Jul. 24-Before Jill Sidebotham left her parents' house in Springvale for an impromptu camping trip with Nicholas Hansen and their toddler, she told her mom, "It will be fine."
But no one has seen or heard from the parents or child for more than three weeks. Sidebotham's family reported her missing when she did not return within a few days for her July 4 weekend plans with her 10-year-old son. Police have circulated photos, visited campgrounds and searched for their car by plane in the western Maine woods.
Their first notices about the case described the three missing people as a family, but the truth is more complicated. Family members say Sidebotham and Hansen are no longer a couple, and she is engaged to another man. Court records show Hansen previously has been accused of domestic violence assault against Sidebotham, and a protection order that limited contact with her and 2-year-old Lydia expired in June.
Now both families are worried that they may not be fine at all.
"As hard as I try to keep the negativity out of my mind, I can't do it," said Ron Sidebotham, her father.
Loved ones have been sending daily messages to Sidebotham and Hansen, calling their phones that have been dead or off for weeks, posting on social media. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has shared their pictures. The Sanford Police Department has only been able to confirm two sightings, the most recent July 2.
"Come home," begged Kelly Hansen, his sister. "Let us know you're OK."
Family members said they believe investigators are doing everything they can with the limited information they have, but they also wish the police could take more dramatic action.
Lt. Matthew Gagné of the Sanford Police Department said the available information and surveillance footage do not give him enough evidence to draw the conclusion that Sidebotham or her daughter are in danger. Police would need more to support a warrant for cellphone records, for example.
"We don't have a criminal charge that we can chase after with this incident," Gagné said. "We don't have any information that leads us to believe that she was taken against her will or kidnapped. We don't have any information that she is being held against her will. That's not to say that didn't happen, but we just don't know."
Still, investigators are following every one of the tips that come in daily. The two confirmed sightings took place in the first days after Sidebotham and Hansen left on June 27.
On June 29, they stopped at the Coos Canyon Campground in Byron, but they left because there was no vacancy. On July 2, they bought food at a Walmart in the town of Mexico. Gagné said they purchased enough for several days, but not this length of time. Police used surveillance camera footage to confirm both sightings.
"It's obviously concerning to the family that she hasn't called in and we take that seriously, which is why we continue to try to locate them," he said.
Ron Sidebotham said his daughter is very close to her parents and two sisters. She had jobs in the past in construction and at Cumberland Farms, he said, but she stopped working in order to help her mother with the impacts of neuropathy, a condition that has weakened her and made it difficult for her to move around the house. Sidebotham and her mother are best friends, and they can spend hours talking at the kitchen table.
She and Lydia live with her parents in Springvale. Sidebotham has a 10-year-old son from a previous relationship. Lydia loves playing with her older brother and is always running around the house at full speed. Her grandfather said she is "the happiest baby in the world." Sidebotham's son lives with his father but often visits his mother, and she had plans to spend the July 4 holiday weekend with him. Her father said Sidebotham has been in recovery for five years and worked hard to get where she is because of her love for her son.
"She wouldn't leave her son like this," Ron Sidebotham said.
Hansen, 38, and Sidebotham, 28, met through his sister Kelly.
Kelly Hansen, 34, and Kristy Martin, 44, said their brother had a traumatic childhood and struggles to cope with stress as an adult. Their parents divorced when their four children were young. Martin had cancer as a child, and her younger brother donated bone marrow to her when he was just a toddler. He dreamed of being a chef and is "a damn good cook," Kelly Hansen said, but he worked in construction as an adult. Their mother died of pancreatic cancer in 2008 and their brother from an overdose last year, both losses deeply felt by Nicholas Hansen.
He married and divorced, and he has two children from that relationship. His sisters said he struggled with alcoholism, and Martin invited him and the kids to come live with her family a few years ago to help him get back on his feet. Kelly Hansen met Sidebotham because she worked with her mother and sister at a nursing home in Saco, and she introduced her brother.
"They were good when they were good," Kelly Hansen said. "And it just got toxic for both of them."
Neither sister has spoken to Hansen in about three years. Kelly Hansen told him he couldn't come around her kids while he was drinking, and they had a fight. Martin said he was spending less and less time at her house, and their relationship became strained when she said he had to be sober to spend time with his kids. She got guardianship of his two children in January 2019, a step she said her brother initially approved and then got angry about. She said he saw his children at least once that summer but rejected the rules she and her husband set for his visits.
