JACKSON — On a snowy day in 1982, 6-year-old Kelly Junior Hollan vanished from Pine Tree Hollow in Knott County.
His mother, Judy Moore, told police that her son went out to play and she never saw him again.
Though Kelly Hollan has been missing for almost 28 years, an aggressive police investigation, inquiries by family members, and Internet forums keep the case alive.
The latest tip came on Dec. 18, when Kelly's sister Margaret Campbell, who was only 10 when he disappeared on Feb. 12, 1982, told Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb that her mother's sister, who recently died, might have left behind a letter with some information about the missing boy.
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Campbell said Tuesday that her maternal aunt told her she was leaving a letter, "but we don't know if it's true."
Webb, a former Kentucky State Police lieutenant who worked in Knott County, was on the case from the beginning and investigated it for years.
"I've had a lot of cases," Webb said in an interview Wednesday. "In all my career, that's the case that bothers me the most. I followed every lead. It hasn't added up since day one."
Of the 13 cases listed for Kentucky with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Kelly's is one of only two categorized as a "non-family abduction."
But Webb and Kentucky State Police Lt. Claude Little, who is now in charge of the investigation, say they aren't sure that the classification is valid.
"I don't know what happened to him," said Little.
There have been many rumors and theories. Judy Moore, the boy's mother, said she's been a suspect all these years, but that the accusations are unjustified. Moore said that she had nothing to do with his disappearance. She says she thinks he is alive.
"Why do they keep coming after me?" she said. "I would love to know where Kelly's at. That's my heart's desire is to know."
A brother remembers
In 1982, Kelly and his mother were living with her boyfriend in the Knott County hollow.
Moore and Kelly's father, Bobby Hollan, had divorced a few years earlier.
The Friday Kelly disappeared, he went out into the front yard about 11 a.m. to play, and Moore told him not to leave the yard, she said in an interview last month at her apartment in Jackson.
About 6 p.m., Moore hadn't seen Kelly in a few hours, and she assumed he had gone to his friend's house to play and watch The Dukes of Hazzard on TV. But when she went to check, the friend's mother said she hadn't seen Kelly.
"I was frantic. I was going everywhere, I guess," Moore said.
The details of that day are starting to get a little fuzzy, she said. She has seizures, she said, and forgets things.
When she couldn't find Kelly, she said she went to her boyfriend's grandmother's house, and asked to use the phone. But she said no one let her make a telephone call until about midnight, at least six hours after she first knew that Kelly was missing.
That's when, she said, she called police for the first time and she called her parents' home in Jackson.
Moore's parents had custody of her two older children, Margaret and Robert Hollan. Robert Hollan, now 35 and living a few doors down from his mother in Jackson, remembers hearing his grandfather on the phone. Robert Hollan said his grandparents thought that if they'd had custody of Kelly, he wouldn't have disappeared.
"I told you! I told you we should have taken him too," Robert said his grandfather shouted at Moore.
After Judy Moore called police around midnight, family members began arriving to look for Kelly, Moore said. But she said the police search didn't really get under way until daylight.
Search teams scoured the area for the little boy with blue eyes, a scar on his upper lip and impaired speech from a cleft palate.
Over the next weeks, police "dug up the hollow," Robert Hollan said. They dragged wells and creeks, looked in abandoned mines, looked under houses, but found no sign of Kelly.
Tips that lead nowhere
The years since the disappearance have been filled with strange leads, Moore and other family members say.
Moore said once she got a phone call from a girl in Arkansas who said she knew Kelly from school, but then the girl's mother got on the phone and said the girl didn't know what she was talking about.
Moore and family members "sent letters to every school in Arkansas," but nothing came of it.
Then Moore's sister saw a picture of a gospel singer who looked like Kelly might have looked, so Moore contacted the gospel group. Officials looked into it, but the singer wasn't Kelly.
Moore said that a few years ago, she spoke with Kelly's former teacher who she said told her a Florida school had once requested Kelly's academic and medical files from Knott County, but it was impossible to say who because the Knott County records were destroyed in a fire.
Judy Moore said she wrote to talk show hosts Phil Donahue and Montel Williams for help and contacted celebrity psychic Sylvia Brown.
Moore requested Kelly's case file in 2000, state records show, but she was denied by Kentucky State Police and then Attorney General Ben Chandler on the grounds that the case was still open.
"Every time I try to find something out," she said, "I'm the one in the dark."
Did boy's father know?
Moore said she suspects that Kelly's father Bobby Hollan, who died years ago, kidnapped Kelly or knew something about his disappearance. She said Hollan at times drove a green car, and some neighbor said she saw a green car driving in the hollow that day.
But Bobby Hollan's sisters Wanda King of Beattyville and Dorothy Madden, who lives in Indiana, said there was no way that their brother was involved in Kelly's disappearance.
Bobby Hollan searched for his son for years, said Wanda King.
Kelly's brother Robert said that at one point, when he lived in Florida, he distributed fliers with Kelly's picture and looked for him there.
Hollan said he thought Kelly could have been taken to Florida because Judy Moore lived there for a time with a boyfriend who some people thought might actually be Kelly's biological father. Moore says that scenario is not possible.
Meanwhile, Moore said Kentucky State Police officers have given her lie-detector tests, and taken her back to Pine Tree Hollow numerous times to try to jog her memory or chase new leads.
Webb said he even took Moore to Lexington to see a hypnotist, but it did not help the case.
Moore said she has told a Kentucky State Police detective that she doesn't know anything new, "and if I did, I wouldn't tell you." All police do is "try to get me to confess to murder," she said.
Two or three summers ago, Moore said, police received a tip that Kelly's body might be buried under the home's old concrete porch. Officers took her out to try to get her to show them where the kitchen window had been. Robert Hollan said police dug up the concrete porch, though the house had been demolished long ago, and found nothing.
Webb said he plans to tell state police officers who took over the case from him about the alleged letter written by Moore's sister.
Webb said he has always doubted that strangers came into the remote Pine Tree Hollow in the Larkslane area of Knott County.
Webb said he has told Moore she is a suspect.
"The people surrounding her were capable of doing it too," he said.
Some people who were Moore's neighbors in Pine Tree Hollow in 1982 had criminal histories, according to Webb.
Robert Hollan said that after Kelly disappeared, his mother took him and his sister there to live, and he begged to be allowed to go back to Jackson with his grandparents. He did, though Margaret stayed in Knott County, and his mother eventually moved again to Florida and then back to Jackson.
"There are a lot of bad stuff that goes on in that holler," Hollan said. He said he thinks some of his mother's neighbors might at least have known what happened to Kelly.
Madden and King, Kelly's paternal aunts, said they continue to post information about Kelly on Internet forums and missing persons Web sites.
"I'll never give up," Madden said. "I'll keep looking until I'm 6 feet under."
Robert Hollan said he wants to think the best about his brother. "I hope and pray he is still alive and doing well for himself," he said. "My gut says the boy is not still alive."