Woman missing 17 years is found

Author: NANCY MEERSMAN - Union Leader Staff
New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, NH)

May 14, 2002

Denise Desruisseaux Bolser -- whose disappearance from New Hampshire has been an unsolved mystery for 17 years -- opened the front door to her Panama City, Fla., home at dawn yesterday morning, still half asleep, to find officers from Raymond, N.H., Florida and the FBI on her doorstep.

The 42-year-old bookkeeper and wife who now goes by the name of Denise James broke down in tears.

Denise Bolser, the much loved daughter of Manchester residents Maurice and Claire Desruisseaux, disappeared on Jan. 17, 1985.

A kidnap note saying "We've got your wife" was found in the Raymond home Bolser had shared with her estranged husband. She was not heard from again. Quickly, the footprints she left in the snow outside were gone.

Days after the disappearance, police found a pickup truck belonging to Bolser's husband abandoned at Logan Airport in Boston. Neatly arranged on the front seat were her Social Security card, birth certificate and local charge cards.

Denise Bolser was 24 at the time. Her parents have lived in anguish ever since, not knowing if she was alive or dead. Her then husband, who was never a suspect in the disappearance, divorced her in absentia.

No one could understand why Bolser, who was close to her family, would just vanish. Police never did think she had been kidnapped. They thought it likely she ran out of fear. Some also believed it was possible she had been killed.

Bolser was indicted by the Hillsborough County grand jury in April 1986, a year after she disappeared, for allegedly stealing $11,998.86 from the small Manchester company where she worked as a bookkeeper.

Raymond police now say she's said she fled because a man identified as an alleged "co-conspirator" told her, "You're gonna be dead in two days."

Raymond Police Lt. Shawne Coope said Bolser alleges her boss, now deceased, had ordered her to cook the books so he could filch money from the business, which was owned by his wife. Bolser, Coope said, believes in excess of $100,000 was stolen.

When Bolser talked to the man's wife about it, Coope said, he got very angry and "whacked her around," leaving her with multiple bruises. Bolser told her family she'd been in a car accident.

"He told her he was going to kill her and she was pretty much gone in 24 hours. . . He said, 'You're gonna die in two days,' " Coope said. Bolser told police yesterday that she has been in South Carolina, the Bahamas, California, and Hawaii. She had been living in Florida since 1996.

He said her current husband was stunned, but said a lot of things that didn't make sense before, did now. His wife would always be depressed on Mother's Day and out of sorts on holidays. She never talked about family.

Coope said Bolser could face federal charges for taking on a false identity and she was cooperating with the FBI.

When county prosecutors dropped the embezzlement case in 1993, Bolser's parents prayed she would contact them. But many more years went by without a word.

It was what police call a cold case, kept alive mainly because retired State Trooper Roland Lamy went to high school with Bolser's parents and took the disappearance personally.

"These are good, solid people from the West Side of Manchester and they suffered greatly," Lamy said. Time after time, police sent dental records out to investigators in other parts of the country, wondering if this time they would match the remains of some unidentified female corpse.

"I never once thought she was dead," said Lamy, who credited Raymond police for following up one blind lead after another, never giving up.

Raymond's Lt. Coope, Officer Stephen McPherson and Lamy flew to Panama City on Sunday to meet with investigators from the FBI and the Bay County Sheriff's Department to plan how they would approach Denise James. This was, after all, a respectable bookkeeper with a good job, married and living in a nice home.

They were so certain they had the right woman that they summoned Bolser's mother and father, who live in Orlando in the winter, along with her sister and brother and had them waiting nearby at the sheriff's department until Bolser's identity was confirmed.

Moments after police found her, Bolser opened the door to see her family again. It was a reunion of almost unbearable emotion.

"I've been hoping for this day for a long, long time, so we're very happy. It's like she never left," said her mother Claire Desruisseaux, reached by telephone yesterday. "We love her and we missed her and that's what we told her."

Maurice Desruisseaux, who is 77 years old and has a heart condition, said he was grateful to know his daughter is alive. "I'm so thankful for what Roland did," he said, referring to Lamy's work on the case over the years.

"I'm very, very happy," said Denise Bolser, crying and barely able to speak. She never expected to see her family again. "No, I never did think it would happen," she said. "I'm very thankful."

"It was the most emotional thing I've ever witnessed in my entire life," said Lamy.

Coope said at Lamy's urging he took the Denise Bolser file home with him a few years ago. It was the thickest investigative file at Raymond Police Department, he said, and one of the most frustrating.

"Roland said she could be dead, but he had a feeling she's not," Coope said. "He takes me to meet the family, and I felt, oh, man, I've got to help them."

The two detectives worked to keep the case before the public. The story has been written about in the newspaper and has aired on missing person television shows. It is also listed on Internet missing person Web sites.

These sources have generated tips for police over the years, but none panned out.

Last week, Shirley Casey, a licensed private investigator in Florida who traces people for a living, was perusing the Doe Network. The case of Denise Bolser caught Casey's attention because her own mother and grandmother came from New Hampshire.

"It said she was probably living in a warm climate," said Casey, who wondered, could she be in Florida? Casey plugged information about the missing woman into her computer databases and came up with a "Denise" in Florida with the same birth date, June 1, 1960.

She e-mailed Raymond police. "I just passed the information along. It sounded like it was their gal," she said.

Coope called Florida authorities and found this Denise was living in Panama City, then asked Bay County Sheriff's Department to send a driver's license picture.

"I told them I need a picture, this could be her. Wednesday, I was sitting in the office and the computer goes, Bink! I watched the picture come down over the screen. When it came to the eyes, I knew it was her!" .