http://www.columbiavalleypioneer.com/?p=6211RCMP reopen cold case more than 50 years old
By Kelsey Verboom, Pioneer Staff
With files from Stephanie Stevens
One member of the Columbia Valley RCMP has resurrected the search for a young girl who went missing from the Wilmer area 51 years ago and was never seen again.
On a May afternoon in 1961, Mother’s Day, 12-year-old Brenda Byman reportedly walked out of Wilmer towards Lake Enid with four other youths, and never returned.
In the largest coordinated search the valley has ever seen, hundreds of searchers combed the area surrounding where she disappeared, but Brenda’s body was never found.
According to police records and testimony, Brenda went hiking with Vivian Barrett, Edward Carson, John Carson and Elwood Godlien, to go swimming at Lake Enid, five kilometres north of Wilmer. Records show that in the mid-afternoon, Vivian and Edward left the group, leaving Brenda, John, and Elwood at the lake. From there, testimony becomes hazy, with stories that change in detail as the years tick by.
The case remains unsolved, with a cold trail of clues more than half a century old.
Despite the time that has lapsed since Brenda disappeared, Corporal Brent Ayers of the Columbia Valley RCMP detachment has recently reopened the Byman case in the hopes of finally solving one of the valley’s most talked-about mysteries.
“After 50 years it is difficult to wade through the rumours on a file such as this,” Cpl. Ayers said, adding the case is one he does not intend to give up on.
Brenda’s case is a topic that has repeatedly stirred up hot debate, rumour, at times hatred.
A series of jumbled facts form to create an unfinished, slightly out-of-focus puzzle of what really happened that day. Some accuse the boys Brenda was last seen with of being responsible for her disappearance, some say she was picked up by a passing miner, and others say she ran away into the bush.
Despite much finger-pointing and varying theories, no one has ever been criminally charged in relation to the case, and no one knows what really happened.
The challenges Cpl. Ayers faces in the investigation are many: some witnesses and searchers no longer live here or have passed away, there is restricted funding with which to work on the case, and the geographical landscape of the Wilmer area no longer bears fresh evidence.
The disappearance of Brenda has been covered in local and national news media off-and-on, all with the same basic details and plea: if anyone knows anything, please come forward. Cpl. Ayers is asking the same now, but with new and localized insight to the case.
The police file for Brenda’s case has been shuffled from detachment to detachment as the RCMP has changed over the years since the girl’s disappearance, and as a result, it has not always been handled by people with in-depth local knowledge, Cpl. Ayers said. The corporal, who lives in Wilmer, said he hopes his relationship with the local area will help bring a fresh look to an otherwise stale case.
Using information from people involved with the 1961 search for the girl, Cpl. Ayers is currently exploring the possibility that a pile of burning wood scraps could be connected to her disappearance.
The fire, which burned in a nearby field while the search for Brenda toiled on, was never included in the original RCMP report, although people who attended the fire site on the day of the search have told Cpl. Ayers about seeing more boot/shoe prints around the fire site than in the area where Brenda was reportedly last seen. Cpl. Ayers said he hopes to one day conduct an archeological dig at the site of the fire.
“I don’t want people to be angry that I’m looking at this case again. I just want to have an open discussion without taking sides,” he said. “I just want to do something more than what’s been done. It may be nothing, but maybe it will turn out to be something.
“It’s still a mystery. If you look at it subjectively, things just don’t make sense.”
Brenda’s family is hopeful Cpl. Ayers will be able to bring new insight to the young girl’s disappearance. Hilda Byman, Brenda’s mother, has spent years wondering what happened to her shy daughter. All she wants, Hilda said, is to know, before she dies, what happened.
“People don’t understand that love is forever,” said Albert Byman, the youngest of the Byman siblings. “We’ll never give up. We are not looking for vengeance, we are looking for closure.”
Brenda’s father, Ingvar Byman has since passed away. She has three sisters, Doreen Beninger, Audrey Pepin, and Verna Agnew.
Cpl. Ayers welcomes all input into the case, and can be reached at the RCMP detachment at 250-342-9292.