Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 | NEWS
Five years gone
No signs of Rose Marie Bly since 2009
Greg Marsten | Staff writer
BALSAM LAKE – It was notably chilly in Grantsburg the day before Rose Marie Bly was last seen; it had only reached the mid-60s - cool enough for a midwestern August day to be memorable.
But in reality, the details of that day and the next few to follow in this area have been scrutinized like few dates in recent memory.
Climate and astronomical records show that the last time Bly was seen it was a moonless, pitch-dark evening - an end to a day that reached a cool 72 degrees, it would get down to 43 degrees a few hours later, again, notably chilly.
The chill of her case continues with the FBI Missing Persons page, which outlines Bly’s status in just 58 words:
“Rose Marie Bly was last seen leaving her residence in St. Croix Falls, WI, en route to Cushing, WI, a distance of five miles. Her car was recovered five days later in Grantsburg, WI, in a parking lot typically used by truck drivers to park their tractor trailers. This parking lot is approximately 30 miles from her residence.”
Since the weeks after her disappearance, law enforcement has given very few updates or released any new information, and while rumors, website comments and opinions have multiplied in the more than 1,800 days since, the mystery deepens ... and the chill of those few days in August 2009 remains.
According to accounts of the last night she was seen, Bly had dinner with her husband, Christopher Larson, and his father that night. She then left for a Cushing tavern to meet a cousin for drinks, and had told Larson she would be home by midnight.
Bly never met with her cousin and has not been seen or heard from since. She was reported missing that next day, Saturday, Aug. 22. Her vehicle, a white, 2001 Pontiac Grand Am four-door, was found in Grantsburg at a municipal parking lot on Aug. 26. The keys were gone and there were no signs of a struggle, forced entry, blood or frankly, that a crime has been committed.
She had little cash, no credit cards and there was no evidence indicating what had occurred. That area in Grantsburg was scoured for evidence and investigators went door-to-door, as well as using a helicopter to search the area near her rural home, but nothing was found, or at least, nothing authorities have chosen to share.
Bly is just gone, and that does not sit well with many people.
Bly would be or is now 26 years old. She and Larson have two daughters in common, both of whom were toddlers at the time of her disappearance.
Next week marks five years since she was last seen, and while the rumors have swirled, and lives have changed, the search goes on, according to Polk County Sheriff Peter Johnson.
“It’s still being actively investigated,” he stated, giving few details about the case in recent times. “Nobody is ruled out.”
Johnson confirmed FBI and Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations involvement, and also confirmed that both agencies remain actively involved in the investigation, although the discussion stops there.
“This has always been an active file ... It has never been classified as a ‘cold case,’” Johnson stated.
Neither the DCI nor the FBI has offered up any new clues on the case, or made any statements, or even added to her missing person report, although local authorities have confirmed that at least one search warrant has been executed recently, reportedly in recent months.
“Our official statement is that nobody is ruled out,” Johnson stated, which is a clarification from several years ago, when it was made public that her husband had passed a polygraph test.
“I can’t say a whole lot about it,” Johnson said this week. “We’ve got some leads we’re working on. A couple of them appear to be promising. But we just have to wait.”
Bly’s mother, Candus Harer, has maintained a perennial flower garden that she, her family and friends started after her daughter disappeared so long ago.
“It’s not pretty now, but it was beautiful this summer,” Harer said last fall. “We’ve added to it every year since Rose has been gone.”
Harer continues to see the garden bloom, die and freeze, and every August she gets ready to face yet another winter with no word on her missing daughter.
“All I can do is take one day at a time with hope and prayer,” she said. “Almost every day I drive by that parking lot (in downtown Grantsburg where Rose’s car was found). It’s a constant reminder.”
She said she hasn’t seen many of Bly’s friends much in the years since. “She had a few friends, but we haven’t been in contact.”
Harer did say she is encouraged by interest on her daughter’s missing status, and hopes the world doesn’t forget her as time goes on.
“I don’t want her to be forgotten. So if anyone has any information, please call the Polk County Sheriff’s Department,” Harer said.
