Until Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives called to tell her that a skeleton had been found beneath her former Baldwin Park home and was that of the son who vanished at the age of 14 nearly a quarter of a century ago, Donna Jean Gilmore thought he simply ran away.
"Some of his friends left about that time, I'm told," the mother said Wednesday from her present home in San Diego, where she works for a telephone answering service. "I thought they'd talked him into going with them."
The skeleton, discovered March 28 by workers repairing the now-vacant house on Bess Avenue, was identified Tuesday on the basis of clothing, teeth and physical characteristics as that of James David Gilmore.
Vanished in 1962
He disappeared the night of Jan. 7, 1962. Donna Jean Gilmore, then separated and since divorced from her husband, continued to live in the little home for almost a dozen years after that.
The thought that her son's body lay beneath the house all that time is "mind-boggling," she said. "I was shocked, after all these years."
She recalled that on the night James disappeared, she had gone to visit friends about 7:30 p.m., leaving him to watch television with his brother, Wayne, then 13, and sister, Linda, 15. "After I left," she said, "somebody knocked at the door. He said, 'I got to go out.' He put on his clothes and left."
He was never seen again.
Neither the brother nor the sister sensed anything unusual about James' attitude, the mother said.
She said she does not believe that he used drugs ("kids were not into drugs then the way they are now") and maintained that he did not get into much trouble other than to run away from home a couple of times. "That's about it."
Sure He Ran Away
But that was enough to convince her that he had run away on that January night, she said.
Although sheriff's officers said she did not report him missing for three days, she said she thinks that she notified authorities the next day.
"You've got to remember," she added, "it's been a long time."
Sheriff's homicide detectives are continuing their investigation. The coroner's office had yet to determine the cause of the boy's death.