COLUMN: Amazing story needs a happy ending

Story of Lucy Ann Johnson – who was reported missing 50 years ago only to turn up this summer in the Yukon – has been captivating.

One of the most interesting news stories I’ve read this summer was first published in the Peace Arch News on July 18.

Black Press reporter Sheila Reynolds detailed how the daughter of a Surrey woman who went missing more than 50 years ago had found out that her mother was still alive and living in the Yukon.

Surrey RCMP first published information about the case of Lucy Ann Johnson in June, as part of its periodic updates of missing-persons cases. This case was one of the oldest in the detachment’s files, going back to 1961, although Johnson was first reported missing in 1965 by her husband. He later stated to police that he actually hadn’t seen her since September 1961.

When I heard about the circumstances of her disappearance, my natural assumption was that her husband was involved more that he had admitted, and may indeed have murdered her and concealed the body. After all, some husbands and wives have been doing so for thousands of years, and there has been no shortage of those types of cases in Surrey.

While some police officers may have reached that conclusion over the years, they are trained to deal with facts and evidence. Police did a thorough excavation of the Johnson property near 104 Avenue and 144 Street and turned up no evidence. While Lucy’s husband Marvin had been seen digging on the property, in fact he was digging a septic field.

There was never any evidence of a murder taking place, and thus it remained a missing-persons case. Surrey RCMP took the time and trouble to once again publicize the case, despite the lengthy interval of years.

And amazingly, the story had a very unexpected twist. In fact, the story is continuing, and the ending still hasn’t been written.

Surrey resident Linda Evans did some intensive searching through newspapers in the Yukon for information about her mother, after police reopened the case. She reasoned that her mother had come from that area originally (she was born in Alaska), and may well have gone back there after leaving her Surrey home.

And in terms often used in the days of the Klondike gold rush, she struck pay dirt.

The initial June 28 story in the Surrey Leader (it was subsequently published in Peace Arch News) stated that: “For Evans, finding out what happened to her mom, after all these years, would provide at least some answers to a mystery that has haunted her since childhood.”

“I would like to know before I die,” she said. “She’s got grandkids and great-grandkids.”

Evans was about seven years old when her mother disappeared. There was a big hole in her heart which time hadn’t filled.

She began doing research and placed an ad in the Yukon News in Whitehorse, detailing her mother’s name, place and date of birth, as well as her grandparents’ names.

She almost immediately got some information, and finally received a phone call from a woman who said she believed Lucy was also her mother, and was alive and well and living in the Yukon.

Evans has four new half-siblings and is hoping to see her mother again soon, once she can save up enough money to travel there.

She doesn’t hold the long gap in time against her mother. While she says she has a lot of questions, she has no hard feelings.

She has since talked to her mother on the phone and can hardly wait to see her.

As is the case with many people, financial constraints are preventing her from going there immediately. Letter-writer Loriann Herchuk has suggested that either an airline donate the flight to Evans or that people chip in to help her get that chance.

That’s a great suggestion and I hope that someone will take up the challenge. While friends, spouses and family are all extremely important to us, there is a bond between a child and a mother that is hard to completely define or even understand. Evans needs to have the chance to see her mother again and get to know her, 52 years after she last saw her.

That would be the perfect ending to an amazing story.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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