Parents’ worst nightmare
Maitlands pursue missing daughter through bad dreams, empty leads
By Sam Hemingway
EAST FRANKLIN -- Even in sleep, Bruce and Kellie Maitland are on the lookout for their 18-year-old daughter, Brianna.
"In my dream," Kellie Maitland said, patting the kitchen table, "I am talking to people and I ask them: ’Do you know where Brianna is?’
"I feel they are on the verge of telling me where she is, and then I wake up."
Nearby, Bruce Maitland looked down at the floor of their small home in the woods near the Canadian border.
His dreams, he said, are often a rerun of his waking life over the past eight months, haunting images of looking for his daughter’s remains in roadside ditches or in woods or in garbage bags mixed with the intense hope he won’t find anything. Once, he said, he dreamed he was Brianna: "I am running, trying to get away and hide from the people chasing me."
March 19, Brianna Maitland, then 17, finished her nighttime shift as a dishwasher at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery, walked out the door and vanished.
The next day, her car was found rammed backward into an abandoned house just west of town; her two paychecks lay on the seat. There was no note. She took no clothes.
No one, including police, has a substantive clue as to where she could be. Organized search parties, posters on utility poles from Montreal to New York City, Border Patrol helicopter flights, a BringBriHome.org Web site, even a court inquest have proven fruitless.
"It’s still wide open," Vermont State Police Lt. Tom Nelson said this week of the investigation. "We don’t have a really solid set of facts that lead us to understanding what happened after she left work."
Almost every day, Nelson said, another tip finds its way to his desk. Thursday, for instance, a hunter found clothes in the woods in Montgomery; they turned out to be unrelated. Police have interviewed 107 people in the Maitland case, Nelson said, but "nothing solid" explains her disappearance.
"They found Saddam Hussein in a spider hole, but no one can find our daughter," Kellie Maitland said during a recent conversation at her home. Bruce Maitland is convinced that his daughter -- alive or dead -- is not in Vermont. But that’s only a guess.
Several times over the past eight months, the Maitlands thought their nightmare was over.
There was the time someone reported seeing Brianna performing at a strip club in Boston.
"We went down there, and we showed Brianna’s picture to a person there," Bruce Maitland said. "She said, ’Yeah, she works across the street in another club.’ And there was a girl there who, if you weren’t her father, you’d think was her.
"But it wasn’t her."
Another time, police found a garbage bag on a field near Montgomery. The Maitlands were told the bag contained a body.
It was a pig carcass.
"At first, they weren’t sure what it was," Kellie Maitland said. "I was such a nervous wreck when I left work. I didn’t have any fingernails left by the end of the day."
The harder they look, the harder it becomes to keep looking. They have looked along almost every road embankment from Interstate 87 in New York to Vermont 100. They have gone to New York and Hartford and Montreal and Syracuse and Albany. Nothing.
"The way we think now is not the way we did before," Kellie Maitland said. "I look at people going by in cars, looking for Brianna. I see some shape off the side of the road, just the gnarly part of a tree’s roots, and I think it’s a body."
Kellie Maitland works as a clerk in a local hardware store. She drives to work -- everywhere, really -- with her doors locked and a handgun nearby. She fears dangerous people might be responsible for her daughter’s disappearance.
Bruce Maitland describes the grimness of their task: "I’ll see buzzards flying somewhere, and I have to go see why. I say ’Oh, look, there’s a bag or there’s some clothes’ and I have to go poke at it to see what’s there. After a while, you can’t do it anymore."
Friends and neighbors have been supportive, he said, but the experience of searching for a missing child has made the Maitlands feel alone at times.
"I feel like there is a huge cloud following me around that everyone can see but me," he said.
Life goes on, barely
Since March 19, Brianna’s grandmother has died. So has a great-grandmother. In October, her 18th birthday came and went; it was acknowledged by a gathering of neighbors at Byam’s Quick Stop in town. Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie dropped by -- a quiet break from his re-election campaign.
Now Christmas is around the corner. Several boxes of holiday decorations -- including some handmade by Brianna -- sit by the kitchen counter. Kellie Maitland said she isn’t sure if she can bear to put them up.
The couple tried to get away for a few days this summer; they went to Nova Scotia for a week where they wandered the ocean beaches. One day, Kellie Maitland came upon a cavern in the rocks; there, in the sand at her feet, was a heart-shaped stone.
"The rock and the cavern seemed to magnify how I felt," she said. With the stone cupped in her hands, she broke out in tears. "How the sea cut this stone and left it there. I knew it was there for her, that she is always in my heart."
Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or firstname.lastname@example.org