Let’s talk about it: the Garcia/Burhans family

On March 15, 1982, Carmen Maria Burhans Garcia, her husband Diego Garcia, and Carmen’s nine-year-old daughter Barbara Burhans departed their Los Angeles residence into the unknown.

The family lived in the same house as Carmen’s mother; Carmen’s mother lived in the upstairs apartment, and the others lived downstairs. That morning — which was a Monday, presumably a school day for Barbara — Carmen’s mother came downstairs to see them while they were eating breakfast and noticed her daughter was crying but didn’t ask why. She never saw any of them again. They left that afternoon, leaving everything behind, including their dog.

One month and ten days later, the family’s car turned up in a snowbank 500 feet down a gorge in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Big Pines, California. Google Maps says that by today’s routes, Big Pines is 80-ish miles from the Garcias’ home, about an hour and a half by car. There’s two interesting things worth noting here:

  1. In spite of the fact that the car had gone 500 feet into the gorge and the roof had been bashed in, there was no blood present, strongly suggesting no one was inside the car when it was pushed, accidentally or intentionally, into the gorge.
  2. The road it must have fallen off from had been closed since March 16, the day after the trio vanished.

There are a few colorful details here, including a rumor that Carmen, a newly minted Mormon, had gotten involved in a MUCH different religion prior to her disappearance, one involving chicken sacrifice. (Santeria maybe? For what it’s worth, Santeria has Caribbean origins, and Diego was born in Cuba.) Another rumor was that Diego had gotten into criminal activity and the whole family had up and left for Miami.

The whole thing makes me think of the Mary Celeste. It appears that SOMETHING seriously spooked the family that morning, enough to have Carmen crying, enough to keep Barbara from going to school, enough to have them pile into their car and leave everything behind. But what was it? And what happened next?

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: The Guthrie family

Last night I was plugging the names of various old cases into Newspapers.com to see if I could find articles. My persistence yielded a bountiful harvest — I found out the ultimate ending to the Matory/Williams/Marshall murder-without-a-body case for one. One of the names I plugged in was the Guthrie kids, Julie and Timothy, and their mom, Leslie, who disappeared in February 1977 from Katonah, New York. I was able to get another picture of Leslie and a clothing description for her, and that’s on today’s updates.

Two details that I learned last night but did not include in the casefiles:

  1. Leslie’s mother lent her the too-small, borrowed boots she was wearing that day, and also gave her $10 for gas. Which would indicate that (A) The car was low on gas and (B) Leslie had no money.
  2. The police do not believe the car wound up in a lake somewhere. The winter had been a severe one and the ice was thick enough that a car could have driven on it without it breaking.

Usually, when a person or persons disappears under circumstances like this and their car never turns up, I tend to believe they wound up in the water. But now it seems that theory is no longer viable.

I’m stumped. It seems highly unlikely that Leslie took the kids and left on her own, with almost no money and shoes that didn’t even fit. Timothy Sr. seems to be in the clear. It’s like this young family and their car just vanished into thin air.

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Yuan Xia Wang

This week’s “let’s talk about it” case is Yuan Xia Wang, a young Chinese girl who disappeared from Lincolnia, Virginia on October 21, 1998. I was just getting interested in missing persons at that time and I remember seeing her NCMEC poster right after she disappeared and wondering about it. Like most of their posters, it said very little, and it was years before I learned the details of her disappearance.

Yuan was smuggled into the country by a Thai man, using someone else’s genuine Thai passport. According to this Washington Post article, the immigration and customs people caught them after someone at the airport realized she didn’t speak Thai, and her smuggler was arrested.

Usually, Chinese immigrants who get smuggled into the U.S. are sent “to restaurants or brothels where they are held in virtual servitude to pay off huge smuggling fees.” Yuan’s case was somewhat unusual in that her passage was paid for in advance.

She said she was twelve, but the authorities doubted it and so do I. I was five feet even at that age, about middling height for the girls in my class at school, and I think Chinese people tend to be smaller than Americans. Yuan was five feet six. They thought she could have been as old as fifteen. I don’t know what reason she would have had to lie; perhaps she felt she would be better treated if they thought she was younger.

