“I truly think there are people out there who have intimate knowledge of this investigation and exactly what became of Shelly Anne Bacsu,” said Sgt. Brent Miller of the Hinton RCMP. “It’s one of those people who are going to have to come forward with their conscience kicking in, some sort of moral epiphany to purge their soul. I believe there are people out there who have information that will solve this case and bring Shelly Anne home to her family.”
The Bacsu family and the Hinton RCMP both hope the 30th anniversary of her disappearance will jar a memory, or a conscience, and help breathe life back into a case that already includes hundreds of interviews and 146 boxes of investigative material. The file has been subject of a television re-enactment, numerous blog and website supports and, most recently, a Facebook page created by Muriel herself called Where is Shellyanne?
“I am 70 and I want to know where my daughter is and bring her home before I am in the ground,” said Muriel. “I’m not stopping until I find my daughter.”
There is a reward being posted by the family for information leading to the discovery of Shelly Anne. Muriel said she has already been contacted by several people who have provided information – contacts she has forwarded to the RCMP.
“I am going to give them a week to follow up on the information I have passed on,” Muriel said. “After that, I don’t care, I will be back in Hinton knocking on doors to get answers. I don’t care, we are tired of waiting.”
Shelly Anne called home at around 8 pm on the night of her disappearance. She was at her boyfriend’s place in Sunset Trailer Court helping baby sit after school. Muriel remembers her daughter calling to say she was on her way home.
“She said she was getting a ride, that she’d be home in 15 minutes, and that I should make some tasta (noodles),” Muriel said. “It was the last time we ever spoke with her.”
Shelly Anne, who had just turned 16, wasn’t home in 15 minutes, or half an hour. Muriel said the boyfriend phoned the Bacsu house at 9 pm and asked to speak with her daughter.
“We had only met him a couple times before and didn’t know him that well, but I told him that it wasn’t funny,” Muriel said, adding that the police were called immediately.
What happened in the hour between phone calls is a mystery that has not yet been solved and is a source of some renewed debate.
RCMP say Shelly Anne was last seen by an eyewitness about 800m west of corporate Town limits. She was walking west on the north side of Hwy. 16 toward the family home located north on Hwy. 40.
“There are a few witnesses that verified Shelly Anne walked from the trailer and down Hwy. 16,” said Cpl. Trevor Somers, who took over the Bacsu file a year ago, adding that she was carrying her school books and showed no interest in hitch hiking.
But Muriel believes her daughter never left Sunset on foot, adding that even if Shelly Anne’s arranged ride fell through she had several other options for rides from family and friends. The RCMP concede it would be out of character for her to attempt the 7.5km walk, saying health reasons would make it unusual.
An urgent search followed the call at 9 pm. Shelly Anne’s father, Sandy, and her brother, Tim, drove around looking for her in the dark, while Muriel walked up and down the highway calling out and looking in roadside culverts.
“I was worried maybe she had been hit by a car and was hurt.”
“It’s what you do, right? If your kids are late you call the people they’re most likely to be with,” Klotz said. “I remember the last time I saw her was in the hall that day in school. I went to bed thinking she would just show up, that I would just see her at school and everything would be okay.”
Authorities picked up the search in full force in the days following her disappearance. Grid searches of the wilderness outside of town were undertaken and Muriel said some of Shelly Anne’s personal items – a jacket, bra, pantyhose and student union card – were recovered near the Athabasca River. A book identified as Bacsu’s was also discovered.
Eyewitness accounts led the RCMP to seek public assistance in following up leads on a van believed to be linked to the case. “The days and weeks after she disappeared were so hard. A new lead or piece of information would lead to hope ... it never panned out. It was so hard to deal with that, I can’t imagine what it was like for Muriel and the family,” Klotz said.
Eventually, the years went by and the disappearance fell out of the spotlight. The Bacsu family moved from town around 1991 and Klotz lost touch with them.
Muriel said there was a stretch of around 15 years after the 10th anniversary of the disappearance where she didn’t even hear from the RCMP. She became disenchanted with the RCMP, saying early investigators developed tunnel vision about their theory of the case, failing to look more closely at some people of interest.
