Courtesy of the Bend Bulletin

Central Oregon Cold Case: Approaching Susan Ann Wickersham’s 50th Anniversary

A 55 year-old case reminds us that even in our young teenage years of adventure, our lives can be cut short in an instant. An example of this happened in 1973 to 17-year-old Bend-native, Susan Ann Wickersham.

On July 11, 1973 Wickersham, a junior at Bend Senior High School, went missing. Wickersham had just gone for a drive before delivering her mom’s car to the Sage Room Restaurant (in downtown Bend near the Tower Theatre) where her mom worked at 11:30 p.m. Susan’s mom, Sharon Wickersham, had asked her if she wanted to wait so they could drive home together, but Susan insisted she’d be fine walking home alone, according to multiple news reports.

After dropping the car off, Wickersham was last seen by Denice Blake, a server and acquaintance of Wickersham, “She came in that day and we said ‘hi’ and exchanged greetings. A couple minutes later, I was waiting on a table, and I saw her standing across the street in front of what was then the Owl Pharmacy — and the next time I happened to look out the window, she was gone,” Blake told KTVZ in 2015. Wickersham had been waiting for her friends to come pick her up, but when they didn’t show up she decided to walk home. 

Wickersham’s older sister, Rhonda McMurran, described to KTVZ how her parents traveled all over Oregon looking for Wickersham, handing out posters and talking to anyone who they could look for any information. When Wickersham went missing, the police tried to convince her parents that she had just “run away” and they didn’t take her disappearance too seriously since running away isn’t abnormal teenage behavior. At the time, Bend Oregon was home to only 37,000 residents and had one high school. Everyone knew everyone, and trusted their neighbors. Abductions, murders or anything out of the ordinary was unheard of. 

The Bend Police Department has a specific policy for missing persons that includes a special “at risk” category for kids 13 and under and anyone who might be at a higher risk due to other factors. There are a lot of official procedures in place today for all missing persons that likely weren’t in place at the time that Wickersham went missing – the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children didn’t exist for example, according to Sheila Miller, Bend Police’s Communications Manager. This created inconsistencies for Wickersham’s search as police prioritized other cases which were high profile, at risk or seemingly more time sensitive. 

On January 20, 1976, skeletal remains and some personal items were found by a cinder pit approximately five miles south of Bend in a wooded area behind Scalehouse Loop Road, by a man collecting firewood. The remains were identified as Wickersham through dental records and the recovered personal items. Examination of the skull by the state medical examiner’s office determined Wickersham had suffered a gunshot wound to the head. The bullet had entered her skull behind the right ear, with no exit wound. This concluded the gun was of small caliber, potentially a .22 handgun, according to news reports. 

Her case was never solved.

Only under 50% of murders are solved or “cleared” in the USA. More and more people are getting away with the murder of our loved ones without any justice, according to NPR’s article, “More People Are Getting Away with Murder. Unsolved Killings Reach a Record High”. The Wickersham family never got the closure they deserved for losing their daughter and sister, her friends never got to say goodbye. Her seventeen year old life was cut short before she truly got to experience all the joys that come with a long life.

A lot of cold-cases are dehumanized from the thrill of murders unsolved and mystery’s left to uncover that people online, and in real life, strive to detangle. But, these are real people, beloved by many, who have lost their lives due to others. 

Susan was born Nov. 21, 1955. She had lived in Bend her whole life and was known for being a very friendly girl with a bubbly outgoing personality. “Susan was happy, free spirited… It was sad when Susan went missing and a shock when the town found out how she died” explained A detective on Wickersham’s case, Mark Mills, who had known her in highschool, according to KTVZ’s report.

There are many theories revolving around Wickersham’s case with many suspects and finger pointing, but if you or anyone you know has any new information on this case please contact the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office at 541-693-6911 immediately so the family Wickersham has left can find some closure.