||DOB: November 9, 1945
Missing: December 19, 1949
Age Now: 61
Weight: 40 lbs
|The picture on the right is a composite image of what Ricky may look like at 60 years old. On December 19, 1949, a fire broke out at the Ricky’s house. She was last seen in the front yard while the fire was being put out. When the fire was extinguished, Ricky was no longer in the yard. She has not been seen or heard from since. Ricky may go by the nickname Jeannie.|
DOB: Nov 9, 1945
Missing: Dec 19, 1949
Age Now: 59
Height: 3’4″ (102 cm)
Weight: 40 lbs (18 kg)
Office of the Attorney General
ANYONE HAVING INFORMATION SHOULD CONTACT
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Juneau County Sheriff’s Department (Wisconsin) 1-608-847-5649
Wisconsin Department of Justice
Division of Criminal Investigation
Missing for far too long, Can and Will you help?
Missing for far too long.
February 22, 2006
By Tim Damos
Fifty-six years after a house fire was presumed to have taken the life of 4-year-old Ricky Jean Bryant, three of the girl’s siblings are searching for the truth regarding the strange circumstances surrounding her disappearance.
Sharon (Bryant) Mattson of Baraboo says she and her siblings think a house fire was an excuse to quell suspicions about a child born out of wedlock, and that Ricky Jean Bryant is still alive somewhere.
On the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 19, 1949, a fire broke out at the Bryant family farm-home about 3 miles northeast of Mauston. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Ricky Jean Bryant (also known as Jeannie) was last seen in the yard during the fire.
After the fire consumed the home, “Jeannie was nowhere to be found,” said Liz (Bryant) Wiley, younger sister of Jeannie, who now lives in Washington state. Wiley was 18 months old at the time, but she describes the events based on accounts she has heard from others over the years. Wiley said her brother, Forrest Bryant (who was 5 at the time), was instructed by his grandmother to watch over her and Jeannie in the yard while the fire was blazing.
“Then somebody pulled up in an expensive car,” she said. According to her brother, a woman got out of the car and told him to run to a neighbor’s house to get help. However, instead of sending him to a house that was relatively close, she sent him to a house further down the road. When he returned, Liz was still there, but the woman, the car and Jeannie were gone.
Most news accounts of the fire inferred Jeannie had perished in the fire. An article in the (ital) New Lisbon Times said particles which may have been human bones were taken to Madison the day after the fire, but a report in the (ital) Mauston Star a week later said the state crime lab came back with a “negative” response.
The Bryants never obtained solid evidence that Jeannie died.
Grandmother couldn’t find her
Jeannie’s parents, Raymond and Opal Bryant, were not home at the time and the childrens’ grandparents, Casper and Helen Halverson, looked after them. Helen Halverson’s description of events given to the media days after the fire differs from Wiley’s, but still raises questions about the child’s fate.
Halverson told reporters she escorted Forrest and Liz out of the house as the fire broke out, but assumed Jeannie was still inside and she searched almost the entire house begging Jeannie to answer her.
“I don’t know how she could possibly have been in there. It’s a mystery,” one newspaper quoted her as saying. After exhausting her search for Jeannie, Halverson propped a ladder up against the second-story window and climbed up to rescue her husband, who was handicapped.
Siblings begin to search Wiley said after the fire, Jeannie’s name was not to be spoken in their family. The only time Jeannie was mentioned was at Christmas when they put the star on their tree. “They told us she was a star in heaven,” Wiley said.
In 1959 the Bryant family split up as Wiley went to live with her mother, Opal Bryant, out west. Wiley’s older sister, Sharon (Bryant) Mattson of Baraboo, is the only sibling remaining in the area. Though the exact events of the day are hazy, Mattson – who was 7 years old at the time – remembers watching the house burn from a schoolhouse nearby.
“The teacher had to hold me down in my seat to keep me from running home,” she said. Mattson and Wiley said some years later, during conversations with her brother Forrest, they realized something was not right with the stories they had been given surrounding Jeannie’s death.
“Eventually the stories just didn’t jive,” Wiley said. They said the neighbor who came back to the fire with Forrest has since told them suspicious information about that day.
“She said when she arrived, she went in the house to look for Jeannie. While she was in there, my grandmother told her ‘Don’t worry about the girl, she’s with a relative,'” Wiley said.
Mattson said later her mother would sometimes come back to the Midwest for visits and then disappear for days without telling anyone where she was going.
She and Wiley believe their mother had been secretly visiting Jeannie over the years. Case reopened Last year, Wiley and Mattson returned to Mauston to look for clues about Jeannie’s disappearance.
After meeting with a law enforcement officer at a local restaurant, Wiley and Mattson gave their story to the Juneau County Sheriff’s Department, which filed a report about Jeannie’s disappearance.
Last February, Jeannie’s case was officially opened with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. With the aid of old pictures of Jeannie, NCMEC was able to create a composite sketch of what Jeannie may look like today.
