Kidnapped from the playground? The disappearance of Michael Dunahee

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Kids love playing and having fun, and are often naive and trusting. Parents want their kids to be happy, but simultaneously worry about them being harmed.


I’m not a parent, so I can’t imagine the fear of turning around for a second and having your child disappear from sight. Let’s talk about Michael Dunahee.

early life/disappearance


Michael Wayne Dunahee was born on May 12, 1986 to mom Crystal and dad Bruce. About three years later, he was joined by younger sister Caitlin. Michael reportedly loved being a big brother, always wanting to help out with Caitlin and change her diapers. Unfortunately, the siblings wouldn’t get to spend much time together.


Michael and Caitlin Dunahee

On the morning of Sunday, March 24, 1991, the Dunahee family headed to a ball field in their hometown of Victoria, British Columbia so Crystal could play a game of football. On their way to the field, four-year-old Michael asked his parents if he could go to the playground at the nearby Blanshard Elementary School. At some point between noon and 12:30, Crystal Dunahee sent her son off to play, about 100 yards behind them. She would later say the following:


"I made sure he was looking at me, and that he understood that he was allowed to go to the park by himself, but he had to stay and not leave with anybody else and wait for his dad to come.”

“I recall having those lovely tummy butterflies, and I regret not following those.”

As Crystal and the other players were getting their equipment ready, Bruce turned around to check on his son. But he didn’t see him anywhere. About 50 people started looking for Michael in the area, but there was no sign of him. So his parents went to a nearby house to use their phone and call the police.

investigation


Police began their investigation by interviewing sex offenders, as well as children who had been at the playground at the time Michael was last seen. One witness reported seeing a man in his later 40’s or early 50’s there. There was another alleged sighting of Michael with a black man, about 5 feet 10 inches tall and 180 pounds. Later on that year, a man fitting this description allegedly tried to kidnap a 7-year-old girl in New Jersey. The girl would later claim she was put into the back of a car where she saw a little boy in the backseat who resembled Michael. None of this can be confirmed.


There was also a brown van sighted in the area the same day Michael went missing. Police were able to track down the driver, who was interviewed and ultimately ruled out as being involved.


In 2008, the Victoria Police offered a $100,000 reward in Michael’s case. Both investigators and Michael’s parents hoped the money would convince someone to come forward with previously withheld information — but it never did.


In 2009, 62-year-old Milwaukee resident Vernon Seitz told a psychiatrist that he’d killed a boy in 1959 and that he knew about another child killing. His house was raided after this, and he was found dead there of natural causes. Inside his home, police found files on unsolved missing children’s cases from the 80’s and 90’s — including one of Michael Dunahee’s missing persons posters. They also found child porn, blonde human hair and a bone.


In life, Seitz had reportedly claimed to be a psychic, using his abilities to help out families of children who had been kidnapped. There was no evidence that he ever helped families of missing children and no other links between him and Micheal were ever found.

In February 2011, a man in Chase, British Columbia who looked like Michael was given a DNA test, but ruled out as actually being him. In 2012, the book Vanished: The Micahel Dunahee Story* was released.


In 2013, a man in Surrey, British Columbia was identified through a tip as bearing a strong resemblance to Michael. He was also ruled out via DNA, as was a man in Vancouver the same year.



Michael’s disappearance ultimately spawned one of the biggest police investigations in Canadian history. Hundreds of officers would investigate over 11,000 tips and sightings from all over the world. But 30 years later, there’s still no trace of Michael.

aftermath


The Dunahees later moved, but kept the same phone number — which Michael had memorized — just in case he called. They also set up a bedroom for him in their new house.


Caitlin Dunahee grew up hearing about her older brother who went missing, but wasn't able to get to know him.

Growing up, Caitlin Dunahee remembered going to a friend’s house down the street and her mom watching her the whole time, then having her call as soon as she got there. She also remembered having an earlier curfew than most of her friends.


Micahel’s parents believe he’s still alive, that he was kidnapped and someone knows something. They hope that person will still come forward with what they know.



His family has also held the annual Michael Dunahee Keep the Hope Alive Run to raise money for the nonprofit Child Find B.C. (where Crystal Dunahee works). The run went virtual in 2020 due to covid, but participants still ran, walked or cycled and uploaded their photos to social media using a hashtag.


In March 2021, the 30th anniversary of Michael’s disappearance, a new, updated sketch was released by the Victoria Police. They also posted a form that would allow people to submit tips about the case online.

theories


So what happened to Michael Dunahee? There aren’t too many theories here, but let’s go over what I did find.


Most people speculating about this case online believe Michael was kidnapped. Some think he was taken outside of Canada or the U.S.; at least one person said he would probably have been found by now if he was still in British Columbia since he’s so recognizable. A few people suggested he was kidnapped and raised by someone else, while others suggested he met with foul play. One person wondered if he was actually kidnapped by someone he knew, rather than a stranger as most people seem to think. According to this person, if a family member or friend of the Dunahees was at the field or playground and took Michael, their presence wouldn’t have aroused suspicion from anyone there, allowing them to slip under the radar.


There has also been some debate about Crystal Dunahee’s actions that day. A few people said 100 yards was quite a distance and that she shouldn’t have let a four-year-old play so far away. Others said it wasn’t a big deal or that she likely looked back in hindsight and regretted this.


There are also a few people who have suggested Michael was kidnapped by a satanic cult. This theory seemingly came about because he went missing on Palm Sunday and because there was a nearby street called Easter Street. This is not a theory that most people online take seriously, but I did want to include as many as I could find here — although there aren’t very many.

final details/conclusion

Michael at four years old (right) with an updated age progression

Michael Dunahee was four years old when he was last seen at a playground in Victoria, British Columbia on March 24, 1991. Michael is a white male who was 3 feet tall and 51 pounds at the time of his disappearance, with blonde hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing a blue hooded jacket with red lining, a Ninja Turtles t-shirt, multi colored pants and blue sneakers. If here were alive today, he would be 35 years old.

This seems like a case that has really frustrated investigators. They want to give Michael’s loved ones something, anything that might suggest where he is or what happened to him, but they have very little to go on. Hopefully one day that will change.


If you have any information about the disappearance of Michael Dunahee, you can contact the Victoria Police Department at (250) 995-7654. You can also submit a tip via this online form.


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