Yuan was sent to a foster home. Her foster family welcomed her as best they could, but they didn’t speak Mandarin, and she was the only Mandarin-speaking student at her new school. If I were her I’d have been desperately lonely. She vanished without a trace six weeks later — significantly, perhaps, on a day she had a doctor’s appointment.

They’re not sure what happened to her. The most obvious suggestions are that she either ran away or got picked up (voluntarily or otherwise) by someone, like a relative or someone involved in the smuggling, in order to avoid deportation. (The U.S. authorities hadn’t decided what to do with her yet; she could have been either deported or allowed to stay.) I suppose it’s possible she could have been abducted for reasons having nothing to do with her immigration status, as well.

Other than a lead placing her in Kansas City in 2008, there hasn’t been any sign of her in almost twenty years.

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Stephanie and Edward Hunsberger

This was a case suggested by a reader: the 1978 disappearances of Stephanie Hunsberger (nee Smith) and her husband, Edward Hale Hunsberger, who were 24 and 30 respectively when they vanished from Northwales, Pennsylvania on February 25 of that year.

The Hunsbergers were drug addicts and in pretty deep; Stephanie even occasionally worked as a prostitute to support her heroin habit. Both of them were in a methadone program at the time they went missing. After Stephanie missed one of her methadone clinic appointments, the staff contacted her father, Jay Smith, and asked if he knew where she was. He said he was trying to detox her himself with Placidyl (a prescription sedative with recreational uses; it’s no longer on the market) and “really good pot.” Neither of the Hunsbergers ever went back to the methadone clinic, and it was assumed they had relapsed.

After that, things get murky.

Read the couple’s casefiles for details on what a weirdo Stephanie’s father was. Suffice it to say that, although he had a doctorate and a respectable job as principal of Upper Merion High School, on his downtime he committed a series of armed robberies, and after his arrest in August 1978, the police found a TON of drugs at his house. He bonded out awaiting trial. He was later sentenced to five years.

Smith was later convicted of three counts of murder in the deaths of Susan Reinert, an employee at the school where he was principal, and her two children, Karen and Michael. Susan was murdered in June 1979, in a fairly unusual way — she was beaten severely, but she survived for about 24 to 36 hours afterwards, and the actual cause of death was a morphine overdose. Karen and Michael disappeared with their mom and the bodies were never found.

The police believed the murders were orchestrated by Susan’s boyfriend Bill Bradfield, an Upper Merion High School teacher, for money, but that Jay Smith actually committed the killings. Bradfield died while serving life in prison for the crimes. Smith (who was sentenced to death) had his conviction overturned because the prosecution had exculpatory evidence they’d unethically concealed from his defense (who claimed Bradfield had deliberately framed him). Smith died in 2009.

What of Stephanie and Edward? Well, the last confirmed sighting of them was on the aforementioned date of February 25, 1978, but there were several reported sightings of them after that, by Smith — not a credible witness perhaps — and by Stephanie’s younger sister, a neighbor, and others.

Now, Smith claimed the Hunsbergers went on the run because they owed money to drug dealers. But they left all their stuff behind at his house, including an uncashed tax return, and all those drugs which he claimed were theirs. Smith’s relationship with his daughter was understandably troubled, and he was demonstrably violent. Even if you don’t buy the story that he was a murderer, he was definitely a robber who, at the time of his arrest, was carrying multiple loaded guns and a syringe of “sedative drugs” (Placidyl?). The police consider him a suspect in Stephanie and Edward’s cases.

They definitely dropped out out sight sometime in 1978 or 1979; there were no sightings of them after that, and no one heard from them. Given the high-risk lifestyle they lead, and the lack of contact for nearly 40 years, I highly doubt they’re alive now. But who got them? Jay Smith? Drug dealers? Or just drugs? Or something else? Are their bodies perhaps listed as John Does somewhere else in the country, or do they lie undiscovered in a landfill or a shallow grave in Pennsylvania?

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Ricky Jean Bryant

This week’s “Let’s Talk About It” case is Ricky Jean “Jeannie” Bryant, a child who disappeared from Mauston, Wisconsin on December 19, 1949, five and a half weeks after her fourth birthday.

Jeannie was one of four children. The day she disappeared, the two oldest kids were in school and Jeannie’s grandma was watching her and her brother. That day a fire broke out at the Bryant home and I think the house was a total loss. One of the things that got lost was Jeannie.

