A timber crew planting trees in rural Clackamas County came upon human remains including a skull earlier this month, and the unidentified person’s death is now being investigated as a homicide.
The remains predate the devastating wildfires that swept through the area in September, deputies said, and clothing scraps suggest they may have been at the location ‘for some time.’
— Jim Ryan, The Oregonian/OregonLive, January 22, 2021
When Portland resident Ruth Ann Albro read about the unidentified remains that were discovered on Weyerhaeuser property in Molalla earlier this year, months after summer wildfires devastated the area, she found herself filled with emotion.
After all, her little sister, Rebekah Noel Bramel, disappeared from Portland in late April 2007, and the vehicle she borrowed from a friend was found abandoned on an isolated logging road — also owned by Weyerhaeuser — in rural Lane County, east of Springfield, in an area that was also devastated by the 2020 wildfires.
Nobody knows for certain what happened to Rebekah, but it is assumed that she died in the wilderness surrounding where her vehicle was located, an area that she had previously visited with her boyfriend at the time, Gary Weaverli.
According to Weaverli, “The vehicle was found parked heading into the forest with a shredded flat tire and an empty gas tank… she apparently laid out the contents of her wallet on the dashboard, with her prized cigarette case in the middle.” These were the only clues left as to her fate.
Albro wondered, like the remains found in Clackamas, could the ashes of the Holiday Farm Fire turn up skeletal remains or other evidence of what happened to Rebekah 14 years ago?
Who was Rebekah Bramel?
Rebekah was born January 9, 1981, in Portland. The youngest of five children, three girls and two boys, Rebekah grew up in the Portland area, where she resided at the time of her disappearance.
According to Albro, Rebekah — who studied horticulture and contemplated a career in landscape architecture — was a lifelong lover of nature. “Growing them, pruning them and being in nature admiring them,” Rebekah loved plants, she says. Rebekah also enjoyed mountain biking, jewelry-making and painting.
“Becka was beautiful inside and out,” Albro says. “She loved her nieces and nephews. Spoiled them with Chevron cars and books. She loved my mom and grammy. She loved making art and growing plants. She was a tomboy for most of her life, made friends with anyone and everyone. Loved babies, nature and dirt bikes.”
Weaverli says “Rebekah could make plants thrive through the sheer force of will; she was truly gifted at horticulture. She was sweet and kind. She would give a cigarette to anyone who asked. She loved The Ramones and could watch The Big Lebowski on loop.”
He continues, “She loved her brothers, her sisters and especially her nieces and nephews. She loved her mother, too, and would always make sure we attended Sunday dinner.”
Fractured relationships and untreated mental illness
In the months before her disappearance, Rebekah’s behavior was erratic, evidence of what Weaverli and Albro believe was undiagnosed bipolar disorder. “I believe she was in a manic state prior to disappearing,” Albro says.
In addition to staying up all night ranting and raving and coming up with grandiose plans, Rebekah “began drinking heavily and racking up massive credit card debt, and generally became out of control,” according to Weaverli.
He took her to an appointment with a mental health specialist, but she never followed through with treatment.
Rebekah’s relationship with Weaverli, friends, and family had become strained. The last time anyone saw her was when she showed up at her mother’s Portland residence in late April 2007. It was late, and Rebekah was behaving strangely. Her mother asked her to go home and get some sleep.
Weaverli says he saw her a day or two before that, when “she arrived at my house at about 3 am, drunk and babbling. I was able to get her to lie down and she immediately fell asleep. In the morning she left promptly.”
Weaverli never heard from her again.
What happened to Rebekah Bramel?
“I had no reason to believe she was a danger to others,” Weaverli says, “but she clearly had become a danger to herself. More than once, she told me that the world would be a better place if she never existed.”
A major setback in figuring out what happened to Rebekah was the gap between when her vehicle turned up and when the tow company notified the owner that it had been recovered. The vehicle sat on the tow lot for about a month before the owner was notified. The tow company should have notified the police about the vehicle immediately, which would have triggered a search effort. The tow company’s negligence resulted in a major delay in search efforts that might have been successful had they been conducted sooner.
While there are a number of possibilities, and we may never know what really happened to Rebekah, she most likely committed suicide.
According to Weaverli, “She drove her friend’s truck into the forest as far as it would go. I believe that with the same force of will she exhibited with plants, she deliberately let herself die. I think she managed to hide herself deep in the forest and then purposely stayed in that location until death. I think she is still there; it was her one perfect act. She truly disappeared without a trace, trying to fulfill the sad wish to have ‘never existed.’ Of course, for those who loved her, that erasure was never possible.”
Brenton Gicker is a registered nurse who lives and works in the Eugene/Springfield area. He has written several stories about local missing people. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.