Bob Johnson, 44, was excited to tell his neighbors and coworkers about the two-week camping trip he was about to take with his wife Jackie, 41, and their two daughters Janet, 13, and Karen, 11. They planned to go to Jasper National Park in Alberta with Jackie’s parents, George and Edith Bentley, who lived in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Bentley had just recently retired from his job in a lumber mill and bought a brand-
new heavy-duty 1981 silver Ford pick-up truck with a 10-foot Vanguard over the cab camper. He also put an aluminum boat on top of the camper and hung an outboard motor on the back. “This trip would be the first time that they ever went to Wells Gray Park. They heard it was beautiful and wanted to go camping there,” explained Kelly Nielsen, the Bentley’s granddaughter. George, 66, and Edith, 59, had decided it was the time in their lives to go out and enjoy the beautiful scenery and parks that Canada had to offer them. “My own parents were thinking of going on that same camping trip but opted to go to Port Alberni instead,” Nielsen said. Johnson planned to meet the Bentleys in Clearwater, near the head of the North Thompson River, high in the Columbia Mountain Range of the Rocky Mountains. The Johnsons were bringing a tent and sleeping bags for the girls, and the Bentley camper would be where the adults slept. “I’m going to get in some of the best fishing of my life,” Bob Johnson told everyone around him who would listen, “And it will be a great outdoor experience for the girls.”
The Johnson family packed most of their camping gear in a car-top carrier on their 1979 Plymouth Caravelle and left on Monday, August 2, 1982. Their first stop was to visit their friends located in Red Deer, Alberta. The Bentleys checked into a campsite about 250 miles northwest of Calgary on August 8, and the Johnsons arrived on August 11. Sometime after that, they all headed to Wells Gray Park together. They preferred to be away from any crowds or large groups, so instead of going to the main park campsites, they set out to find something ‘off the beaten track.’ A quiet and secluded place to camp, but still close to the fishing. When they came across the old-abandoned prison site, they knew it was perfect. It was already pretty clear of debris and had reasonably flat ground, perfect to put the tent and camper on. It wouldn’t have taken very long to unload the camper on four flat cement pads they found at the site, and the girls were so excited to start their adventure in the outdoors, they set the tent up in minutes.
The first night was clear and warm, with no clouds. As they sat around their campfire, they made plans to go fishing the next morning. The two girls were worried about their dog, Tyke, which had gone missing from their home a few days before they left for their camping trip. They couldn’t help but miss having him along with them. They both wanted to sleep with him in their tent and take him out on the water when they went fishing and swimming. Their mother, Jackie, had to come up with different explanations as to what happened to their dog, assuring them that he was safe, and probably back at home waiting for them to return. The next morning came real early for the girls. They were so excited they could hardly wait for the sun to rise. They dressed in their swimsuits and were ready to go before the adults were up to make breakfast. Their day was spent running through the woods, exploring, and enjoying the nature surrounding them, with not a care in the world. They even each caught a small fish in the afternoon. But on their way back to show their parents, they saw
movement among the trees outlining their camp. They figured it must have been an animal like a deer and didn’t pay it much attention. They continued on back to their camp. That night they all enjoyed sitting around the campfire talking about all the things they had seen that day and what they planned to do the next. They planned to check out the old prison site to see if they could see any ghosts. This was a great summer for the family. Janet had just finished seventh grade, and when they returned from their vacation, she would be going into high school. A few years younger, Karen had just completed Grade 5 and would be going into Grade 6. They were so excited about life. Grandmother Bentley loved to cook and bake, not just for her and her husband, but also for everyone else. One of her specialties was huckleberry pie,
and this was the perfect place to find the berries. The next morning started out bright and sunny, so she took the two girls to where the old prison site was to play and get her berries. About mid-day, the wind started up. It was not much more than a light but constant breeze, but there were pretty strong gusts every once in a while. The girls were lost in their imaginations and role-playing all through the prison grounds, while Edith collected the berries she needed for her pie. They soon went back to the camp to make dinner and have another campfire with the whole family. Once everyone ate and washed up, it was time to talk about what a great day they all had and get excited for what they had in store for tomorrow. After a few stories, the girls were tired and yawning so much, they could hardly talk. Their mother, Jackie, helped them wash up, get into their tent, and ready for bed. After they were all set, she let them come back out to the campfire, get a roasted marshmallow,
About a half-hour passed. The girls were whispering to each other about what they saw that day. They were almost asleep when suddenly a loud crash startled them both. “What was that?” Karen questioned. Janet slowly turned to face where the tent door was, and Karen followed her gaze. Suddenly, there was a lot of screaming and yelling. It was hard to tell what the voices were saying, as the tent walls muffled the voices. The only thing they could tell was that it sounded like both men and women adults who were doing the talking. Then, two more crashing sounds, one right after another. But those sounded a bit further away than the first crashing sound. Janet started to unzip the tent door slowly and made it half-way before she realized someone else from the outside was trying to unzip the tent door at the same time. She could see the shape of the person from the campfire, and it looked like her mother. Just as they both managed to get the zipper far enough down to see each other’s eyes, another crashing sound came. This one was so close that
Janet jumped in fear and fell backward. When she got back up, her mother was gone, and the camp went completely silent. Both girls jumped back, screaming loudly. A minute later, that must have felt like an hour, went by. Another figure approached the outside of the tent door. Slowly, a hand finished unzipping the door to the tent. Two much larger hands opened up the tent door and a man’s face came through.
On August 23, 1982, Al Bonar, manager of the Gorman Mills in West Kelowna, B.C., placed a phone call to the RCMP detachment in Kelowna. He was reporting a long-term missing employee by the name of Bob Johnson. “Bob hasn’t taken a sick day, let alone missed a day’s work by just not showing up in 20 years,” he explained to the officer. “They had gone on a camping vacation with his family to Wells Gray Park
about two weeks ago and haven’t returned. He has missed almost a week of work now. The family was scheduled to return on the 16th of August.” The missing person’s report was forwarded to Sergeant Baruta of the Clearwater detachment. Baruta checked around the local park and businesses to see if he could find out anything. The Bentleys had given them photos to pass around as well. The report was also sent out to the Kamloops detachment, where sergeant Mike Eastham headed up the Serious Crime Unit for the interior of B.C. Never in his life did Eastham expect to be in charge of one of the most expensive missing person investigations in Canadian history. He always knew he wanted to be an RCMP officer, and by 14-years old, he had made up his mind. Then, he was transferred to Kamloops at about the twenty-year mark with them. “There was a lot of speculation as to what really happened to them. Anything from they had run away to join a cult, they were lost, joined a commune, or something like that. Everybody had their
about two weeks ago and haven’t returned. He has missed almost a week of work now. The family was scheduled to return on the 16th of August.” The missing person’s report was forwarded to Sergeant Baruta of the Clearwater detachment. Baruta checked around the local park and businesses to see if he could find out anything. The Bentleys had given them photos to pass around as well. The report was also sent out to the Kamloops detachment, where sergeant Mike Eastham headed up the Serious Crime Unit for the interior of B.C. Never in his life did Eastham expect to be in charge of one of the most expensive missing person investigations in Canadian history. He always knew he wanted to be an RCMP officer, and by 14-years old, he had made up his mind. Then, he was transferred to Kamloops at about the twenty-year mark with them.