EASTSIDE - If there's a month that Diane Beatty would like back, it would be August 1986. It was then that her 14-year-old son, Jeremy Bright, went to the Coos County Fair and vanished from the earth.
“He was here for a week during the fair,” Beatty, 52, said from her Eastside home this week as she pored over photos of her missing son from a time when Pac-Man and Van Halen were all the rage. “He was only here for a week. If I would have said, ‘No,' about him coming up to the fair, I would still have him.”
But she didn't say no.
Who would? Jeremy and his 9-year-old sister S'te (the French abbreviation for Saint and pronounced “Ess-tee”), had both grown up in Myrtle Point and they loved the fair. Their stepfather, Orville “Ole” Gulseth of Myrtle Point, had offered to take them in for a week that summer.
“My brother and I never missed the fair,” said his sister S'te Elmore, who is now married and living in San Diego.
For that last year, Beatty and the children had been living in Grants Pass. Beatty and “Ole” were finished, and Beatty was carving a new life for herself so she wouldn't be tending bar the rest of her life.
“Instead of them veggin' in Grants Pass for a week, while I worked and went to school, I thought that would be a great little trip for them,” she said, noting the children's grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived in Myrtle Point.
“I have regretted it ever since.”
On Aug. 14, Jeremy Bright will have been missing for 21 years - an eternity for his mother. For the Coos County Sheriff's Office, it's a missing person and potential homicide case.
Beatty and investigators hope that by bringing the incident back into the public eye, someone will come forward with a new clue, a new lead, or a confession.
“If it's something that hasn't been visited before, that might be the piece of the puzzle that we're missing,” said Beatty, who lives full-time in Florida but who has been coming back every summer since she moved away in 1998. “He's out here somewhere.”
While no one has ever been arrested in the case, dozens of people have been questioned, log and beaver ponds have been drained in search of his body, scuba divers have explored wells, swamps and rivers, and various potential gravesites across the county have been dug up.
“Anything that looked like it had any substance, we put every effort into it to try and either find something that would help, or put an end to that rumor,” said former Coos County investigator Craig Zanni, who worked the case from 1991 to 2004.
But so far - nothing.
“It's all been valleys,” Beatty said. “There have not been any peaks. We have found nothing.”
The case is still considered a missing person and potential homicide case, Zanni said. His former colleague who handles the case now, Coos County Det. Sgt. Dan Looney, agreed.
“We believe he is still in the county somewhere - not alive,” said Looney, who tracked down leads surrounding Jeremy as recently as last winter. The two investigators are convinced someone in the county knows exactly what happened to Jeremy that fateful night.
“I would be willing to put money on it,” Zanni said Thursday as he worked a booth at the fair.
While Beatty cradles a glimmer of hope that Jeremy will come around a corner some day, she knows the chance is slim.
But she can't help but hope.
“You see on the news they find people that had been gone for 10 years,” Beatty said, noting a recent case in Missouri.
But that case involved teenagers. She said she had her hopes up that when Jeremy turned 18, he might return. He would have turned 35 this past May.
“In my heart I don't believe he would have been gone this long, if he had any choice,” Beatty said. “Some day … some day, that's my last wish: To find him.”
On Thursday, Aug. 14, 1986, Beatty spoke to Jeremy, her only son, for the last time. He was on a payphone outside McKay's Market in Myrtle Point and she was in Grants Pass. She promised to pick the two of them up Saturday. Jeremy told her about his trip so far, and that he was going to pick S'te up at the fair at 5 p.m. Elmore said her brother was supposed to meet her at the Ferris wheel.
“Jeremy never showed up,” Beatty said.
Before going to the police, Beatty and her family spent much of Saturday searching for him. The family plastered missing posters throughout Myrtle Point in coming weeks, Elmore said. Nearly everyone Beatty bumped into saw Jeremy on Thursday, but not Friday.
“It was like he was beamed up,” she said.
And ever since, the rumors about Jeremy's disappearance have swirled: He was abducted by a demented carnival worker; he was shot and buried in the hills or dumped in a pond by a local; he was drugged at a beer party and killed; he ran away with the carnival.
Shortly after he disappeared, Beatty contacted the Myrtle Point Police Department. The chief told her not to worry. Jeremy wasn't missing. He'd be back as soon as the fair rolled out of town.
“Well, evidently the fair isn't gone because he hasn't come back,” Beatty said dejectedly.
