True Crime Society – The puzzling disappearance of Gwen Brunelle

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Gwen Brunelle is a 27 year old woman who has been missing since June 2023.

Gwen lived in Boise, Idaho.  She is the only child of Andy and Betsy Brunelle.  Gwen also has a boyfriend who she has been seeing for six years, named Gerald Sanderson.

Andy’s FB https://www.facebook.com/andy.brunelle
Betsy’s fb https://www.facebook.com/betsy.arnoldbrunelle
Gerald – https://www.facebook.com/gerald.sanderson.73

I believe this may be Gwen’s instagram account –

Gwen’s hobby and passion was raising and showing rabbits. 

In 2007, she won a showmanship champion title at her first show at the Western Idaho Fair.

She became a breeder and exhibitor, competing in American Rabbit Breeders Association shows. In 2011 at age 15, she was named the association’s queen in annual national competition.

Gwen wrote then about the honor and her rabbits.

“Every day when I go out to my rabbitry, I see happy excited rabbits thrilled to see me,” she wrote. “It’s so rewarding to set aside a quiet place for a doe and give her everything she needs until I find five fat healthy babies in the nest box.”

“She was really good at what she did,” said her mother, Betsy. “She was really devoted to the hobby, the craft.”

Gwen had worked off and on over the years to become certified as a rabbit judge.

On Friday June 23, 2023, Gerald got home from work to news from Gwen.  She told him she was going to drive to California to meet up with a nationally-recognized rabbit judge in a small town east of Fresno.

Google maps says that drive would be around 700 miles and would take 11-12 hours.

Gwen got ready over the weekend.  She packed a bag with a week’s worth of clothes.

On Monday June 26, she loaded up her 2008 Honda Element with three cages that housed her 11 rabbits.  Gerald had been talking with Gwen’s dad Andy.  Andy told Gerald that he had offered to drive with Gwen.  When Gwen and Gerald spoke about the offer, Gwen said that she had spoken to her dad already and didn’t need him to accompany her.  This turned out to be untrue and she had not spoken with him about attending the trip.

Gwen left on her trip at about 11am on the Monday.  She told Gerald that she had plans to possibly stop in Reno to break up the drive – around 6.5 hours away from her home.

“She gave me a hug and said she was heading out,” Gerald said. “I said, ‘I love you – don’t forget to text.’”

Gwen took her phone with her.  The battery had not been charged and it was running low.  Gwen would usually put her phone on the passenger seat or in her bag while she was driving.

“She doesn’t touch her phone unless she has to when she’s driving,” Gerald said.

At some point that morning, the phone was switched off.

Debit card records show she stopped 20 miles away, at a convenience store in Nampa.  She can be seen on CCTV entering a store called Jackson’s, where she purchased some snacks.

When Gerald later viewed the footage, he noticed something strange.  

When Gwen left Boise, she had been wearing a blue shirt and Nike tennis shoes.

At Jackson’s, she was wearing knee-high dress boots and a red shirt. The blue shirt, unstained or bearing any other reason to change, was later found in her duffel bag. Her tennis shoes were never found.

Gwen was seen on CCTV at Jackson’s three hours after she left her home.  So, she only travelled around 20 miles in that time.  

Where Gwen after Jackson’s on the Monday is unclear.  Her father texted her at 2pm and got no response.  Gerald texted her about 2.30, and also got no reply.

Gerald texted her again that night, assuming she had reached Reno. After midnight, he sent another and just before 2 a.m., tried one more time. He got no answer.

When Gwen still hadn’t replied by Tuesday, Gerald told her parents that he was unable to contact her.  Her father Andy reported her missing to the Boise Police Department. The agency entered her into a national database the following day.

Gwen is said to have required medication for unspecified mental health conditions and this was noted on her missing person report.  

On Tuesday at around 9:30 a.m., her mother reached out to the California judge to see if he had heard from her. He hadn’t, he responded. What’s more, he had never heard from her and hadn’t been expecting her.

Gwen popped back up on the radar on Tuesday.  At around 12pm, she pulled into Jim’s Sinclair in Jordan Valley, pumping in 13.66 gallons of gas.  This looks to be around 80 mins or 65 miles from Jackson’s where she had been the day before.

The gas station manager asked Gwen how her day was going. She replied she was “in a hurry.”

Her uncle, John Brunelle, later calculated that, based on the Element’s mileage, Gwen had covered about 290 miles. Factoring in about 80 miles from Boise to Jordan Valley, Andy said his daughter might have burned the other fuel driving to the border town of McDermitt, Nevada, possibly deciding then to cancel her trip and double back.

After she got gas,Gwen drove across a parking lot, pulling in front of the adjacent Mrs. Z’s convenience store.

She went into the store and asked for a razor blade.  When she was told they had none, Gwen bought a gallon of water and some peanuts for $9.26.

She then went outside and sat in her car.

Concerned after an hour, the attendant went out and asked if Gwen.

“She said she was fine and did not need any help,” according to the clerk’s account in a Malheur County sheriff’s office report.

Her mother later said Gwen can get shaky if she misses her medication doses and might have consumed the snacks in the parking lot to settle down. Gwen also used to use razor blades sometimes to cut her medication in half.