Although what happens appears to be no mystery at all, Jeannie’s family thinks she did not die in the fire and was abducted by a strange well-dressed woman whom her five-year-old brother claims he saw that day.  The theory is that Jeannie’s biological father was not the same father as her siblings’, and she was taken to be raised by her father and his family.

I don’t know that much about the case — why her family thinks that, whether there’s any evidence that she was illegitimate, any of that. As far as I can tell, it’s been years since there’s been any press coverage about the case.

What do y’all think? Was this a tragic accidental death, or is Jeannie alive and well and a grandmother, even a great-grandmother, not knowing who she is? If she’s alive she would be 71 today.

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Shannon Patrick Ketron

Shannon Patrick Ketron was seven months old when he disappeared from Cordell, Oklahoma on June 17, 1982. I already wrote about him for Flashback Friday nearly two years ago. According to the only witness, Shannon’s mom, the baby was the victim of a bizarre abduction.

Ann Ketron said she was driving with the baby when she had to get something (out of the trunk maybe?) and pulled over to the side of the road. A man stopped and asked her if everything was all right. Then he said she looked like his ex-wife, knocked her unconscious, and took Shannon. Shannon was never seen again and the abductor was never identified.

That’s really weird. To begin with, I’ve never heard of a baby being kidnapped by a strange man. Furthermore, there seems to have been almost no press coverage about this case and very little information is available, and what little there is, is contradictory. I’ve seen claims that Shannon was almost two years old when he was taken, when in fact he was seven months, and I’ve seen the abduction date incorrectly given as July 17, 1982.

Shannon’s dad, Dustin Ketron, was in prison when he disappeared so presumably he’s not a suspect. Ann took a polygraph, but the results haven’t been released.

If Shannon is still alive, he’d have turned 35 last month. Do you think he is? Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Ashok Narain

NamUs gives the year 1987 for when Ashok Kumar Narain disappeared from Eugene, Oregon. Other sources say it was in April 1988. Regardless, Ashok’s disappearance is a very mysterious case — was he a murderer, a victim, or both?

The story begins in 1983 when Ashok, a native of Fiji, married Raj, a fellow Fijian from his village. It was an arranged ceremony. The couple moved to Oregon and subsequently had a little girl, Kamnee Koushal Narain.

The Narains regularly wrote letters to their families back in Fiji. Nobody back home detected anything amiss from the letters; it looked like a normal marriage and Raj seemed happy enough. The letters eventually stopped, but the couple’s Fijian relatives weren’t worried.

In the meantime, in September 1987, the dismembered remains of a pregnant woman were found in two different rivers in Washington and Oregon. A few days later, a toddler’s body was found in yet a third river in the vicinity. Although the police suspected the woman and child were related, they couldn’t prove it, and there were no missing persons that matched either of them.

Ashok’s brother reported the Narains missing in 2006. He’d heard about the dead woman and baby in Washington, and Raj’s family couldn’t find any trace of her online. In 2007, DNA testing confirmed the bodies were Raj and Kamnee. Mother and daughter were taken back Fiji for burial. Raj was 24 years old at the time of her death; Kamnee was only fourteen months.

I haven’t seen anything about a cause of death. It’s possible the police don’t know due to the condition of the remains. It’s equally possible that police do know and are withholding this information from the public.

So… where’s Ashok, the last surviving member in the family? Nobody knows.

When a woman, particularly a pregnant woman, is murdered, the police always start their investigation by looking at the husband or boyfriend. Yet, there’s no warrant for Ashok’s arrest and he isn’t even being called suspect; he’s only wanted for questioning as a witness. He certainly seems to have dropped off the map entirely since his wife and daughter’s killings — although I must admit, he had a really good head start.

Yet the dates here are pretty significant, because if the 1988 date is correct, that means Ashok was last seen over six months AFTER Kamnee and Raj’s killings. And that’s kind of hard to explain away.

I have no idea whether or not Ashok committed the murders. I do, however, think whoever did it was someone close to the victims. I believe this because the killer(s) went to a great deal of trouble disposing of the bodies and concealing their identities. I mean: dismemberment, hiding Raj’s head where it would never be found, and dumping the pieces in three different rivers in two different states. I think if the person was a stranger or only a slight acquaintance, they wouldn’t bother with all that.

