Denise Horvath-Allan, Wendy Bosma and Glenda Derbyshire are living a common nightmare.
Each have been searching more than a decade to find their missing sons, either alive or dead, seeking answers to the questions surrounding why they suddenly disappeared from Kelowna’s landscape.
“I’m getting older now at age 67, so there isn’t much time left,” said Horvath-Allan, who has been searching for son Charles Horvath ever since he was last seen in Kelowna on May 26,1989.
Horvath-Allan, who lives in Cambridge, England, a suburb of London, was to have met her then 21-year-old son in Asia after he completed a cross-Canada holiday trek, but he didn’t show up.
“I get a lot of support from people around the world, a lot of kind messages of hope, but not the message that I want, that my son has been found. “
Bosma, a Kelowna resident, last saw her son Mike Bosma on Jan. 9, 2006. She understands first-hand the lack of closure over the fate of a missing child for a parent.
“I totally understand where (Horvath-Allan) is coming from and how you allow yourself to get there,” said Bosma.
“Charles was her only child so her whole life since he went missing so her whole focus since has been to find out what happened.”
Charles’ father and step-father along with his grandmother have since passed away, and his mom lives on a retirement pension limited income, but she keeps on going in searching for an answer to her family mystery, most recently having returned to Kelowna for short visits hoping to find answers each of the last two years.
“I would come to Kelowna more if I could afford it,” she said.
Adding to her frustration for many years was an inability to place a gravesite marker for her son with a cemetery plot because she had no death certificate, a requirement in Cambridge.
It was one of those situation awkward moments, one shared by Bosma who had to publish a newspaper memorial for her son in an obituary section, even though he remains missing.
But when Horvath-Allan’s mom recently passed away, that provided a solution.
“When (Charles’) grandma passed, we were able to get a double plot from her passing and have a place for the gravestone marker for Charles. “
Bosma started an informal website for missing people across B.C. after her son vanished, offering support for an exclusive group with a shared loss that outsiders can never really understand.
“It’s with you constantly, always on your mind,” Bosma said about wondering what happened to her son, who grew up in Penticton with his sister and brother until the family moved to Kelowna in 2005.
“Birthdays for sure are distressing. I find that the days leading up to the actual date he went missing tough the first few years, which was Jan. 10 and his birthday is Jan. 17, and being around Christmas…I wouldn’t make any major decisions during (December and January).”
Read more: Mother still searching for missing son
Bosma said she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress at one point, consumed and upset by her son’s disappearance.
She recalls one emotional outburst generated by seeing a display of pencils for sale in a store that reduced her to tears.
“I would just fall apart because Mike is very artistic and liked to draw. When I look back on it now, I have come a long ways, but I’m not the same person I was.
“You never get over it, but you learn to live with it…But when we have family gatherings, there is always that awareness that Mike isn’t part of it.”
Bosma says with Mike being a middle child, she still had another son and a daughter to think about. “I was lucky to that extent I had other kids to worry about…their lives were carrying on.”
Because he began to show symptoms of mental illness at age 17, Bosma says the “easy explanation” is that her son took his own life, but there is no evidence beyond him disappearing to lead to that conclusion.
“We just don’t know. He could have been beaten up or he could have jumped off a bridge,” said Bosma.
Her older son Dan is friends with a Navy SEAL who volunteered to go diving around the bridge in search of possibly finding a body, but came up empty.
“When they started to build the new bridge, a body came up in the lake. Mike had been missing about a year and a half at that point and it was a big guy like him so we were convinced it was Mike. We all thought for sure it was him, but it wasn’t.
“Turned out it was a person from Quebec who nobody even knew was missing.”
In another report out of Texas, a homeless person was found living in a forested area, eventually identified as Mike Bosma, but it was not Wendy’s son.
She was also warned by police that psychics would come calling offering information on where her son could be found in return for money, which she says can be a cruel sideshow for families to deal with and sometimes be taken advantage of in seeking answers.
Bosma says it is unnatural for a parent to outlive their child. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It is just horrible. Not knowing is just so difficult because there are so many things that could have happened,” Bosma said.
