On December 8, 1981, a beautiful baby girl was born in Neenah, Wisconsin to Rick and Vicki Jones. Cora Jean Jones, a girl with a radiant smile and caring disposition, was Rick and Vicki's oldest child, and big sister to their son Zack. She lived with her family in Weyauwega, Wisconsin.
Cora had a serious medical problem to face early on in life. When she was only three, a birth defect led to the removal of one of her kidneys. She had to undergo two painful major operations. Her family thought they might lose her during the second one, but this brave young girl survived. Because of this, one of Cora's goals was to become a kidney specialist when she grew up.
Cora was "a typical seventh-grade girl" who loved listening to music, talking on the phone, and playing her French horn. She was very involved in Girl Scout and church activities, and frequently spent her spare time helping her mom at a local health care center. Her favorite colors were pink and purple. She was a wonderful kid - very kind and intelligent, friendly, and a person who would give anything to anyone, always reaching out to help others.
It was sadly ironic that one of her greatest fears was that she would be kidnapped. According to her parents, her fear began when she was around age seven or eight. To calm herself, she would watch a videotape for kids on how to avoid strangers every night before she went to bed. After a while, her parents made her stop watching it, but Cora's fear of being kidnapped persisted.
She became very concerned when she would hear of people, especially children, being abducted. Cora's fear grew when a young girl named Ronelle Eichstedt, age 10, disappeared from Ripon, Wisconsin, in August of 1992. Cora's mom said that her daughter would also frequently stare at a poster of Jacob Wetterling, a boy missing from Minnesota, which was displayed at her doctor's office. "We would pray for that little boy. She thought about him a lot," her mother said.
On September 5, 1994, Cora had been staying at her grandmother's home with in the quiet village of Rural, Wisconsin. Rural is the kind of community where on a summer afternoon a person outside is rarely out of the sight of watchful and close-knit neighbors. Never imagining that danger could strike here, Cora left to go on a bike ride in the afternoon after visiting with friends. When she did not return, her relatives began searching for her. Shortly after, they discovered Cora's bike lying abandoned in the middle of a road close to her grandmother's house. The word went out that she was missing and soon hundreds of people came to search the area for her.
In the days after she was reported missing, Wisconsinites were shown her picture on television and on posters, and we hoped and prayed that the girl with the gentle smile would be found safe.
One of the things that made Cora's abduction particularly troubling was an encounter she had had about two weeks before she disappeared. A man in a car had asked her to help him look for a supposedly 'lost golden retriever.' She replied, "No! Are you a creep or something?" and walked away from him. Cora went to her mom for advice on how to deal with strangers after this incident. "What would I do if someone tried to grab me?" she asked. And two weeks later, she had vanished.
On September 10, the search for Cora came to an end when two hunters found her body in a ditch along an isolated woodland road near the village of Kempster, Wisconsin. After being driven 75 miles away from where her bike was discovered, she was sexually assaulted, beaten, stabbed, and strangled. Now, all of the people who had spent the past week praying and searching for Cora were left wondering-- Why did this happen?
In November of the same year, a sex offender on parole named David Spanbauer (53-years-old), was arrested when he attempted to burglarize a home in the Fox Valley area. He had spent all but five years of his adult life in prison. Spanbauer confessed to police that he was responsible for numerous rapes and assaults, and three murders... including the abduction, sexual assault, and murder of Cora.
A sadly ironic twist to this case was that Spanbauer was also convicted in the 1992 abduction and murder of Ronelle Eichstedt, the young girl whom Cora had worried about when she had heard of her kidnapping. Spanbauer also pleaded guilty to murdering Cora's on December 8, 1994, the day she would have turned 13. Cora's mom, Vicki, said, "Maybe this was our present to her - to get this guy..."
To this day, Cora's memory lives on. She's become a hero to those who knew her and so many other people who never knew her, but have been touched in their hearts by the smiling face we know from the television and newspapers.
Her death has made many people more aware and cautious of the dangers that face our children and ourselves. Many of us are working to ensure that no other child or adult has to experience what Cora did. And in that way, she lives on in all of us who care to make the world a better, safer place.
"The things we have learned will keep us believing..."
from a prayer written by Cora