Wilfred King III left his home in Essex, Vermont, on October 24, 1980, and didn’t return. Some of his belongings, including the crutches he needed to walk, were found shortly after, but he was not be located; there was no explanation for his disappearance. In the years following, there were several searches, secret court inquests, tips to Crime Stoppers, and civil court proceedings between his family members, but Wilfred’s case remains unsolved.
Thirty-seven-year-old Wilfred King lived in a house he had built himself on Jericho Road in Essex. His parents, Wilfred Jr. and Lillian, lived in the house next door. His oldest son, Joey, lived with him. His wife, Diane, and their two younger children had moved out earlier in the year, and the couple was in the process of divorcing. Two years before his disappearance, Wilfred was struck by a car on the road outside his home. He was severely injured and faced a difficult recovery but was able to walk using crutches. The ordeal reportedly took a toll on the Kings’ marriage, leading to their separation.
On the afternoon of Friday, October 24, 1980, Wilfred was at home waiting for a phone call, which came in around 5 pm. He then went hunting near his house before leaving around 7 pm to meet a friend. Wilfred’s parents wanted him to take Joey with him. Wilfred had reportedly received threats, and his parents did not want him to go anywhere unaccompanied. But that night, he decided to leave on his own.
The next day, hunters found Wilfred’s crutches in a field in Colchester, about nine miles from his home in Essex. They were stained with blood. One of his boots was found in the area during a search.
About three weeks later, his truck, a white Chevrolet Blazer, was found near West Oak Hill Road in Williston, about eight miles from his house and 16 miles from where his other belongings were located. A witness in Williston said she saw the truck with a man inside two days after Wilfred was last seen. The area was searched, but no other clues were found.
In December 1981, after Wilfred had been missing for just over a year, his wife, Diane, began court proceedings to take control of property that had been awarded to Wilfred as part of the couple’s ongoing divorce proceedings before he vanished. Their son Joey had moved the items to his grandparents’ house, saying he was concerned his mother’s friends would damage them. Joey and Diane both stated that two of her friends had previously damaged property, including equipment from Wilfred’s paving company. Diane first brought a lawsuit against Wilfred’s father, but she named Joey as the defendant when the case was dismissed. About a year later, a judge ruled that the property should go to Wilfred’s father until Wilfred was found or declared dead.
The family returned to court in 1988 when Diane tried to have Wilfred declared dead and to take possession of his house and land. Joey sued to stop her. According to papers filed by his lawyer, he believed Diane was responsible for Wilfred’s death. It is unclear from media reports how the lawsuits ended. Wilfred was eventually declared dead in January 1994.
While the family was in court throughout the 1980s, the police investigation continued. In 1981, Lieutenant Robert Yandow said that the police had interviewed dozens of people and some had given sworn testimony in court. There had also been five searches and Wilfred’s parents were offering a cash reward for information. Yandow stated that Diane’s refusal to cooperate was hampering the investigation and that two of the King children had not spoken to police. Diane told the Free Press that she was willing to take a lie detector test, but police said she had refused to.
In 1982, land in the Burlington Intervale was searched based on information police had received through court inquests and tips to police. Bones were found, but they were determined to be from an animal. The gravel pit where Wilfred’s truck was found the year before was also searched again. A pair of glasses was found, but it is unclear if police were able to connect them to Wilfred.
The next year, a belt and a piece of checkered cloth were found on a property in Milton. The property was owned by the brother of a man who was living with Diane at the time, but was being rented out. Wilfred had reportedly been wearing a checkered shirt when he was last seen, though Yandow said the fabric found was different from the shirt. Police excavated a well on the site, hoping to find additional clues but were unsuccessful.
In 1988, police received information that led them to search outside of Vermont, but specifics were not provided to the press. Yandow said that the investigation was still active and reiterated that Diane’s lack of cooperation slowed them down. The case appears to have grown cold after 1988.
For the 20th anniversary of Wilfred’s disappearance, the Burlington Free Press spoke to Wilfred’s parents, who were still searching for answers about their son. They believed Diane had hired someone to kill Wilfred, but that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove it in court. Lieutenant Gary Taylor would not comment on their theory. He said the police were still following leads but had not arrested anyone and were not planning to. According to the Kings, Joey had reconciled with his mother by then.
At the time of his disappearance, Wilfred King was 37 years old. He was 5 feet and 3 to 5 inches tall and weighed around 135. He had brown hair and brown eyes, and he needed crutches to walk. He was wearing a checkered-print shirt, a belt buckle with a bicentennial (1776-1976) silver dollar, and a wristwatch. His nickname was Butch.
Anyone with information about Wilfred’s disappearance should contact the Essex police: (802) 878-8331. Tips can also be submitted anonymously at vsp.vermont.gov/tipsubmit, or by texting VTIPS to 274637 (CRIMES).
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