Dean Marie Peters was born on September 24, 1966 to Mary Petes and Duane Pyle. She and her younger brother, William, lived in California with their parents until they divorced, after which the children moved to Michigan with Mary and her new husband, John Peters. Duane stayed in California and remarried.
According to her family, Dean initially had trouble adjusting to life in Michigan, but soon found her stride. At the time of her disappearance, she was an eighth grade student at Forest Hills Central Middle School, with dreams of becoming a model.
LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:
At 5:00pm on February 5, 1981, Dean and her mother attended William’s wrestling practice at the middle school, located in the 5800 block of Ada Drive in southeast Grand Rapids. During the practice, Dean asked if she could go to the bathroom and left the gymnasium.
Mary grew worried when Dean didn’t return to the gymnasium. Those students who thought they’d seen her that evening reported to the school’s principal that they hadn’t seen her near the bathroom, and it was determined she never did arrive there.
It’s theorized Dean may have used the excuse to smoke a cigarette outside or visit a friend. However, it’s unknown what happened once she left the gymnasium.
Dean left behind her wallet, makeup, jewelry, purse, clothing and several hundred dollars at home. As she was known to not go anywhere without her makeup and wasn’t experiencing any problems at home, she was immediately ruled out as a runaway.
Searches for Dean were conducted by both law enforcement and volunteers. Divers searched a shallow pond along Grand River Drive, near Lowell, Michigan, and cadaver dogs searched potential areas of interest. Psychics also became involved, providing GPS coordinates for where they believed her body was buried.
In an attempt to bring their missing daughter home, Mary and John spoke with the media and offered a reward for information.
The middle school’s custodian, Arthur Diaz, was considered a person of interest in the case for many years. On the evening of Dean’s disappearance, he’d been working at the school, although he claimed to have been cleaning an office and hadn’t seen her. The authorities checked the school incinerator, believing he may have used it to burn her body, but they quickly discovered it wasn’t hot enough. After being put before a grand jury, he was cleared of any suspicion.
Diaz informed investigators of three older boys he’d encountered that evening at the school. He said they’d pounded on a locked door. One of them was wearing a Forest Hills leather jacket, but none of them looked familiar. It’s unknown if the trio has anything to do with Dean’s disappearance. Diaz claims he was never asked to provide a description of them or to look at mug shots.
It was learnt that two days before Dean went missing, she’d been in an altercation with two other girls. They’d argued over a boy, and the girls allegedly threatened Dean to stay away from him. One of the two has since spoken to the press and claims to have no involvement in the case. She also says investigators never spoke to her or her friend. According to police, there is no evidence to suggest the incident is related to Dean’s disappearance.
A likely suspect in the case, 17-year-old Bruce Bunch, knew one of the girls. It’s alleged he saw Dean on the day she went missing and drove his car toward her as a scare tactic. However, he hit a patch of ice and ended up running her over, killing her, and hid her body in the brush before burying her in the area of Snow Avenue under a pile of rocks.
Accounts by those who knew Bunch said he had dreams about the accident and that Dean’s body is buried by the Young Camp Marine. A psychic informed the property’s current owners of this information and they agreed to allow a proper search. However, Dean’s body was not located.
Bunch reportedly told versions of this story to between 20 and 30 people, including his first two wives. He disputed the contents of his dreams, saying he’d had one about Dean after watching a news report on her disappearance. He claimed to have had mental telepathy as a child, and that paired with the news report led to the dream, which somehow spiralled into a story about how he killed Dean and hid her body.
Stories spread about Bunch talking about Dean during a kegger near the sod farms off Grand River Drive, near Lowell. According to witnesses, he’d said her body was buried near the one-room Standard School, located five miles north of Lowell. The schoolhouse grounds were searched, along with an area near Marble Road and Potters Road, but nothing was found.
According to his first wife, Bunch was violent and abusive, often after he’d been drinking, and was prone to blackouts. She alleges he once pushed her out of a moving vehicle, breaking her ankle, while on another occasion he threatened to run her off the road.
