Jeremy Bright went missing from the 1986 Coos County Fair in Myrtle Point where he was last seen, at just 14 years old. A beautiful, freckled boy who loved to play basketball and was a naturally talented drawer, Jeremy had been spending time with his little sister, S’te Elmore. In the years that followed, the family struggled to stay hopeful that some crucial piece of evidence or some witness or information would be revealed, and they would finally be able to know what happened to their boy. Thirty years later, new evidence was revealed.
The Early Years of Jeremy Bright
Jeremy Doland Bright was born in Myrtle Point, Oregon (Myrtle Point is a city in Coos County) on May 25, 1972. Jeremy grew up in Myrtle Point, with his sister S’te (pronounced as Estee, her name is the French abbreviation for Saint). During their childhood, they were raised by their parents, Joe Flaherty and Diane Beatty, and they made friends and deep ties in their local community.
The weather was mild in their town, the ocean was only fifteen miles away, and Myrtle Point is small and cozy town. Unfortunately, their parents eventually separated, and Jeremy and his sister moved a hundred miles away to Grant’s Pass with their mother.
Jeremy Bright’s Pre-Teen Life
Jeremy Bright was in many ways a typical, happy, energetic 14-year-old boy. He had a creative streak and was gifted at drawing, a skill which he often spent hours honing. Unusually tall for his age, Jeremy wore a size 13 in men’s shoes, and he used this to his advantage playing basketball. Jeremy had a group of guy friends that he was close with, and he attended a local high school, but still loved his original home at Myrtle Point.
His mother had moved him and his sister, S’te, to Grants Pass, to start a new life for herself and her family. She went back to school, knowing that she needed to make more money than she could tending bar, which she was currently doing to support the family.
The Coos County Fair
In August in Myrtle Point, the Coos County Fair begins. The event is a week-long celebration of fair fun, games, and food. Jeremy and S’te begged their mother to let them go stay in Myrtle Point for the fair; Jeremy wanted, in particular, to see all his old friends he’d had to leave behind. Diane agreed that the children’s stepfather, Orville, could take care of the kids for the whole week’s run. Diane now says, “If I would have said, ‘No,’ about him coming up to the fair, I would still have him.”
Of course, there was no way that Diane, or any of the adults who loved Jeremy, could know the horror that was about to engulf their family.
The First Day of The Fair
S’te and her big brother Jeremy’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all lived in Myrtle Point. Spending the week surrounded by old friends, family, and a much-loved community event thrilled the kids. S’te, now married with children, says, “My brother and I never missed the fair.”
Jeremy’s best friend in Myrtle Point was a teenager named Johnny Gray. Johnny and Jeremy immediately reconnected and began hanging out Thursday at The Coos County Fair, while S’te spent time with other friends and family. Jeremy and S’te had arranged to meet later that day at a ferris wheel when the sun started going down, and big brother could take over with his sister.
The Last Time His Voice Was Heard
It was Thursday, August 14, 1986, when Diane Beatty spoke to her son Jeremy for the last time. He called his mom in Grants Pass from a payphone outside McKay’s Market in Myrtle Point. Diane reminded Jeremy that she’d be picking him and his sister up that Saturday. Jeremy excitedly told his mom that he was having a great time at the fair, and mentioned his plane with S’te to pick her up at the Ferris wheel at 5 p.m. They both hung up, happy.
Five hours later that same night at 9:40 p.m., Jeremy popped into a local tavern owned by his grandmother. He chatted with his stepfather and asked to borrow some money for the fair. He left soon after, and this was the last time Jeremy was ever seen by his family and friends again.
The First Sign Something Was Wrong
Jeremy’s stepdad rose in the early hours for work, and the kids were spending the entire day at the fair with friends. In 1986 in a very small town, kids still took off alone on bikes to spend the day in their communities, and there was a sense of safety and interconnectedness with the parents in the community, who depended on one another to “keep an eye” out for all the children. Jeremy’s stepdad didn’t see him on Friday.
Two days later on Saturday, Diane arrived in Myrtle Point to pick up her son and daughter. She drove to pick up Jeremy at his stepfather’s house, but Jeremy wasn’t there. Diane says, “I went in and on the TV set was his house keys from our Grants Pass apartment and his wallet and his new watch that he told me he’d bought. I knew when I found those things that he was around somewhere because he wouldn’t leave without them.”
