Sisters remember search for Breese man who disappeared
Vincent “Vince” Wesselmann laid out his Easter clothes, went on a walk and seemed to vanish into thin air.
That was eight years ago, and Breese residents are still mystified by the disappearance of the 75-year-old retiree who loved to ride his bike, grow vegetables, volunteer at Camp Ondessonk and build houses with Habitat for Humanity.
Police Chief Bob Fix is particularly bothered by the case.
“We’re still offering a $10,000 reward through Crime Stoppers for any information on his whereabouts,” he said. “I just don’t want it to drop because I do believe somebody out there knows something.”
Officials doubled the original reward of $5,000 in 2015.
But his 11 living brothers and sisters, ages 68 to 94, continue to hope and pray that they will someday learn what happened to him.
“I can’t even put it into words,” said Wesselmann’s sister, Ruthi Jansen, 68, of Damiansville, a retired title clerk. “It’s a daily thing. You wake up in the morning and think, ‘Where is he?’ You go to bed at night and think, ‘Where is he?’ And something will happen during the day, and you think, ‘I better call Vince.’”
Wesselmann worked for a stove company and later Jim’s Formal Wear in Trenton, retiring just a few weeks before his disappearance. He wasn’t married and had no children. He owned a brick ranch home and took care of his parents before they died. He was an Army veteran, an active member of St. Augustine Catholic Church in Breese and an avid gardener who donated produce to a local food pantry.
Wesselmann took a week off work every year to volunteer at Camp Ondessonk, a retreat for Catholic children in Southern Illinois.
“He liked to walk or ride his bike every day to keep fit,” said his sister, Aggie Dumstorff, 71, of Breese, a semi-retired real-estate appraiser.
Wesselmann was last seen by a neighbor about 5 p.m. Thursday, April 21, 2011. He was walking toward downtown Breese, possibly as part of his daily trek to the post office. He had spent the afternoon at home with his brother, Jerry, tearing out flooring that he planned to replace.
It wasn’t until Saturday morning that his siblings got worried after being unable to reach him about Easter plans. Jansen and Dumstorff went to his house to investigate.
“There were no clues,” Dumstorff said. “His clothes were on his bed to go to church. There was no break-in. There was nothing missing. His car was there. His keys were there. His bike was there. His billfold was there. Everything was there. ... He didn’t have a cellphone or a credit card. His bank account wasn’t touched.”
Jansen and Dumstorff notified police, launching a massive search that lasted for days. Local residents went door-to-door, checking sheds and garages. Emergency personnel came from other towns. People took boats out on bodies of water, and one man flew a small airplane over the area.
“We had basically every fire department in Clinton County,” said Breese Fire Chief Tom Tebbe. “We had two search-and-rescue teams with dogs. Also, we had the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) boat with sonar on it, and we used it to search flooded fields.”
A couple months later, when floodwaters receded, officials went back with cadaver dogs but found nothing. The following year, firefighters pumped water out of a cellar under an old elevator at Breese Grain Co. after someone told the city he had a premonition about it.
Wesselmann is particularly missed by a group from the Catholic Holy Family Society in Belleville. They used to travel a week every year to volunteer on Habitat for Humanity projects in Southern Illinois.
Mary Barbara Kurtz, the society’s vice president of communications and fraternal, remembers the running joke that if folks were supposed to start work at 8 a.m. at any given construction site, Wesselmann would show up at 5. He didn’t want to miss anything.
“We are having a bench made for the park in Breese in his memory,” Kurtz said. “I hate to say ‘in his memory’ because he has never been found. I’d rather say ‘in his honor.’ ... We wanted to do something. (Vince) was one of our most faithful volunteers. He never missed a year, and he was very helpful.”
Anyone with information that could help with the Wesselmann investigation should call Chief Fix at 618-526-7226.