(VNO) – It was Father’s Day June 10, 2008, and reclusive 67-year-old Walter “Bo” Brawner’s sons decided to pay their father a visit.
They had not seen him in a few years, so it seemed like a great way to reconnect and they made the drive to Shepherd, Texas. They arrived at his home to find his car in the driveway as usual. Bo chose not go out much; preferring to sit in front of the TV smoking cigarettes and drinking his alcohol. It also was increasingly hard for him to get around. Declining health was putting added stress on a childhood deformity in which one leg was underdeveloped. Even a trip to the end of the driveway now left him breathless.
Joe and Arthur Brawner arrived and noticed their father must in fact be home – his van was in the driveway. They knocked on his door but could not get a answer. The door was locked. They went next door to ask the neighbor if he had seen “Bo”. Noticing an extension cord connected to their father’s home as they walked they realized the neighbor was using it to power his trailer.
They knocked and were greeted by 38-year-old Steven Ray Fester. Fester produced a key to Bo’s home, which alarmed which his sons..Cautious and maybe even a bit paranoid, “Bo” did not even allow local family members to posses a key. Other family members say although they would find it out of his character to have given Fester a key, they could not completely rule it out because “Bo” and Fester had discussed going into a scrap metal business, so possibly the two had formed a bit of a friendship. “Bo” was known to be a bit lonely at times. Could he have put his trust in the wrong person?
They returned and entered “Bo”s house. His keys were there, a half smoked pack of cigarettes laid open, and there were clothes in the washer. His medications were right where he kept them, nothing appeared unusual, except for one thing: “Bo” had vanished.
He just fell off the face of the earth”, Bo’s sister-in-law, Lonette Brawner, told Victims News Online.
His sons immediately placed a call to the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office. Police responded and looked around the area but could not locate “Bo” Brawner, or any trace of him.
After enlisting he aid of Texas Equusearch and the local Volunteer Fire Department, the combined forces searched the area by air, ATV and on foot. They turned up nothing.
A search warrant was executed on the neighbor Fester’s home. “Bo” Brawner’s handgun was discovered inside. Nine months later, Fester was indicted for stealing “Bo”s handgun, and forging his personal checks. He later received probation for the charges. He is currently serving time in a neighboring county for unrelated charges. Fester has been deemed to have mental illness issues by the state. He still denies knowing anything about “Bo”s disappearance and stands by his statement that the checks and gun were given to him by “Bo”.
In 2008, District Attorney Bill Burnett released the following statement regarding Fester: “Steven Ray Fester is a person of interest, and a strong person of interest, but up to this point, we don’t have anything else on him”.
Refusing to give up, for the next several years “Bo”s family continued to push various agencies . In January of 2011, just 7 days before “Bo” should have been celebrating his 70th birthday with his family, a massive search unfolded.
It’s a relief to know that something is being done,” Lonnette Brawner told VNO. “We had a hunch and followed through with it, and had a team of cadaver dogs come in and search the area. From what the dogs hit on, we decided that it would be best to have law enforcement personnel come in and check it out. They were more than happy and more than willing, thank God, to come out and assist us in this.”
Law enforcement personnel from numerous agencies came together on January 19, 2011.
The Woodlands-based volunteer K-9 unit and The Houston Police Department Marine Unit Dive Team, the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Department, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Underwater Search and Recovery Team, The Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Special K-9s Search and Recovery Certified Dog Team formed a united front and combed the area. The search took place in and around a 400-by-150 foot pond, parts of which as deep as 15 feet, on private property, east of U.S. 59 in Shepherd. After three hours of clawing through quicksand and reeds, the divers came up empty handed and the search came up once again, empty.
For the next five years, Walter “Bo” Brawner’s little efficiency apartment sat unscathed, everything just as he had left it, awaiting his return. According to a family member, Lonnette finally broke down this year and allowed a person in dire need to take up residence there.
Lonnette Brawner has now become a part of a family no one chooses to be a part of: the family of a missing loved one. She said she never realized how many people actually go missing — how many people just “vanish” — leaving behind a hole in their families’ hearts. An empty chair at the supper table that everyone watches and wonders if it will be empty another year. She has held candle light vigils, and does what she can now to help bring awareness and education to a world she never thought she would never know.
While the family feels Fester knows more than he will tell, they hold out hope that maybe, just maybe “Bo” is still out there. They say they know that it most likely is not the reality though. If it isn’t they just want closure. They hope to bring their loved one’s remains home, and maybe even have a funeral.
Name: Walter David Brawner, a.k.a. Bo
Case Number: M0807001
Case Type: Involuntary
Last Seen in: Shepherd,San Jacinto, Texas
Last Seen on: 6/10/2008
Height: 5′ 4″
Weight: 120 lbs.
Age at Missing: 67
Eye Color: Blue
Hair Color: Grey
Brawner wears glasses, has a 13 inch scar on his right leg, limps, has a brbirthmark on the back of one of his legs (brown in color), and has a scar on one of his hands. Mr. Brawner usually wears western-style shirts with pearl snaps and jeans.
If you have any information on the whereabouts of “Bo” Brawner , please contact: the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Department at (936) 653-4367.
*VNO’s Mike Glodo contributed to this report.