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47 years later: Investigator has hunch in teen's disappearance

'Many avenues to explore, but nothing solid to go on'

A fresh look has yielded no new clues in the disappearance of an Oglesby teenager 47 years ago this week, but nevertheless an investigator suspects he has an answer.

Dermot F. Kelly, 16, was last seen Sunday, Jan. 30, 1972.

At 1:15 p.m. that day, Dermot left his home near the south bank of the Vermilion River, with a .22-caliber rifle in his hands. He told his parents he was going target shooting. His parents reported him missing two hours later.

Searchers came across Dermot’s jacket and boots on the bank of the Vermilion where that river feeds into the Illinois River. A set of bare foot prints in the snow led from the bank 20 feet out onto the partially frozen river. There were no return prints. An impression of a rifle also was present in the snow.

Divers found, just below the ice in the river, a rifle believed to have been Dermot’s. However, nothing more was ever discovered.

Last year, Mark Czworniak, an investigator with the Chicago office of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reopened the case, visiting La Salle County and conducting interviews with police and people who knew Dermot.

Czworniak, a retired Chicago police homicide detective, said he believes Dermot killed himself and was swept away by the river, but there are loose threads to the disappearance he wishes he could pull together.

“There are many avenues to explore, but nothing solid to go on. A couple of things are odd about the case,” Czworniak said.

At any rate, Czworniak pointed to indicators of suicide.

Dermot was a junior at the then all boys St. Bede Academy between Peru and Spring Valley. He was in class the Friday before he vanished, but had missed several weeks in the fall, while he was receiving medical treatment in the Chicago area, the school’s head said at the time.

Also, in reporting Dermot missing, his parents said Dermot was an introspective boy who had been despondent.

“He was just too smart to be in school,” one of Dermot’s classmates told the La Salle News-Tribune shortly after Dermot vanished.

Dermot’s mother told the press she believed Dermot had run away to start a new life, free of the problems in society that troubled him.

Dermot’s parents were Asta and Kevin Kelly. Kevin was a lawyer. Dermot had three sisters and one brother. In 1992, Dermot’s father went to court and had him declared legally dead.

Dermot’s father died in 2003. In his obituary, Dermot was not mentioned. Dermot’s mother died in 2011; her obituary listed him as one of her survivors.

Czworniak noted there are six unidentified victims of serial killer John W. Gacy, who murdered dozens of boys and young men in the 1970s in suburban Chicago, however, Dermot has been ruled out. Other unidentified bodies around the Midwest have also been checked with DNA, but no matches.

Czworniak pointed out if Dermot’s body entered the Illinois River, it could have reached the Mississippi River. If so, the body may have been recovered years ago in any one of countless counties along the waterway and been given a John Doe burial.

Anyone with information should call the La Salle County Sheriff’s Office at: 815-433-2161. The Center for Missing and Exploited Children can be called at: 800-843-5678.

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