A Different Time
“On the morning of August 10, 1957, 35-year-old Florence Martin was busily tidying her Brazil, Indiana home in anticipation of her husband’s return. 39-year-old William Martin, a factory worker, had been away for two weeks attending National Guard training at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. He was due to arrive home late that evening or the following morning.
Florence and William had three children, Linda-Lou, 10, Billy, 7, and Bobby, 4. Early that afternoon, Linda-Lou was given permission to walk to a carnival and company picnic that was being held at Forest Park located approximately 1.5 miles from the Martin home. To the younger two siblings’ dismay, Florence did not allow them to go, explaining they were too young to go without an adult. Instead, she sent Billy and Bobby outside to play.
Around noon, 53-year-old Harry ‘Tex’ Higgins, a family friend and the boyfriend of William’s sister, 41-year-old Elizabeth Martin, arrived at the Martin home. Harry had begun dating Elizabeth six months prior, though he had known the Martins for around two years. Two weeks prior, he had moved in with William and Florence while looking for work. Harry sat in the living room watching a ball game on television and eating a plate of pork chops Florence had prepared for him.
When Billy and Bobby returned home after playing at a neighbor’s home around 2 pm, Florence immediately noticed that Billy was covered in sand. Not wanting him to track it inside of the freshly cleaned house, she asked Harry to change Billy’s shirt on the home’s front porch. After doing so, Harry sat outside reading while the boys played on their tricycles.
At 3:30 pm, Bobby came inside crying after apparently getting into an argument with Billy after their tricycles had collided. When Florence went outside to straighten things out, she found both Billy and Harry missing. Assuming Harry had simply left, and Billy went to play, she continued doing chores around the home. Just after 4 pm, Harry returned to the Martin’s home, however, he left a short time later telling Florence he was going to wash his car at the Evan’s Farm.
The Evans Farm was owned by a 69-year-old woman named Florence ‘Lorine’ Evans. Lorine’s life in itself is the source of several local legends in Clay County. An eccentric woman, Lorine owned a second-hand antique shop called ‘Thrift Department Store,’ located on National Avenue in downtown Brazil. According to locals, she would charge ridiculous amounts for the clearly used items in the store. Lorine claimed the store was haunted.
Lorine also owned more than 100 acres of farming property in nearby Hoosierville, Indiana. Located on the rural property was an elegant three-story home. Rather unique, the home’s exterior was painted pink, and the walls of the home were made of glass. Inside, all of the furnishings were painted pink, red, or white and the home was filled with mountains of antiques. Lorine, however, also believed the house was haunted and instead chose to live in one of two small cabins located on the property.
Harry had spent the past several summers working on Lorine’s farm to earn extra money. A bit of a ‘drifter,’ Harry had also worked for a local donut shop, as a wandering guitar player, and until two weeks prior, for a time as a coffee grinder in Chicago, Illinois. Around 6 pm, Harry again returned to the Martin home, this time finding a worried Florence still searching for Billy, who was not known to wander far from home.
Harry told Florence that after Bobby had come inside crying, he had walked with Billy down the alley to look at some dogs. According to him, afterward, he returned with Billy, leaving him outside the house to play. He added that a short time after he left to wash his car, Harry had scolded Billy for playing in the road a few blocks away on Depot Street.
At 1 am, William Martin arrived home from National Guard training to find his wife completely distraught. Florence explained that even after a thorough search of the neighborhood as well as the nearby carnival, she could not find Billy. William immediately called the police to report their son missing.
An immense search quickly ensued for the missing 7-year-old. Billy was described as 3 feet tall, 55 lbs, with black hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a brown and orange striped T-shirt, blue jeans, and brown sandals. Neighbors, family, and friends all joined in as police scoured nearby fields, woods, mineshafts, and ponds. Sadly, they found no sign of him. Police immediately turned their attention to the last person to supposedly see Billy alive and brought Harry in for questioning.
Neighbors who lived close to the Martin home claimed the last time they saw Billy was when he was walking down the alley alongside Harry. According to them, when Harry came back from the walk, he was alone. When interrogated, Harry calmly relayed the same story he had told Florence to investigators. After walking with Billy to see the dogs, he left him outside of the Martin’s home. He again claimed the last time he had seen Billy, was when he saw him playing in the road and scolded him for doing so. He then went to wash his car at the farm before returning to the Martin home that evening. Furthering investigators’ suspicions, several neighbors who lived in the location where the supposed scolding took place, denied seeing the interaction despite claiming to be outside at the time.
A thorough search of Harry’s copper-colored 1949 Pontiac failed to produce any clues. It was noted that the car’s exterior was extremely dirty, especially for a vehicle that had supposedly been freshly washed. Later, police concluded that the dust found on the exterior of Harry’s vehicle may have accumulated from the trip home, as the roads near the Evans farm were gravel. The Detectives traveled five miles to the Evan’s farm and discovered wet rags in a pan, however, no cleaning products were found. A search of the farm was conducted, including the inside of the haunted ‘main house,’ however, nothing of interest was found.
