NATIONAL MINE — Holly Letson and April Lawer were just toddlers when their grandmother Helen disappeared. Growing up, their family had no answers for them as to why their grandma wasn’t around, which piqued their curiosity.
“It just seemed like growing up, I didn’t know my grandma,” Helen’s granddaughter, Holly Letson, said. “It would be around the anniversary every year and my mom would get kind of quiet unless you asked questions about it. So it always usually pretty vague. ‘Well, she disappeared, no one knows what happened to her’ and stuff.”
As Letson grew up, family members shared their stories of Helen, the day she disappeared and the unusual circumstances that surrounded National Mine in the early 80’s. In 2004, Letson launched into her own investigation.
“I spent many, many, many hours at the library, going through all the microfiche film, year after year after year, of the Mining Journal, especially that year, copying all of the articles that had come out, just learning as much as I could,” said Letson.
She interviewed troopers on the original case and obtained police reports through the Freedom of Information Act to hunt down as many facts as she could.
Letson unraveled a clad of disturbing events following her grandmother’s disappearance in June of 1981. In October of that year, a woman was brutally murdered in her home, just a few miles from the last place Helen had been seen. A man was arrested in connection to the murder.
Letson said a trooper on the case originally believed the two incidents were connected. The man died in jail just a few weeks later and the murder case was closed.
“I’m not convinced they even had the right person. None of the physical evidence found at the scene matched,” Letson said. “They took DNA samples, they took hair samples, finger print samples from him during his autopsy and none of them matched.”
In May of 1983, an attempted sexual assault occurred at a house on the route Helen would have been following. The family believes its too coincidental for such a small area to harbor so many bad incidents for them not to be connected in some way.
Just about a year ago, Letson received a tip about a possible suspect and brought the information to the Michigan State Police Post in Negaunee. A desk sergeant on duty gave her information on a detective that specializes in UP cold cases. The two have been in contact, but no new leads have been identified currently.
Though decades have passed, Letson and her family are still keen on finding answers.
“I’ve been working on this since 2004. I’ve put in 12 years of gathering stories and information. If you don’t think I have something important, then you’re wrong. I have important information,” said Letson. “I just need someone to listen and hear all the information I have.”
“They’ve given it a lot, they’re very dedicated to it. I was really surprised when I hear they were into it,” said Helen’s daughter, Betsy Lawer. “With them two working at it, we’re hoping, somewhere along the line, it’s going to kick something in and somebody is going to come forth.”
Helen would have been 84 next month and a great, great grandmother.
Any information is welcomed to bring peace to a family who has been tortured by the mysterious disappearance of a kind, loving woman.
Information can be submitted anonymously via their Facebook page. There is additional contact information there.
NATIONAL MINE — “We’re just as frustrated today as we were 35 year ago,” Helen’s son-in-law Terry Lawer said.
June 27, 1981 was a hot, sunny summer day in National Mine. Residents from all over Tilden Township gathered in the park for the annual picnic. Helen Dymond and her family were in attendance, watching friendly games of horseshoes, cribbage, and Helen’s favorite: baseball.
As the day dwindled and the sun set, the townspeople made their way to the local bar to keep the party alive. At some point in the night, Helen’s daughter Betsy and son-in-law Terry departed from the Club to grab a bite to eat. Helen and her husband Roy declined an offer to join and stayed at the bar.
As the night crept into the early hours of the morning, Roy left for home. Helen stayed. Sometime around 3:30 a.m, Helen left, en route to her son’s house, just a short trek from the bar.
“Somehow or another, along the way, something happened. She was walking to my brothers and that’s the last we know if it.” said Betsy Lawer, Helen’s daughter.
“Something bad happened that night, whether it was intentional or unintentional,” said Holly Letson, Helen’s granddaughter.
Roy called his daughter Betsy soon after, inquiring about Helen’s whereabouts. Betsy, unaware of where her mother was, assumed she was fine and dismissed his worries with a promise of calling around the next day if she didn’t turn up.
But as day broke on June 28, Helen had not made it home.
Frantic calls and walks around the area commenced as the family waited for their 24-hour window to close so they could contact police. With a large storm brewing overhead, the family called in Helen’s disappearance. But they say their worries were only met with mild concern.
“It was nine days before they really got into search. Basically, the whole thing was kind of a botched up mess,” said Betsy Lawer.
The family says they organized a search when no one else seemed interested in helping. Worried friends and family lined the streets and they were soon joined by various emergency and police agencies. When nothing turned up from the search, the family rented a plane to scour over the pits scattered across Tilden Township, but alas, they came up empty handed once more.
Police involved with the case entertained the thought that Helen just ran away, maybe for an extramarital affair. A tip received by the police a week or so after her disappearance about a possible sighting of Helen in Ashland, Wisconsin supported this theory, but her family was adamant that the likelihood of that was slim.
“For her to go on her own and everything like that, we checked the bank account and watched it close to see if there was anything drawn on it. There was nothing,” said Terry Lawer.
“She didn’t just walk off the side of the road and fall into a pit. She did not just walk off on her own and leave,” Letson added.
Two months rolled by and not a word was heard on Helen’s whereabouts. Some vital parts of Helen’s description, like her eye color and the detail of the clothing she was last seen in, were wrong in the police report, leading to an incorrect story run in the Mining Journal. An ad was placed by the family in the paper with the correct information.
Not long after, a purple jacket identical to what Helen was last seen in, was discovered close to where she disappeared. Betsy positively identified it, but the police were sure it wasn’t hers, since the jacket had not weathered.
This was the last piece of news the family received for decades to come.
“We’re sure she was murdered,” Terry Lawer said.
“I grew up without my grandmother because something happened, something bad,” said Holly Letson. “And we never got those answers, answers for those of us that were robbed of knowing our grandmother and enjoying that time with her.”
35 years have passed since that fateful night, and still the family is left with more questions than answers. Holly, paired with her sister April, dug up the past to reveal a potentially more twisted plot than anyone could have imagined.
Tomorrow, we will release part two of Helen’s story as we explore the path Helen’s young granddaughters have traveled in their search for answers.
NATIONAL MINE — For Thursday’s edition of ‘#ABC10Feature’, Chelsea Birdsall investigates one of the Upper Peninsula’s coldest cases. In this two part series, Chelsea will speak with the family to explore what they think happened 35 years ago in National Mine.
Friday, she explores where the investigation is today. Tune in for ‘The Disappearance of Helen Dymond’.