Who killed my mother?

Barb Sweet
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California woman wants answers in murder case of her N.L.-born mom

A California woman has appealed to the state governor’s office to offer a reward for the nearly 44-year-old murder of her mother, who was originally from Stephenville.
“It fits all the criteria,” Melissa Carson said of the murder of Phyliss O’Brien Carson.
“I am still waiting. It takes time.”
In the late 1950s, Phyliss O’Brien Carson left for the U.S. to marry Carson’s father, an air force soldier she met at the Harmon base in Stephenville.

Phyliss O’Brien Carson is shown in a photo from a Facebook page set up by her daughter, Melissa Carson. — Submitted photo

O’Brien Carson’s badly decomposed remains were found by hunters on a rural road in the town of French Camp, San Joaquin County, Calif., on Nov. 21, 1970.

She had disappeared from a truckstop bar one late October night in 1970 after telling family she was getting a ride home with a friend.

The 32-year-old mother of four was out for the evening with a couple of in-laws and had apparently called home to check on her children before she and her relatives went their separate ways.

No one ever came forward to report who the “unknown male” was that O’Brien Carson left with or to offer any other clues to the crime. Her capri pants found at the scene were turned inside out, indicating perhaps that she had been raped.  DNA tests — when technology allowed — resulted in no usable evidence.

Melissa Carson was eight years old at the time, the second oldest of the woman’s children.

It wasn’t until she was 18 that she was told by an aunt that her mother’s death was a homicide.

Carson has always been curious, but has really pushed to find answers in the last three or four years. She set up a Facebook page on the case and local TV affiliates have done news stories.

Carson’s dream is to see the murder solved. In December, the application was made to the California governor’s reward program, which offers cash for solid leads on selected cold cases.

“I don’t know what to do next,” Carson said in a telephone interview.

Carson said her trucker father, Edward, who died in 1992 of leukemia, never talked about the murder. He passed a polygraph test at some point in the investigation, she said.

Carson remembers little of her homemaker mother except that she was pretty and petite, liked thrift store shopping and tended to the family’s cows, chickens and ducks on their small farm in French Camp.

After O’Brien Carson’s death, Carson recalls relatives from Newfoundland coming to get her older half-sister, while she and the younger two siblings went to live with U.S. family for a time until her father was stable again.

Carson tried at different times to quiz her father over the years.

“He was so devastated, I guess,” she said. “I don’t know. That generation goes to their grave with secrets.”

From 1941 to the mid-1960s, 30,000 to 40,000 Newfoundland and Labrador women married American servicemen, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website. So O’Brien Carson wasn’t unusual for having gone to raise a family in the States.

Her sister, Marie White, said O’Brien Carson was around 18 when she left Stephenville.

O’Brien Carson was one of the older siblings in a family of 10 and White was several years younger. O’Brien Carson would contact her family back home in Stephenville every couple of weeks. She was interested in history and genealogy, her sister said.

“She was a good person. She looked out for her kids,” White said, adding she doesn’t think the mystery will ever be solved and her remaining siblings have tried to put it behind them.

O’Brien Carson’s siblings eventually got busy with raising their own families, expecting authorities would take care of solving the crime, but as the years went on there were never any answers.

“Too much time has gone by. I’m not optimistic,” White said.

“She was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It was such a long time ago and at the time it didn’t seem like there was a whole lot of interest (from the police). Down in the States, it’s so common — another girl missing. I don’t know how much investigation was done.”

White noted that her niece, who has visited Newfoundland a number of times, has been fighting tooth and nail for the crime to be solved.

“More power to her,” White said.

O’Brien Carson’s name is included in a database of missing and murdered women from Newfoundland and Labrador, a project organized by Marguerite’s Place, the Coalition Against Violence — Avalon East, the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre and the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre.

This article is part of an occasional Telegram series retelling the stories of some of the women and the family and friends they left behind.




Web links



Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage, Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis

Geographic location: California, French Camp, Newfoundland and Labrador San Joaquin County Stephenville U.S. Avalon East

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Recent comments

  • darrell
    April 05, 2014 - 22:26

    I want to know who killed my mother also. She was murdered in 1980.