After weeks of looking, searchers have found new clues 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 barbed wire fence, according to a web update from her family.
And then on Friday, Sept. 22, a helicopter crew spotted boots and socks nearby.
The findings triggered yet another search organized by the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday, Sept. 23.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t find her,” said Sheriff Travis Johnson.
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 and a partially-consumed jug of water 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. A member of Mountain State Detection Dogs spotted it.
The sheriff said a helicopter pilot volunteering his time flew over the area Friday, locating the boots.
Searchers found the boots and a pair of mismatched socks roughly a mile-and-a-half from where she left her car. The boots were stacked crisscrossed.
Brunelle was wearing the knee-high outdoor boots when she was recorded on a security video stopping at a Nampa service station after leaving home. She had left her Boise house wearing Nike tennis shoes, according to her boyfriend, Gerald Sanderson.
“We thought if she was bare foot, she wasn’t going to be far from those boots. It’s rocky and rough where the boots were,” Johnson said.
He said it’s possible she switched into the tennis shoes, which were missing from her car.
Johnson led a small search team that worked through Friday afternoon into the evening. A team of about 40 searchers, including three dog teams, returned Saturday, scouring the canyons and rimrock in the area where the boots were found.
The search ended without finding any additional clues to resolve Brunelle’s disappearance.
Andy Brunelle said in a statement joined by his wife Betsy and Sanderson, “I thank Sheriff Travis Johnson and Deputy Brian Belnap for their leadership and the efforts of all the volunteers. A lot of ground got covered Saturday.”
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