From Whispers to Roars

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Missing for far too long, Can and Will you help?

Missing for far too long.

February 22, 2006

By Tim Damos

Fifty-six years after a house fire was presumed to have taken the life of 4-year-old Ricky Jean Bryant, three of the girl's siblings are searching for the truth regarding the strange circumstances surrounding her disappearance.

Sharon (Bryant) Mattson of Baraboo says she and her siblings think a house fire was an excuse to quell suspicions about a child born out of wedlock, and that Ricky Jean Bryant is still alive somewhere.

On the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 19, 1949, a fire broke out at the Bryant family farm-home about 3 miles northeast of Mauston. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Ricky Jean Bryant (also known as Jeannie) was last seen in the yard during the fire.

After the fire consumed the home, "Jeannie was nowhere to be found," said Liz (Bryant) Wiley, younger sister of Jeannie, who now lives in Washington state. Wiley was 18 months old at the time, but she describes the events based on accounts she has heard from others over the years. Wiley said her brother, Forrest Bryant (who was 5 at the time), was instructed by his grandmother to watch over her and Jeannie in the yard while the fire was blazing.

"Then somebody pulled up in an expensive car," she said. According to her brother, a woman got out of the car and told him to run to a neighbor's house to get help. However, instead of sending him to a house that was relatively close, she sent him to a house further down the road. When he returned, Liz was still there, but the woman, the car and Jeannie were gone.

Most news accounts of the fire inferred Jeannie had perished in the fire. An article in the (ital) New Lisbon Times said particles which may have been human bones were taken to Madison the day after the fire, but a report in the (ital) Mauston Star a week later said the state crime lab came back with a "negative" response.

The Bryants never obtained solid evidence that Jeannie died.

Grandmother couldn't find her

Jeannie's parents, Raymond and Opal Bryant, were not home at the time and the childrens' grandparents, Casper and Helen Halverson, looked after them. Helen Halverson's description of events given to the media days after the fire differs from Wiley's, but still raises questions about the child's fate.

Halverson told reporters she escorted Forrest and Liz out of the house as the fire broke out, but assumed Jeannie was still inside and she searched almost the entire house begging Jeannie to answer her.

"I don't know how she could possibly have been in there. It's a mystery," one newspaper quoted her as saying. After exhausting her search for Jeannie, Halverson propped a ladder up against the second-story window and climbed up to rescue her husband, who was handicapped.

Siblings begin to search Wiley said after the fire, Jeannie's name was not to be spoken in their family. The only time Jeannie was mentioned was at Christmas when they put the star on their tree. "They told us she was a star in heaven," Wiley said.

In 1959 the Bryant family split up as Wiley went to live with her mother, Opal Bryant, out west. Wiley's older sister, Sharon (Bryant) Mattson of Baraboo, is the only sibling remaining in the area. Though the exact events of the day are hazy, Mattson - who was 7 years old at the time - remembers watching the house burn from a schoolhouse nearby.

"The teacher had to hold me down in my seat to keep me from running home," she said. Mattson and Wiley said some years later, during conversations with her brother Forrest, they realized something was not right with the stories they had been given surrounding Jeannie's death.

"Eventually the stories just didn't jive," Wiley said. They said the neighbor who came back to the fire with Forrest has since told them suspicious information about that day.

"She said when she arrived, she went in the house to look for Jeannie. While she was in there, my grandmother told her 'Don't worry about the girl, she's with a relative,'" Wiley said.

Mattson said later her mother would sometimes come back to the Midwest for visits and then disappear for days without telling anyone where she was going.

She and Wiley believe their mother had been secretly visiting Jeannie over the years. Case reopened Last year, Wiley and Mattson returned to Mauston to look for clues about Jeannie's disappearance.

After meeting with a law enforcement officer at a local restaurant, Wiley and Mattson gave their story to the Juneau County Sheriff's Department, which filed a report about Jeannie's disappearance.

Last February, Jeannie's case was officially opened with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. With the aid of old pictures of Jeannie, NCMEC was able to create a composite sketch of what Jeannie may look like today.

Though Jeannie's case was reopened with NCMEC, Wiley said the case has been frozen because of a flurry of new cases stemming from the recent hurricane season.

I know there have been a lot of years that have passed, BUT there are still people alive who know what happened. You can reunite or put this family's mind to rest.

Ricky's (Jeannie) aged progressed poster is here at the
NCMEC. Please look and see if you can help.

2 Comments:

  • At Saturday, November 17, 2007 12:35:00 PM, Blogger TUFFY said…

    Can you post photos are tell me if there is a sight that shows more photos of Ricky Jeannie Bryant I would like to see photos of the Mother Opal and the Father Raymond....grandparents also

     
  • At Monday, February 06, 2012 4:27:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I will look further into this. My biological father was also from this area and very mysteriosly ripped from his family about the same time. His mother was put in the mental hospital and he became ward of the state. We were lied to about his mothers whereabouts until she died almost a year ago. After the fact we were allowed her few blongings and death certificate. His Paternaty was and still is in question. This just seems too close to not be connected?

     

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