Hill has helped find missing kids for decades

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 9, 2005

For decades, Suffolk resident Virginia Hill helped reunite thousands of Philadelphia parents with their missing children. She solved mysteries that had baffled other detectives for years. She helped educate loads of parents and kids on how to keep themselves safe.

Because to this mother of four and grandmother of 13, one missing child is too many. One parent who has to go to bed not knowing the whereabouts of a child is too many. One child stolen from the world is far too many.

&uot;Nobody wants to work in the missing children’s unit,&uot; said Hill, who joined the Philadelphia police department in 1977.

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She joined the Juvenile Aid Division in 1981, where she worked before retiring in 2002 (she became a Missing Persons specialist in 1989).

&uot;Sometimes, the children come up dead, but 90 percent of kids reported missing are recovered quickly. I would reach back and go for a case that was sitting on a shelf.&uot;

In January 1980, the body of a young woman was found in a basement. About 15 years later, with the help of a bust and tissue samples from her family, Hill identified the girl as missing teenager Jacqueline Gough, who had been murdered years before. The case was featured on the television shows &uot;Sightings.&uot;

In October 1975, Mark Burkle disappeared from the gas station he worked at. In 2000, Hill learned that the body of man had been discovered in New Jersey three days after Burkle’s disappearance, and obtained photographs of the body, where she used a birthmark photo and dental records to identify him as Burkle.

In 2001, Hill helped identify the body of LaTanya Reese, who had been killed in April 1996. During her tenure, eight of the city’s 12 longest-running missing child mysteries were solved.

Aside from &uot;Sightings,&uot; Hill has also appeared on CNN and several local television and radio talk shows. She’s been in the New York Times, Police Magazine, the National Organization for Black Law Enforcement Executives, which she represents on the board of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) Project Alert steering committee. She’s a face on the 2004 National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Fund calendar, which labeled her a &uot;living legend.&uot; She has conducted seminars and workshops across the country on how to be street smart, and held training sessions for police officers.

After retiring in April 2002, Hill moved to Suffolk. But she’s still involved with finding missing kids. Back in 1994, Hill helped investigate the case of a young boy whose body was found in a field. About two weeks ago, someone sent her an e-mail letting her know that the case had been solved.

&uot;I still get calls at all hours of the day trying to get me to come help find missing kids,&uot; she said, surrounded by flyers and other information about preventing abductions. &uot;If you’re in law enforcement, you have to be the best you can be. When I investigated, I put my whole heart into it.&uot;