Case of missing Kootenay teen still unsolved 50 years later

Phillip Porter, age 16, disappeared near his home in Kimberley on June 26, 1969

June 26, 2019 marks the 50 year anniversary of the disappearance of Phillip Porter of Kimberley. Teenager Phillip disappeared running an errand for his mother on June 26, 1969 and was never seen again.

At the time, Phillip was 16 years old and lived with his family on Giegerich Road in Townsite.

Kimberley RCMP Sgt. Chris Newel says that although the case is 50 years old, it remains active, and police are reaching out to the public for any information that could assist in bringing closure to the family.

“Phillip left the house around 1:00 pm on June 26, 1969. He was expected home around 5:30 pm for dinner. When he didn’t return, Mrs. Porter called friends to see if they had seen Philip,” wrote Newel in a press release.

At the time, Phillip’s father was the general manager of the Cominco Mine (now Teck). Mrs. Porter was scheduled to fly to Trail that evening but the flight had been cancelled so, fortunately, she was at home when the phone rang.

At 10:30 that night, the family received a phone call from a man requesting $100,000 for the return of their son.

After the phone call, the first ransom note was received. It read:

BOY ALIVE WELL. MISSES MOTHER. SMARTEN UP IF YOU WANT HIM BACK ALIVE .YOU WERE TOLD NOT TO CALL COPS JUNE 26. DUMB. PLAY YOUR PART. FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS EXACTLY OR YOU WILL NEVER SEE HIM AGAIN. TRUST US NO ONE WILL EVER FIND HIM. ALL WE WANT IS MONEY. HOW BAD YOU WANT HIM .YOU GET ONE MORE CHANCE. DON’T THINK WE HAVEN’T GOT HIM. MAKE ONE MISS WE WILL SEND YOU HIS WRISTWATCH AND SOME OF HIS CLOTHES. HIS BODY WILL BE MILES DOWN IN THE OCEAN. THINK IT OVER OR THE MONEY. GET 60,000 20 DOLLAR BILLS IN CANVASS BAG ANOTHER 40,000 WRAPPED BROWN PAPER. MONEY EXAMINED BY EXPERT. DON’T TRY TO FOOL US. WE HAVE EXPERIENCE. PUT ANSWER PERSONAL COLUMN VANCOUVER SUN SOON AS POSSIBLE THIS TWO DAYS. WILL DO AS YOU SAY. LAST CHANCE.

A few weeks later, another note was received with instructions on where to leave the money at a location in Wycliffe. Phillip’s father followed the instructions while police watched.

On July 26, 1969, Earle Bennett’s car approached the cabin where Mr. Porter had left a note as instructed and Bennett went inside. His car was stopped as he left the cabin and the note found in the vehicle.

Earle Bennett was arrested, charged with extortion, and convicted. Although he remained a subject of interested in Phillip’s disappearance, Bennett died in a plane crash on Oct 30, 1974.

“He was convicted of the extortion and he was imprisoned for three years,” Newel said. “He wasn’t out for very long and then he died. But he never confessed.”

Bennett only admitted to being part of the extortion and said he acted alone, taking advantage of the fact that Phillip was missing.

As part of the investigation, officers traveled to various parts of Canada and the USA. In addition to local ground searches of mine shafts and sewer pipes, a property in Wycliffe was searched, as was Moyie Lake. Wire taps, polygraph tests and undercover operations were all used in the investigation. Posters with a description of Phillip were posted around town.

There have been various reported sightings over the years but, unfortunately, they have not resulted in locating Philip.

Phillip’s brother, Doug, who is 75 now, recalls his time with Phillip. “I had moved away from Kimberley prior to Phillip’s disappearance but came back regularly to visit,” says Doug Porter, who was 25 years old when Phillip went missing. “I had come home for Christmas in 1968 and I have a vivid memory of Philip and I skiing and having lunch on the hill. That was the last time I saw him.”

S/Sgt. Fred Bodnaruk was Kimberley Detachment Commander at the time. He was a friend of the Porters and spent a lot of time working on the investigation.

“Even to this date, I think about it often. I’m troubled that there has never been any closure on the matter.”

Bodnaruk continued to be bothered by the investigation. Ten years ago, be spoke with the Kimberley Bulletin about why he continued to believe the evidence pointed to Bennett.

This is what he told the Bulletin ten years ago.

“Bennett could not fully account for his actions on the day of Philip’s disappearance.

“Bennett was the neighbour of the Porter family and on several occasions was observed talking in a very friendly manner to Philip.

“Bennett takes leave from his company job against the wishes of his wife, when questioned by her about this he tells her he has something interesting to do and since they don’t get along anyway it shouldn’t matter.

“Bennett and his brother Ross had a farm seven miles southeast of Kimberley and used this property as a getaway.

Police executed a search warrant on the Bennett Farm, and stolen welding equipment was hidden under the floor of the house. Bennett was a professional welder. On this farmyard I noticed an empty gasoline barrel and around the impression in the ground, where another gasoline barrel once stood. Very nearby was a cutaway top part of a gasoline barrel. Alongside was a remnant of quarter inch steel plate seemingly cut to replace the cutaway lid of the mentioned barrel. An intensive search of all the Bennett Farm failed to reveal any trace of this second gas barrel.

“Nearby, I observed a pile of manure, quite ordinary since horses were present. Curiously I dug through the manure pile and to my surprise found a man’s toque, blue in colour. On close examination I noted several strands of black healthy hair. Bennett was not known to ever wear that toque, furthermore at this time Bennett was 54 years old and generally bald. The hair that remained on Bennett’s neck was grayish. Phillip was known to wear a toque and his hair was dark and healthy. “Subsequently the RCMP crime lab examined the hair and found it similar to samples of Phillip.

“A neighbour of Bennett, two houses to he east left on his holidays and asked Bennett to care for the property. “Unfortunately the police did not learn of this event until the month of August, a search was executed on this property and I found a bag of decomposed fruit and vegetables proven to be quite similar to those that Mrs. Porter sent Phillip to buy at Supervalu.

“Phillip was positively identified as climbing the stairs on his way home shortly before the noon hour; the stairway is just across the street from the Bennett residence. This is the last known sighting of Phillip.

“To this day, I wish I could blame someone else,” Bodnaruck said.

Kimberley RCMP continue to seek any information on this 50 year old case. They ask anyone with any information to call the Kimberley RCMP at 250-427-4811 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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