disappearance. Some of their family members and friends, who were still hoping that Everett was alive, lost that hope after her funeral. They believed that he would have returned for his beloved wife’s funeral.
In one of the last articles written about the case in 2005, the reporter spoke of a theory that had circulated about the case. In May of 1976, Fred Lickel, a cashier clerk from a farm auction had been kidnapped after the sale was finished. William Exline from Rockford had taken the cashier hostage and stolen the money collected from the sale (reportedly $85,000 in cash and checks). Exline forced the man at gunpoint to drive his company car away from the farm in Monroe, Wisconsin. The man was unharmed but badly shaken when Exline dropped him by the side of the road. Exline was later questioned about the incident after a tip was called into the Green County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department involved the FBI because Exline crossed state lines during the commission of the crime. Though Exline denied any involvement with the kidnapping, the cashier’s company car was found on the property of a campground that was owned by Exline near New Milford. Exline would later be convicted to ten years in prison for the crime.
The newspaper article emphasized the similarities between the Monroe case and the disappearance of Owens and Hawley. During the research for this story, this author interviewed others who shared the belief that these two cases were related. The authorities involved in the 1976 kidnapping case also noted the similarities but no arrests were ever made.
In fact, no clues or crime scene has ever been found in the case. There was never any activity in either of the men’s bank accounts or any other indication that they left their families willingly. Clarence’s shiny, gold car was never found. The case is now 43 years old and hasn’t been mentioned in the newspapers for a while now. The authorities assigned to this case have long since retired or passed away themselves. Some granted interviews stating that this was one of the cases that continued to haunt them long after they retired. It was inconceivable that these two men could disappear without a trace or without someone coming forward with a tip. They spoke of failing both of these families by not being able to return their loved ones or at least give them the comfort of knowing of what happened to Clarence and Everett on that February day.
Anyone with information is urged to call the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Police Detective Bureau at (815) 319-6400 or Crime Stoppers (815) 963-7867.
Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events