The case since
Johnson was an investigator at the time of her disappearance, and while there have been several leads, tips and more in the years since he became sheriff, the urgency and the devotion to the case has never faltered.
“We’ve worked that case almost continually, “ Johnson confirmed. “Worked and reworked. We’ve done several searches, followed up on any piece of information we get. It is our case, and while the DCI and the FBI has helped us whenever we’ve asked for it, it remains our case.”
While the case continues to be a local mystery, there has always been lots of speculation about what happened to Bly, from reports of her having a possible head injury from falling off a horse, which may have clouded her judgment, to being abducted, to leaving on her own volition, to depression-fueled suicide, to a random kidnapping, to fleeing her life, husband and two small children for a new life entirely.
Johnson is hoping that whatever happened to Bly will be solved, and said repeatedly that hers is a case hanging over the department’s head like few others.
“I really, really want this solved before I’m done,” he reiterated, later noting the recent Jane Doe identity mystery that was solved last year, using DNA and tying it to a missing person who nobody had ever reported missing.
Using modern technology and expanded DNA testing, funded, in part by a federal program operated from the University of North Texas, Polk County authorities announced that a woman’s body that was discovered near Dresser in 1993 finally could be tied to a name, Pearline Roberta Walton of St. Paul, Minn. Johnson said that while they know her name, they still do not know the rest of her tragic ending.
“It’s a bit of closure for that family, but not for us,” he said, admitting that over 20 years removed from that case means true closure may be difficult, and he said he worked hard to get the Walton case tied to a supposed string of abductions and murders near major highways.
“They said it (Walton’s discovery) wasn’t quite close enough (to a highway) to be included,” Johnson said with a shrug. “But who knows, it might still be connected.”
Johnson would not go so far as to tie Bly’s disappearance to a similar theory, but Bly’s DNA has also been collected by the FBI and the DCI, although admittedly, with so little evidence, it is unclear if Bly’s disappearance can even be called a crime.
In reality, having her signature DNA on file means they can cross check evidence or a scene where she may have been, or truthfully, cross check any future remains that are discovered.
While the couple had two children together and were married just over six months prior to her disappearance, it is no secret that they were having marital troubles that summer, and her husband had started and stopped divorce proceedings two months prior. He did file for divorce again several weeks after she was last seen, a move that included court orders allowing him full custody of the children.
That divorce order was granted in early 2010, and court records repeatedly note her disappearance, but follow through with the usual requirements of posting the notice, waiting six months and the like. But they also call the marriage “irretrievably broken with no chance of reconciliation.”
Larson’s lawyer called the divorce and sole custody ruling “basic protections” for the children and Larson at the time, on the chance she chose to leave and may decide to come back later to claim custody, although she may petition the court, if that does occur.
And with the court action, it should also be pointed out that Bly has an active bench warrant, from a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, with a later amendment for domestic abuse, that was filed three months prior to her disappearance. She pleaded not guilty in July 2009, but with her disappearance, again the courts recognize her status as a missing person, but the warrant remains.
It is very possible that the active arrest warrant may be a good thing, on the chance Bly is found alive outside of this area, and her name is entered into any law enforcement data base.
Keeping it fresh
While nothing official has ever come out, there have been several reports of Bly sightings, or rumors of them, by people who both knew her and did not - from a supposed sighting at a Chetek gas station to other rumored clues and ties to others, but nothing has ever panned out or been proven, and all of those leads have fallen flat.
In spite of no real clues in the five years since, the hope of her family and friends remains strong, and posters noting her disappearance are still up in many locations.
Those posters may fade, but the facts remain: Rose Marie Bly was last seen wearing a pair of jeans, a green V-neck sweater over a white tank top, and wore a pair of flip-flop sandals when she was last seen. She has two young daughters who were toddlers the last time they saw their mother ... on a chilly, moonless night in August, five years ago.
As the years pass, and as her daughters grow up, it is not just those little girls’ memories that will fade, but also others who might have a lead, clue, evidence or even a theory.
“The longer it’s open, the less fresh those old memories become,” Johnson said. “That is a big challenge.”
If you have any information, you are asked to call the Polk County Sheriff’s Department at 715-485-8362.