Bunch’s niece, who lives in Hawaii, told the press she’d heard stories about her uncle killing a girl and burying her under a building’s foundation.
In 2008, Bunch died of a heart attack. He was never charged or questioned in relation to Dean’s disappearance. In 2021, investigators announced that they believe he was responsible for her death, despite being unable to verify his statements. They say there are people in the community who have information they have yet to share, which could potentially solve the case.
Dean’s diary vanished years back while under the supervision of law enforcement. This has led to rumours that the person responsible has connections to someone within law enforcement. This theory has never been confirmed.
In July 1991, Dean’s mother petitioned for a “presumptive death certificate” for her daughter. It was approved in January 1992 and reads: “Cause of death: unknown. Place of death: unknown.”
A new investigator took over the case in 1993. He interviewed over 50 potential witnesses and looked into around a dozen suspects. Based on his investigation, he wasn’t able to eliminate anyone from suspicion. The case wouldn’t be revived again until 2008.
In July 2021, James “Jim” Douglas Frisbie was charged with perjury in connection with Dean’s case. He was 21 years old in 1981 and has a criminal record dating back to 1978, although he’s never been convicted of a felony. According to court documents, he’s accused of lying about information, knowledge and/or statements he made to police about possible witnesses or suspects in a “cold case homicide”. He’s also alleged to have “willfully impeded and interfered with other witnesses” in the case. Investigators have been able to confirm the homicide was Dean’s, but haven’t publicly revealed what it is Frisbie lied about.
Dean’s dentals and DNA are available for comparison, should her remains be located.
News station WZZM 13 has set up a Facebook page dedicated to the investigation.
A woman came forward to the press with a story about how she and her friends had been canoeing and drinking on the Flat River in 1989 with a man from Lowell. He’d spoken about how he and two others had hit a girl named “Deanie” with their car in a school parking lot, after which they hid her body in the vehicle’s trunk and later buried her along the river. He was not identified as Bruce Bunch, but as another man named Joseph Fallstrom, who was questioned twice about the case in the early 1990s.
According to investigators, several individuals have been questioned in the case, but no one has been arrested. This includes a Michigan man on death row for the murder of his wife and child. He was ruled out after it was determined he hadn’t been in the area at the time of Dean’s disappearance.
Between 2008 and 2012, the investigative team interviewed more than 200 witnesses and searched approximately 15 burial sites. The investigation has took them to seven states, and has allowed them to pin-point individuals living in the Ada-Cascade area who have information. However, they refuse to cooperate with the authorities.
There is currently a $25,000 reward for information leading to the discovery of the person or persons responsible for Dean’s disappearance and presumed death. The funds were donated by a generous individual with no ties to the case.
Dean’s mother and stepfather moved to Arizona after her disappearance. The police have stated that John Peters is not considered a suspect in the case.
In 2011, a group of former classmates came together in Ada to discuss Dean’s disappearance and how it has affected them.
In May 2012, artwork depicting the missing girl was unveiled at Kendall College. The work of artist John O’Hearn, it’s a collection of images making up a single mosaic display. Her friends hope it will help keep the case in the public eye and prompt someone to come forward with information that’ll bring about a conclusion.
A memorial event for Dean was held at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in February 2013.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Dean “Deanie” Marie Peters went missing from Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan on February 5, 1981. She was 14 years old, and was last seen wearing a pink sweater, a brown ski jacket, blue Levi’s jeans, white knee socks, a cream-coloured scarf with the word “ski” written in dark brown letters, white bikini panties and a Bali bra. While her ears are pierced, it’s unknown if she was wearing earrings. At the time of her disappearance, she stood between 5’2″ and 5’3″, and weighed 110 pounds. She has shoulder-length brown hair, brown eyes and a birthmark on her lower back.
Currently, the case is classified as a non-family abduction. If alive, she would be 54 years old.
Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Kent County Sheriff’s Office at 616-336-3113 or 616-632-6246. Tips can also be called into the Investigative Division at 616-632-6125 or Kent County Metro Cold Case Team at 616-632-6123.
Image Credit: The Resource Center For Cold Case Missing Children’s Cases