Sunday, November 22, 2009
If you go
What: Sunday morning mass offered for Marie Blee
When: 9 a.m. today
Where: St. Michael Catholic Church, 678 School St.
Call with tips
Family members encourage anyone with information about the Nov. 22, 1979, disappearance of Marie Blee, who was 15 at the time, to tell someone what they know. Marie’s father, Paul, asked people to tell anyone — from law enforcement to a priest — as long as it helps him and his wife, Mona, find their daughter.
They added that sometimes the smallest piece of information can break a case.
To report information to law enforcement, call Moffat County Crime Stoppers at 824-3535 or Routt County Crime Stoppers at 870-6226. Callers may remain anonymous and are eligible for up to a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in Marie’s disappearance.
The Blee household on the outskirts of Grand Junction looks, on first appearance, like the cozy, lived-in home of two retired grandparents.
Artifacts from the family’s past litter the walls and tabletops. A cabinet in the back of the living room is stocked with board games.
Paul and Mona Blee, 72 and 76, like to keep out photos of family vacations, and the homemade art projects made by their children and extended family.
A quilt, intricate drawings and a scratch art butterfly by their daughter, Marie, encircle a chair in the Blee’s family room.
Pictures from the family’s big trip to Germany in 1979 show Mona, Paul and Marie Blee posing in a myriad of different European tourist spots. Cobblestone walls in one, medieval cottages in another.
All of it, from the art to the photos, is a memento of happy times, when Marie was Paul and Mona Blee’s little girl.
They also remind, however, that these parents have not seen their daughter for almost 30 years.
Marie vanished Nov. 21, 1979, from a party in the Shadow Mountain subdivision outside Craig. The 30th anniversary of her disappearance is today.
At the family’s request, the 9 a.m. morning mass today at St. Michael Catholic Church, 678 School St., will be offered for Marie.
She was 15 years old when her parents last saw her, and would be 45 today.
Her whereabouts have never been known, a body has never been found and no one has ever been charged with her disappearance.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Mona Blee said. “It’s something we think about every day.”
At times, the couple said it feels like they can’t grieve for anything else. All the pain their bodies can muster is taken up mourning their little girl.
“We think about our parents, we don’t have any tears there,” Paul Blee said, weeping. “We talk about Marie, and they start falling. (It’s) because of the not knowing, I guess.”
As the years have gone by, the Blees said they no longer care much for answers to what happened the night she never came home.
They know she went to a 4-H dance at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion, and that she went to a party in Shadow Mountain after that.
They know she was escorted to the party by Monte Doolin, who was 18 at the time.
Doolin was convicted of telephone harassment for calling the Blees a few days after Marie’s disappearance and demanding a $5,000 ransom, but he denied knowing what actually happened to her.
The Blees know Marie was not buried in any of several wells, suspicious mounds or other possible hiding places exhumed by local law enforcement since her disappearance.
The only other things they care to know are these: Where is she now? Can she come home? Can her body be laid to rest?
The closest Paul and Mona Blee felt to answering those questions in the last three decades was about four years ago. After a seemingly insignificant tip, regional police and sheriff’s deputies tracked down an old well northwest of Hayden.
They dug it up, looking for bones.
“It was difficult sitting there,” Mona Blee said. “They wouldn’t allow us to be right close to where they were doing the digging because of contaminating evidence or anything like that if they found anything. It was all right until I would think about what they were looking, digging for, and then that would bother me. I don’t why. I always could kind of keep it at bay.”
After the digging stopped, the case’s lead investigator at that time, Routt County Sheriff’s investigator Rochelle Redmond, told the couple nothing was found, but added that it was one more place they knew Marie wasn’t.
Although it was hard to leave the site no closer to the truth, the Blees said they have taken solace in Redmond’s words.
Mona said it’s impossible to be in Moffat or Routt counties and not subconsciously look for her daughter.
The country is too big, though, the land too vast and empty to know where to start, she added. In that sense, it’s somewhat comforting to eliminate one place from the long list of maybes.
“I always look around and wonder where she is,” Mona Blee said with Paul Blee’s arm around her shoulder.
The couple seems to move through waves of emotion.
Tears flow to the surface, then ebb away and reveal in the sand of their features a strong resolve to persevere until Marie is returned to them.
“There are times, too, when I guess our emotions just build up and just spill over,” Mona Blee said. “Just tremendous sadness. We’ve gone through the whole range of things. The anger and the frustration. We’re getting to the point where, OK, this is a lot we have to deal with, and we need to move on with our lives and try to do something that might help someone else.”
Today, both Paul and Mona Blee volunteer.
Paul Blee, who served in the Air Force from 1956 to 1959, spends a lot of time at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Grand Junction. Mona Blee serves as a victim’s advocate for the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and helps facilitate a group for families of methamphetamine addicts.
Paul Blee said he likes what he does, and is proud he can help drive disabled veterans to get the medical care they desperately need.
He also admits he needs it as much as they do.
“It keeps my mind off of this,” Paul Blee said of the case surrounding his daughter.
To some extent, the Blees said it became easier for the couple to cope about eight years ago. That was when they first met Howard Morton, executive director of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons.
Morton’s son, Guy, disappeared in Arizona about 30 years ago. His remains were found in the desert about 12 years later, but the murder has never been solved.
It was the first time Paul and Mona Blee met someone who had lived the same crisis, who knew what it was like to wonder if they should hold a memorial service or leave the porch light on at night.
“I think it kind of took the edge off that we weren’t alone, and there were so many other people with the same problems,” Paul Blee said. “It didn’t take the pain away, it just kind of leveled things out.”
They volunteer with the Colorado Cold Case Task Force, a state organization with representatives from law enforcement, district attorneys’ offices and family members of unsolved crime victims.
Two of the task force’s prime objectives are to find retired law enforcement officers who can investigate unsolved homicides, and to train local officers on how to investigate cold cases.
Mona and Paul Blee lobbied Mesa County to be involved.
Although the Blees said their work in the world of missing persons has shown them there are “murderers among us,” both also said Marie’s disappearance has not shaken their faith that people’s hearts essentially are good.
“We certainly had a lot of support from the friends and family that were there,” Mona Blee said, referring to some in Moffat and Routt counties who were ready to drive across Northwest Colorado on their snowmobiles and look for Marie.
“No, I don’t think we’ve ever had a distrust.”
They hope that basic promise of righteousness will encourage someone to come forward with information that will take them to their daughter, even 30 years later, even if what happened to her is never known.
“Were going to locate her,” Paul Blee said. “We’re going to put her where we know we’re going to find her.”