Remembering Marianne Schuett

If you’re walking through the village of Kilbride and need to stop and take a rest, you’ll find a bench facing the road at the corner of Kilbride and Panton Streets. It has been placed at the crossroads in front of Kilbride Public School to remember a 10-year-old girl called Marianne Schuett, who was abducted from the village on April 27, 1967, as she made her way home from school. The resulting search for Marianne was one of the largest in Ontario’s history, with an estimated 18,000 people involved in attempts to find her. Despite repeated and ongoing search efforts, Marianne has not yet been found.

Her seemingly random abduction terrified the small community of Kilbride. Parents no longer felt comfortable with their children out of sight, and youngsters were suddenly haunted by the shadow of vulnerability. The pervasiveness has remained—a renewed search for her in September 2021, brought forward many people who had either been involved in the original search, or who were children at the time of her abduction and clearly remembered the desperate search for the missing girl.

Marianne had just a five minute walk from the school to her home at 2291 Kilbride Street. Witnesses came forward to say that they had seen her talking to a man in a dark-model European vehicle facing east, not far from the school exit. Ron Eden, who lived in Kilbride and was a passenger in a car driving west towards Carlisle, said he noticed the vehicle immediately.

“I’ve never seen that car before in the village,” he said to his fellow passengers as they approached the intersection in front of the school. Ron admits that he didn’t personally see Marianne as he was so distracted by the unusual model of the vehicle—the driver, Leonard Bodz, and Leonard’s wife in the backseat both saw Marianne standing at the car. A fourth witness, a teacher, said she had seen Marianne walk around to the passenger side of the door of the same vehicle and get in. The driver then took off in the direction of Marianne’s home, but drove past her home without stopping. Artist renditions of both the man and vehicle circulated, with police believing that the vehicle was most likely a Renault.

Fundraising for the bench was raised through efforts of the Kilbride History Group and many community donors, including Marianne’s brothers, Dave and Steve Schuett.

The black iron bench with “Remembering Marianne Schuett” inscribed, was unveiled at a private ceremony lead by Helen Callaway of the Kilbride History Group, close to the location Marianne was last seen. The bench serves as a memorial to a little girl described as quiet and shy, and unlikely to get into a stranger’s vehicle. It is also a reminder of how even the smallest of communities can be affected by terrible tragedy.

“This memorial has been a long time coming,” said Callaway in an interview with Inside Halton on October 5, 2021, three days after the bench’s unveiling. “This tight-knit community was totally devastated when she was taken.”

The Schuett family had moved to Kilbride in 1965, just two years before the abduction. They were members of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church on Lakeshore Road in Burlington, and their pastor, the Rev. Herbert Hockbush, was one of the many out searching through the bush. Angry sentiments ran high through the community, with young and old equally affected. Children came with their parents to help search, and an elderly woman armed with a shotgun showed up, stating that she just wanted to “blast the so-and-so who took Marianne.” She was thanked for her offer but consoled and turned away.

When the search teams failed to find their daughter, Marianne’s parents wrote a desperate plea to the abductor in a letter published in The Hamilton Spectator:

“We beg you with all our heart to phone or write us a few words to tell us where she is. We promise on everything we hold dear we will not show the police your letter or tell them of your call. If Marianne is alive, let her go, and tell us where we can find her. If she is dead, let us know where we can find her. We will never identify you no matter what has happened. It is too terrible not knowing. Please phone us or write to us. Her brothers can’t go on not knowing where she is and our hearts are breaking. We have to know. Please be merciful and let our prayers be answered.”

Milton and Ethel Schuett, The Hamilton Spectator

Why Marianne chose to risk getting in an unknown vehicle is one of the mysteries of the case, and something that has always perplexed the Schuett family who said she was especially wary of ‘stranger danger.’

The day she disappeared, she’d turned down a ride home from the mother of a classmate, Cindy Muirhead, with whom she’d stayed a half hour late at school working on a project. “I’m just around the corner,” Marianne said. Cindy herself had been stopped by a man in a ‘classic car’ a few weeks earlier and asked for directions to the Cayuga Race Track, nowhere near Kilbride.

Although Steve, Marianne’s younger brother, was just five at the time she went missing, her disappearance has been a weight on his shoulders. He has seen many searches with renewed hope at finding his sister, but there have been no firm clues other than a single blue running shoe found near Speyside, the day after she was taken.

A suspect was identified but took his own life in 1991 prior to police being able to question or arrest him. An article published by The Hamilton Spectator on Feb. 16, 1991, a month after his suicide, revealed that the subject—described as Mr. X—had purchased a 1967 Renault three days before Marianne went missing, and that it was only one of three such vehicles in Ontario. The article reported that the suspect was brought to police attention in 1972 after he attempted to abduct a 14-year-old girl from Burlington and in 1990 more information came to light. “Last Christmas,” The Hamilton Spectator reported, “police received new information that Mr. X had repeatedly sexually assaulted two young girls over a seven-year period.”

The suspect’s suicide note made no reference to Marianne, or her final resting place. He was married with children, seemingly living a double life.

Marianne was born on September 29, 1956. The Schuett family lived on Oak Street in Hespeler, and Marianne attended kindergarten at Centennial Public School before they moved to Kilbride in 1965. Her older brother, David, was fifteen when his sister went missing.

“Growing up, well she wanted to hang around with her older brother,” Dave Schuett said in a phone interview with the author in November 2021. “Mom and Dad said, ‘when you go out to play, you’ve got to take your little sister with you.’ So, I did.”

At the time of the abduction, Dave was going to school in Burlington. “She did have a few friends that she hung around with,” he said. “They would come to our house, or she would go over to theirs. We had some games at home, Monopoly and that kind of thing … she liked to play those … one game that she really liked, I believe it was called Candy Land. She really, really, liked that game.”

Dave says that the mystery of why she got in the vehicle has always been one of the hardest things to understand.

“That is a big mystery to me because we had friends of the family who would come to visit us from time to time and she knew them … she knew them very well, and at least once or twice as she was walking home from school they would be coming to our house and they would drive by and go, ‘hey, do you want a ride home?’ And she knew them very well and she’d go, ‘Nope.’ She wouldn’t even get in the car with friends of the family. That begs the question, why would she get in with somebody else? Unless you were forced, you know?”

Mr. X. was found dead in a Hamilton house in January 1991 taking with him any answers the family had hoped for.

Marianne’s father, Milton Schuett, passed away in 1999 without knowing what had happened to his daughter. On the morning of February 1, 2022, just three months after the most recent search for her daughter, Marianne’s mother, Ethel, also passed away. It is hoped that one day Marianne will be found and that the mystery of her disappearance will come full circle. The most recent searches have been led by Linda Gillis Davidson (ex-RCMP), and Gord Collins (ex-Peel Regional Police) who have brought the search for Marianne Schuett back to the headlines. If you have information about the abduction of Marianne Schuett we urge you to contact any of the following:

A private Facebook page, administered by friends and family of the Schuetts, is also available for discussing her case.

Contributing Author: Sarah Farr, Photos Courtesy of the Schuett family.