Later that day, a rancher pulled off U.S. Highway 95 about 17 miles north of Jordan Valley. He turned west onto Succor Creek Road, a well-used gravel road leading to the scenic Leslie Gulch.

He stopped at a graveled parking area, slightly less than a half mile off the highway to make a call. No other vehicle was there at the time.  

The following day, Wednesday, at about 11 a.m., a UPS route driver pulled into that same graveled parking area.  He would go there often to eat lunch.  He noticed a Honda Element parked there – Gwen’s car.

The UPS driver returned the following day and noticed the Honda was still there.    The rancher also drove by the area every day and said the Honda was parked there, unmoved until Friday June 30.

On that Friday night, Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Hale was dispatched to check on a report of an elderly man parked out on Leslie Gulch Road, which branches off Succor Creek Road. At about 10:30 p.m., the deputy turned off U.S. 95 onto Succor Creek Road, stopping to check on two vehicles parked at that gravel pullout.  One of the vehicles was Gwen’s and the deputy ran her plates and realized that she had been reported missing.

Deputy Hale started searching the area in the dark for Gwen. 

Not far from the Honda, searchers later found a purple bath robe that Gwen wore around home. It appeared folded, as if someone formed it into a cushion to sit on. Next to it was the water jug bought in Jordan Valley, now half empty.

The Honda was unlocked, the windows down. By then, five of the 11 rabbits had perished, suffering through a day of 95-degree desert heat.

Police called Gwen’s parents the next day to let them know that the car had been found and that Gwen was still missing.  

The ignition key was inside as was her leather shoulder bag,along with her driver’s license and credit cards. The duffel bag with clothing was on a seat and there were wrappers from snack foods. Missing were her cell phone and the Nikes she had worn out the door the day she left Boise.

This info about items found in the car is from FindGwen.com

Items found inside the unlocked car included:

Leather shoulder bag containing wallet and all known credit cards, driver’s license, and other identification cards. There was no cash in the wallet.

Travel bags containing clothing and personal items packed for the trip. It is unknown if any items were missing from these bags.

Empty soft drink cans and two wrappers from protein bars.

Three cages containing a total of 11 show rabbits. Gwen is an expert on raising and showing pure bred rabbits and has been recognized nationally for her achievements in this arena.

A water trough shared by the rabbits.

Approximately one week’s worth of food supply for the rabbits.

A large scale search was launched for Gwen.  There is a really comprehensive article from Oregon Live and this info is from that:

At daylight, the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office launched a search organized by Undersheriff Dave Kesey. Search and rescue members were joined by two private airplanes. Two local ranch hands on horseback explored Succor and Dog Creeks.

On Sunday, Sheriff Travis Johnson joined a more intense search utilizing 12 searchers, a heat-sensing drone and trained trackers and dogs from Idaho Mountain Rescue.

Two days later, Brunelle’s relatives and three dogs participated in a search organized by Deputy Brian Belnap. When the organized search stopped, Belnap continued on his own on foot, covering six more miles.

Belnap returned the following day aboard a helicopter piloted by a Juntura man. They flew along dry creek canyons and buzzed ranch buildings in the hunt for Brunelle.

On Thursday, July 6, teams that are part of Eastern Oregon Search and Rescue committed to the largest effort yet undertaken, involving about 100 people. Four eastern Oregon counties sent searchers. Idaho Fish and Game volunteered four people as Brunelle’s family again joined in.

In all, searchers walked 300 miles.’

Gwen was not found and the search for her was suspended on July 10.

On September 10, Gwen’s t-shirt was found snagged on barbed wire, around one mile away from where her car was found.

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

“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,” Sheriff Johnson said.

At the end of September, a helicopter spotted more of Gwen’s belongings – her boots and socks, around 1.5 miles away from where her car was found.

Sheriff Travis Johnson said at the time, “unfortunately, we didn’t find her.”

Gerald insists that Gwen would never have left her rabbits to die in the car.  “If she left the rabbits there, she meant to come back soon after,” he said. “She raised all those since they were babies.”

Gwen’s parents looked through her writing for any clues.  “Over the past year we have noticed some of Gwen’s writings showed some delusional thinking and paranoia,” they said in a statement. “We are not certain but we think this could have affected her trip and the disappearance.”

“Maybe that was sort of a head fake, that she had something arranged and left with somebody,” Andy said. “Anything’s possible. It’s truly a mystery.”

Her mother, a psychiatric nurse, leans toward the conclusion that her daughter is somewhere out on that rangeland. She said her daughter might have suffered some mental crisis.

“I just have not sensed a presence of her on this earth,” Betsy said. “It’s just like a mom thing.”

She added, “If she is alive, that would be fantastic. If she’s not, hopefully we can bring her back and have closure.”

SOURCE LIST –

https://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/2023/09/huge-search-fails-to-turn-up-woman-last-seen-in-eastern-oregon.html

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/more-of-missing-idaho-woman-gwen-brunelle-s-clothes-found-mile-and-a-half-away-from-car-as-search-intensifies/ar-AA1hj0rJ

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