It was out of character for 53-year-old Geneva Verneal Adams to just hang out at a bar, But she loved to dance, so that’s just what she did on the evening of July 24, 1976 – the night she disappeared.
Geneva was a religious woman, a devoted member of the Pentecostal church, who worked tirelessly her entire life raising 10 children in the working-class area of Festus, Missouri, taking jobs in factories and nursing homes.
Her first husband, the father of her children, died of cancer in 1969. A brief second marriage ended in divorce.
Geneva didn’t drink, but since she liked to dance, she asked her daughter, Sheila, who was in her 20s at the time, to drive her to the Artesian Lounge in Herculaneum, Missouri that Saturday night for an evening of dancing.
Her son, Steve Crump, who was 17 years old at the time, was getting ready to go to his job at a local restaurant. Steve and his 12-year-old brother, Billy, were the only children still living at home. The others were grown and had started their own families.
Steve still remembers his mother’s mood as she left for the bar that night.
“I hadn’t seen my mom that happy in a long time,” Steve told Dateline. “She didn’t drink, but she loved to dance and was excited about going out.”
Steve told Dateline he felt his mother had been lonely since the death of her first husband and following her divorce.
“She really deserved to have a good night out,” Steve said. “It was really nice to see her so happy.”
But the next morning, Steve woke up to a silent house. He knew something was wrong.
“I thought it was strange because our mom was always there to make us breakfast and there was always coffee being brewed when we woke up in the mornings,” Steve said. “But that morning, nothing.”
After discovering that his mother had not slept in her bed that night, Steve called his sister, Sheila, who had gone dancing with her.
Sheila told Steve that at some point during the night, she decided she wanted to go home. Her mother wanted to stay and continue dancing with a man she had met earlier in the evening. The man offered to take her home and Sheila left.
Steve said at that point they began to panic and, along with a few of his siblings, tried to track down the man who had been with their mother.
Steve told Dateline that bartenders at the Artesian Lounge told him that his mother had been with a regular named Jimmie Lee Mills and that they left around 1 a.m. Steve said he later discovered that Mills was his little brother Billy’s school bus driver in Festus.
“As soon as we figured out who it was, we found out where he lived and went over to his trailer and demanded to know where our mother was,” Steve said.
Steve said Mills told them that he and Geneva left the Artesian Lounge and drove to another bar that was open late in East St. Louis near Illinois. He said he then dropped Geneva off at a donut shop around 4 a.m. in Crystal City, Missouri.
“Why would he drop her off at a donut shop in the middle of the night? It makes no sense,” Steve said.
The family filed a missing persons report with the Herculaneum Police Department and according to Chief Mark Tulgetske, police at the time were told the same story by Mills.
Chief Tulgetske, who took the case on 15 years ago, told Dateline that Mills was questioned repeatedly, but insisted he didn’t know anything.
Jimmie Mills quickly became a person of interest in Geneva’s disappearance, the chief confirmed.
“Jimmie Mills has always been and still is our number one person of interest in this case,” Chief Tulgetske said. “But without a body, we have not been able to charge him.”
Chief Tulgetske told Dateline Mills has an extensive criminal record including charges of rape and robbery. The chief said he also believes Mills is responsible for the deaths of multiple women.
According to reports confirmed by Chief Tulgetske, Mills was charged in the rape of a hitchhiker in Jefferson County five weeks before Geneva disappeared. He was out on bail when he met Geneva at the bar.
Nine years later, in July of 1985, another woman with a connection to Mills disappeared, Chief Tulgetske told Dateline.
Cynthia Horan, 21, lived in an apartment building in St. Louis, and shared a kitchen and bathroom with Mills. Investigators turned their attention to Mills, but after being questioned, Chief Tulgetske said there was not enough evidence to charge him with anything.
On July 30, 1988, a hiker in Jefferson County stumbled upon a shallow grave containing the skeleton of a young woman, according to Chief Tulgetske. A forensic anthropologist built a clay model of the woman’s face and determined it to be a woman named Julie Adams, who had been missing from St. Louis since March of 1988.
But her family wasn’t convinced it was her. Neither were police.