Both Harry and Elizabeth Martin submitted to lie detector tests and according to police, they showed extreme deception when asked about Billy’s whereabouts. However, despite numerous rounds of questioning, Harry maintained his innocence. The Martins also expressed their belief that Harry, who had spent a considerable amount of time with both their children as well as Elizabeth’s, would never hurt their son. With no further evidence to hold him, Harry was eventually released nearly two weeks later.
During the time Harry was being held, police also continued to investigate other possibilities. Theorizing that perhaps the allure of the bright lights, good smells, and colorful games had enticed Billy, they focused their attention on the traveling carnival. Both patrons and employees of the event were questioned, however, none seemed to recognize the missing boy.
Detectives did learn, however, that three of the carnival’s employees had left town the evening Billy was last seen. One of those employees had been accused of inappropriately touching the children when helping them onto a ride. Apparently, the same worker had been accused of a similar act just a few weeks prior in a neighboring town. Unfortunately, police failed to locate the man for questioning.
Ten days after Billy went missing, investigators received a tip from a woman named Ollie Abner. Ollie phoned police after witnessing two men carrying what appeared to be a ‘sagging object held in a bloodstained quilt’ towards a lake near her home. Suspicious, Ollie sent her husband and son to investigate. Fifteen feet from the edge of the water, the pair found the quilt Ollie had described. The lake was dragged, however again, no sign of Billy was found. Around the same time, a member of the volunteer search party discovered what appeared to be a freshly dug ‘grave’ under an abandoned house near the Martin home. Once again though, a thorough search failed to produce any leads.
In December, however, a new lead presented itself. Police in Brighton, Colorado arrested 27-year-old Billy Stevens, a former carnival worker, after he had escaped from a mental institution, broken into a woman’s home, and stole her lingerie and perfume. When Stevens was taken into custody, a newspaper clipping was discovered in his pocket featuring Billy Martin’s case. Stevens claimed the opposite side of the clipping, a story about a rodeo, had been his reason for saving it. Stevens admitted working at a carnival in Indiana in August, however, he initially denied ever having been to Brazil. Stevens, who suffered from severe schizophrenia, was brought to Indiana, and after multiple rounds of questioning, admitted to killing Billy in the woods near the carnival. The confession, though, was quickly determined to be made up.
As clues and leads began to dwindle, sadly interest in Billy’s case, which had once been front page news, waned. A fund was set up to raise money to aid the investigation, however, it only reached 167 dollars. The money was eventually donated to the local Boy Scouts.
For more than a year, the Martin family held on to hope that Billy would someday be returned to them. On the first anniversary of his disappearance, Billy’s grandfather attended the local carnival daily, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of his lost grandson who ‘ran away to join the circus.’ That Christmas, William and Florence, still convinced their son would walk through the door at any moment, bought gifts for Billy and left them under the tree. According to Florence, when Christmas morning came and he didn’t show, she knew her son was dead.
Florence Martin passed away in 1993 at the age of 71, and William in 1998, at the age of 80. Though Billy was never found, a gravestone with his name, along with an inscription reading ‘Missing but Never Forgotten,’ was placed in Calcutta Cemetery alongside his parents’ final resting places. Robert Martin, Billy’s brother, continues to hope that one day he and his remaining family will finally know what really happened to Billy all those years ago.
Billy’s case is the source of several urban legends around Clay County. One such legend claims that Billy was buried beneath Meridian Elementary School, which at the time of his disappearance was being built, and he now ‘haunts’ the school. In a bizarre twist, in 2010 while digging on the north side of the building to make a pad for a new air conditioning unit, construction workers discovered an 8-inch bone, approximately 3-4 feet underground. After testing, however, it was concluded the bone was from an animal.
Rumors about Lorine and her property have also stood the test of time. According to one legend, Billy’s body was concealed in Lorine’s cluttered main house within an old trunk. When Lorine was killed in an automobile accident in 1967, she left her entire estate to the local hospital. The legend goes that the trunk, containing the bones and a t-shirt, was sold or lost during an auction of Lorine’s many belongings.
Others believed Lorine unknowingly took the trunk to her thrift shop to be sold. However, when she died, the trunk was thrown away along with heaps of other junk she had attempted to sell in the store. The building in which Lorine’s shop was located still stands today and is rumored to be haunted. Again, in a strange twist, in 1968 after Lorine’s home was sold, ‘sawed up bones’ were found hidden in jars in the basement of her main house during renovations. Again, they were ultimately determined to be animal bones.
Though not uncommon with most small town mysteries, it is unfortunate that Billy’s tragic tale became the source of rumors and local legends. However unlikely it may be, hopefully, one day an actual solution to the mystery will be presented and Billy’s remaining family can finally have the answers they still seek.”