There didn’t seem to be any activity whatsoever, though RCMP say the file – considered a missing person with suspected foul play – remained open.•••••
Things changed in 2010 with a couple of developments, including a second look at components of the case file in relation to the Highway of Tears investigation. The Highway of Tears is a name given to a network of roads in northern British Columbia where more than a dozen women have gone missing. Bacsu is the only Alberta woman listed.
At that point, an extensive file review was undertaken and follow up recommendations from that RCMP review are ongoing.
“The RCMP is committed to continuing this investigation. There’s a family out there who’s still missing their daughter, so we’re committed to keep hope alive,” Miller said.
He went on to say that, at this point 30 years later, the RCMP are looking for people to offer up whatever information they may have, whether it’s related to old theories and evidence, or something entirely new.
Cpl. Somers arrived with the Hinton RCMP about a year ago and took over as lead on the Bacsu file. He has been in contact with Muriel for more than a month and even made a trip to the Bacsu home to connect with the family.•••••
It was also in 2010 that the Bacsu family was convinced by a clairvoyant to overcome their skepticism and follow up on information she had through discussions with Shelly Anne in the afterlife.
“We ignored the calls for a long time and said we weren’t interested,” Muriel said. “I remember the day I finally said okay – she was pretty convincing – and Sandy was there telling me to hang up.”
Bacsu rallied some help from local residents, including members of Hinton Search and Rescue, and executed a search based on the clairvoyant’s advice.
Nothing materialized, but the trip to Hinton did serve one purpose. Sue Klotz remembers going to the store with one of her daughters in 2010, where she felt a tap on the shoulder.
“I turned around and there was a lady there,” Klotz said. “I stared at her for a second and then I realized it was Muriel – it had been so long and then it came back in a rush.”
The two went for a walk to the park and talked for a while, with Muriel filling Klotz in on her purpose for coming to Hinton.
The two haven’t spoken too often since then – a couple times a year, maybe – but have reconnected in recent weeks since Shelly Anne’s birthday April 7.
But a discovery April 23 would lead to more conversations between Muriel and Klotz, as well as Muriel and the RCMP.•••••
Hinton RCMP say quadders at the Brule Sand Dunes located a set of remains around 1 pm on April 23.
Before making the discovery public information, the RCMP closed off access to the area and contacted family members of a few high-profile missing person files in the region, including Stephanie Stewart and Lyle and Marie McCann. Muriel also received a phone call that evening.
“They wanted to let me know as a courtesy that remains were found, that they didn’t want me finding out through the press,” Muriel said. “They also wanted me to confirm what Shelly Anne was wearing. I find it ironic, that these remains were found one week after her birthday and a little more than a week before the anniversary. It’s odd.”
The remains were handed over to the medical examiner and the investigation is ongoing. RCMP say it is standard procedure not to comment on the nature of the remains until the medical examiner’s office has indicated their findings.
The Bacsus say it is with mixed emotions that they await the news.
“At this stage we already know the news about Shelly Anne isn’t going to be positive, whether it’s these remains or something down the road,” said Muriel. “It’s so hard to prepare. People always talk about closure, but that’s nonsense. Yes, we get to bring our girl home with us, but that’s not closure. When you lose a child, especially this way, there’s never closure.”
“There’s still an empty spot at the table. There’s still an empty spot in your heart where the memories should be, where graduation should be, where grandchildren should be ... where her memory remains.
“If they find your child then the only thing we’ve had for 30 years – hope – is also gone. Hope has been the only thing that has gotten us through this. Once she is found, what’s left? You’re left with the thoughts of what happened to her that night, and how horrible it must have been. And then, as a mother, you blame yourself for what happened and for not being there.”•••••
According to missingkids.ca, who work with the RCMP and with the families of missing children, Shelly Anne Bacsu was 5’ tall and had a slim build of around 90 lbs at the time of disappearance. She is reported to have been wearing a burgundy velour sweater, a burgundy and grey jacket, grey sneakers, blue jeans with a stripe down the legs, a green emerald ring and opal earrings.
Anyone with information about the disappearance are asked to contact Hinton RCMP at (780) 865-2455, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-422-TIPS (8477) or the Missing Kids Alert at 1-866-543-8477. — Hinton, Alberta