Bodies of father, daughter found after 20 days missing

Jonathan Francis, 30, and Viola Francis, 12, had been missing since April 6 kayak outing in Sandusky Bay
Jessica Cuffman
Apr 26, 2013


The bodies of a father and daughter who’d been missing since April 6 were found Friday in Lake Erie — one on a breakwall near Cedar Point, the other floating miles offshore.

The discoveries came within hours of each other.

At about 10:30 a.m., a boater discovered the body of Viola Francis, 12, floating about 6 miles off the shore east of Huron, Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said.

Hours later, two fishermen discovered her father, Jonathan Francis, 30, washed up near the rocks of a Cedar Point breakwall on the bay side of the peninsula.

After 20 days of uncertainty, the conclusions brought mixed emotions to family members of the two.

“It definitely helps bring some closure,” said Timothy Snyder Jr., fiance to Viola’s mother, Ruth Brown, of Sandusky. “There were so many questions. It was making it really hard to deal with.”

“Ruthie, being her mom, she had her hopes up,” Snyder said. “She’s taking it pretty hard.”

Viola and her father left from Crystal Rock at about 5 p.m. April 6, planning a short trip in their new Christmas kayaks to the Edison Bridge. When they didn’t return, Jonathan’s girlfriend reported them missing at 5 a.m. the following morning.

They were not wearing life jackets. In the search that followed, the U.S. Coast Guard discovered their two kayaks floating near the shore across the bay, by Port Clinton.

One kayak was filled with debris, and searchers also found a pair of shoes believed to be Jonathan’s.

Despite a massive search effort involving the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ watercraft division, area fire departments and dozens of family and friends, there were no signs of the kayakers for weeks.

Until Friday.

A private boater called the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marblehead station after finding Viola’s body floating in the open water, Sigsworth said. Coast Guard crews took the body to the Shelby Street boat ramp, where Erie County coroner Brian Baxter met them before sending it to Lucas County for an autopsy.

Clothing and jewelry matched the description of what Viola was wearing when she left with her father the day she went missing.

Sandusky firefighters recovered the second body a few hours later, after two fishermen spotted it on the rocks and called Cedar Point police.

Authorities identified Jonathan by a pendant and a tattoo. The identifications won’t be official until autopsies are completed. Emergency officials said there’s no science to predicting where the bodies would have turned up, although firefighters anticipated the bodies would surface this week, when temperatures warmed.

Viola’s family will miss her greatly, Snyder said — the girl was an artist, a tomboy and a water enthusiast.

The Margaretta Schools sixth-grader was beautiful, artistic, funny and good-willed, Snyder said.

She helped out with her three younger siblings, ages 12, 8 and 8 months.

“She was a great big sister. Without a doubt,” he said.

Viola spent her free time on art projects, playing with clay and making drawings. But she also had a lot of tomboy in her.

“She liked doing outdoors stuff, just anything that involved fun. She liked the water a lot,” he said.

Through Viola’s childhood, Richard and Karelene Cottrill, essentially surrogate grandparents to her, often took her out to the sandbar on their boat, contributing to her love of the water.

Everyone who knew her will miss her, Snyder said.

“Me and Ruthie and the family ... We’ll always have her in our hearts and minds and be thinking of her,” he said.

The family has started the Viola Francis Memorial Fund to cover funeral and wake expenses. Donations may be made at any Fifth Third Bank.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family,” Sigsworth said.



Sad, praying!!! Parents should not have to bury their children! Hopefully something positive will come out of this tragedy, possibly it will save others lives, the need for life safety vests cannot be emphasized enough. I know if Jonathon had a chance to do it over he would have made better choices, so he cannot be blamed but like I said maybe it will teach lessons to others. RIP Dad and daughter, im sure your walking those golden roads hand in hand! Much love to the family of these 2 individuals!

Yellow Snow

They spent their last moments on earth together doing something they both enjoyed. We have to hold onto that, because we can't change the fact they're no longer here.


Very sad! At least the families can have some closure! Keeping them in my prayers!

2cents's picture

RIP, the waters will be calmer and warmer on the other side of life.

A friend of mine knew Viola, said she was a funny & sweet young lady :(


May they rest in peace and the family find comfort.

Yet again, it is the fishermen and private boaters who find the bodies. Not the well trained, teck advanced arms of govt. who are paid to train for this.

Thank you fishermen and private boaters. Be prepaired for all your "saftey checks" this summer.

here in ohio

Not the well trained, teck advanced arms of govt. who are paid to train for this. really ??? You really shouldnt show your stupidity in public as you have no clue on what you are even talking about !!


"Fireside" I also thank the private boaters who brought closure to this family in a terrible tragedy.

I am not connected to those well trained teck advanced arms of govt you have have "dinged" here but I will cite facts in their defense. I travel the Sandusky Bay Bridge daily. I have seen the Erie County Sheriff cruisers out on the bridge creeping along the side of the road with their red/blue lights on. They stop and get out look over the side of the road to the water then they drive further along and do it all over again. As all of who live in this area know what they were looking for.

Last Wednesday afteroon around 4 PM an Ohio Department of Wildlife SUV was doing the same thing. Again looking for a body. Last Sunday as I crossed a Border Patrol vehicle was stopped and a man was looking around the small bridge on the north side of the causeway. Two days after this all happen as I crossed the Bay Bridge two Ohio State Highway Patrol officers were walking the berm of the causeway on the west side Every so many feet peering over the side into the bay.

Now that is just what I happen to see over these past few weeks either going to Port Clinton or coming back daily. So in all honesty I have got to say thanks to all these govt servants who yes were doing their job but they continued in my opinion to do it day after day till the bodies were found.

So please don't slam these law enforcement folks for I think the dedication they gave to looking for the bodies. In my opinion they did the job we pay them for and in caess like this it has to be a not so great task.


Not slammin or dingin, just saying. The last several drowning victims have been found by civilians.