PONTIAC, Ill. – On June 28, 1968, Pontiac City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Jerrold Potter and his wife, Carrie, boarded a chartered flight from Kankakee, Illinois, to Dallas for a national Lions Club conference. He disappeared mid-flight in the skies over central Missouri.

The Potters joined 21 other passengers and four flight crew that afternoon on a twin-propeller DC-3 plane. About an hour after takeoff, Jerrold told Carrie he needed to visit the lavatory and walked toward the back of the plane.

At the time, the plane was approximately 8,000 feet over the Ozarks, approaching Rolla and the former Clark National Forest. Clark National Forest was “combined administratively” with Mark Twain National Forest in July 1973. By February 1976, Clark was renamed part of the Mark Twain.

Passengers reported feeling the plane shake briefly and then continuing on without trouble. Carrie alerted a flight attendant after Jerrold hadn’t returned to his seat. The flight attendant walked to the back of the aircraft to check the restroom and found the rear door had been opened. Meanwhile, pilot Miguel Cabeza noticed a red light flashing on his control panel—“Door Open”—and instructed co-pilot Roy Bacus to investigate.

Bacus exited the cockpit and was met by the flight attendant, who told him the rear door was open and Mr. Potter was missing. Bacus checked the back of the plane for himself and then informed Cabeza, who made an emergency landing in Springfield.

Once on the ground, everyone on board was accounted for, except for Jerrold Potter.

The co-pilot, Bacus, said the door’s emergency latch—a chain—had been broken. The latch had been designed to prevent the door from opening while the plane was in flight. The president of Purdue Aviation Corp., which operated the aircraft, said the door had been secured prior to takeoff and that it would be very difficult to open the door in mid-air.

Theories abound as to what happened. The pilots believed the plane’s brief rattle caused Jerrold Potter to stumble and slam into the exit door, causing it to fly open. It’s also been suggested Potter mistook the exit door for the lavatory door. There had been a belief that Potter took his own life but there was never any evidence to support that claim.

Authorities began searching a wide swath of land encompassing Maries, Phelps, and Pulaski counties. According to the Phelps County Focus, the search party was made up of Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers, soldiers from nearby Fort Leonard Wood, local sheriff’s deputies, the civil air patrol, and volunteers.

The search was called off on July 4 at the request of the Potter family after several days of bad weather. A memorial service was held on July 8 at First Presbyterian Church in Pontiac, Illinois.

An FAA and NTSB investigation confirmed the latch/chain had failed. Carrie Potter sued Purdue Aviation Corp. for $800,000. She settled out of court for $80,000 after deciding she didn’t want to spend several years fighting in court for more money.

In a May 1977 interview with The Pantagraph newspaper, Carrie said authorities contacted her in 1970 after a body had been discovered in the area where Jerrold had disappeared. Unfortunately, it was not her husband.

“It wasn’t (him),” she told the paper. “I knew from the shoe size.”

Carrie died in 1991 at 81 years of age.

To this day, Jerrold Potter’s remains have not been located and the exact circumstances leading up to his death remain a mystery.