images_sizedimage_276012928

In a dream she had following the 1983 disappearance of her two sisters, Rosetta Cogburn Ivey said the two girls were pleading for justice.

"I could see Vette and Joyce reaching their hands out to me, saying, 'Rosetta, get justice for us -- don't let our deaths be in vain,'" she said.

It was Oct. 2, 1983 -- 25 years ago today -- that Josephine Yvette Cogburn, 16, and Joyce Irene Cogburn, 15, went missing while living in Norman with a family friend.

Jerry Nance, supervisor of the Forensic Services Unit with The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, thinks the Cogburn girls may still be alive.

"In most long-term cases, the higher percentage of children missing this length of time, if they are found, are found deceased," Nance said. "My estimate is less than 2 percent are found alive.

"There are some indications that this case may fall into that rare 2 percent. There have been reported sightings but attempts to run down those reports have not been productive to date," he said.

The girls and their older sister Rosetta lived with their mother in Broken Bow, in far southeastern Oklahoma.

"Their mother was a single mom and struggling to attend nursing school and keep a job. A friend of the family offered to take in Joyce and Josephine and he was given temporary custody of both girls. The girls apparently ran away or disappeared shortly after," Nance said.

n n n

The Cogburns' father and an aunt were killed March 16, 1968, in a car wreck in Mount Ida, Ark. At the time, Rosetta was 2 years old, Josephine was an infant and their mother was pregnant with Joyce.

"After our dad was killed, my mother split us up. She gave me to her mother to raise, and gave Josephine and Joyce to our dad's mother and father," Rosetta said.

The sisters were reunited in 1975. Although her mother had remarried, she ran off her husband after he tried to molest her sisters, Rosetta said.

In 1981 the girls were introduced to the man who Rosetta thinks killed her sisters.

"My mom had been working as a bartender at Steele's Tavern Corner -- that's where she introduced my sisters and me to (B.J.S.)," she said. "She said she had known him for 13 years. She quit bartending and was going to school to be an LPN. We were making it on Social Security payments."

About two years after they'd met B.J.S., Josephine and Joyce went to live with him in Norman.

"He asked me if I wanted to go with them," Rosetta said. "I was 17 and pregnant at the time and decided against it."

n n n

Norman Police Capt. Tom Easley said investigators haven't eliminated as a suspect the man who was granted temporary custody of Josephine and Joyce.

"He's the same person who reported them missing. He's still around and we haven't conclusively eliminated that individual as a suspect.

"He's definitely a person of interest," Easley said.

Investigators have interviewed the man on several occasions, but criminal charges have never been filed in the case.

The circumstances of the girls' disappearance, as reported by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, are as follows:

"Josephine and Joyce were staying with an adult male friend of their family in a Norman apartment in October 1983. The friend reported them missing, police said. He claimed both Josephine and Joyce ran away from him. He stated that he last saw them when they left to go to the library.

"Neither girl has been seen or heard from since."

The girls had moved to Norman after having disciplinary problems at home in Broken Bow, Easley said.

"One or both may have been attending the old Central (Junior High School). It would be fair to say that both were enrolled in Norman Public Schools," Easley said.

The man with whom the girls were staying told police that he had left for the day, and that the sisters were supposed to go to the library, Easley said.

"When they didn't come back, he contacted some of their friends and subsequently contacted us," he said.

Police initially viewed the girls' disappearance as a "typical runaway case," Easley said, but circumstances bothered investigators.

"One thing that popped up, was the lack of anybody having seen them," he said. None of their friends from school, nobody in the community had seen the girls after they'd supposedly run away.

Also, the girls left "no indication they'd packed a lunch or clothes or any personal belongings when they went missing," Easley said.

"According to the best source, the man who reported them missing, they left with only the clothes on their backs. To leave without taking any extra clothing or personal property, that's extraordinary. That's another thing that causes police to think there may be more to the case than meets the eye," Easley said.

n n n

Rosetta has her own theory.

"I think (B.J.S.) killed them. When my daughter was born Sept. 15, 1983, they made it down (from Norman to Broken Bow). My sister Vette (Josephine) spent the night at the hospital and Joyce went to (B.J.S.'s) house."

Josephine told Rosetta that Joyce and B.J.S. "had a relationship going," but that Joyce had found a boyfriend and didn't want any more to do with him, she said.

"I feel (B.J.S.) found out Vette told me something and he got in a rage and killed both of them at the same time. They were killed because he got jealous that Joyce had found her a boyfriend and didn't want anything to do with him and because Josephine told me about what was going on," she said.

Rosetta said the man she suspects of killing her sisters lives on land 11 miles away from her in Broken Bow. "He hasn't spoken to the family since. He hasn't taken a lie detector test. We've asked him to give my sisters' personal belongings back, the clothes I'd loaned them and their photo albums, and he refuses to give them to me."

In the dream, her sisters are reaching out to her from an artesian well, she said.

Rosetta said she found out from investigators that there's an artesian well on B.J.S.'s property in Broken Bow.

"With God as my witness, I've never been out there in my life," she said.

n n n

The names, birth certificates and social security numbers of Joyce and Josephine have not been used since their disappearance, investigators said.

"We have dental records of the girls, but we need to have something to compare them to," Easley said. "There have been unidentified bodies that have turned up in the region over the years, but there's never been a match."

The investigation has generated documents that fill "a standard 3-inch binder," Easley said. "We've got that plus another inch and a half of documents."

The last recorded report was in January 2004 and came from a woman in Maricopa County, Ariz. "The caller said she recognized the girls' photos, and said she'd last seen them in 1984 or 1985 when they were students at Mesa High School."

Easley said the investigation has "really been at a dead end for the last 25 years."

"Investigators are frustrated," he said.

The Cogburn sisters' case is one of the CMEC's older cases, having happened before the Center's opening in 1986. Nance's Forensic Services Unit consists of "cold cases, long term missing and unidentified human remains," he said.

"We've had quite a few contacts concerning this case," Nance said. "It's kind of interesting -- when we do get these reports, they're about both of them being seen together."

Nance said police "have done everything humanly possible" to resolve the Cogburn girls case.

"What we need in this case is for someone to come forward. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Articles and exposure of these cases are the only things that make any difference," Nance said.

Tom Blakey 366-3540 tblakey@normantranscript.com

Recommended for you