By JIM SALTER
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Nearly five decades after a small girl was kidnapped from the yard of her southeast Missouri home, the family of Elizabeth Gill is hoping new reward money will help uncover the mystery of her disappearance.
Elizabeth, known by the family as Beth, was not quite 3 when she was taken on June 13, 1965, at the family's home in Cape Girardeau, about 100 miles south of St. Louis. Cape Girardeau detective Jim Smith says it is Missouri's oldest missing child case.
Elizabeth's sister, Martha Hamilton of Cape Girardeau, said anonymous donors have contributed $25,000 in reward money. Anyone with information can contact Smith at the Cape Girardeau Police Department.
"We will never give up searching for Beth," Hamilton said. "We truly believe the generous donation will bring forth the information needed to find her."
The blonde-haired child, the youngest of a family of 10 children, was playing with a sand pail in front of the family home on a Sunday afternoon when she disappeared. Smith said her mother told police at the time that drifters staying at a motel near the home had twice tried to coax Elizabeth to a car, most recently the day before she disappeared.
Smith said those drifters had been in Cape Girardeau selling goods door-to-door. They checked out of the motel the day the child disappeared, but police have not found a record of their names.
"It was devastating," said Hamilton, who was 15 at the time. "It took every little bit of strength my mother and dad had to hold the family together. At that point you don't have a normal life."
Smith became aware of the case in 2004 while revisiting cold-case files. He began working closely with the family. Originally deemed as a missing child case, the FBI reclassified it as a kidnapping in 2010.
"Back in 1965 law enforcement looked at things differently," Smith said. "If this happened today it would be immediately classified as a kidnapping."
Hamilton and Smith haven't ruled out the possibility that Elizabeth is still alive. Smith said it is possible the drifters raised her as their own, and that over the years she adapted to her new life. If alive, she would have turned 50 on Aug. 21.
"The family understands that if she is alive she probably has her own life and may be perfectly happy who she is," Smith said.
Hamilton said even if that is the case, the family longs to see her again.
"What we feel is that if we can spread the word that we're looking, and she's searching, we have a very good chance of reuniting," Hamilton said.