In our I-Team Unsolved series, WCPO examines homicide cold cases in Greater Cincinnati.
FAIRFAX, Ohio -- Were Johnny Hundley and Jimmy McQueary killed by the neighborhood teen who confessed to stabbing them, only to retract that confession later?
Were the 9-year-old best friends killed by a man who buried their bodies under a porch in Massachusetts, as his daughter claimed?
Were they kidnapped by someone driving a black Cadillac near the Frisch’s on Wooster Pike, as one witness reported?
Did they die accidentally – perhaps falling into one of the many construction digs in the east-side village 53 years ago?
The disappearance of the Fairfax School third-graders in 1964 is the oldest cold case in Tri-Staters’ memories, and one of the most baffling. Fairfax police Det. Mike Murphy, who has worked on the case over several decades, says there have been “50 to 60 different rumors.”
Hundreds of officers and volunteers young and old searched the village, combing through the high grass and brush along the Little Miami River and digging up freshly filled construction sites. The search went nationwide. Railroad workers looked through freight cars in case the boys had decided to go on an adventure. The investigation took Fairfax officers to California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Kentucky.
Murphy, who started investigating the case in the 1970s, has his theory. So does John Hundley’s sister.
Bonnie Hundley-Zornes still aches to know what happened to her little brother and his best friend.
“I put it on Facebook every year,” she said. “It's terrible, just absolutely terrible. We're all getting old. We got to know something. If he's dead, then we want to know that. We want closure.”
Bonnie recalled the last time she saw John.
“It all ended when he walked up the street ... He had on a white T-shirt, and blue jeans and white gym shoes. He had just gotten home from school. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon,” she said.
Bonnie was 20 at the time, the oldest of four kids. Their father had died a year earlier and their mother had gone back to work. Bonnie, 11 years older than John, was like a surrogate mom.
“I can take you back to the very night,” she said, wiping away tears as she remembered back to Thursday, Oct. 15, 1964. “He was not the type of child that didn't come home on time. He was always there when he was supposed to be. Well, I had fixed supper that night, and by 6 o’clock, he wasn't home. But he came home from school (earlier) and got some Coke bottles. He got the Coke bottles and he went up to the store up the street to cash the pop bottles in, and that's the last time I ever saw him.
“I called my mom at work and told her and she said, 'Well, call around and see if you can find him.' So I called some of his friends and, you know, hollered for him outside ... no answer. Mom came home from work and she called the police. And the police came and said, ‘He's just run away.’”
But Bonnie said her brother wouldn’t have done that.
“There was no reason. There was no argument. Nobody was fighting. Nobody was mad at him. Nothing,” she said. “He just walked up the street with the pop bottles. I watched him walk up there. That was the last I seen of him.”
Witnesses reported seeing the two boys walking along Wooster Pike near Frisch’s and paying a bill there. That made sense to Bonnie.
“They were always together. They were inseparable. They were best buddies,” she said.
But then the boys vanished together -- and the mystery began.
Murphy was only 14 at the time and didn’t join Fairfax police until nine years later, but he said he quickly started working the case and reading the original investigators’ reports.
“We had a lot of construction going on back in '64, especially across the Pike,” Murphy said. “The first theory was that they fell down a manhole ... were playing around some digging areas and got covered up by all the dirt that they put in.”
Workers dug up several work sites in a vain search, Murphy said.
“They actually dug up some of the piping that they put in across the street on Spring Street thinking that they fell down a hole and got covered up with dirt. They dug it all up and down here on the west side of Fairfax. Swallen's warehouse was going in, so there was a lot of mounds of hills. You know how kids are -- they like to climb these hills.”
Murphy said John and Jimmy were “outdoors kids.”
“These kids were out after school and they'd kind of run the streets of Fairfax," Murphy said. "They were fun loving -- not out causing any trouble. It was kind of a little different than the kids today.”
Murphy didn’t put much faith in a report about a Cadillac driver abducting the boys.