“But because we haven’t found Mike yet, I still have a little bit of hope, not much, maybe .5 per cent of hope at this point, but you just never know.”
For the Derbyshire family, numerous press conferences and news coverage along with the family digging into their son’s disappearance Sept. 30, 2006, has exhausted their avenues for raising public awareness.
“It’s frustrating for us as a family to be sure, but there is little more the public can do about it. What’s done is done and now the only people who can see justice is carried out are the police,” said Derbyshire.
Read more: No new information
She said while the relationship between the Kelowna RCMP and the family is strained at this point due to a lack of progress in the investigation, she remains hopeful the critical missing piece of information will come forward.
“We have said often publicly that there are people out there who know exactly what happened to Aaron and where he is,” she added.
Horvath-Allan said the secret of what happened to her son was somewhere around the Tiny Town campsite where her son had been staying in a tent, but tangible clues to assist the police investigation have not been forthcoming.
“It’s the hardest thing to deal with in your life. My world has been a rollercoaster to hell. I’m tired now and I want to get off and see it resolved,” said Horvath-Allan.
“But I’ve always said as long as I can stand, walk and talk, I will keep searching for my son. As a friend said to me once, ‘Don’t let the buggers get you down.'”
To that end, Horvath-Allan is gotten involved in creating the Missing People Choir, a 30-member choir made up of families that have lost loved ones, volunteers, staff of the UK charity MP and the National Crime Agency.
The group recently auditioned for the Simon Cowell show, Britain’s Got Talent.
There is no easy way to deal with those emotions, but Bosma says the best advice she can give others in her plight is to write everything down.
“Get a notebook and write stuff down, everything that comes to you, because there is so much going on, talking to the RCMP, people offering tips…you can’t keep it all in your head,” she said.
Missing person investigations in the Okanagan Shuswap region are part of the 22,000 missing person files created over the past year, a number skewed by some missing people have several open files cases.
Those investigations are carried out at local and regional detachment levels and overseen by the B.C. Police Missing Person Centre, established in 2004 as an administrative arm of the RCMP based in the Lower Mainland, aligned with one full-time coordinating officer in the B.C. southeast district headquartered in Kelowna.
Sgt. Joanne Callens, with the missing person centre, says the centre is one of numerous changes instigated to improve complaint and investigation efficiencies in how missing person cases are dealt with.
One of those changes is a new B.C. Police Standards missing person investigative procedure policy adopted last September for keeping the public and families involved in ongoing missing person investigations—unless doing so would jeopardize the missing person or the investigation.
Callens said contrary to what many people think, there should be no hesitation in reporting a person missing.
“I’m not sure where that idea has developed that you have to wait for a period of time before reporting a person missing,” said Callens. “Whether it is 15 minutes or 15 days, there should be no delay in reporting it.”
She says even if a public missing person report is made in a jurisdiction outside of where the person was last seen, such as in Vancouver for a Kelowna or Penticton related case, the case is immediately opened.
“Unfortunately, that has happened in the past where someone was told to call another number and the information doesn’t always end up getting relayed,” Callens said.
“One of our main guiding principles now in these cases is no delay. If a missing person report is made, it is immediately forwarded to the appropriate jurisdiction if necessary. The quicker we know the better.”
Most people reported missing are found in the first 24 to 48 hours of their disappearance, but if the search goes past a week, the success rate is pretty dismal.
She said while social media offers more information tools to help investigate why or where someone disappeared, such investigations remain challenging for police to pursue.
“Nothing makes a police officer happier than to tell someone their missing loved one has been found safe and alive. And on the other side, it’s pretty heart wrenching to have to relate that a missing person has been found deceased.
“But it is always an active investigation as no file is closed until the person is found.”
Sgt. Annie Linteau added that investigations are updated online, through RCMP website missing person postings and through media stories in hopes of generating fresh leads where an investigation has stalled.
“We do whatever we can to generate leads to find someone,” Linteau said. “It’s more difficult with the passage of time, but you never know what information might make someone remember something they hadn’t thought of before.”