Saturday No Show
On Saturday, Diane came back into town as promised. She had told Jeremy and S’te that she would be working with an aunt that morning after arriving in town, and they knew where she was. Diane eagerly awaited her children; S’te showed up, and they had a sweet reunion. The afternoon passed, and there was still no sight of Jeremy. Diane put the word out to the kids: I want to see Jeremy. Before cell phones, this was often the way parents got messages to their kids, through the network of other kids. Usually, it worked (“Hey Jeremy, your mom wants you!”) but this time, Jeremy still didn’t show.
The Search Begins
Diane Beatty went to the children’s stepdad, who explained that he hadn’t seen Jeremy since Thursday night at the tavern. The family asked all around town about Jeremy, and everyone who had seen him said the same thing, “I haven’t seen him since Thursday.” “It was like he was beamed up,” says Diane.
After fruitless searching, Diane was scared enough to call the police, who immediately treated the case as a “ran away with the circus” situation, even though Jeremy had never run away before, wasn’t unhappy, and had no indicators that he was thinking about doing anything like that. But the police thought that maybe Jeremy loved the carnival so much, he was trying to be a part of it. Maybe, they reasoned, he’ll come home at the end of the week.
The Carnival Ends
For the past few months, Jeremy had been troubled by his parents’ divorce and his move to Grants Pass, but he was convinced he would make the team at his new school in Southern Oregon. S’te Elmore said her brother also coached her basketball team at the Boys & Girls Club in Grants Pass. There wasn’t anything to indicate a possible runaway.
Sergeant Steve Dalton of the Coos County Sheriff’s Department believed Jeremy had simply run away: “He did like the fair. There was the thought that perhaps he was hiding out, intending to leave with the fair people and I’ve explored that possibility in every way that I can think of. However in this particular case, I’ve talked to family members and friends of him that knew him well. And he was just not, from what I can learn, the type of kid who would have struck out on his own.”
The Rumors Begin
The fair ended on Sunday, August 17, 1986. The fair left Myrtle Point and the entire town began to understand that something truly terrible had most likely happened to young Jeremy. The town was talking; gossip started leaking, and rumors began swirling.
One of the rumors was that Jeremy went to a Myrtle Point party and accidentally overdosed on a drug, which was made worse or perhaps fatal by his heart murmur. The rumor continued that maybe the other party goers had panicked, and hid his body. Another rumor was that Jeremy had been swimming at the local lake, and some well-known town bullies had shot at him from the shore, killing him.
What Cecilia Saw
The weeks passed as they feverishly looked for missing Jeremy. Cecelia Gray, who was Jeremy’s best friend’s sister, had a statement. She recounted her story: the night of Jeremy’s disappearance, Cecelia was staying at her sister’s apartment. She left the apartment with her sister about midnight and saw someone in the street, horrifically covered in blood. She couldn’t be sure who it was; was it Jeremy? The police were strangely lax about this incredibly important lead and didn’t seem to do enough to seek out physical evidence from all those who could have possibly been involved. Of course, back in 1986, there were fewer technologies available for forensics.
The Police Botch the Case
Myrtle Point investigators let the case simmer for three months. It is thought by many that the Myrtle Point handling of the case was so lax and unprofessional that crucial time and evidence was lost. The Myrtle Point Sheriff’s office turned over Jeremy’s missing case to the Coos County Sheriff’s office, but by then, too much time had passed. The investigation was cold.
Among other issues was unfollowed leads, including one from Jeremy’s sister herself. The World reported this, “At the time, S’te remembers informing police that she had seen Jeremy talking to two guys whom she did not recognize. ‘For whatever reason, the (officer) I talked to didn’t believe me,’ Elmore said.They thought I was making up a story to help out. But, I had seen him leave with these people. He did.”
The Physical Search for Jeremy Bright
The search for Jeremy included volunteers from town as well as close friends and all the family spreading his missing person’s poster all across town. The Coos County investigative team searched log and beaver ponds, draining them in search of his body, following up on the rumor that Jeremy had gone swimming the night he disappeared. Scuba divers have explored wells, swamps and rivers in the countryside, and a handful of possible gravesites across the county were dug up.
Craig Zanni was the Coos County investigator from 1991 to 2004, and he told World News, “Anything that looked like it had any substance, we put every effort into it to try and either find something that would help, or put an end to that rumor.”
What Did Johnny Know?
Some believe that Johnny, Jeremy’s best friend, was there that night. Johnny was never the same after that night; he began having horrible nightmares and developed a serious alcohol addiction. He did not function well and died young.
