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Thread: Investigators still search for answers almost 28 years after Jeremy Bright's disappea

  1. #1

    ice Investigators still search for answers almost 28 years after Jeremy Bright's disappea

    MYRTLE POINT — It was “kids day” at the 75th Coos County Fair and Rodeo, Aug. 14, 1986. The morning clouds were burning off to make way for a beautiful summer day in Myrtle Point.
    Johnny Limbo and the Lugnuts were going to be playing a couple sets on the midway, and Jeremy Bright, 14, was taking his 10-year-old sister S’te (pronounced ess-tee) once again.
    The siblings, along with their mother, Diane Beatty, had moved to Grants Pass the year before, but still had family and friends in the area. Jeremy and S’te were allowed to come back in the summer, staying with family so they wouldn’t have to miss out on their annual fun at the fairgrounds.
    Sadly, a day that started out with so much promise, soon turned into a tragic mystery that would span nearly three decades.
    After leaving his sister near the Ferris wheel, Jeremy went off on his own. Leaving behind a promise to meet up with S’te again at 5 p.m.
    That was the last she ever saw of her big brother.
    A different era
    It was a different time in the world. Kids that didn’t come home right away did not raise the same level of concern then that it would today.
    When S’te found a Myrtle Point police officer, after her brother failed to show up, she was told not to worry. Afterall, “he was probably just off with friends” was the thinking at the time.
    Not much more was done the next day either, after the family contacted police again to say he had still not returned from the fair.
    In fact, nothing about the missing teen even appeared in the newspaper until five days later, on Aug. 19. A short news brief on page 2 that probably did not attract much attention from the public.
    Before the Coos County Major Crimes Team came along, these kinds of cases were just handled differently in its jurisdictions. It was days before the Sheriff’s Office investigators were even called in to assist in the search.
    Coos County Sheriff Craig Zanni and Detective Staff Sgt. Dan Looney, discussing the case that still generates new leads to this day, say the Bright investigation actually played a major role in the creation of the aforementioned multiple agency investigative unit.
    Looking back, they say much has changed since those older days where missing children were often assumed to be runaways.
    These days, Zanni said, society is all too aware of the number of child predators in its ranks.
    Now, all missing children cases get equal, and urgent, attention from the start.
    “We’ll assume it’s something and generally find out it’s nothing, and we’re good with that,” he said.
    How different would the response be to a similar situation today?
    It starts with that new team.
    The Major Crimes Team, headed by District Attorney Paul Frasier, draws detectives from the Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police and local police departments throughout the county; the response is immediate.
    “We work the same way, we handle evidence mostly the same way,” Looney said. “The advantage we’ve always had is that we work really well together.”
    Another aid to the cause these days is the Amber Alert program. Since the 1990s, the federal government has sponsored the implementation of the child abduction notification system nationwide.
    Once activated by state law enforcement, the Amber Alert network sends out a message blast of suspect and vehicle information to email addresses, fax lines and cell phones throughout the region.
    Would an Amber Alert have helped in the Bright case?
    “It would have made a huge difference,” Zanni said. “If nothing else, it makes people remember where they’re at.”
    The sheriff said he remembers exactly where he was the day John F. Kennedy was shot.
    “Amber Alerts have a similar effect,” he said.
    The smallest recollections can have a huge impact when it comes to closing a case.
    Mystery remains tightly wound
    When the Sheriff’s Office joined the investigation, the belief that Jeremy may have been a runaway quickly started to fade away.
    Looney said that in actual runaway cases, there’s generally an indication that a child had thought about or planned to runaway.
    In Jeremy’s case, there were no such signs. His family described him as an all-American type who had become an excellent basketball player and was looking forward to returning to school.
    The fair had come and gone, and now investigators were having to look back at what happened after he left the Ferris wheel.
    Confusion and silence created a tough slog that got more difficult with each passing year.
    To this day, the facts they have are few. The theories are still many.
    What they do know is that Jeremy had sprouted to become a lanky teen, 6 feet tall and 140 pounds. With bright green eyes and brown hair, he looked like any other teen you might see walking around. A mole on his chin one of his only distinguishing marks.
    Wearing blue, nylon shorts and a red tank top on that hot August day, Jeremy was last seen that afternoon in a vehicle with a young man named Terry Lee Steinhoff.
    Investigators say Steinhoff, while not a suspect, is a person of significant interest. Complicating matters further, however, is that Steinhoff is dead. He suffered a heroin overdose in prison in 2007, while serving time for the murder of a Coos Bay woman two years after Jeremy went missing.
    In January of 1989, in the same week that Unsolved Mysteries aired a segment on the Jeremy disappearance, Steinhoff pleaded no contest to stabbing Patricia Morris, a 32-year-old mother of two, multiple times in the throat and leaving her for dead near the Pan American bar in Coos Bay the previous May.
    A number of theories center around Steinhoff, who once baby-sat for Jeremy. Was he shot at while swimming in a pond? Drugged at a party? Abused? Or some variation of those theories?
    Zanni believes each may hold a grain of truth, but they have never been able to prove nor disprove those possibilities. Since Jeremy has never been found, Zanni’s own belief remains just another theory.
    “I think that he disappeared the afternoon, or the early evening, on the 14th,” Zanni said. “I think he was probably, obviously, dead and dumped. Probably by the next morning.”
    Regardless, the fact that Steinhoff was the last person seen with Jeremy remains noteworthy for investigators.
    Time to resolve the mystery
    S’te Elmore and Beatty both live in Washington now, keeping a close eye on S’te’s own growing family.
    “Of course I’ve got hope. We hear all the time of miraculous things happening,” Beatty said by phone Friday. “Honestly, I don’t know what happened, I can’t even imagine. With no starting point there’s no place to go. I still have nightmares about what could have happened, but just hope it didn’t.”
    Zanni and Looney walk past a picture of Jeremy in their office every day, making sure the case stays at the front of their thoughts.
    “My heart goes out to the family, and I will tell you that I think of those people daily,” Zanni said. “It’d be the right thing to do to finally bring this to a close for them.”
    In a case with few certainties, both investigators and family believe there is one more: that there are others out there who could bring this decades-old nightmare to an end with a single phone call.
    “I honestly believe there are people who know what happened, know where he is and who was involved,” S’te Elmore says. “I hope someday they will come forward and not let the fear of those involved keep them from (doing what’s right).”

