Woman continues mission to highlight missing person cases
Merry Williams-Diers admits the thought of public speaking often makes her palms start to sweat.
But, as the 30-year-old born and raised Jamestown resident has come to find, sometimes getting out of her comfort zone can be very rewarding.
“Those that know me, though, know I’m reserved but loud when passionate,” said Williams-Diers, who in the last couple of years has turned a lifelong interest in unsolved mysteries and true crime into a broad social media network highlighting missing person cases.
Williams-Diers grew up hearing about Lori Ceci Bova, Yolanda Bindics and Corrie Anderson — Chautauqua County women who went missing and whose cases remain unsolved to this day. The countless searches and family pleas for information hit a nerve even decades ago.
“Then I grew up and they were still missing and unsolved, and watching those families in our community to me was always relatable in that it can affect any family at any time,” she said. “And if we stay quiet as a community, would we want that same type of energy if, God forbid, it was our missing or murdered child, brother, sister, mother or father?”
In just over two years, Williams-Diers’ private Facebook page, “WNY Missing & Unidentified Persons Network,” has grown to nearly 6,000 members. She posts a variety of content, from updates on unsolved cases in the Chautauqua County area to current missing person cases across Western New York.
Information she shares on unsolved crimes comes from a variety of sources including NamUS, a national information and resource center for missing, unidentified and unclaimed person cases. Other sources include the media, library archives and local law enforcement.
“Social media is a huge tool in getting attention and resources for these cases,” she said. “Almost weekly I still hear, ‘I’m from here and never heard of this case until I seen your page.’ To me, that translates to, ‘Put it in front of us and we’ll read it,’ but several people don’t go looking for such information. There’s missing, unsolved and sex trafficking happening in every county. We are happy to provide the public with this information.”
She added, “Some cases definitely garner more public attention than others, but people are interested in the stories and cases they’ve never heard of before.”
WORKING ‘TIRELESSLY AND UNSELFISHLY’
Chautauqua County Sheriff James Quattrone said he was first introduced to Williams-Diers by the family of Lori Ceci Bova, then a 26-year-old when she went missing in June 1997.
Quattrone was then led to her Facebook page focused on missing and unidentified persons. It was that page, he noted, that helped the Sheriff’s Office eventually identify the remains of a woman discovered in the town of Portland.
“Since that time, our agency has stayed in touch with that page but, more importantly, with Merry — perhaps much to her credit as she is consistently sharing possible leads and links to missing and unidentified persons with us,” Quattrone said. “It is great to get different perspectives that can assist us in looking in different areas. Merry works tirelessly and unselfishly in an attempt to bring some level of peace to families and friends.”
Almost single-handedly Williams-Diers got the word out on Kevin Hornburg, a Jamestown resident who went missing in November 2021 and who police believe was the victim of a crime. She not only coordinated numerous searches early on with the blessing of Hornburg’s family but also hosted two candlelight vigils outside his Prendergast Avenue home.
“When it’s your child or, say sibling, you wish you had an entire army behind you to help find them,” Williams-Diers said. “I was involved pretty early on when Kevin Hornburg went missing and tried to be the person I needed when I experienced a minuscule of what his family and many other local missing persons families have and, in many ways, have become like an extended family.
“When you attend these events standing in support of these families, you quickly realize the numbers aren’t in attendance that you’d want in ‘your army’ if it was indeed your family experiencing the scary and uncertain time of having a loved one go missing.”
Williams-Diers is amazed at the attention her Facebook page has generated in the last two years. She believes sharing a wealth of information has helped reunite families and generate tips on unsolved crimes.
Law enforcement agencies have taken notice as well.
“Merry has assisted us in several cases over the past couple of years,” said Capt. Robert Samuelson of the Jamestown Police Department. “She and her cause are appreciated, not only by myself but by all members of law enforcement. Professionally speaking, she understands how our investigations operate and how we disseminate information to the public. In this capacity, she has been an outstanding asset to the Jamestown Police Department and me in the cases we have worked with her.”
Most recently, Williams-Diers has taken up the murder of Patricia Gale Fairbanks, a 14-year-old Jamestown girl who went missing in November 1972. Fairbanks was found dead a month later in a yard not far from her West Ninth Street home.
Through her growing social media presence, Williams-Diers has shared several newspaper clippings regarding Fairbanks and her still-unsolved murder. She also has launched a podcast with the first few episodes dedicated to the story, going as far as interviewing Fairbanks’ older sister.
“Starting the podcast is just another way to garner interest and attention to these cases and discuss some of the knowledge I’ve obtained in the last few years in doing this,” she said. “But this seems to be the newest trend for many advocates and people being a voice for the voiceless.”
Her podcast, “Meddling in Mysteries, Murder, & Missing on Mondays with Merry,” is available on Spotify. She hopes to release a new episode at least every other Monday.
Unfortunately, as she noted, there’s “no shortage of missing and unsolved cases, locally and beyond.”