Cold Case: Dennis Reynolds vanished during the Blizzard of 1978. He hasn’t been seen since.

Dennis Reynolds was reported missing in in 1978. The case remains cold.
Dennis Reynolds was reported missing in in 1978. The case remains cold.(KMOV)
Published: Jan. 22, 2022 at 1:10 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Dennis Reynolds’ car was found in a snow-banked ditch, doors locked, windows broken, jacket left inside. Everything was there ... except Reynolds.

He vanished from the face of the Earth, never to be seen again. The Litchfield Police Department declared him missing. Days, weeks, and months passed. Paychecks were never cashed. Weddings and funerals were never attended.

Reynolds family knew he was more than just missing. His sister Cynthia Billiter said they knew from day one.

“We all did. We knew he was never coming home. He wasn’t missing. The police treated this as a joke, like somebody would run away in a blizzard. But we knew better,” she said. “Dennis was 24 years old, long hair, party boy. A hippie. Maybe the police would have looked harder if it was someone with a better profile.”

“He loved his family,” added his sister Sherry Mueller. “That’s why this made no sense. He was so close to his mom. And he took care of his little brother Jimmy. When Dennis didn’t come home, we knew. We just couldn’t prove it.”

“Dennis had his issues,” said Billiter. “No doubt about that. He drank too much. He did too many drugs. But he would have never just picked up and walked away. Not in the middle of a blizzard.”

Mueller just shook her head. “We were dealing with him missing, and our frustration with the investigation. It just kept snowballing.”

The sisters’ frustration with the investigation spans nearly 42 years. Litchfield has gone through five police chiefs since Reynolds disappeared. Turnover does not help cold cases. Especially, very, very cold cases.

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Dennis Reynolds' car was found in a snow-banked ditch, doors locked, windows broken, jacket...
Dennis Reynolds' car was found in a snow-banked ditch, doors locked, windows broken, jacket left inside. Everything was there ... except Reynolds.(The Decatur Herald)

Litchfield Police Chief Kenny Ryker took over in 2019 but has been staffed with the department since 2002. He understands the frustration of the case he inherited.

“I’m not going to question the investigators before me. The conditions at that time were beyond horrible. Everyone had their hands full, I’m sure. There was no body, no crime scene,” he said. “At the time, it must have appeared possible that he walked away from that car. Protocol for missing persons was different then, especially adult males. But as time went by, this certainly should have risen to a higher level.”

Sergeant Jason Black has the second longest tenure with the Litchfield Police Department, spanning 22 years. Black grew up in Litchfield, and was just a child when Reynolds disappeared. When he joined the police department, he became fascinated with the case.

“When I was a young dispatcher, I found the Reynolds file,” Black said. “I would read it every chance I had. Boy, was it thick. But then...” Black’s voice trailed off. “At some point, we realized the file got lost. It was as if the case never existed.”

As years went by, the case, like Reynolds, became a distant memory.

“Time goes by,” Black said. “New cases pile up. Priorities are constantly changing. I know at one time, one of our chiefs wasn’t even aware of the case.”

How could he? The file, like Reynolds, didn’t exist.

With that, Black took ownership and went to work. He made contact with Billiter and Mueller in 2007, 30 years after Reynolds disappeared. It might have been labeled a missing persons case, but it was clearly much more than that now. Together, Black and the sisters worked together to build a new case file, by themselves, from scratch.

It is thick again.

“After all these years, we don’t really have hope or expectations,” Billiter said. “We just want to get an answer someday.”

Both Ryker and Black are determined to see the case to the end, whenever and whatever that might be. “It just takes one person to come forward,” Ryker said. “One person.”

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As years went by, and desperate for answers, the family brought in a psychic. “They said he was still in his clothes, in water, at the bottom of a well,” said Mueller.

“And then a second psychic came in from California,” said Billiter. “Same answer. In his clothes, in water, at the bottom of a well.”

Rumors swept through Litchfield over the decades. The sisters have their own theory on what happened to Dennis. They say Dennis had been abusive to a girl he was dating. The girl had two brothers. Months before Dennis disappeared, they say he was involved in a fight with the brothers that left him in the hospital, beaten with a baseball bat, clinging to life. The sisters say Dennis told them the brothers threatened to kill him if he ever came near their sister again. Scared, he stayed away for about six months.

“Our focus from day one has been on those brothers,” Mueller said.

Police records show one of the brothers passed a polygraph test. The other brother, and the girlfriend, refused to take one.

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The day Reynolds disappeared, dawn broke with another bitterly cold morning. The snow began around 2 p.m., and the temperature dipped below zero. As night fell, Reynolds left his home, where he lived with his parents.

According to police, Reynolds picked up his best friend, who is not a suspect, and they went to a bar. Later, Reynolds took his friend home, and told him he was going to see his girlfriend. The police records show the girlfriend was not home that night.

Reynolds car was found across the street from her home, stuck in that ditch. Doors locked, windows broken, jacket left inside. Reynolds was last seen walking to a nearby house, about 100 feet from his car, looking for help.

Some 30 years later, while at work, Billiter was waiting on a customer who was filling out a warranty. She saw his name and froze. It was one of the brothers. Her heart was racing, but she kept calm and stared. About a month later, another man came in looking to buy something. This time, Billiter saw the other brothers name, and froze again.

“Somebody messed up my brother’s car,” the man said. “I need to fix it or he’s liable to go there and kill him.”

Billiter said the man wasn’t laughing or smiling. Neither was she.