Though Jeannie’s case was reopened with NCMEC, Wiley said the case has been frozen because of a flurry of new cases stemming from the recent hurricane season.
I know there have been a lot of years that have passed, BUT there are still people alive who know what happened. You can reunite or put this family’s mind to rest.
February 22, 2006
Ricky Jean Bryant’s remains were never found.
But the 4-year-old girl, known as Jeannie to her family, was assumed
to have perished in a house fire in Mauston in 1949.
More than 50 years later, her surviving siblings believe she may not
have died that day.
There never was any solid evidence that Jeannie died in the fire. An
article in the New Lisbon Times said particles that may have been
human bones were taken to the state Crime Laboratory in Madison the
day after the fire, but the Mauston Star reported a week later that
the results were negative.
Certainly, the Bryant family was never the same. And more than a half-
century later, the girl’s three surviving siblings are still
searching for the truth about how their sister disappeared.
They suspect the fire may have been a decoy: that while their house
went up in flames, Jeannie was spirited away by an unknown woman.
What’s more, they think Jeannie is alive today, and want a DNA test
to confirm whether their suspicions are accurate.
The strange tale begins when fire broke out at the Bryant family farm
house about three miles northeast of Mauston on Dec. 19, 1949. On
that Monday afternoon, Jeannie’s parents, Raymond and Opal Bryant,
were not home. Their children – Jeannie, 18-month- old Liz, 5-year-
old Forrest and 7-year-old Sharon – were being looked after by their
grandparents – Opal Bryant’s parents – Casper and Helen Halverson.
Accounts of events that afternoon differ.
In newspaper stories three days after the fire, Helen Halverson said
she escorted Forrest and Liz out of the house – Sharon was at the
nearby schoolhouse – when the fire broke out, but assumed Jeannie was
still inside. She said she searched the house, begging Jeannie to
answer. “I don’t know how she could possibly have been in there. It’s
a mystery,” she was quoted in one newspaper.
After exhausting her search for Jeannie, Halverson said in the
reports, she propped a ladder against the house and climbed to the
second-story window to rescue her husband, who was handicapped. She
said she carried him down the ladder to safety.
In accounts in the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times,
volunteer firefighter W. E. Kastner says he heard a girl scream while
he was fighting the fire but could not find her. The State Journal
reported Forrest and Liz “rushed from the home after the blaze
started.” Neither story mentions Halverson going into the house to
search for Jeannie.
But according to Forrest, Liz (now Liz Wiley) and Jeannie were both
in the yard with Forrest when Halverson told him to watch his sisters.
Perhaps most mysteriously, Wiley says her brother recalls that after
being told by Halverson to watch Liz and Jeannie, “Somebody pulled up
in an expensive car,” she said. According to Forrest, a woman got out
of the car and told him to run to a neighbor’s house to get help. But
instead of sending him to a house that was relatively close, she sent
him in the opposite direction to a house farther down the road.
When Forrest returned with the neighbor, Liz was still there, but the
woman, the car and Jeannie were gone. After the fire consumed the
home, “Jeannie was nowhere to be found,” Wiley said.
The neighbor who returned with Forrest has since added to their
suspicions. “She said when she arrived, she went in the house to look
for Jeannie. While she was in there, my grandmother told her, ‘Don’t
worry about the girl, she’s with a relative,’ ” Wiley said.
Some years later, during conversations with Forrest, the two
remaining sisters realized that “the stories just didn’t jibe,” Wiley
After the fire, Wiley said, Jeannie’s name was not to be spoken in
their family. The only time Jeannie was mentioned was at Christmas,
when they put the star on their tree.
“They told us she was a star in heaven,” Wiley said.
In 1959, Opal and Raymond Bryant split up and later divorced. Wiley
went to live with her mother, in Washington state. Forrest and Sharon
remained in the Midwest with their father.
Sharon, now Sharon Mattson of Baraboo, the oldest, and only sibling
remaining in the area, said her mother frequently returned to
“She and I would go to Minnesota to visit relatives,” said Mattson,
who remembers watching the fire from a nearby schoolhouse.
But when they would get to Minnesota, her mother would drop her off
with relatives and then leave for days without telling anyone where
she was going.
Mattson and Wiley believe she was secretly visiting Jeannie, who they
now believe was their mother’s daughter by another man.
Both parents of the Bryant family are now deceased.
Lois Kane is Opal Bryant’s second cousin and says the two were close
friends as teenagers. Kane said Bryant had a relationship with a man
she thinks may be Jeannie’s real father.
Recently, while looking at a scrapbook with Wiley, Kane came across a
picture of the man, and said Bryant maintained a relationship with
him over the years, even before the family split up.
That man, Kane said, has a daughter who is the same age as Jeannie
would be today. Wiley and Mattson contacted the woman, who agreed
that her history would be consistent with Jeannie’s and that it’s
possible she is their sister.
Wiley and Mattson asked that the woman’s identity not be disclosed
until a DNA sample can be taken and analyzed. The woman is willing to
take one. But they don’t know when, or if, such a test might happen.
