MAPLE PARK – Instead of an album of recent photos of her youngest son, Susan Olsen flips through the pages of an album filled with photos of bloodhound searches and the construction of “missing” billboards.
Today marks five years since 26-year-old Bradley Olsen of Maple Park disappeared. He was last seen in the early morning hours of Jan. 20, 2007, outside of a DeKalb bar. A private balloon release and vigil are planned today for family and close friends.
Susan Olsen remains driven to find her son. At her Maple Park home a week ago, she wore a white-hooded sweatshirt with Bradley’s “missing” ad printed on the back and a business card-sized “missing” ad pinned to the front.
She never imagined seeing five years pass since his disappearance, but the goal remains to find her son.
“There’s definitely people out there that know ...” she said. “Sometimes you just feel like saying, ‘OK, I know you know something.’ ”
Bradley was at the then-Bar One with two friends Jan. 19, 2007, but they left before he did. The 5-foot-8-inch man with blue eyes and brown hair hasn’t been seen since leaving the bar around 2:30 a.m. Bar One was at 1000 W. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb.
Police still receive tips and investigate leads about the disappearance, DeKalb Police Lt. Gary Spangler said.
“Some initially seem more promising than others,” he said.
Prosecutor Julie Trevarthen with the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office said she works closely with police on the case, which remains a priority.
Susan Olsen said she’s pleased with cooperation from police and prosecutors since her son went missing, especially since investigators have “a lot on their plate, too.”
“I’ve been [more] fortunate in that regard than a lot of other families of missing people,” she said, tearing up.
Bradley Olsen’s parents last saw him Jan. 12, 2007, before they went on vacation. They returned Jan. 24, 2007, and he was reported missing a week later.
In the past five years, Susan Olsen has heard countless stories and theories. People have approached her while shopping or come to her home to share bits of information about her son. She relays anything she’s told to police.
“It still remains ... a very active case. And I know the police department is working hard to find Brad,” she said. “That’s our ... No. 1 goal.”
She is confident investigators are working on the case, “that it’s not being thrown away in a box somewhere labeled ‘cold case’ or whatever.”
Investigative work is more difficult with a case this old, Spangler said, but it won’t become a cold case. Detectives will work on it as time permits.
“We still have an open mind and are aggressively pursuing any information that we do get,” he said.
’I’m like a book without a cover ...’
A quote taped above Susan Olsen’s kitchen desk reads: “The [difference] between the possible and the impossible lies in a person’s determination.”
The quote – her favorite – speaks to the effort of the past five years and the hope of finding her son.
On a recent warm day, she hung up new “missing” posters. In some spots, she has replaced posters – with a photo and description of Bradley, along with police contact information – three or four times. As recently as two weeks ago she tagged along while search dogs sniffed for signs of her son.
“Every day is a day closer either to finding Brad or getting some kind of answers ... as to what really happened that night, who was really involved,” she said.
Some people have expressed annoyance at the constant presence of the “missing” signs or billboards, she said. As she says repeatedly, the goal is to find Bradley. His photo and physical description have been visible for five years now, “and I’ll keep it out there.”
The lack of closure is difficult for the family, she said, because Bradley vanished without a trace. Susan said she doesn’t even have the comfort of knowing how her son may have died.
“I don’t know. I’m like a book without a cover because I don’t know,” she said, looking lost.
There are other struggles. In March 2010, a DeKalb County judge issued a presumptive death certificate for Olsen so his daughter could collect Social Security benefits. The family later learned a state law stipulates presumption of death cannot occur until a person has been missing for seven years. In October 2010, after several hearings, his daughter was granted benefits.
In September, the Olsens were contacted and told the Social Security Administration was reconsidering the benefits. They had to attend a hearing Jan. 4. On Thursday, Susan Olsen received a letter stating the administration will try to deny further benefits.
“Now we will have to go through the whole process again and hope they change their minds,” she said during a phone interview Thursday. “I just can’t believe that you can give somebody something and then take it away.”
With missing persons cases, police feel the frustration of family and friends, Spangler said. Olsen’s is the biggest unsolved case in Spangler’s time with the DeKalb Police Department.
“It’s our job to solve crimes, and then when we get serious – big cases that go unsolved – it’s frustrating,” Spangler said.
While keeping up with other missing persons cases, Susan Olsen receives frequent email alerts and information from missing persons organizations. T-shirts, buttons and posters with faces of Chicago-area missing persons such as John Spira, Stacy Peterson and Lisa Stebic and her son cover a table in the home.
“It’s never a stretch of the imagination to think ... you never know,” she said, trailing off.
Have any tips?
At the time of his disappearance, Bradley Olsen was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed about 175 pounds. He has blue eyes and brown hair.
He has a tattoo of a palm tree on his left ankle and a tattoo of a sun on his back.
He was last seen leaving a bar in the 1000 block of West Lincoln Highway in DeKalb in the early morning hours of Jan. 20, 2007.
He was wearing a brown leather jacket, a black shirt, jeans and boots.
If you have information, contact the DeKalb Police Department at 815-748-8400 or DeKalb County Crime Stoppers at 815-895-3272.