This case has been floating around in the general cloud of unsolved true crime cases that I spend what is probably an unhealthy amount of time thinking about for quite some time, but it only really came to my attention while I was actually looking into another disappearance of a young British Columbia woman, the 2008 case of Madison Scott. Madison vanished from a campground in 2008, and I do plan to write about her at some point. But first I want to tackle a very strange disappearance that occurred ten years before Madison’s, that of Brianne Wolgram.
Brianne Wolgram was nineteen years old in September of 1998, and the youngest of three children. Her older brothers had both left home by that time, but she was still living with her parents in Revelstoke, British Columbia, and working at a local McDonald’s and a gas station. Revelstoke was a small town, but that particular Labor Day weekend, there was a slow-pitch softball tournament in town, bringing in an influx of outsiders.
Brianne was described as somewhat shy and reserved, as well as sweet, funny, and hard-working. She was athletic and worked out regularly to keep herself in shape. Ultimately, she wanted to travel, go to college, and have a family of her own. Earlier that year, she had purchased a distinct a distinct Black Acura Integra, of which she was very proud. Brianne was not known to be involved with drugs or any kind of criminal activity, although she did sometimes drink alcohol socially with friends. She had no serious romantic attachments at the time of her disappearance, only what friends described as “crushes.”
September 5th was a Friday. Brianne had worked a closing shift the previous night, and then gone out to spend time with friends afterwards. The following day she worked a 10:00 am to 7:00 pm at the gas station, and her behavior was described as “quiet” and she even became visibly upset at one point. She began crying for an unknown reason, then seemed to calm down and finished her shift. At home, the rest of the family was going to a barbeque, but Brianne was tired and chose to stay home and rest. Around 9:00 pm, she contacted her close friend Kristi Cane and the two made plans to go to a Labor Day party later that evening. Kristi was working until 11:15 that night, and Brianne agreed to pick her up. She also agreed to pick up some wine coolers for the party. There is some vagueness associated with the locations at this point. I have not found anything confirming where Kristi worked, or where the party was going to be. Therefore, I am unsure of Brianne’s ultimate destination for the night, and so the next development is in a limited context.
At times estimated as between 11:00 and 11:30 pm, multiple witnesses who knew Brianne saw her outside of a local 7-11 in the company of three other young women, none of whom was recognized by the witnesses. At some point during the evening, at an unknown time and location, a man said he had been driving behind a car matching the description of Brianne’s Acura, that appeared to have four women inside, a driver and three passengers. Regardless of what the witnesses did or didn’t see, Brianne never arrived to pick up Kristi and so Kristi called Brianne’s parents to ask what was going on with her generally reliable friend. This was what let her family know that Brianne was missing.
As it turns out, the 7-11 sighting would be the last credible sighting of Brianne Wolgram to date. The next item that might be related to her case was the sighting of a young woman walking near kilometer marker 22 of Echo Lake Road around 8:00 am the following morning. The road is in the vicinity of Akolkolex Falls and River, approximately 30 kilometers south of Revelstoke. A hunter passed her on the narrow road and waved to her, but she did not respond or acknowledge him. Descriptions of this woman vary enough to make it unclear how well they meet Brianne’s own description, and one report surfaced saying that the woman had come forward to state that she had been walking in the area after “a fight with her boyfriend.” The reason this comes up is that on September 10th, Brianne’s Acura was found between the 15 and 16 kilometer markers on the same road, off the road at a sharp bend and with mild damage to the front. It is unknown how long the car had been there before being reported. Inside were Brianne’s wallet, driver’s license, and $200 from a paycheck she had recently cashed. A six back of wine coolers was inside as well, indicating she had made the purchase before going to meet with Kristi. Cigarettes were found inside and outside the vehicle, even though Brianne did not smoke, and there is an unconfirmed report of a man’s size 11 boot print in the mud outside. The passenger door was open, a window was rolled down, and the keys were in the ignition although the car was turned off. Most indications point to the theory that the car was originally supposed to go further into the remote area up the road, but that it had gone off the road by accident.
Since that point, there have been no traces of Brianne, and almost no hints as to what might have happened to her after she left her home with the presumed intent of picking up Kristi.
I am going to tackle this case as two separate narratives–one of which ignores the young women at the 7-11 and another which centers on them. It is possible that the sightings were either mistaken or unrelated, and that the person(s) directly responsible for the disappearance is someone else entirely. On the other hand, it is possible that the sightings did happen and the young women had something to do with what happened to Brianne. Yet, it’s difficult to reconcile the “three women” narrative with a lone, (statistically) male attacker approaching Brianne in a dark parking lot and forcing her into her car, so it might be most efficient to explore them separately. I should also note that even the first theory does not rule out the sighting of four people in the Acura by the driver later that night.
In narrative one, Brianne might have been abducted by a stranger or strangers, or possibly lured someplace by someone she knew. The girls she was seen with outside the 7-11 was either a case of mistaken identity or irrelevant to what ended up happening to her, and the fact that none of these girls have come forward since that point could simply mean that none of them made the connection between the brief interaction and the later reports of the missing woman. This is probably the best time to remind the reader that there was an unusual number of out of towners in Revelstoke due to the softball tournament.