“I think it's unlikely that these two kids would let somebody grab them both up,” Murphy said.
That investigation didn’t go far, he said, because there wasn’t much information to go on.
Murphy said he left Fairfax police in 1984 and went to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. In 2010, he returned to Fairfax and the missing boys case.
“In 2010, we had some information that was given to the police department. One of them was that they were abducted and buried in an area that we kind of looked at,” Murphy said.
It turned out to be false.
One of the strangest tips led Murphy to New England.
“A lady from Foxborough, Massachusetts, had emailed Fairfax saying that her father did it ... I started communicating with her ... We decided that we had to follow this to the end,” Murphy said. “The old chief here, Rick Patterson, said, ‘You take it and go with it.’ So at that point I thought, 'We need to get DNA from these kids.’"
Murphy said he went to several family members and got samples.
“I sent if off to my lab at BCI,” Murphy said. “Of course I was retired from BCI at the time, but I still had a connection up there.
“I sent it off to the national (Combined DNA Index System), so if there's anything that comes up -- unidentifiable bones that have been found anywhere in the United States -- they notify us and it all goes to BCI to check out to see if it's the right bones.”
Murphy said he and the chief then drove to Foxborough and talked to the woman, and then he went to New Hampshire to interview her mother and siblings.
The woman “had some psychological problems,” Murphy said. “I even interviewed her therapist. She thought she was telling the truth. Her statement was that her father abducted these kids and killed them in the basement and then buried them underneath the porch in Foxborough.”
Just in case, Murphy said he arranged to get a cadaver dog from Foxborough police and searched the house. They found nothing, Then he went down to Kentucky where the woman’s father lived. He was originally from Middletown.
After that, Murphy decided there was nothing to the woman’s claims.
Three years after the boys disappeared, it appeared that the case had been solved. A 17-year-old Marine private named Gary Lee McKee said he had killed them. McKee, who grew up in Fairfax and was living there when the boys went missing, confessed to a minister in San Diego, where he was stationed.
McKee promised to show Fairfax police where he buried the bodies, and Bonnie remembers that her mom went along.
“They went from one place to another, from one place to another, and my mother (was) right there," she said.
McKee took them for a ride, Bonnie said.
“'No, it was over here … No, it was over here …’ and finally he said, ‘No, I lied about it. I just told that to get out of the service.’ And my mother was just absolutely devastated.”
“We interviewed him -- I couldn't tell you how many times -- (and we) polygraphed him,” Murphy said. “You know, that was the Vietnam War so he was probably going to Vietnam and I don't think he wanted to take that venture.”
It worked for McKee.
“At that point the Marine Corps said, ‘We don't want any more to do with you,'” Murphy said.
To be sure, police dug up McKee's backyard, where he said he buried the weapon, and found nothing, according to reports. They didn't dig up the areas where he said he buried the boys. They had been developed.
John and Jimmy would be in their 60s if they’re alive. So what happened to them?
Murphy’s best guess is they died accidentally the day they went missing.
“I think they just ... all the construction that was going on in Fairfax back then, they may have gone in a hole and was buried up with dirt that fell in behind them and didn't make it out,” Murphy said. “And we didn't dig the right areas (to find them)."
John’s sister doesn’t think they died by accident.
“I don't believe he ever left Fairfax. I believe he's buried down there where the old schoolhouse used to be in them woods that were down there,” she said.
She said she wishes police could give McKee another polygraph test using updated technology.
Both agree time is running out.
"I just hope and pray that before the rest of us leave here that we find out something ... about him," Hundley-Zornes said.
Murphy said he "would love to solve this thing” for the families, but “the case gets cold, memories are lost and people die."
"All of the investigators that initially worked this case back in '64 -- Fairfax, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, Cincinnati PD - they're all deceased,” Murphy said. “We get calls from time to time ... we just really don't have any good concrete leads.
“Hopefully, one day -- who knows -- remains may be found.”
If you have information about this case, call Fairfax police at 513-271-7250.