Jackie Hay was playing in the front yard when she disappeared Sept. 12, 1981. Her father still wants answers.

Tim Hrenchir
Topeka Capital-Journal

Watch out for your children.

That's the message Olen Hay wants to share with parents in this community regarding the 40th anniversary of the disappearance of his daughter, Jackie Hay.

The blonde-haired 5-year-old remains missing after vanishing Sept. 12, 1981, while playing near her family's home in southeast Topeka.

Olen Hay, now 78, was calm and genial as he spoke recently with The Capital-Journal about the day his daughter disappeared.

He said he's accepted for many years that Jackie Hay is no longer alive.

Jackie Hay had just started school

Jackie started kindergarten a few days before she disappeared, Olen Hay recalled.

He said his daughter was extremely bright, which became clear whenever she answered phone calls at their home.

"This one guy, this friend of mine, said when you talked to her you wouldn't have known if you were talking to a 20-year-old," Olen Hay said.

Jackie Hays

He said he and his wife, the late Judy Hay, allowed Jackie and her four older step-siblings to play outside their home in southeast Topeka's Hi-Crest neighborhood, because they considered the community to be fairly safe.

On the Saturday afternoon she vanished, Jackie played hopscotch with some of her step-siblings and other children who lived nearby.

Jackie and her step-siblings then went to the front yard of their home at 3124 S.E. Colfax, two blocks west of S.E. Adams, according to a "Capitol Cold Cases" TV program created and aired beginning in 2010 by KTWU-TV and Capital Area Crime Stoppers.

The other children went inside one by one until Jackie was the last one left outside, that program said.

Family members realized Jackie was missing about 4 p.m. on Sept. 12, 1981, as they prepared to go to the house they were building south of Topeka.

Olen Hay, the father to 5-year-old Jackie Hays, recalls how he felt the day his daughter disappeared 40 years ago while speaking with The Capital-Journal last week.

Olen Hay said they contacted Topeka police, but it took about four hours before the department began an official search.

A neighbor told officers she'd seen Jackie following a man near S.E. 31st and Bryant, which is one block east of Colfax.

Police said they questioned a person matching that man's description then released him because of a lack of evidence.

Topekans searched for Jackie Hay en masse

Many concerned citizens joined that evening in searching for the 3-foot, 4-inch, 40-pound girl. Olen Hay said he was touched by the number of people who sought to help.

The Topeka Capital-Journal quoted police Sgt. Ken Gorman as estimating 300 people walked shoulder-to-shoulder that evening in a three-block-long line searching for the girl.

"It kind of makes you feel good," he said about the neighbors' willingness to take part.

Search for Jackie Hays by Topeka Police.

An estimated 150 people conducted a second search the day after Jackie's disappearance, scouring heavily wooded areas in southeast Topeka without success, according to The Capital-Journal.

In the days that followed, hundreds of volunteers searched fields in southeast Topeka, police checked abandoned houses and apartments and psychics offered tips on the girl's potential whereabouts, The Capital-Journal reported.

A reward fund was created to accept contributions, which were to be used to pay out money for any information that might result in the girl's being found.

But the numerous tips received all turned out to be futile.

More:15 Shawnee County homicides that have gone unsolved through the decades

'Jackie is his only baby'

More than six weeks after Jackie's disappearance, Judy Hay delivered an open letter to The Capital-Journal making an appeal to the person responsible for Jackie's disappearance and to any Topekans who may have seen the child.

"The one I feel sorriest for is my husband," she told the newspaper. "I have four children by an earlier marriage. I know he loves them, too, but I know it's not the same. Jackie is his only baby."

5-year-old Jackie Hay is pictured with with a stuffed animal in the Capital-Journal file photo.

Though Jackie hasn't been found, she now shares a tombstone with Judy Hay, who died at age 64 in 2007. Her cremains are inurned at Wakarusa's Shawnee Center Cemetery.

The "Capital Cold Cases" TV program focused on Jackie's disappearance, as well as the 1976 murder in western Shawnee County of 18-year-old Tirell Ocobock.

The program generated 27 tips, though both cases remain unsolved.

'I believe in karma'

Olen Hay, 78, looks out the window from The Capital-Journal office last week before talking about the disapperance of his daughter, Jackie Hay, 40 years earlier.

Jackie Hay would be 45 if still alive today.

The Topeka Police Department has followed up on multiple leads in the past few years while continuing its investigation into Jackie's disappearance, said Lt. Manuel Munoz.

"This includes KBI DNA testing and multiple interviews in person and by phone," he said. "Unfortunately, those leads have not provided any significant information."

Olen Hay said he hopes to see the case solved but believes whoever is responsible will ultimately pay in some way, shape or form.

"I believe in karma," he said.