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View Royal teen 'vanished into thin air' 50 years ago after getting off the bus

Carmen Robinson, 17, took the bus home from her dishwashing job and got off two blocks from her View Royal home on Dec. 8, 1973. She was never seen again

When retired RCMP officer Bruce Brown drives by the bus stop in View Royal where 17-year-old Carmen Robinson vanished 50 years ago, he feels the weight of the teen’s unsolved disappearance.

“Was anything missed?” he wonders.

Carmen’s disappearance is one of the cases that sticks with Brown two decades after he retired from policing.

The teen stepped off a bus two blocks from her View Royal home on Dec. 8, 1973, and “vanished into thin air,” Brown said on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Carmen’s disappearance.

Carmen was on her way home from her job as a dishwasher at what was then the Ingraham Hotel on Douglas Street near Burnside Road East.

She caught the bus home, and was last seen by the bus driver getting off at West Burnside Road and Holland Avenue, a short walk from her house on Helmcken Road, where she lived with her mother and 13-year-old sister.

At the time, it was a rural area, and Carmen often carried a flashlight for the dark walk home from the bus.

At the bottom of her driveway, she would twist the flashlight in her hand to signal she was home, her sister, Debbie, told the Daily Colonist at the time.

Carmen’s mother described her as a happy-go-lucky girl who liked baking, reading mysteries and listening to records and tapes.

Despite following up on hundreds of tips, police have never turned up any evidence or witnesses to what happened to the teen.

“There was just nothing. There was no crime scene. There’s no physical evidence. There’s never been a body. So, it’s very difficult to go anywhere,” Brown said.

Police at the time described the search as “clutching at straws.”

They searched by helicopter and with tracking dogs. Forty officers conducted a ground search in the nearby brush and pasture of Strawberry Vale looking for anything that might explain what happened to Carmen, while others canvassed homes and checked vacant lots and deserted sheds.

The search spread to Salt Spring Island after a mysterious Boxing Day call from a telephone booth at Fulford Harbour, although police never revealed what the caller said.

People claimed to have seen Carmen after her disappearance, some saying they had given her a ride.

Police even followed up on a tip from a woman who claimed to have psychic abilities and said she had seen Carmen in a dream in a wooded area with carved animals.

Officers searched Beacon Hill Park and Wooded Wonderland, a former tourist attraction near Elk Lake, the only two places they could think of that matched the description.

But after checking out all leads, police said they were stymied.

Shortly after Brown took over the case, detectives thought they might be getting close to an answer.

A friend of Carmen’s had seen the teenager talking to someone on the side of the road days before she disappeared, and officers put the woman under hypnosis.

Despite years having passed, she was able to provide a composite sketch of the person she saw Carmen speaking with and a description of the vehicle, including a distinctive bumper sticker.

“There’s varying opinions about the value of hypnosis, but we had nothing else to go on,” Brown said.

Detectives linked the bumper sticker to a school trustee election in Kamloops, and took their sketch to the Interior. Someone thought they recognized the man in the sketch, but the lead didn’t pan out, Brown said.

He believes Carmen might have been abducted by someone who had observed her routine, or she could have been the victim of a random attack.

Brown holds out hope that someone out there with information will one day come forward to help police solve the case.

“Maybe I’m naive. It has happened in the past. One can always hope,” he said.

Carmen’s disappearance is still an ongoing investigation, West Shore RCMP Staff Sgt. John Ferguson said Thursday.

“We have followed up tips as recent as the end of 2022 and we welcome any new information from the public,” he said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com