Her family hasn't heard from him since that summer, and now she and her husband are in the process of formally adopting the two children. Martin said Hansen received a notice of termination of his parental rights in June.
Both sisters said they hope to reconcile with their brother.
"I still hope that we can mend our relationship," Kelly Hansen said. "It's never going to be the same. There's been a lot of hurt in our lives, and we're not the same people, but I would love to have my brother back. The brother that was clean and sober, the brother that would give his shirt off his back for his best friend."
'I DON'T FEEL COMFORTABLE'
Court records show that Hansen was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence assault in November 2019, and the complaint names Sidebotham as the victim. But the court file does not include any more detail about the allegations, and the Sanford Police Department declined to provide any additional reports because the case is still open. Hansen has not been convicted of any charge related to domestic violence. Bail conditions initially prohibited Hansen from having any contact with Sidebotham, but that provision was struck in June 2020 after he provided proof of participation in a certified batterers intervention program.
In April 2021, Sidebotham filed a complaint for protection from abuse against Hansen on behalf of her and her daughter. She wrote a short but haunting explanation of why she was asking for a court order.
"Nick came into my house with a hammer with the intent to hurt my current boyfriend, in front of my daughter," she wrote in the complaint. "So I'm not really sure what he's actually capable of."
When she missed her appointed court date, Sidebotham wrote another note and got the hearing rescheduled.
"I don't feel comfortable with the violence around my daughter or myself," she wrote.
Hansen's sisters said they believe that incident was more complicated than what is outlined in court documents. In June 2021, a judge issued the protection order. Hansen was allowed to communicate with Sidebotham by text and email about Lydia, and the court also allowed weekly supervised visits with his daughter. He also was ordered to "engage in regular, individual behavioral health counseling sessions with a licensed provider to address mental health issues." The order expired in June 2022.
Corey Alexander, 31, met Sidebotham when they were both students at Sanford High School and said they remained friendly. They started dating in 2019 and have been engaged for a year. He said they recently got an apartment together in Sanford, and he spent the weeks before her disappearance moving things into their future home. They like spending time with her children, sitting on the couch with a movie and takeout, just being together as a family.
"She's a great mom," he said. "She's a great person. She's wicked supportive of others, someone you can really count on if you're in a situation. She's always been there for me."
Alexander said Sidebotham was afraid of her ex, especially after the incident with the hammer. Before she disappeared, he and Sidebotham spent the weekend at her parents' house, where they celebrated her son's 10th birthday. Alexander left that Sunday afternoon and stayed at their place. He and Sidebotham messaged back and forth, but she never mentioned that she was going to go camping with her ex.
Sidebotham, Hansen and their daughter left June 27, a Monday. That Wednesday, she sent a message to Alexander saying that she loved and missed him, and they exchanged a few messages about their plans for the upcoming holiday weekend. That was the last he heard from her. After a couple days of silence, he contacted her sister out of concern and learned about the camping trip and that Sidebotham hadn't returned as expected.
Since then, he's been sending her messages and calling her phone multiple times a day, desperate for any response. He said Sidebotham has always been honest with him about Hansen, and she would tell him when she was going to supervised visits with him and Lydia. Now, he said, he is confused and afraid for her safety.
"I know Jill," he said. "I know her, and I know that we have a bond. I know she loves me. I know she would not just get up and run away. If she didn't want to take this road with me, she would have told me. She would have told me it's over. She wouldn't just run away, especially from her son. Never her son, never her family."
Ron Sidebotham guessed that he hadn't seen Hansen in a year and a half before he had a couple of visits with Lydia at the Sidebothams' home in June. Ron Sidebotham said Hansen thanked him on those occasions for letting him come to the house. He was at work when Hansen arrived and then left with his daughter and granddaughter on the camping trip. Now, he said, he is trying to stay positive for his family, especially his grandson.
"Every day that it goes on, that grim feeling in the back of my head keeps getting worse," Ron Sidebotham said.
Hansen's sisters both said they are concerned that Sidebotham has not contacted her family or returned to her son.
"At this point, I'm really scared," Martin said. "Right now, the not knowing is the worst. It's like, somebody has to know something or have seen something."
"He's a good guy at heart," she added, her voice breaking. "He just needs love, and he needs to come home."
"I don't want to think the worst of my brother, but the worst does come to my mind every day," Kelly Hansen said. "God, I hope that I'm proven wrong."