The Sandman Motel was located on Walnut Street, on the city's north side. There is now a Casey's convenience store at the site. 

The Sandman Motel was located on Walnut Street, on the city's north side. There is now a Casey's convenience store at the site. 

Weird things can happen anywhere – including Jacksonville, Illinois, the home of American Hauntings Ink. In April 1959, one of the most mysterious disappearances of the American twentieth century took place when a man named Bruce Nelson Campbell stumbled out of his Jacksonville motel room one night, dressed only in a pair of green pajamas, and was never seen again. What happened to the New England stockbroker has never been determined – he simply vanished without a trace.

That April, Bruce Campbell, age 57, and his wife, Mabelita, drove to Illinois from Northampton, Massachusetts. The reason for their visit was meant to be a happy one. They had traveled to see their newly-born first grandson, son of Bruce, Jr., who was an assistant professor of chemistry at MacMurray College, in Jacksonville. 

For some reason, the long drive to Illinois was especially hard on Campbell, and he began feeling sick while he was in the car. The stock investment counselor became confused and disoriented, and when they arrived in Jacksonville, Mrs. Campbell checked them into the Sandman Motel, a small, family-owned establishment that was typical of motor lodges of the day. It was located on the northwest side of town, on Walnut Street, where a Casey's store now stands. Each room had a door that opened to the outside and parking was located right outside the guest’s room. Campbell was put immediately into bed after they checked into the motel. Bruce, Jr. arranged for Dr. E.C. Bone, a local physician, to visit his father. Dr. Bone gave him some medication to help him sleep, but it didn’t seem to work. Two days passed before Campbell seemed to show some signs of improvement. 

On the evening of April 14, Campbell visited with his family. Bruce, Jr. later recalled that his father was “rational but still disoriented” during his last visit with him. Twice, later on that night, Mrs. Campbell said her husband asked her if their station wagon, which was parked outside of their room in the motel’s parking lot, was locked up. She told him that it was, shortly before going to sleep.

She later woke up at 2:15 a.m. and saw that the other double bed in the room was empty – her husband was gone. She immediately got out of bed to look for him, and when she realized that he was not in the bathroom, hurried to the door of the room, which was unlatched. There was no sign of him in the parking lot and the desk clerk on duty said that he had not seen anyone walking past the office. The Campbells’ car was still sitting in the lot. The doors were locked and it was undisturbed.

Because of her husband’s weakness and disorientation, Mrs. Campbell quickly called the police. When officers arrived at the motel, she offered a description of the tall, balding man with a slight limp and explained that when he left the motel room, he was wearing only a pair of bright green pajamas, a wrist watch, and a ring with the Delta Upsilon fraternity crest on it. His wallet containing all his money, his shoes, his eyeglasses, and his car keys were still in the motel room.

Police officers searched the surrounding area, the darkened streets and the Jacksonville downtown area, but there was no sign of Campbell. The next morning, a request was put out for information. Theories of murder, suicide, and amnesia led searchers to local creeks, farm buildings, and wells. Jacksonville Police Chief Ike Flynn and Captain Charles Runkel surveyed the entire area, both in a fixed-wing aircraft, and later, by helicopter. They found nothing. The next day, local firefighters joined the search, using a boat to dredge Mauvaisterre Creek. About 150 students from MacMurray College joined the search, too. On the third day, the entire 235-member male population of MacMurray – students and staff – joined with 50 students from Jacksonville High School to help comb the area. 

The Jacksonville Courier reported that the massive volunteer search team, broken into smaller groups, covered a six-mile-radius around Jacksonville, including creeks and ponds. It was assumed that, since there were no reports of a barefoot man in green pajamas walking around the city, and, since the Sandman was on the north side, that Campbell must have traveled north into recently planted farm fields. Unfortunately, this assumption turned out to be overly optimistic. Despite the search, no trace of Campbell was found. Dozens of reports of tall hitchhikers from the surrounding area, including White Hall, Murrayville, Woodson, New Berlin and Alexander, kept the police busy for days, but the leads went nowhere. 

Police Chief Flynn told the newspaper, “We have looked everyplace that has been suggested and have run out of ideas on what to do next. A fortune teller told us that Campbell was seven miles from Jacksonville, either northeast or northwest of the city. We have even looked there.”

Whoever this psychic was, they might have been on to something, however. The newspaper reported that the last solid lead – pretty much the only solid lead – came in when police were about a week into the search. A farmer who lived several miles northwest of the city told investigators that he had been awakened by shouting on or near his property on the night that Campbell went missing. The police checked the area, but nothing was found. Chief Flynn told the Courier that the case was “one of the most baffling mysteries that has occurred here.”

The search for Bruce Nelson Campbell, the “man in the green pajamas,” continued for days and weeks and then it stretched into years. Mabelita Campbell had reluctantly gone home after two weeks of fruitless searching. But the family refused to give up hope that he would be found alive until 1967, when he was finally declared legally dead. Mrs. Campbell passed away in 2004, never learning what had become of her husband.

After several months of extensive searching by the Jacksonville police, the FBI launched its own investigation into the case. On the first anniversary of Campbell’s disappearance, it was revealed that the distraught Campbell family had spent almost all of their savings on private investigators who distributed Mr. Campbell’s photo and description to police departments around the country. They’d also offered a $5,000 reward for information, which no one ever collected. Unfortunately, this was the only thing that the FBI learned about the disappearance. Like the private investigators who worked the case, the federal agents found no trace of Campbell.

The case of the “man in the green pajamas” turned out to be the last significant case of Police Chief Ike Flynn’s career. Just weeks after the vanishing, Flynn retired and Charles Runkel was promoted to succeed him. Runkel later recalled, even though he was off duty, Flynn never let the case go. He died of cancer several months after he retired, haunted to his grave by the missing man. Until the very end of his life, he never stopped checking in at the department to see if any new clues had surfaced. They had not – and even today, the case remains unsolved.

What became of Campbell? No one knows. He simply walked away on the dark nighttime streets of Jacksonville and was never heard from again.

From the book HAUNTED JACKSONVILLE by Troy Taylor & Lisa Taylor Horton