  2. #2

    Default Re: Investigators still search for answers almost 28 years after Jeremy Bright's disa

    The cold case of Jeremy Bright
    Jillian Ward

    COOS COUNTY — When Jeremy Bright promised to meet his sister at the Ferris wheel, it was the last time she would ever see him.

    Bright was 14 years old in 1986 when he and his family visited Myrtle Point, a year after having moved to Grants Pass. They 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,” said Coos County Sheriff Craig Zanni. “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.”

    Bright's mother knew something was wrong when he never met up with his sister at the Ferris wheel. What would have now been treated as a serious matter now was shrugged away back then. Zanni described not just police mentality, but the mentality of the time, which was that the boy had run off with his friends and would turn up when the fair was over.

    However, after several weeks of inaction, enough people complained to the sheriff at the time who had the authority to take over the case, which is what was done.

    “The thing is, once the sheriff's department took it over, they had to backtrack because they were three weeks behind where they should have been,” Zanni said.

    He explained that when investigating crimes or missing person cases, officers must take notes and identify who provided information, they must do research into the background of the victim and suspects. What the sheriff's office ran into after it took control of the Bright case was none of that was done well, if it was done at all.

    “The whole thing was poorly handled. It got poo-pooed off and officers never wrote anything down, no one took information or recorded anything. There was a lot of confusion about names because some of the names written down were people with different first names or middle names, or mistakes were made and names were switched around. There were some names with first, second or third at the end, which can become rather confusing.”

    Zanni pointed out that officers at the time when Bright first went missing were either distracted, on top of not believing anything was wrong, or not really listening to any of the information being provided.

    “They weren't curious enough to be concerned,” he said. “Bright was never a runaway or tardy, he was usually where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there, so part of this was lack of curiosity on the officer's part.”

    Zanni cares a great deal about the county’s cold cases and ensures that each one is regularly reviewed. If ever a deputy is not working on an investigation, their duty then is to look over the cold cases with fresh eyes to see if there is something no one ever saw before.

    “It’s never been let go of,” Zanni said.

    Zanni has even gone so far as to travel to neighboring states to investigate leads.

    “I personally have been involved in going all the way to the Idaho State Prison and even into Nevada to do interviews with people who’ve claimed to know information,” Zanni said.

    The Bright case has both enraged and mystified so many people that it was featured on Unsolved Mysteries in 1989. It continues brings the department more information, though it may not always be credible.

    “Some of the calls are reasonable, some of them bizarre,” Zanni said. “We've had psychics call and tell us to look under the bridge on Highway 307 and Tremont Street, which matches no roads here. You get people calling and saying they remember so and so saying something, which we do track down, but often times rumors get in the way.”

    Zanni said that most rumors can all be traced back to the two or three original rumors that circulated when Bright went missing, none of which he believes to be true.

    Adding mystery to the case is that many of the people involved in Bright’s case have since died. Terry Steinhoff, who was a person of interest, died of a heroin overdose in prison in 2007.

    Steinhoff was serving jail time for stabbing a woman multiple times in the throat and leaving her for dead near a bar in Coos Bay three years after

    Bright’s disappearance.

    “He (Steinhoff) was a person of interest and I don’t know if that was ever resolved,” Zanni said.

    Not only has Bright's case drawn national attention, but as a result of its mishandling a Major Crimes Team was formed.

    Major Crime Team

    Prior to 1987, each department in Coos County would handle their own cases. According to Coos County Sheriff's Captain Kelley Andrews, the departments would talk to each other a bit, but mostly focused on the cases alone.

    “Then Bright came around and the district attorney's office was contacted by Detective Sergeant Steve Dalton, who was with the Sheriff's Department, who suggested that we start an interagency group to pool each other resources,” Andrews said. “That's when they started discussions and came to an agreement in 1987.”

    Now coined the Major Crime Team, the agreement required each county agency to send one investigator to join the team for a minimum of seven days to cover all homicides or missing persons cases.

    “Keep in mind, when this formed we had a detective sergeant and six detectives,” Andrews said. “We don't have any detectives now because in 2007 the county commissioners forced us to make layoffs and they eliminated all of our detective positions. Coos Bay, North Bend, Oregon State Police all have detectives, but not the Sheriff's Department, so we send a deputy to the Major Crime Team when needed.”

    The Amber Alert program is another aid to finding missing children these days.

    As for the ongoing investigation for Jeremy Bright, Zanni has taken it to heart.

    “You can't help but take this personally,” he said. “Bright is probably dead, I have no doubt in my mind that he is, but you can't say that for certain because we haven't recovered his body. But his family suffers with never knowing. You know every time they walk through a crowd, they are looking at faces wondering if he is going to show up. In their mind, I know they know he is deceased but there is no closure without a body. You just don't know. For them, he's just gone.”

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