R.I.P. Raj, and the baby you were carrying. R.I.P. Kamnee. I hope they find out who committed such a terrible crime.

And… let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Ann Marie Burr

This week’s “let’s talk about it” case is the abduction of eight-year-old Ann Marie Burr from her home in Tacoma, Washington on August 31, 1961.

WHAT happened is clear enough. This is an “every parent’s nightmare” scenario: a child taken from her own home in the middle of the night, never to be seen or heard from again. The mystery here is WHO DID IT. Because there are a lot of people who believe, with very good reason, that little Ann Marie was a then-teenage Ted Bundy’s first victim.

Ted knew Ann and her family and lived just blocks from their home. He was only fourteen years old at the time of her abduction, but it’s not unheard of for a serial killer to begin at that age, and Ted was extraordinary even by serial killer standards. Independent evidence — the size of the footprint outside the Burr family’s living room window — suggests whoever took Ann was young.

Ann Rule herself, Bundy’s biographer and onetime friend, believed Ted was involved. In her book — if I recall correctly, I read it several years ago and no longer have a copy — she said someone had contacted her once claiming they had been a high school classmate of Ted’s and at one point Ted invited to take this person “to see a body.”

The whole “did he or didn’t he?” question has occupied the minds of Bundy hobbyists since his serial murder career exploded onto the national news in the 1970s and 1980s. I don’t really have a strong opinion on the subject and I don’t pretend to be an expert on Bundy.

Rebecca Morris published a book about it, Ted and Ann, in 2013. I read it and thought it was excellent, and it’s got 4 of 5 stars on Amazon with 251 reviews. I highly recommend the book; if you’ve got a Kindle it costs just $4.99.

So do you guys think Ted Bundy took Ann, or do you believe it was someone else entirely? Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Thomas Mixon

This week’s mysterious-case-up-for-discussion is Thomas James Mixon, a 26-year-old who disappeared from Buffalo, New York on May 4, 1998.

Mixon’s roommate, Vladimir Sokolov, was later charged with Mixon’s murder. The case against him, on the face of it, looks good: Sokolov wouldn’t tell Mixon’s mom what had happened to him, he put Mixon’s stuff on the street and even started wearing his clothes, he fled back to his native Bulgaria upon learning he was a suspect in Mixon’s disappearance, he allegedly bragged about the murder and his ex-girlfriend claimed to have seen Mixon’s body in the apartment.

However, Sokolov was eventually acquitted, and this is one of the few MWAB cases where I think there’s a distinct possibility the defendant was innocent. Other evidence indicated Mixon had some very good reasons to walk out of his life, including scary people who were mad at him, and had made extensive preparations to do just that.

An aside: it says Mixon wore a Georgetown University class ring, but it seems unlikely that he was an alumnus. If he was, he had certainly fallen far in the few years since graduation.

So do you think Mixon was murdered by his roommate? Do you think he’s even dead? Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about it: Leigh Marine Occhi

I wasn’t sure whether I should bring up this case, because I blogged seven years ago about Leigh Occhi‘s disappearance and even ventured a possible theory as to what happened. But I’m sure plenty of readers haven’t read every entry I’ve ever written, so here goes.

On the day 13-year-old Leigh disappeared, Hurricane Andrew had struck Mississippi and was causing some violent storms in the area. This was before the school year would have started, but Leigh did plan to attend an Open House at her school with her grandmother and was home waiting to be picked up. Her mother tried to call her a few times but no one ever picked up.

When Leigh’s mother came back home, there was a violent crime scene: blood everywhere and indications of a struggle.

All of this sounds like it could have been a fairly ordinary abduction; Evelyn Hartley‘s 1953 disappearance was much the same way. Yet, in this case there’s a very peculiar detail: a month after Leigh’s disappearance, her glasses were mailed to her home. Just the glasses. No note. The envelope was addressed to Leigh’s stepfather, but he and her mother were separated when Leigh disappeared. The mailed eyeglasses were the last trace of Leigh, who would be 37 today.

I have NEVER heard of any case where someone abducted a person from their home and then mailed one of their belongings back to the house with no other message.

So what happened here? Let’s talk about it.