Local News

Authorities try to crack 68-year-old cold case

Posted January 6, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— State Bureau of Investigation agents looked under a home in Carolina Beach on Tuesday for the remains of a woman and her daughter missing for 68 years.

Lelia Bryan, 36, and her 4-year-old daughter, Mary Rachel Bryan, went missing on May 10, 1941, according to The Charley Project, which documents missing person cases. They were last seen around 9 p.m. leaving the family’s home on Raleigh Avenue. Bryan was driving her husband’s 1935 Ford Model A coupe with North Carolina plates numbered 219-056.

The two were never seen again and the vehicle was never recovered, according to The Charley Project.

Mary Rachel Bryan SBI search for remains of woman, child

Police once considered Bryan’s husband, Edis C. “E.C.” Bryan, a prime suspect in the case, but he was never charged. He died in the 1970s.

Lelia Bryan’s surviving family members said that at the time of her disappearance, Edis Bryan was in the process of renovating the home and building a concrete basement.

The women were declared dead in 1948, though no remains were found.

Lelia Bryan's nephew, Lewis Smith, has been fighting for decades to search for clues under the home.

In November, the current homeowner agreed to let crews search under the floor using deep-penetrating radar. Authorities noticed three anomalies under the concrete.

“This is to either rule in or rule out the house,” Smith said Tuesday

SBI agents and forensic scientists cut slabs of concrete from the basement of the home. Agents sifted through mounds of dirt from beneath the concrete and, late Tuesday, announced they found an animal bone, possibly from a deer, and shards of glass. No human remains were found, officials said.

At this point, investigators have cleared the scene as a possible burial site for the missing mother and daughter.


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  • sunneyone Jan 7, 2009

    Eduardo, that family has a right to know what happened to that woman and that little girl. So what if it uses resources, so does everything else. This is more important than some of the mess they do.

  • ambidextrous cat Jan 6, 2009

    I honestly wish that the police could focus on people who have vanished only months ago. I think that because this family was probably wealthy and white that therefore they are more important than other families. This is wrong. I agree with gratefultoGod, find the alive criminals rather than the dead ones!

  • IzzMad2016 Jan 6, 2009

    3 anomolies in the concrete were cited .... could it be 1 wife, 1 daughter and 1 missing automobile?

  • ghimmy51 Jan 6, 2009

    I'm not going to reply to those who don't understand why this was done. They probably wouldn't understand anyway. 1941 ... I believe I'd check local ponds. I recall a lady who left to drive 4 miles into Fuquay-Varina, made a purchase and never arrived home. Seven years later her car and she was found in a pond adjacent to the road. Tragic, but closed.

  • jonesbo10 Jan 6, 2009

    To everyone that has posted negative comments: ratherbnnc, eduardo1, impatientgirl, etc....you are selfish, cold hearted, and should be ashamed of yourselves. this was someone's family and a CHILD that is dead. It doesn't matter if it's been a day, month, or a 100 years!!!!! Put yourself in their shoes-if it was your family, it would be ok for them to keep searching. get a life, you cold hearted people. and don't worry about how much it cost....you are not paying anything for it.

  • Scubagirl Jan 6, 2009

    wonder what happened to the car.....did they have chop shops in 1941? Will be interesting to see what, if anything they find. And, if they find nothing will they then let this case be done?

  • imacoppiceman Jan 6, 2009

    For all of those that say this is a waste of money, please tell me when one of your family members is murdered,how long should the police look, one week, a month a year. If it was your family I'm quite sure you would be a lot more liberal with your time....

  • ifcdirector Jan 6, 2009

    Reminds me of when the English dug up Oliver Cromwell after he was dead and cut his dead head off for regicide. At least I guess it serves a deterrent for other murderers who might want to outlive the long arm of the law but in this case he is probably beyond reach.

  • steinbeck18 Jan 6, 2009

    the word is 'closure' that's why they are digging up the ground-- everyone deserve an ending to
    their life-- not just to disappear and never know what happen.

  • dhamma Jan 6, 2009

    Not so sure thats blowing money away. What does it really cost to do this? Why would it interfere with other current cases, do we only have 1 person doing the job for the entire state? Do we only have once piece of equipment? This is a real case. Secondly, this is good practice for those that use the equipment. Just because its a story on WRAL folks seem to assume WRAL has always presented 100% of the facts.