COOS COUNTY – It’s been 32 years since Jeremy Bright went missing and the Coos County Sheriff’s Office is still pursuing leads.
In fact, one recent tip led deputies and Sheriff Craig Zanni to a Myrtle Point property to search one of the wells. Though it didn’t give them anything new, the CCSO still encourages the public to call in tips.
“We always follow new leads or tips,” Zanni said. “I want to give the family closure. . . I always think of the family, imagine them walking through a crowd looking at faces wondering if they just missed him. I would like to tell the family that he is not out there some place suffering, here is the end of this. It is frustrating that we haven’t been able to yet.”
The search for Bright began after he failed to meet his sister at the Ferris wheel.
Bright was 14 years old in 1986 when he and his family visited Myrtle Point, a year after having moved to Grants Pass. They had returned for the Coos County Fair and stayed with family.
No one knew such a simple trip would become one of the state's most compelling unsolved mysteries.
“You have to understand, at the time people didn't think that sort of thing could happen in small-town America,” Zanni said in an interview last year. “When his mother reported him missing that morning, the first problem came when the Myrtle Point Police Department said to her not to worry, it's the fair, he'll turn up. That was August 14 almost 30 years ago now.”
New tips on a cold case
Now Zanni sat down with The World to explain how they pursue leads on cold cases and how he has never given up hope to bring closure to Bright’s family.
“When a new tip comes in, we look at that information and how it relates to what we already know of the case,” he said. “The well on the property, quite frankly, is not a new tip.”
Coos County Evidence Custodian Larry Leader said that once the Sheriff’s Office took over the case from the Myrtle Point Police Department back in 1986, they searched four wells in the area. The deepest well was 32 feet.
“Those wells were sucked dry and persons lowered to the bottom, initially,” he said.
Zanni explained that they used high-pressured pumps that generated more pumping action than the well could refill, emptying the well down to “the muck and mire.”
“We lower someone to the bottom and check the debris, look for anything that is interesting,” Leader said. “You don’t look for something specific, just like when you go to a crime scene you don’t look for anything in particular. If you do that, you overlook other things. Instead, you inventory what’s there and at the time nothing was relevant in those wells.”
As Zanni put it, all they found were rat and raccoon skeletons.
“Frankly, we get new tips a lot of times around the fair, after school starts and in the early spring or when they do a rerun of Unsolved Mysteries,” Zanni said. “Every time I see it on TV, I know calls are on their way.”
The tips range from reasonable to the bizarre.
“We once had a tip that told us to follow a road to a concrete bridge in western Nebraska,” Zanni said, shaking his head.
Over the years, Zanni has even run down a tip that Bright was working for a circus.
“In the middle of winter, most large circus companies go to Florida,” he said. “So I had officers in that area look and there was one kid named Jeremy Bright working at a circus, but he had grown up in Colorado.”
According to Leader, at this point it is rare for a tip to come in that is new. Most of the tips are born out of the original rumors surrounding Bright’s disappearance, which Zanni and Leader have traced back to who created them.
“When we were in retirement, we tried to run those rumors to ground and could trace them to the original source, which were from the same few people,” Zanni said.
Those people were eventually arrested for other crimes a decade ago. Zanni approached them when they were first brought into custody with a letter from the Coos County District Attorney offering them the chance to walk away from a 10-year prison sentence if they simply provided information on the Jeremy Bright cold case.
“If you are looking at going to prison for 10 years and that was your ticket to walk away and if they knew anything, they would have fessed up,” Zanni said. “Instead, they served their time and are out now.”
When he presented the letter to one of the individuals, he remembered the man telling him, “You think I wouldn’t take that letter? Why would I spend time in prison when all I have to say is here’s what really happened? But then I’d be lying and you’d find out.”
If that happened, the letter would be revoked.
“There is potential for this to be resolved still,” Zanni said. “In our cases, there’s things we can’t talk about because it’s ongoing. It makes the case clearer to us.”
For Zanni, he believes one person has the information that could solve Bright’s case but hasn’t come forward and he has no way to prove it otherwise. The only other way for it to be solved is if Bright’s body is found.
Until then, he encourages the public to continue calling in tips.
“Nobody is going to listen to you and shine you on,” Leader said. “All the tips we get are written down, documented, and goes with the report. When it’s reviewed, it is a piece and it doesn’t go away. Sometimes a tip can be what puts some of the pieces together that didn’t make sense before.”
To report a tip on the Jeremy Bright cold case, call 541-396-7800.