And they may be running out of time, as the woman is not in good
health, they said.
Last year, Wiley and Mattson told their story to the Juneau County
Sheriff’s Department, which filed a report about Jeannie’s
Last February, Jeannie’s case was officially opened with the National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children. With the aid of old
pictures of Jeannie, the center was able to create a composite sketch
of what Jeannie may look like today. She is now listed on group’s Web
site, at http://www.missingkids.com.
Juneau County Sheriff Brent Oleson said he had contact with the
missing-children center last year and was awaiting a response
regarding a possible DNA test. A representative of the center said
the Sheriff’s Department is in charge of the investigation and any
decision on a DNA test is up to the sheriff.
Wiley said the possibility that her sister could be alive has taken
an emotional toll.
“You just don’t lose a life,” she said. “I still feel in my heart
that we’re going to find her before we die.”
State Journal reporter George Hesselberg contributed to this story.
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Posted Monday — February 25, 2008 — 10:00pm
A Baraboo woman is hoping to solve a nearly 60-year-old family mystery. For years, siblings believed their 4-year-old sister died, but today, they’re leading a widespread search to find her.
“My mom says Jeannie’s an angel in heaven. And she says you don’t ever say her name again,” Sharon Mattson says, “We never did.”
But with age came courage for Sharon Mattson.
“And then we started to talk about it.”
It was December 19th, 1949.
“I was at school when it happened.”
A fire leveled the Bryant family home … “a week before Christmas” … on this property in rural Mauston.
“It was just a great big farmhouse.”
9 year-old Sharon watched the fire from a school window.
“They wouldn’t let me go out. I could see the smoke coming out of the house and the flames.”
Sharon’s siblings 5-year-old Forrest, 4-year-old Ricky Jean and 18-month-old Elizabeth were at home with their grandparents.
“Grandma took care of us. She was more of a mother to us than our own mother.”
Newspaper articles at the time tell of a dramatic 2nd story rescue of the children’s grandpa by his elderly wife. But Ricky Jean, or Jeannie, was feared dead.
“I think it bothered him all of his life because I don’t think he stuttered before the fire.”
Sharon’s brother, Forrest has told his sisters how he remembers leaving Elizabeth and Jeannie outside when a woman “… he said she was blonde …” pulled up in a newer-looking car and told Forrest to get help. But, he says the woman sent him to a house down the road instead of one nearby.
“And when he come back… Jeannie was gone,” Sharon says.
Investigators never could find any solid proof of Jeannie’s death. The children’s father, Raymond Bryant, searched the ruins himself.
“He was ashes from one end to the other and his face had ashes on just digging in trying to find her.”
… Never truly believing he’d lost a daughter …
“To his dying day, he said Jeannie, he didn’t feel Jeannie was in that fire.”
Sharon and her siblings began to wonder as well.
“None of us had the same story,” Sharon says, “One of us was told she went through the stairway.”
“Another one, they said, they just couldn’t find Jeannie.”
Sharon and her sister began a search to find Jeannie, seeking out people like Irene Carlson, a neighbor who supposedly followed Forrest back to the Bryant home the day of the fire.
“And she says, you know that poor little guy, I had to practically run to keep up to him, he took off so fast.”
Decades later, Sharon says Carlson revealed a chilling conversation she’d had with their grandma.
“And my grandma, I guess, finally says … well she isn’t here. She’s with relatives. You might as well go home.”
Carlson’s revelation, years after their mother — Opal Bryant died — added to the mystery surrounding her life and her relationship with her own mother, the grandma who raised them.
“My grandma never went anywhere. She was always covering up stuff my mom would do.”
Sharon says throughout her childhood Opal would leave the family.
“She was never home. As soon as my dad go, about an hour later, she would take off.”
Then, when the parents split, Opal moved to Washington state, where she re-married. Sharon stayed in Wisconsin with her father. She says Opal would return to the Midwest for weeks at a time though never revealing her exact whereabouts.
“She went and seen somebody… “
… Perhaps Ricky Jean?
Five years after the child’s reported death, a cousin traveling through Georgia sent this postcard to Jeannie, where the family was living in Wisconsin. Sharon found it in her mother’s belongings.
But nothing in her mother’s past has allowed her to close the book on what happened to Jeannie. This is an age-enhanced photo of what her sister might look like today, when a reunion would come too late for their father but fulfill a family dream.
“My stepmother said, when he’d go to town, he’d check everybody about the age that should would be. He would keep looking for her.”
Sharon’s sister, Liz says shortly before her mother’s death, Opal returned to the Midwest with a shirt and coveralls. The clothing — belonging to Jeannie — was on a clothes line the day of the fire. But when Opal came back to Washington, she no longer had the items. Liz believes Jeannie is somewhere in the region, and she thinks the clothing could be key in finding her.
The family’s already tested one woman who proved not to be a match. Meanwhile, Juneau County investigators say a flood destroyed the sheriff’s departments original records.