- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) - Beverly Ward was 13 years old. She was born and raised in Junction City.

Her parents were married with five daughters and three sons. The family wasn’t rich, but they had everything they needed.

The Wards were just like any other family until tragedy struck on July 4, 1978. In the middle of the night - in an instant - their family was changed forever.

That’s the day Beverly was stolen, the Junction City Daily Union (http://bit.ly/1sZ6K1M ) reported.

Police think someone came in through her bedroom window, after cutting the screen and tossing it aside. Beverly was wearing a green nightgown; asleep one minute, gone the next. It’s been at least 35 years since the little girl was taken. One theory is Beverly died a long time ago, at the hands of someone who’s never been brought to justice, but as of right now, no one knows for sure.

At the Junction City Police Department, Beverly Ward is not just a typical little girl. She isn’t just another young teenager with big dreams and a big family to match. She’s cold case #1978-10233.

Beverly’s mother, Bernia Ward, reported her missing at approximately 5:30 a.m. on Independence Day 1978, after a family member discovered she had disappeared from their single-story family home, located at 227 W. 11th St. The home standing in its place now replaces Beverly’s home, which previously was demolished.

There were three, possibly four, people in the home at the time she vanished - all family members.

Beverly was not, at any time, considered to be a runaway. Her bags were packed, and her money was left precisely where she’d placed it, in preparation for an upcoming summer camp she was planning to attend.

At the time of her disappearance, Beverly was approximately 4 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed 54 pounds. She was African-American, with black hair and brown eyes.

“Nothing else was taken. Beverly, and the clothes she was wearing, was all that was missing from the house,” said Sgt. Cory Odell, of the Junction City Police Department. He has been assigned to Beverly’s case since joining the department in 2009.

Beverly’s family never was suspected of any wrongdoing in the case.

“The family was never considered to be suspects,” Odell said. “They were forthcoming with information, helpful, and extremely appropriate in terms of the situation.”

After canvassing the neighborhood, three persons of interest were established. Two came to light, according to Odell, after a neighbor reported seeing a vehicle, which belonged to one of the suspects, near the residence sometime around midnight.

However, the sighting was much earlier than the time Beverly was reported missing. Police followed all leads in the case, and the suspects were interviewed. The two individuals were determined to be “loosely acquainted” with the family.

A third person of interest was identified as the investigation focused on people living in the vicinity. The suspect was seen in the area in the days, or weeks, leading up to the abduction.

The individual also was interviewed during the initial investigation.

“There’s not enough evidence to say, either way, whether or not they were involved, or whether or not they could be ruled out as suspects,” Odell said. “From looking through the file, I can say, I think the three people they focused on, and interviewed at the time, were the best people to interview at the time. I was very impressed with the interviews they conducted, considering the time this happened.”

When the kidnapping occurred, the Geary County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, were brought in to assist, mostly by interviewing people who were out of town.

“In 1978, Junction City was as much, if not more, of a transient community, as it is now,” Odell said.

Evidence in the case suggests Beverly was removed through her bedroom window.

Photographs of the home were taken at the time of the disappearance.

From a small, plastic photo sleeve, Odell pulled out a Polaroid picture of an unassuming white house from the 200 block of West 11th Street, and slid it across the JCPD conference room table. The photo depicted the rear view of the Ward home, which opened into a large yard with no privacy or chain-link fencing of any kind.

A small tree line would have shielded neighbors on the right side from seeing anything happening outside the windows or back door of the property.

The picture showed a single door, located on the right side of the back of the home, and three windows to its left - one of which would’ve been Beverly’s. It was evident from the photograph, her bedroom would’ve been easily accessible to anyone walking toward the property from the rear, and the arrival - and exit - of such a person (and Beverly) may not have easily been seen, depending on the onlooker’s vantage point.

A small, white truck sits to the left of the property in the picture.

Fingerprint lifting was attempted at the time of the abduction, but none were discovered. Damage to the bedroom window was noted, and to Odell’s knowledge, no other physical evidence exists in the case, though he soon will attempt to sift through stored evidence from 1978 to confirm this.

While the bulk of the investigation happened immediately, work has continued as time has gone on.

“Leads were followed-up on, in this case, through roughly 1995,” Odell said. “People came forward in the 1990s stating they had possible information about this case. Those leads were followed, but didn’t provide a whole lot of insight into the case.”

The information provided in the 1990s implied a completely different direction to what was being investigated in the late 1970s, according to Odell.

He states the three original suspects do not, to his knowledge, continue to reside in Kansas, and while he has indications as to each of their locations, he’s keeping this information to himself for now.

Beverly’s case, despite being 35 years old, still is considered to be an open case, and her information remains on file with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Currently, Odell is working to have Beverly listed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which would allow for an age-progressed computer-aided image of what Beverly might look like today to be created and placed on an NCMEC poster, which could be made available across the nation, and internationally via the Internet.

After speaking to representatives at NCMEC, Odell feels confident Beverly’s kidnapping qualifies her to be entered into their system. However, it’s a time-consuming process to transcribe information from a 1978 file - from pages of handwritten, delicate cursive writing - to a format which can be uploaded to the NCMEC.

Beverly’s case information has been made available online at https://www.findthemissing.org/en/cases/show/26421.

Odell also is working, through the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) to identify crimes which occurred along the I-70 corridor in a similar timeframe, which may show any resemblance to Beverly’s abduction.

The VICAP program is not one in which Beverly’s case can be entered. The program must be gone through manually, case by case, and compared to Beverly’s by a human being in an attempt to link the crimes, and ultimately identify the person or persons responsible for taking Beverly from her loved ones.

Odell currently is part of the Crime Scene Unit and is the only police officer assigned to Beverly’s case.

“I requested to be allowed to have this case, in case anything were to come up, and I’ve not relinquished it to another detective,” Odell said.

As to where the case is today, very little has changed.

“No specific tips or leads have come in since the 1990s,” Odell confirmed.

The circumstances surrounding Beverly’s presumed kidnapping and her whereabouts, whether alive or deceased, remain a mystery. Her mother since has passed away without resolution to what happened to her daughter.

___

Information from: The (Junction City, Kan.) Daily Union, http://www.dailyu.com

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