Around Oregon

A discovery on a barbed wire fence gives clue to woman missing in southeast Oregon

After weeks of looking, searchers have found a new clue about the disappearance of a 27-year-old woman in the rangeland north of Jordan Valley.

A T-shirt belonging to Gwen Brunelle of Boise was found on Sunday, Sept. 10, stuck against a barb wire fence, according to a web update from her family.

A member of Mountain State Detection Dogs spotted the shirt roughly a mile from where Brunelle’s vehicle was found abandoned in June. No other trace of the missing woman was found during that search.

The Malheur County Sheriff’s Office is organizing yet another search of the terrain on Saturday, Sept. 23, in hopes of resolving the disappearance.

“We will be focusing our search out from the area where the shirt was found in the fence,” said Sheriff Travis Johnson.

“This confirms that she’s most likely up that way rather than considering her being abducted,” Johnson said.

Family website: Find Gwen

Brunelle left her Boise home on June 26, telling her boyfriend she was headed to California. She took along 11 of her show rabbits, saying she was meeting a show judge for training. The judge said later he knew of no such arrangements and hadn’t heard from the woman.

Instead, she was seen one day after leaving Boise about 100 miles away, in Jordan Valley. There, she bought gas for her Honda and snacks, according to receipts and witnesses.

On the following day, her vehicle was spotted parked on a gravel overlook on Succor Creek Road. The spot is roughly a half mile off U.S. 95. The turnoff is 17 miles north of Jordan Valley.

A sheriff’s deputy checked the vehicle on Friday, June 30, discovering rabbits still in the car. Brunelle’s bathrobe was on the ground near the Honda, folded into a cushion, but there was no other sign of her.

Searches in the coming weeks that involved special tracking dogs, airplanes, a helicopter, drones and search-and-rescue teams combed through the area. It is marked by small creek canyons, rangeland vegetation, wire fences, dirt roads and cow trails.

Andy Brunelle, the woman’s father who also lives in Boise, organized the search on Sept. 10. Nearly 50 relatives and friends helped.

“We walked areas that had not been searched on foot,” the father said in an email. “For example, the Jeep trail south from Gwen’s car had been driven when taking people to different places to search on foot, but we determined that no one or very few people had actually been on foot along the jeep trail, methodically looking for clues such as clothing or items (e.g., cell phone, aviator sunglasses) that Gwen may have been carrying and might have dropped – and that could have been missed by a vehicle driver or passenger.”

“We also had three people on horseback in the area of Succor Creek Road and Mahogany Gap Road,” his email said. “Three ATVs explored several miles of road and trails in that area as well as east of Highway 95. Two of the four dogs were dispatched to Succor Creek downstream of the confluence with Dog Creek to check an area that had only been searched by kayak.”

He said he was orchestrating searchers at the gravel outlook that day.

“I received a phone call that a T-shirt had been found and it was described to me, a photo texted, and I confirmed it was one of her T-shirts that we knew was not at home or in the car,” the father wrote. “My immediate thought was finally some new information.”

He then reached out to his wife, Betsy, who was with searchers in another area to alert her to the find.

The shirt was found hung up on a lower strand of a barbed wire fence in the Dog Creek drainage.

He surmised his daughter might have walked south from where she left her vehicle, following a dirt road south. He said his daughter might have dropped the shirt somewhere along the fence or it was blown there from another location.

The sheriff said the shirt was “wadded up” and “probably was blown into the fence.”

A vehicle belonging to Gwen Brunelle of Boise was found in June 2023 parked at this pullout less than a half mile off U.S. Highway 95 near Jordan Valley. Extensive searches turned up no sign of Brunelle, who remains missing. (LES ZAITZ/The Enterprise)
Gwen Brunelle of Boise was last seen in Jordan Valley on June 27. Despite intense searches in rangeland north of Jordan Valley, she remains missing. (Brunelle family photo)

Previous coverage:

Repeated searches near Jordan Valley fail to turn up missing Boise woman

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