On an online chat board about Jeremy’s case, a user claiming to be Cecilia wrote this “I believe that Jonny was there and witnessed what ever happened to Jeremy. Jonny was never the same after that night. I believe that Jonny was threatened with his family being next if he ever told. I tried many times to get Jonny to remember but he couldn’t. He has been a mental case every since that night. I think something happened to him also but he has suppressed it so deep in his mind he can’t tell what happened to them that night. I wish someone would tell what happened. It was David Steinhof that I ran into that night and he was covered in blood. I don’t think he was in a fight there was to much blood for that.”
Terry Lee Steinhoff
Terry Lee Steinhoff had babysat Jeremy and his sister when they were little and lived in Myrtle Point full-time. Terry Lee Steinhoff was David Steinhoff’s cousin, who was the young man that Cecilia believed she saw covered in blood the night Jeremy went missing.
In 1989 it had been three years since Jeremy had disappeared. The television show Unsolved Mysteries featured Jeremy’s caseand brought renewed attention to the rumors about Terry Lee Steinhoff. Steinhoff was charged with stabbing Patricia Morris, a 32-year-old mother who had rebuffed his advances and leaving her for dead. There had been rumors at the time of Jeremy’s disappearance that he had been seen with Terry Lee Steinhoff.
A Renewed Search
Police renewed the search for Jeremy, and included any areas in the Oregon woods where there might be cabins tucked inside. Terribly, the search revealed nothing. Terry Steinhoff would not speak to the case or discuss anything about Jeremy’s disappearance with the police. Terry had a limited prison sentence for his murder, and understood that the police could do nothing to him as long as he did not incriminate himself. If he stayed quiet, he’d get out of prison and move on.
Terry died in prison of a drug overdose, without ever revealing any information about the disappearance of young Jeremy. It was hoped that Terry’s death might release some who were too afraid to give a statement, but no one came forward.
Endless Heartache for Jeremy’s Mom
For Diane Bright, the rumors about her missing son were difficult to handle: “All of them are hard to think about. Every time I’d hear a new one, I have nightmares for a week or so. The one that I hope is not what happened is one where he suffered for two weeks before he died and they buried his body because the thought of him suffering for two weeks just makes me sick.”
Diane and her family hoped so much that someone would come forward and let them know what happened to Jeremy. The media exposure increased their hopes, but despite tips that did pour in, none led anywhere, least of all to finding Jeremy.
Deaths of Those Involved
It’s startling how many of the people involved in Jeremy’s case have since died. Terry Steinhoff who was eventually a suspect and who was with his cousin, David, the person covered in blood, died of a drug overdose in prison in 2007 while serving his murder sentence. In 1988, four of Jeremy’s friends died together in a tragic car accident. Johnny, who was with Jeremy when he disappeared, died in January 2011.
Jeremy’s stepfather, Orville (Ole) Gulseth, died in 2003 at age 66. Jeremy’s maternal grandmother died in December of 1988. His biological father, Joe Flaherty, died in December 2008. With the deaths of David, Terry, and Johnny, many if not all the answers to the night Johnny went missing disappeared.
The Details of Jeremy Bright
Jeremy Bright is still missing and although presumed to be dead, it is not known for sure. He has scars on his forehead and nose and a mole on his chin. As the police never were able to get a statement from Steinhoff before he died in prison in 2007, the best lead is gone.
Johnny, Jeremy’s best friend, went back to a friend’s the night of Jeremy’s disappearance and was visibly distraught, unable to be consoled, but refused to say what was wrong. S’te believes he witnessed whatever happened to Jeremy. After Jeremy’s disappearance, Johnny was eventually homeless, had alcohol and drug addiction and mental breakdowns. When questioned repeatedly over the years, he says he remembers the night Jeremy disappeared up to a certain point and then blacks out. Jeremy’s case is still open.
An Unanswered, Haunting Question
For S’te, Jeremy’s sister, the pain of not knowing what happened to her only sibling and brother Jeremy endures all these years later.
“After this many years it seems like somebody would be willing to say something,” S’te told World News. “Even if it was just to (say) where Jeremy is. Even if they called it in anonymously and said, ‘This is where he is. This is where you can find him. To live with that knowledge for 20 years, and not say anything, has got to be torture.” If you or anyone you know has any tips or leads on the disappearance of Jeremy Bright, please contact local police.