At the time, S'te remembers informing police that she had seen Jeremy talking to two guys whom she did not recognize.
“For whatever reason, the (officer) I talked to didn't believe me,” Elmore said. “They thought I was making up a story to help out. But, I had seen him leave with these people. He did.”
Beatty's never subscribed to the runaway theory. Jeremy was protective of his kid sister and never would have left her alone. Besides, he didn't take his wallet or extra clothes. Investigators don't buy the runaway theory either. They believe that, despite the passing of 21 years, some people of interest still aren't coming clean.
“They would rather not say anything than do the right thing,” Zanni said. “We have a bunch of people that aren't telling the police anything. They should come forward. The family at least deserves to know. To put Jeremy to rest - and the burden on the mom and the sister.”
Elmore said her family needs closure about Jeremy.
“After this many years it seems like somebody would be willing to say something,” Elmore said. “Even if it was just to (say) where Jeremy is. Even if they called it in anonymously and said, ‘This is where he is. This is where you can find him.'”
She wants people to come forward and clear their conscience.
“To live with that knowledge for 20 years, and not say anything, has got to be torture,” Elmore said.
In a small town like Myrtle Point in the 1980s, “where everybody knew everybody,” Beatty said, you could let a 14-year-old roam about. Especially one that was so popular and never got into trouble.
“He had run of the town since he was 5,” she said. “Everybody knew him.”
Beatty can't help but think that Jeremy may have died in some horrible manner. Elmore said at least one of Jeremy's close friends began having nightmares shortly after his disappearance, and has battled alcohol addiction ever since. Beatty believes the friend's problems stem from whatever happened to Jeremy.
Through the various interviews Zanni has conducted, he said he thinks Jeremy wasn't a bad kid, but may have been somewhat troubled due to the breakup in the family - what would be expected from “a family going through a divorce.”
Jeremy went missing the summer before entering high school. He had been a standout basketball player, a so-called “sixth man,” who wore a size 13 shoe. He was convinced he would make the team at his new school in Southern Oregon. Elmore said her brother also coached her basketball team at the Boys & Girls Club in Grants Pass and had never run away from home.
Beatty said Jeremy's grades had slumped somewhat in Grants Pass. They had moved there in the middle of his eighth-grade year. She chalked it up to him simply getting used to a new school setting. Wanting to help smooth the transition into high school, a few weeks before his disappearance, the two embarked on the proverbial clothes shopping spree. Jeremy picked out a pair of Levis, several button-down shirts and pair of black Nike tennis shoes with red shoe laces.
They're the same shoes he was last seen wearing and the ones listed since the 1980s on the poster declaring him a missing person.
After three months of hanging onto the case, Myrtle Point investigators turned it over to the Coos County Sheriff's Office, which Beatty said, tracked Jeremy's whereabouts through part of Aug. 15. Investigators won't reveal that information, but Zanni said some people of interest have never been cleared due to their lack of cooperation.
Investigators, Beatty and her family still hope one day the case will break, as it did, partially, with the case of Leah Freeman, a 15-year-old girl last seen alive in Coquille in 2000. A little more than a month after she disappeared, her body was found about nine miles east of Coquille. But police have yet to make an arrest in the case, due to lack of evidence.
While Beatty feels the Sheriff's Office has done everything it could on the case, she still can't help but express grave frustration over the lost time that transpired while the case was in the hands of the Myrtle Point Police Department.
“My personal opinion is that if (Myrtle Point Police officials) had turned it over three months earlier - we would have had a whole lot better chance of finding out what happened,” she said.
At the moment, Beatty said she is not looking for retribution, or justice - simply peace for herself, her family and Jeremy. Living with out knowing if your child is alive or dead is “indescribable,” she said, adding she was somewhat jealous the Freemans' had, at least a partial ending, however tragic.
“I just want most to put him to rest - his spirit, his soul,” she said. “My quest isn't to find the perpetrator. It's just to find him.”
In 1989, the Jeremy Bright case was featured on the national network television show “Unsolved Mysteries.” The segment still airs occasionally and the proposed scenarios are still bandied about by bloggers on the Internet.
Still, authorities and the family hope that one day the case will be cracked.
“I always hope that someone will think, ‘Well. OK, it's time for me to talk,'” Looney said.
- Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Jeremy Bright is urged to contact Det. Sgt. Dan Looney at 396-3121 ext. 378.