The Disappearance of Brenda Byman

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EARLY LIFE:

Brenda Byman was born on March 10, 1949 to parents Hilda and Ingvar Byman. A shy and sweet girl, she and her family lived in the Invermere area of British Columbia, new Dry Gulch Provincial Park.

Those who knew Brenda describe her as being incredibly close with her family, especially her siblings: Albert, Audrey, Verna and Doreen. She was especially dotting of Albert, always volunteering to look after him when he was an infant and washing his diapers with a scrub board in her own small washbasin.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

Brenda was last seen by her family on May 6, 1961. She was spending the weekend at her grandmother’s house in Wilmer, located in the southeastern portion of British Columbia. While there, she’d received a call from a neighbour named Vivian Barett, who asked if she could come over and play a game with her and her friends. Brenda’s grandmother allowed her to go over, thinking it would be nice for the 12-year-old to spend some time with children her own age.

Vivian called again later that night to ask if Brenda could sleep over – her first time ever. Brenda’s grandmother agreed to the arrangement.

DISAPPEARANCE:

The details surrounding the day of Brenda’s disappearance are largely uncertain, given the amount of stories told by those who were with her. The following is what investigators are able to confirm.

On the morning of May 7, 1961, Brenda and Vivian walked toward Lake Enid, approximately 5km from Wilmer, with three other youths named Edward Carson, John Carson and Eldwood Godlien. The group went hiking and had a picnic, and there are reports they even swam in the lake, despite it’s likely cold temperature. At around 2:30pm, Vivian and Edward split from the group, leaving Brenda alone with John and Elwood.

Brenda was expected back at her grandmother’s house by 3:00pm that afternoon. When she didn’t return, her uncle went out to search for her. During his search, he ran into a group of local boys – many suspect them to have been Elwood, Edward and John – who said she’d left the area.

SEARCH:

Hundreds of searchers searched the area surrounding Lake Enid for two weeks, the largest search in the valley’s history, but Brenda’s body was never located. Farmers, labourers, businessmen and workers from a local saw mill were involved in the approximately 500-large group. They searched the woods, the dredging of Lake Enid and Moon Lake, and the nearby Columbia River with the aid of search helicopters, 70 riders on horses and rescue dogs.

The wetlands and their tributaries were searched monthly well into 1962, along with Horsethief Canyon and Toby Creek Canyon. While the remains of a man missing since the 1930s were located, nothing related to Brenda’s case was uncovered.

The group with Brenda on the day she disappeared gave conflicting accounts about what happened. According to Hilda, one of them admitted to her that he’d seduced Brenda, but no one believed her when she recounted this to the authorities, and he declined to admit to it in later interrogations.

According to John and Elwood, Brenda had decided to walk up the hill toward home at around 4:30pm that afternoon. Despite them telling her she was going in the wrong direction, she allegedly yelled at them to “shut up” and continued hiking up the hill. Her sister, Audrey, has difficulty believing this story. Given Brenda’s shyness, she finds it unlikely she would have felt confident telling anyone to “shut up”, let alone a group of older boys.

Vivian was the only one in the group not interviewed. When approached by investigators, she produced a doctor’s note declaring she could not be questioned regarding the case.

Years later, John admitted to having sex with Brenda twice on the day she went missing, and he claimed to have asked if Elwood could have sex with her too. Brenda refused and ran away, while the two boys chased her. She went into the wooded area up Strawberry Draw, just east of Lake Enid, where the pair lost sight of her. John claimed they heard a car engine in the distance.

According to John, the intercourse between them had been consensual, despite there being a 5-year age gap between them. Investigators share they have difficulty believing this.

John, Edward and Elwood were administered polygraph tests 30 years later. All three passed, but police say it’s hard to determine the accuracy of the results, given the amount of time that’s passed since Brenda’s disappearance. It was noted Elwood was the only one to show any remorse over the case. According to Elwood’s brother, Vivian was also given a polygraph test and passed.

Investigators have dealt with numerous sightings in the years since Brenda’s disappearance from across Canada.

In the 1970s, three 10-year-old boys came across a set of bones in a wooded area, which resembled the shape of a small and intact human skeleton. The location was approximately 5km from where Brenda disappeared, and the grave appeared to have been disturbed. At the time, they didn’t reveal their discovery out of fear they’d get in trouble for disobeying orders not to leave their grandmother’s property that day.

It would be decades later, in 2001, that the story would come to the attention of the authorities, after rumours of the discovery spread through Invermere and the surrounding area. Given the amount of time that had passed, one of the boys, now a grown man, was only able to provide the general area of the discovery. Police wish to speak with the other two in order to help pinpoint the exact location of the remains, and they hope to eventually compare them to Brenda’s dental records, which are on file.

On the 40th anniversary of her disappearance, a local man who’d been involved in the initial search contacted the family to say he believed they’d been looking in the wrong area. He believed Brenda had never been in the Strawberry Draw. This was corroborated by one of the original trackers, who was in contact with investigators and said there’d been no tracks on the Draw.

This tracker recounted a story from 1961. He’d seen one of the Carson boys with their mother at the staging area at Munn Lake. By 8:00am, the shake and sawdust pile in Barbour’s Farm was alight with flames. The tracker and his partner went to the pile and noted several shoe and bootprints around the 16′ circumference pile, while also spotting another area burning on the hillside, about halfway up. Two hours later, he’d returned to the pile, but found it too hot to approach.

