Another year without answers

Published 3:04 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2024

WOODLAND – Tomorrow (Thursday, Jan. 11) marks the 61st anniversary of the disappearance of five-year-old Phyllis Lorrain Powell of Woodland.

Items placed at an empty table in the home of William “Buddy” Powell each have significance as the family still waits for answers over the Jan. 11, 1963 disappearance of five-year-old Phyllis Lorrain Powell of Woodland. Contributed Photo

The child was playing outside of the family’s home on Ashe Street in Woodland when she vanished.

Despite a massive search on the ground and in the air involving over 200 individuals, there were no clues discovered on the little girl’s whereabouts, other than a set of small footprints found in an area bordered by a thick woods about one mile from where she went missing.

Each Jan. 11, the Powell family gathers at a small memorial erected in Phyllis’s memory in Woodland. That day brings back painful memories.

“We pray daily for answers,” said William “Buddy” Powell, the brother of Phyllis. “We wait daily for a phone call about a breakthrough in the search for our missing loved one. She may be gone, but she is never forgotten.

“While it still hurts not knowing what happened to her, I believe we would all find some peace if we just knew where her body is. We could give a proper burial. That would give us some sort of closure,” he added.

This year, the Powell family marked the anniversary with a special tribute to Phyllis and to others who remain missing.

They set up a small table, with a single chair, in the family’s home to symbolize the frailty of missing loved ones everywhere who are alone against their suppressors.

The table is covered with a white tablecloth, symbolic to the purity of family members intentions to never give up searching for their missing loved ones.

On the table is a single vase containing several red roses, which signifies the solidarity of the families of the missing as they stand together until all have answers and to their right to remain informed about the search efforts.

“These roses remind us of the families who keep the faith while waiting on the return of their loved ones,” Powell stressed.

On the vase is a yellow ribbon, representative of the same color ribbons worn on the lapels of the thousands of family members who demand, with unyielding determination, a proper accounting of their missing loved ones.

A plate on the table contains two slices of a lemon, significant of what bitter fate that met those who are missing.

Salt is sprinkled on the plate, serving as a reminder of the all the tears shed by loved ones of the missing as they continue to wait for answers.

The glass on the table is inverted, meaning that the missing cannot use it to toast an occasion.

This is an artist’s drawing of Phyllis Lorrain Powell as she looked as a child. Contributed Photo

The chair is empty as the missing have not been found.

A single candle on the table is reminiscent of the light of hope given to families of the missing from God to never give up the search, no matter how long it takes.

“That light of hope also illuminates the way back home for the missing,” Powell shared.

“Let us remember and never forget all those who are missing because we know they haven’t forgotten us,” he added.

Powell laid out the timeline of Jan. 11, 1963. It was around 12 noon that day when his sister, Joyce, was washing clothes at the home of a Woodland neighbor, Molly Lassiter. Phyllis was with Joyce and asked her older sibling for permission to go outside and play.

“Joyce knew it wouldn’t be a problem because of the area that Phyllis was going to play was surrounded by houses owned mostly by family and friends,” he said. “Little did Joyce or any of us know that within an hour Phyllis would be gone; she just vanished.”

He added that there wasn’t much traffic on Ashe Street back in 1963, simply due to the fact there were only two men who lived on that street who owned an automobile. He noted that those living on Ashe Street (known as Back Street at that particular time) were either related or very close friends.

“Most of the men who lived there would walk to work at the casket companies or the basket mill that operated back then in Woodland and George,” he recalled.

Over the years since little Phyllis vanished, her missing person’s case has attracted national and international attention. With advances in technology, ground penetrating radar was used to search the local area.

Eleven years ago, on the 50th anniversary of Phyllis’s disappearance, Diana Trepkov of Canada, a Certified Forensic Artist through the International Association for Identification, became involved in the case. Based upon recollections by the family (there were no known photos of young Phyllis), Trepkov penned a likeness of Powell at age 5 and then an age progression likeness at age 55. Those two drawings were used on flyers and billboards.

In October of 2013, Community United Effort (CUE) Center for Missing Persons officials met with members of the Powell-Vinson family in Woodland at the Phyllis Powell Memorial Garden to share their memories and bring renewed attention that will hopefully shine new light on this missing person’s cold case. That event was part of the CUE’s annual “On the Road to Remember Tour.”

There remains a $10,000 reward for information leading to the whereabouts of Phyllis Powell. That information can be shared anonymously by calling the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office at 252-534-2611. Or you can contact the CUE Center For Missing Persons at (910) 343-1131 or their 24 Hour Line at (910) 232-1687. Tipsters can remain anonymous.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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