Nearly every surface inside Donald G. Evitts’ house in Overland Park is covered with model trains.
The 71-year-old Vietnam veteran took up the hobby of building model trains as a form of therapy several years after his wife, Loy Gillespie Evitts, a legal secretary, went out for a late afternoon lunch on Feb. 28, 1977, and mysteriously vanished.
“It helps me keep my mind off what happened that day,” Evitts said.
It was 40 years ago on Tuesday, when the strikingly beautiful, blond Coffeyville, Kan., native walked out of the law office where she worked to run a few errands but was never seen again.
Today, Evitts remains the Kansas City Police Department’s longest unsolved missing persons case. Police think she was abducted.
Last year, Evitts gave investigators hair from one of his wife’s brushes and other items that allowed them to collect DNA samples. They were entered into a national database in the event her remains are located.
“There are still no new leads and right now the case is suspended pending new information,” said Sgt. Ben Caldwell, a supervisor in the missing persons, cold case section. “This one is little more unique because she was abducted.
“She was either targeted or it was by complete happenstance that somebody abducted her,” Caldwell said. “It very obvious that it was an abduction.”
Police do not suspect her husband in the case.
Just this year, when a Kansas City police officer interviewed Evitts, he wept at discussing the loss of his wife, Caldwell said.
“He broke down and cried, much like he did in 1977 when he was interviewed by police,” said Caldwell. “He obviously is very heartbroken.”
When Loy Evitts took a lunch break at the law firm that Thursday afternoon, she went to get a watch adjusted, browsed in several stores on the Country Club Plaza and then drove her yellow sports car to a drug store at Westport Road and Main Street, where she had a cup of coffee and bought an umbrella.
She drove back to the Plaza and parked in the same spot as when she arrived to work that morning.
That’s when the 29-year-old Kansas State University alum went missing. The umbrella she had just bought was in the front seat.
Her supervisor called Evitts around 6 p.m. that evening inquiring why Loy Evitts never returned to the office.
Loy Evitts had only worked for the law firm for about a month, and Donald Evitts said he wasn’t exactly sure where on the Plaza it was located or where she parked her car.
Evitts called several of her friends, but no one had seen her.
“And then I got pretty frantic about it and called the police,” he said.
Police told Evitts that they could not do anything until she had been missing for at least 24 hours.
Twelve days after her disappearance, children looking for a lost dog found Loy’s purse in southeast Kansas City, near Unity Village. A search of the area turned up empty.
Police later searched a stretch of Interstate 470 in Lee’s Summit that was under construction. Still, nothing was found.
In the weeks following her disappearance, investigators interviewed more than 200 people. Detectives followed up on more than 1,000 leads. Bodies of water in Johnson and Jackson counties were dragged for signs of a body or any other clues. Nothing was found.
Evitts even visited a psychic. No luck there either.
After about 30 days had passed, Evitts came to the conclusion that his wife of four and a half years was likely dead. Time has only confirmed his fears.
“She’s been gone this long, you can’t expect her to come back and still be alive,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t think she ran off but we don’t know. We just don’t know.”
Evitts still lives in the same Overland Park home that he and Loy purchased after they were married and moved to the area.
The couple met in their hometown of Coffeyville in southeast Kansas. He was 19 and she was 17. They went on their first date on Nov. 4, 1965, when they went to the movies to see “Cat Ballou.”
They continued to see each other while Donald earned an undergraduate degree at Pittsburg State University. In 1968, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was shipped over to fight in the Vietnam War.
Back home, Loy Evitts went to study nursing in Tulsa, Okla., before she transferred to Kansas State University, where she majored in retail.
Evitts let her drive his Firebird while he was overseas and wrote every week. Loy decorated a bulletin board she kept in her dorm room with his military photos.
They got married in a small ceremony on Nov. 4, 1972. They eventually settled in a small bungalow in Overland Park where Don continues to live.
Sitting on the porch of his childhood home on Martin Street in Coffeyville, David Evitts recalls his brother’s 40-year anguish.
“Don never remarried, never dated again,” he said. “Loy was the one and only love of his life.”
David Evitts said his brother was harassed sometimes by prank telephone callers who claimed to have had information about Loy’s whereabouts. Strangers would ask Don about his wife. At one point, managers at his work sent a memo telling people to stop asking him about his wife.
“That type of stuff really got to Don,” said David. “It put him into a depression that I don’t think he has ever been able to overcome.”
About a year after his wife disappeared, Evitts started hanging out in Westport bars.
“It cost me a couple of jobs because I was drinking too much,” he said. “I tried to tough it out but when I was alone, I cried. I really cried.”
He assuaged the pain by constructing train sets and playing the guitar.
Evitts remains cautiously optimistic that someone may step forward and pass along a tip to police that would help them solve the decades-old mystery.
“I learned to never get my hopes up too much because they all failed in the end,” he said. “Surely, someone knows something.”
This story was reported and written in collaboration wtih Andy Taylor, the editor of the Montgomery County (Kan.) Chronicle.