This had never sat well with him, especially given it was located approximately 250m from the shack Carson admitted to having had sex with Brenda in. Investigators were intrigued by this new information, finding the tracker to be credible. They hope to one day do an archaeological dig at the site.

On June 15, 2006, a resident found a human skull in the water near the shoreline just north of the Bayshore Condominiums in Invermere. No other remains were found when the area was searched by the Columbia Valley Search and Rescue team. The skull was sent to a forensic anthropologist in Cranbrook, British Columbia for analysis, so that its age, race, sex and date of death could be determined. It’s currently unknown if the skull washed ashore or was buried and later uncovered when the lake bank eroded, but it’s noted the only open missing person’s case at the time was Brenda’s.

Two areas of interest have been identified as potentially being the resting place of Brenda’s remains – the field near Barbour’s farm and unnamed area that is currently being evaluated.

In a letter posted to the Columbia Valley Pioneer on May 6, 2011, a woman named Margaret Porcina claimed Brenda’s relatives had contacted her to say Brenda had actually gone hiking at Munn Lake, not Lake Enid, and she was meant to be home by 4:00pm, not 3:00pm like originally stated. She also referenced an article from the The Valley Echo, which stated Vivian had actually been questioned by investigators and had said that Brenda had run off around the time a hailstorm began, around 2:00pm on the day she went missing.

It should be said these are claims that have not been confirmed by investigators.

Police believe Brenda met with foul play and is deceased. Her familial DNA and dental records have been added to a national database, should her body be found.

In 2012, Corporal Brent Ayers took over the investigation. He revealed that most of the statements currently in the case file are from decades after Brenda’s disappearance, around the time a renewed focus was placed on the investigation. He’s interested in having a university research team utilize modern technology, such as ground-penetrating radar, to review the area near Barbour’s Farm. He’s also wishes to look at an old well site that was filled in after Brenda’s disappearance. His aim is to obtain an aerial map of Lake Enid from around the 1950s/1960s and compare it to more recent ones to see how the area has changed over the years.

THEORIES:

1) Some suspect John Carson and Elwood Godlien are responsible for Brenda’s disappearance, given they were likely the last ones to see her alive on the day she went missing. Many are suspicious of their changing stories and John’s claims about the consensual intercourse. They feel their version of events, wherein Brenda ran away, was created to hide their own involvement.

It should be reminded that both Elwood and John passed polygraph tests that were administered to them later in the investigation. However, investigators themselves question the authenticity of the results, given 30 years had passed since Brenda’s disappearance.

2) The theory brought up by those with Brenda on the day she went missing was that she was abducted by a passerby in a vehicle. According to John, Brenda had run into the woods, after which the two youths heard the sound of a vehicle in the distance.

There is not much information available regarding the possibility of a stranger abduction in the case.

3) Some simply believe Brenda got lost in the woods. However, many don’t give this much credence, given the extensive search that was conducted in the immediate aftermath of her disappearance. It’s believed Brenda would have been found – either alive or deceased – if she had simply gotten lost in the bush.

As aforementioned, nothing related to the case was found during the initial two-week search. The remains later found by the three boys, if Brenda’s, were found buried in an unmarked grave, meaning if they were hers then she likely met with foul play and was buried by her killer.

4) One theory that was quickly discounted states Brenda was sent to Ontario and returned to the area years later under a new name. There is no evidence to support she left the area, nor that she was in Ontario or other areas of British Columbia, aside from a few unsubstantiated sightings.

AFTERMATH:

Brenda’s father passed away in 1981 at the age of 59, after suffering four heart attacks and undergoing a battle with lung cancer. According to the family, he never got over his daughter’s disappearance and often spent his free time searching for her.

Hilda passed away in 2016.

Albert suffers from anxiety as a result of his sister’s disappearance. While he was unsure of what he was dealing with initially, therapy has helped him to understand his feelings and better work through them.

Elwood has since passed away. His brother, Russell Godlien, has criticized the scrutiny he was placed under, writing in a letter to The Invermere Valley Echo that Elwood, who was just 13 years old at the time, had been treated unfairly by investigators. He says the RCMP and Game Wardens had interrogated him without an adult present and that he was, at times, denied water and food and threatened with physical violence.

Russell has also claimed that a tracking canine lost Brenda’s scent near the location where Elwood and John said they lost sight of her, and that Elwood was only left alone after passing a polygraph test.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Brenda Byman went missing from Wilmer, British Columbia, Canada on May 7, 1961. She was 12 years old, and was last seen wearing a white blouse; a dark blue sweater; a pair of grey and faded blue checkered slacks; a faded royal blue parka with a fur-lined pink hood; a yellow scarf with a flowered 4″ border; and size 6 blue and white saddle-type shoes. At the time of her disappearance, she stood at 4’8″ and weighed approximately 90 pounds. She had strawberry blonde hair and brown eyes.

Currently, the case is classified as a missing persons investigation, with foul play suspected. If alive, she would be 72 years old.

Those with information are asked to contact the Columbia Valley detachment of the RCMP at 250-342-9292. Those wishing to remain anonymous can submit tips via Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Image Credit: Please Bring Me Home

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