Missing Michael: Witness to his abduction?

Norma doesn’t want to go to her grave not knowing what happened to four-year-old Michael Dunahee. The 81-year-old believes she observed Michael’s abduction on March 24, 1991.

“I would hate to have to pass on and not know where that child is. It’s just not right. That poor little boy. And that’s my fault too, because I didn’t know what was happening,” she said.

One of the strangest things about Michael’s disappearance is that he vanished on a Sunday afternoon, near a busy elementary school parking lot without anyone witnessing his abduction. A football game is finishing, another is about to begin. There are dozens of players and spectators coming and going. There are children at the small playground. But, what if his abduction was witnessed after all?

“I’m driving down Wark Street and I see this young lad running kitty corner, across the park there, the front lawn. And then I see another one running right behind him and I said, ‘Oh boy, I better watch those kids. The little one at the front ran across the street. She — the person behind him — was running and she dove at him and she grabbed him by the legs and pulled him down. So she tackled him just like playing football. And he went down hard. And I thought little bums, you know, kids, right?,” she recalled of that day, noting what she remembers still haunts her 30 years on.

An aerial view of a school and playground, with a field on the right and the building on the left, surrounded by rows of homes and other structures

An aerial view of Blanshard Elementary in Victoria, B.C., the area where Michael Dunahee went missing when he was just four in 1991. (Submitted)

Norma is headed to work at a nearby real estate office. But she isn’t in a hurry and stops at the stop sign purposely to see what is going on.

“So she gets up and grabs the little guy by the arm and she marches him across in front of me on Wark street,” she recalled.

Now that she is closer, Norma realizes the second figure is not a child, it is a young woman.

“I looked at the boy and he had blonde hair, blue eyes, and he was being pulled. He had these bright coloured pants on like different colours, blues and yellows and reds,” Norma said.

A photo of Michael Dunahee wearing a blue shirt with white and black shoulder pads. He's wearing a red bowtie and is smiling

FILE – Michael Dunahee (Courtesy missingmichael.ca)

“Then they started to walk down King and I looked over and there was a back alley type thing over there. And there was this brown van, it was parked there. The guy was standing on the outside, holding his driver’s door open looking at the situation. The side door was flung open and there was a brownie coloured blanket hanging out of the van,” she continued.

Norma says this picture is close likeness to the van she recalls: lighter beige on top, darker on the bottom, dirty, in need of a wash.

A beige van with white top trim on a road

FILE – A van some witnesses described seeing on the day Michael Dunahee vanished in Victoria. (Submitted)

Norma was hypnotized in an effort to draw out details of the van and the licence plate number. She was interviewed several times, including by retired Victoria Police Det. Al Cochrane.

“It was certainly a tip that we took seriously, especially after I interviewed her again. When you have a face-to-face with someone, it gives you that, okay, this person has an honesty about them,” he said.

Today, Victoria police explain they can’t comment on specific witness statements as the investigation is still ongoing.

The exterior of the entrance to the Victoria police building, with a circular entryway

FILE – Victoria Police headquarters. (Courtesy Instagram/Victoria Police)

Apart from Michael’s parents, Bruce and Crystal Dunahee, very few people are confirmed to have seen Michael at all that day. Donna Fetterley, a fellow football player who the Dunahee’s drove to field that day, is now deceased. Her statement to the police about what she saw is evidence Victoria police will not share publicly. Another player, Cathy Brown, believes she witnessed Crystal speaking with Michael briefly.

So who else claims to have seen Michael that day? A 10-year-old girl is the witness who originally sparks the brown van tip. She is reported to have observed Michael getting into the vehicle. In newspaper accounts from that time, police sources say other children too witnessed the brown van parked in a nearby alley, and one other child placed Michael near the vehicle.

Cochrane also recalls a resident in the area spotted a van similar to the one Norma described,

“A guy, cause it’s Sunday morning, his kids are going across the field to go get some eggs and milk for breakfast. And so he’s watching them and around the time there’s a brown Volkswagen van that’s going up the alley behind Quadra that goes between Kings and Hillside,” he explained. “And he specifically remembers it because he had a friend who had a very similar van and he thought that was his friend. But it ended up not being his friend and ended up, he might’ve been a mechanic, but he knew the year just by how the van looked, that was seen in the area at the time.”

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As for Norma, she regrets not doing something to help the boy. It wasn’t until after she learned of Michael Dunahee’s disappearance that she realized what she may have witnessed and came forward to the police.

In the years after Michael’s disappearance, Norma left town. She couldn’t drive through the area without thinking of Michael and feeling guilt about not helping.

“One of the reasons I moved was because of that, because I couldn’t drive down Bay street and go past Wark. I couldn’t go down King Street. It was a nightmare in my head. I couldn’t do it. It’s haunting me because I didn’t do something about it. I didn’t help that little guy.”

Norma’s last name is being withheld out of concern for her safety and to protect the integrity of her statement should it ever be needed in court.

If you have information about the disappearance of Michael Dunahee, please go to Michaeldunahee.ca and click on the report a tip button. You can also report a tip here.

Missing Michael’ is a 10-part podcast series for Rogers Frequency Network. New episodes will be published weekly on Tuesdays until the end of March. 

You can listen to this series and other Island Crime episodes on all podcast platforms.

Rogers is the parent company of this station and the Frequency Podcast Network

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