Under narrative two, it’s possible that the women themselves forced or threatened Brianne into taking them somewhere, or lured her into doing so by asking for her help. Brianne would probably have been less likely to feel threatened by a group of young women then she would have been by a strange man or men, which plays into a theory I will get to shortly. Alternatively, I think it is possible that Brianne may have known at least some of the girls, even if the witnesses who saw Brianne could not identify them. It’s relatively rare for women to abduct other adult women, and still more rare when the parties do not even know each other. This does not mean it’s impossible, of course, but a situation in which someone who knew and held some kind of grudge against Brianne, and perhaps got some of their friends together to take her somewhere to “teach her a lesson,” is more probable (especially given such precedents as the Skylar Neese case and the attempted “Slenderman” murder). It’s also worth noting that the fact that the three of them being willing to be seen with Brianne in a public place may have meant they had no serious plans to harm her at that point, and whatever happened afterwards was not part of the initial intent. Another twist on this scenario is that the girls were being used as lures, someone to get Brianne to come with them at the behest of a serial predator. This was part of the MO of David Parker Ray, for example. Ray was known for bringing women to his New Mexico trailer for the purpose of rape and torture, but he sometimes used both his girlfriend and his daughter to help lure them, knowing they would not appear as innately threatening to the victims. Some have suggested that this could have been the entry point to some kind of human trafficking situation, which is possible, but unlikely, given how most human trafficking functions. This point is worth a brief digression, as I will discuss below.
Human trafficking is very much a real thing, but it seldom happens in quite the way Brianne’s disappearance did. For a more complete look at the issue, I will direct you to The Polaris Project, which contains a wealth of information, including some myths and facts. There are several reasons that the trafficking angle is unlikely to be an issue in Brianne’s situation. For one thing, she would have been at relatively low risk, given that she was a middle-class woman with close family ties in the area, regular employment, with solid citizenship status and no known problems with drugs. None of this makes someone invulnerable from trafficking, but there is no obvious thread for Brianne to have followed into such a situation, either. Secondly, human trafficking usually does not require the abrupt removal of a single person from one area to another. Many victims are never reported as missing people, in part because they don’t actually go missing. One of the terrifying things about human trafficking is that it often hides in plain sight, and it has plenty of legitimate-sounding covers. A victim might move visibly within a community, have frequent contact with other people, and even be employed outside of the trafficking situation, all the while being controlled by traffickers. To bring it back to Brianne’s case, there would be few reasons for someone to abduct her and spark a search for her, when she could just as easily be lured into a trafficking situation within her own community, or persuaded to move to a different area to pursue a “job opportunity.” Also, if someone is prepared to go to all that effort to sell a nineteen year old girl, why not also try to sell her car somewhere instead of abandoning it on a remote road?
Brianne is described as wearing blue jeans, a white T-shirt, and sandals at the time of her disappearance. She was also reported to have been wearing some jewelry, including a diamond ring and necklace. I am not sure how valuable these items would have been or appeared, but I think it would be worth scrolling through e-bay or at least scouring some local pawn shops, and I can’t help but wonder if this has ever been pursued.
Another question we have to ask was if Brianne’s unusual behavior earlier in the day was related to what happened to her. I can’t really offer much for this one other than it might been, but, then again, it might not have been. She had been out with friends the previous night, so it’s possible she got in an argument with someone, was threatened by someone, or had to deal with unwanted romantic advances, all of which could play into her disappearance. Then again, she could simply have been tired and/or hungover and/or upset for some totally unrelated reason.
I keep circling back to the question of cars in this case. All known transportation seems to have involved Brianne’s own car, which was most likely not abandoned where it was intended to be. If the girls she was seen with weren’t local and didn’t live within walking distance of the 7-11, where did they come from and what transportation did they use before getting in the Acura? What was the original plan for the disposal of the vehicle? When the vehicle ran off Echo Lake Road and became stuck, the driver would have been stranded there unless someone else was following in a different car. One idea that has been tossed around is that the intent might have been to take the Acura further into the remote terrain up the road and push it off one of the mountain cliffs. If that’s the case, the driver would have needed a ride to get away from the scene. This alone hints at the possibility that more than one person was involved, at least after the fact.
I wanted to briefly speculate on what would have happened to the car if it hadn’t gone off the road and become stuck where it did. Assuming the plan was to continue traveling away from Revelstoke, the driver would have been forced to choose between several smaller roads branching off from the main one. Some of these roads appear to trail off into the surrounding woods and mountains. I cannot rule out that there might have been a route to a more populated area that way, even if it involved a lot of dirt roads and switchbacks, but a more straightforward approach to taking the car where it could be sold or concealed among other would have been to take Highway 23 south of the town or to take the Trans-Canada Highway west. These would have been accessed on the other side of the of the Columbia River, which flows right past or through Revelstoke. So, it seems more likely that the initial idea was to deposit the car in the wilderness. To me, this suggests that at least one of the people involved knew the area well. Whoever was responsible for Brianne’s disappearance may not have known her personally, but I’m skeptical that they were just passing through the area.
There is surprisingly little information out there about this case, given how strange and open to all manner of interpretation it is. For twenty-two years, Brianne’s family and friends have had little more information about what happened to her then they did the day her car was discovered. For all intents and purposes, she might as well have vanished into the proverbial thin air. Except, of course, no one just vanishes off the face of the earth. It’s highly likely that someone knows what happened to her, and that this someone might still be alive and out there somewhere. As far as my own limited interpretation goes, I think that Brianne was a victim of foul play at some point on the night of September 5th or the early morning of September 6th, 1998, and I believe more than one other individual was involved at some point before, during, or after the fact. I also think that at least one of the individuals involved was part of the same community as Brianne herself, and may have even known her. I do not necessarily think that this person or persons initially planned to harm Brianne–although they might have–but at some point during their interaction, things took a turn for the violent. I think her car was supposed to be abandoned in a very remote location, preferably one where it would never be found, to make it appear that she left town on her own. Although it’s unlikely after so many years, I don’t think it’s completely impossible that more information will surface at some point, and sincerely hope it does.
Weather Conditions on 9/5/1998 (originally found in Farmer’s Almanac)