In memory of Marianne Schuett who disappeared April, 1967…
This morning I rose like any other morning. I brewed some coffee, had a bite to eat and then, as is part of my daily routine, I eased down into my favourite chair in the livingroom, a recliner where I sit and gaze through expansive windows to the marina literally in our front yard, lapping Pacific waters, the gulls swooping by, the heavenly blue sky, the straight, island and coastal mainland beyond. When I awoke the sky was a brilliant shade of blue with only a whisper of a wind.
I have often looked out those windows at the beauty that surrounds us, the peaceful serenity, almost dreamlike splendor, seemingly unaffected by the global picture, the experiences of humanity good and bad. My thoughts often drift in their own direction as I gaze through those windows and out amidst the beauty. The images, the memories, the visual sensations and transparency of the mind flow as the northeasterly drawing at the blinds in cadent distraction.
Thoughts will take me where they will and on this particular morning my deliberations took me back to days of my youth. Our family had a few years ago moved out of the city to a rural, countryside area of Southern Ontario. There were gentle rolling hills dotted with trees and expansive tracts of farmland worked for cash crops and feed, corn primarily and hay. In this moment I could still smell the freshly turned soil as the farmer’s tractor ambled across undulating fields tilling the dark earth into neat rows of, from what seemed from a distance, narrow rolls of chocolate swirl.
And in this moment of recollection memory served up an unpleasant thought of a dark and mysterious time when a little girl named Marianne Schuett, aged ten years, had gone missing from a small, serene community in southern Ontario, Canada. It was in April of 1967, forty-six years ago to the month, that little Marianne scampered off to school just four hundred yards away. It was a different time then, serene, quiet, peaceful times when children, even as young as Marianne, toddled off to school with their friends from their neighborhood by her side. Everyone knew each other back then, just a small, close-knit country community with the local school, church, general store and cemetery.
Mid-afternoon came and the bell rang out to announce the end of the school day. Children merrily poured through the doors of Kilbride Elementary, pausing briefly to chatter, to play on the school swings, to chase each other giddily before heading home, books under their arms or hanging in back packs. The beautiful large maple trees swayed in the breeze of a spring day with budding leaves and tulip bulbs pushing up through garden beds. The air was so fresh as though cleansed by the harsh winter storms now past.
Marianne did not arrive home from school that fateful spring afternoon in April. She was last seen talking to a man, fortyish, with thin face and wearing glasses, seated in a large red European car. Anyone who might have seen Marianne chatting with this man would likely not have thought anything of it. It was indeed a different time, an era of a child trusting an adult, even if that adult might be unfamiliar, unknown. Everyone went about their business oblivious to any distraction, any sense of concern or foreboding.
At the Schuett residence that late afternoon, as the time came and passed that little Marianne was usually home from school, then half and whole hours passed them by, Marianne’s parents started to worry, made phone calls, all to no avail.
In the days that followed massive air and land searches ensued. I recall hearing scores of people talking as they worked their way through the brush just beyond the perimeter of our yard, quite heavily wooded, lifting fallen branches, brushing aside broad leaf ferns and leaf debris on the ground searching….quietly, solemnly searching. A helicopter would noisily fly by not far over the treetops, hover momentarily, then move on. I nervously peered out my window to the souls below as they inched forward, police officers pointing and directing, questioning anything that might look out of the ordinary. Mom or dad would come into my room and guide me away from the window, counseling and consoling my youthful confusion and fear. Mom was emotional, often tears in her eyes. She had lost two children to incurable disease and the pain would resurface as she reflected on this poor, lost child.
Marianne’s picture was everywhere…in the newspapers, on the tv news, on urgent bulletins family and friends stapled to hydro poles and bulletin boards for miles away. The hunt continued day after day after increasingly forlorn day. Ultimately, as the searching produced no concrete results of clues to Marianne’s disappearance, the police called off the formally organized search party efforts. The community had come together with an incredible display of concern, fear and dismay as the days passed into weeks since Marianne was last seen in the school yard. There was a terrible sense of loss, grief, and a community in mourning for that lost little girl who could well have been the child of any family in that immediate area, anywhere for that matter. Marianne was gone…not a trace left behind.
The police did for a time have a ‘person of interest’ in their sights, a man who lived not too distant to the Kilbride community, who was married with children. Still, there was insufficient evidence to warrant an arrest. The man of concern eventually relocated to another city not far away and in 1991 took his own life. There has never been anything concrete in evidence to suggest he or anyone else was involved in the apparent abduction of Marianne Schuett.
Marianne’s family, including an older brother, went through a living hell, never knowing with any certainty the fate of their beloved little girl/sister. That was the worst of it all, not only for the Schuett family but the surrounding community and so many communities throughout the province, throughout the country who would soon come to know the name and the tragic disappearance of Marianne Schuett. Her family would never again know her laughter, her cheerful and bright disposition, her quiet playfulness and gentle demeanor. Without the closure her family will forever have the heartache of not knowing what truly needs to be known…
In 1991 singer/songwriter/musician/actor/author Ian Thomas, who himself was raised in a nearby community to Kilbride, was deeply moved about the Schuett case and wrote a song about the missing little girl titled “Mary Jane”. The song is one of the tracks on his 1976 record album ‘Calabash’, a haunting, solemn lament, the lyrics of which are posted here. Because of the close proximity of Marianne’s community to our own we too felt a terrible sense of tragedy, of loss. Not an instant went by as I rode my bike or drove my car through that community years later that I did not have instant recall to her pretty little face nor the painful voice and lyrics of the Thomas song.
There are little boys and girls around the world who have seemingly come to this same fate. One can imagine the worst yet pray for something of lesser evil. The unsolved mystery of the missing child, the tears, the anguish, the lifelong torment of the who, the what, the why…it lays unbearably heavy upon the wounded heart. The unknown can be a terrible, terrible thing.
The question weighed heavy on my mind so often then and to this day…where’s Mary Jane?…
By Ian Thomas
Forever in the memory of Marianne Schuett…
© Don MacIver 2013; All Rights Reserved
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