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Michael Dunahee disappearance focus of new podcast series; discusses suspects, couple of them named

Michael Dunahee, four years old at the time, disappeared from a Victoria playground on March 24, 1991.
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Michael Dunahee's disappearance is the focus of a new podcast series, Missing Michael, by journalist Laura Palmer. VIA LAURA PALMER

A new podcast series on the disappearance of four-year-old Michael Dunahee dives deep into the 30-year search for the missing boy.

The first episode of ­Missing Michael, by Island-based ­journalist Laura Palmer, released Tuesday, opens with audio from home videos of Michael meeting his baby ­sister Caitlin at the hospital, on ­Christmas morning unwrapping presents, at his sister’s ­christening, and building a snowman with his father.

The preschooler went missing from a playground next to the former Blanshard Elementary School on March 24, 1991. He was last seen heading a short distance from the family’s car to the playground, where he had been told to wait for his father. Bruce and Crystal Dunahee never saw their son again.

Based on interviews over a year with roughly 50 people connected to Michael and the case, Palmer delves into the little boy’s life and the exhaustive search for him, including looking into some suspects in his disappearance. Most suspects go unnamed in the 10-episode series, because no one has been charged and Palmer said she doesn’t have enough evidence to name them.

However, there are a couple of people she does name who have been identified over the years as possibly linked to the case. One of those is Vernon Seitz, a Milwaukee man who told his psychiatrist shortly before his 2009 death that he had killed a boy in the late 1950s and knew of another child killing. U.S. police found a missing-person poster of Michael inside his home.

Seitz’s psychiatrist surprised Palmer by agreeing to an interview. Palmer said the psychiatrist “was quite fearful” of Seitz, didn’t like him, and at one point tried to stop treating him. She described him as a psychopath and her “most challenging patient.”

While Milwaukee police have said they could not substantiate a link between the man and any missing or dead children, Palmer isn’t sure.

“I could not, myself, exclude him altogether, and I think people will understand why when they hear the interview with the psychiatrist,” she said.

As a former CBC Vancouver journalist, Palmer was familiar with Michael’s story, but was struck by what seemed to her sparse details about a widely reported case that became one of the largest missing-child investigations in Canadian history.

After taking early retirement from CBC and moving to Port Alberni for her husband’s work, Palmer started a podcast called Island Crime. Missing Michael is the third in the series.

She hopes that the information shared in the podcast, much of which has never been reported publicly, will help move the police investigation toward a conclusion.

“There’s been so much work done on this case. And there is a lot there for them to go on, that it could be just one last little piece of information to put them over the edge,” she said.

Last March, Victoria police released an age-enhanced sketch of Michael, showing what he might look like at age 34, on the 30th anniversary of his disappearance.

VicPD spokesman Bowen Osoko said Tuesday that police have no update on the investigation, but the release of the Missing Michael podcast trailer has already led to an increase in tips.

“Someone knows what ­happened to Michael. With this podcast, every time someone tells Michael’s story, it moves us all towards that person coming forward and telling us where Michael is today,” Osoko said.

Anyone with information they have not yet shared with police is asked to report tips to ­ vicpd.ca/michaeldunaheetips or call the Michael Dunahee tip line at 250-995-7444.

To listen to the podcast, go online to islandcrime.ca.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com