It’s an attention to administrative detail that Callens feels has put B.C. is at the forefront in how missing person investigations are carried out and a cognitive response to past criticism.
“It’s gotten so much better in the last few years. Through this evolution I really do believe that other provinces will begin to emulate the procedures we have put in place here in B.C.”
But sharing information still has its challenges, from parents not feeling comfortable bringing up darker aspects of their child’s lifestyle, to police withholding information to the media, public and family members for fear of jeopardizing the investigation.
“Sometimes it can be difficult to talk about, if you have had trouble with someone or a person is struggling with issues, but often it is that kind of information which will lead to why a person is missing and where they might be,” Callens said.
Last seen: May 26,1989
Charles Horvath had arrived in Kelowna a week before he went missing, on a cross-Canada trek that was to see him meet up with his mother in Asia for a joint birthday celebration, his 21st and her 40th.
His mother Denise Horvath-Allen last spoke with her son on May 11, 1989.
While in Kelowna, Horvath was working for the Flintstones Amusement Park, and during his stay in Kelowna was seen at Jonathan Seagalls, a popular nightclub at the time, with a man in his 50s.
His file is considered a cold case and he is presumed dead by the RCMP, according to his mother, although the police haven’t publicly confirmed that or if foul play is suspected.
Horvath-Allen believes her son got in with “the wrong crowd” but the investigation has reached a dead-end.
“The investigation is not going to go anywhere unless people who might know something about what happened to my son have the courage to come forward,” she said.
Last seen: Jan. 9, 2006
Mike Bosma suffered from mental health issues that his family believes started when he went to work at age 17 in Fort St. John. About two weeks after his arrival, the family received a phone call from him wanting to come home after getting into an altercation that saw him smashed in the mouth with a rock.
His face was swollen beyond recognition and it took almost a month until he could eat property again.
“Unfortunately, the damage was done, although at the time we did not know,” wrote his mother Wendy Bosma in a Facebook posting.
“Mike stopped caring about how he looked and his long beautiful hair became one messy hairball. Eventually he let me comb it out. I’ll never forget the amount of hair I threw out. He would stay in his room for hours on-end staring at nothing. If asked, he would either tell us off or say he was thinking and leave him alone.”
The years that followed were difficult for Mike and his family, ultimately leading to his admittance to the Coral House transition facility in Kelowna on Jan. 4, 2006.
On Jan. 9, Bosma went for a walk at 9 p.m. and was due back at 11 p.m for his medication, but he never showed. The family was not notified of his disappearance until 9 a.m. the next day.
He was reported missing to the RCMP and his disappearance was reported extensively in the local media. Mike only left for a walk with his debit card, and left all his ID in his room.
Herb son’s disappearance has led Bosma to publicly advocate for greater staff awareness of suicide prevention protocols at provincial health service transition homes.
Last seen: Sept. 30, 2006
Aaron Derbyshire was last seen at the Level Nightclub.
Since then, his bank account has not been used, and neither his family, friends or work colleagues at a boutique engineering firm in Kelowna have heard from him since.
Glenda Derbyshire, his mom, has said the Crohn’s Disease that had previously plagued him was now under control, he was enjoying his new job and was active in sports and socializing with his friends.
He had plans to go river rafting and spend time with his family on the weekend he disappeared, and had just moved into a new apartment.
Derbyshire’s family have received many phone calls over the years speculating about what happened to Aaron in the hours after he left the club.
There were reports he had seen or heard something he shouldn’t have, other reports suggested he had been seen walking across the bridge, possibly to go for a drunken swim when something went awry.
In December 2006, the family posted a time-limited $100,000 reward hoping to flush out information about Aaron’s whereabouts to no avail.
“We know that there are people out there today who know exactly what has happened to him and where he is,” said Derbyshire at a new conference to shed attention to the case in September 2013.
At that time, police said 40 actionable leads were assigned to officers to follow up on the Derbyshire case and a review of the file had been recently undertaken.
The case remains open and unsolved.