In 2009, Chief Tulgetske, who was a captain on the force at the time, along with St. Louis homicide Detective Randy Sasenger and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Eugene “Doc” Coombs, decided to test their theory that the remains really belonged to Cynthia Horan, by comparing DNA from the remains with a saliva sample from Cynthia’s brother. It was a match and her remains were returned to her family for a proper funeral. Julie Adams is still missing, Chief Tulgetske said.
Geneva’s son, Steve, who is now 61, has been doing his own research on the case and holds on to every bit of information chronicling his mother’s case. He told Dateline that Cynthia Horan’s story gives him hope that his mother’s case will one day be solved.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride,” Steve said. “Just 44 years of ups and downs. Something happens and you have hope, but then you’re let down again. It’s tough.”
In 2018, police received some information in what they say has been the biggest break in the case yet.
According to Chief Tulgetske, the body of an unidentified “Jane Doe” had been found in September of 1976, in a wooded area of Washington Park, Illinois.
“That area is near where Jimmie Mills said they were going that night Geneva disappeared,” Chief Tulgetske said. “Bars stayed open much later over there.”
The body was examined at that time, but was too decomposed to identify a cause of death, the chief told Dateline.
Chief Tulgetske said Jane Doe was buried in a private cemetery off a residential road in Fairview Heights and forgotten until 2014 when an Illinois State Police sergeant working to identify cold case remains ran Jane Doe’s information through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database – and came across Geneva’s case.
Steve told Dateline he’s stumped on how the connection was not made before now. Chief Tulgetske explained to Dateline that missing person cases were handled differently back then and that there was less communication between agencies.
Investigators were able to obtain crime scene photos and limited records on where Jane Doe might have been buried, but the chief said all other evidence on her case was gone.
According to the records, Jane Doe had dentures, reddish-brown hair and a small frame.
“It’s Mom,” said Steve, who told Dateline he was able to view photos from the massive file that contains his mother’s case. “I just know it. I believe that’s her.”
So in December 2018, authorities obtained an order to exhume the body from where records indicated Jane Doe had been buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
But they came up with nothing.
Steve was once again crushed with disappointment.
“It’s so frustrating,” Steve said. “It’s like you’re reading a book and the last chapter is missing.”
Chief Tulgetske said he believes the answers to Geneva’s case are in that cemetery, but said the records are clearly wrong on where the body is and authorities don’t plan to dig at this time.
“I’m 99 percent sure that Geneva is buried in that cemetery,” Chief Tulgetske said. “But without a better lead on where her body is, we just can’t dig up the entire area.”
He added that if the body of Jane Doe is found and identified as Geneva, it would give her family closure.
“We have been working on this a long time and I want nothing more than to give this family closure and peace,” Tulgetske said.
But he said that would not necessarily lead to a prosecution.
“We suspect foul play, but at the time the body was found, it was too decomposed to determine a cause of death,” Tulgetske said. “At this point, the best we can hope for is a confession or for someone to come forward with information about what happened that night.”
The person of interest in Geneva’s disappearance, Jimmie Mills, who is now in his 70s, was sent to prison on weapons charges in 2010. Chief Tulgetske told Dateline Mills was interviewed multiple times while incarcerated, but refused to talk about that night in 1976. Mills was released in August of 2019 and Chief Tulgetske said they do not know where he now resides.
“We keep hitting dead ends,” Chief Tulgetske said. “But we want to solve this case. Our hope now is for someone to come forward. Someone with information about that night. Or about where this body could be buried.”
Geneva’s son, Steve, continues to push on with his search for answers in his mother’s case and is writing a book that he hopes will tell her story.
“I want to keep her story alive,” Steve said. “For her and for her family. Out of us 10 kids, only 6 of us are left. But we don’t want our mother’s story forgotten. We make sure to tell our children and grandchildren. It’s not over until we find out the last chapter of her story.”
At the time of her disappearance, Geneva was described as being approximately 5’0” to 5’2” tall, weighing between 110 to 120 pounds, with reddish brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a blue tank top with a design on the front and blue pants made of a thin material.
Anyone with information about Geneva’s case is asked to call the Herculaneum Police Department at 636-479-4791.