Without a trace
SisterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s goal: Find out what happened
BY TERRY KATZ
Published: Friday, September 14, 2007 9:31 PM CDT
If Brittney Beers were here today sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d probably be a student at Sturgis High School attending classes with friends. Her favorite class might have been art.
Brittney liked art. One picture that made her proud was an arrangement made of oak leaves pasted on paper that she made while in kindergarten at Fawn River School. And, like her older sister, Dixie Beers, she was a tomboy. She loved being outdoors.
Brittney lived with her mother, Tina Stetler, and her uncle, James Allen Beers, in Village Manor Apartments, until Sept. 16, 1997.
Missing for 10 years
Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of BrittneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s disappearance.
Dixie Beers said she will never forget the moment she found out her sister was missing. It was Sept. 17, 1997. She was attending class at Eastwood School when she heard people talking in the hall.
There was a guidance counselor waiting to talk to Dixie. Her mother, Christine, was there too.
Dixie, who was 10, was told that her half sister, Brittney, was missing. Brittney had been last seen sitting on a bench outside Village Manor Apartments at 8:45 p.m. She had been alone for only a short time. Her brother, Joshua, 12, said he saw her on the bench as he walked to the Burger Dairy store.
Dixie and Brittney are daughters of Raymond Beers, but lived with different mothers. There was never a time when Dixie was seen together with their dad and Brittney.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was not allowed to visit at BrittneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dixie said in an exclusive interview with the Journal. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a complicated situation. BrittneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mother (Tina Stetler) lived with my dadÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s brother (James Allen Beers). But we would see each other on the Jerolene playground.Ã¢â‚¬Â The playground was located near both their homes. Dixie and her mom lived near the former Sturgis Middle School.
Today, as Dixie prepares to celebrate her 21st birthday next week, she feels frustrated. She has never gotten over the anxiety of her sisterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s disappearance. Her life has been scarred with one tragedy after another in the last 10 years. She lost her dad in an accident in 2001.
What would she say if . . .
She wonders what she would say if Brittney were to return today. Ã¢â‚¬Å“First IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d tell her I missed her,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Dixie. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Then IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d tell her whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been going on, but only a little bit at a time. Too much has been going on. Then IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d ask her what in the world happened to her.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Police have investigated more than a thousand leads in the Brittney case but they never asked Dixie Beers what she thought happened. She knew Brittney was often frightened and living a troubled life at home.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When you look at BrittneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pictures, what do you see?Ã¢â‚¬Â she said as she opened a book filled with newspaper clippings, cards, pictures and mementos.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I see the face of a sad little girl. This whole thing about her sitting on a bench and then going off with a stranger makes no sense to me,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Brittney was very shy. She was so scared and skittish about talking to strangers, I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see her going away with a stranger.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The last picture of Brittney was taken by a baby-sitter on ChildrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Day at the St. Joseph County Grange Fair. That was only a day before she disappeared. Brittney was blowing a bubble. There was a sharp change in her usual hair style. Her hair was short and made her look boyish.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Uncle James (Beers) chopped her hair,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dixie recalls, Ã¢â‚¬Å“because he said she wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t taking care of it. Brittney said the boys (at Fawn River Kindergarten) were picking on her hair, so he cut it off.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Dixie said it was the change in description of BrittneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s clothes a week after her disappearance that puzzles her the most. First she was described in the newspapers as wearing a white T-shirt with flower print, multi-colored tie-dyed shorts and white tennis shoes with a purple design. One week later, Sturgis police had a new description of her clothes. She was last seen wearing a white tank top with a flower design, hot pink shorts and LA Gear shoes with some pink designs. The laces on her shoes were white with a red stripe down the middle.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“BrittneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s clothes were found in a hamper,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Dixie. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Why didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t they (the police) take this more seriously?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Dixie also knew something about BrittneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s shoes.
Her dad, Raymond Beers, had bought her a new pair of shoes. Ã¢â‚¬Å“His favorite color was purple. He would have never gotten her pink shoes. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what threw me when the description of the shoes was even different.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Journal asked Sturgis Deputy Chief of Police Dave Ives about BrittneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s change of clothes. He confirmed that there was a new clothes description released. He also said that BrittneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tie-dyed shorts that were retrieved from the hamper were tested at the police station for blood stains. None were found.
Ives also confirmed that there is no computer record that Dixie was interviewed by police, but her mother was interviewed extensively about the family situation.
Father dies in accident
Raymond Beers took the disappearance of his daughter hard. He began not showing up for regular visits. Dixie recalls seeing him sobbing.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He was depressed. He had nightmares,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Dixie, Ã¢â‚¬Å“and he often blamed his brother for doing something to Brittney.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Raymond lived for car racing. He often raced at the Mottville Speedway when he could scrape up the cash. But on Dec. 15, 2001, Raymond, at age 33, was killed in an accident on Featherstone Road, Florence Township. He was riding with three other occupants in a pickup truck that veered out of control. Beers died after being ejected from the truck. He was not wearing a seat belt.
The last time Dixie talked with her dad was four months before the accident.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Dad was supposed to pick me up for my birthday but he never showed. I remember that we had a long talk on the phone and I really wanted to see him so much. I told him I loved him. He said he loved me too.Ã¢â‚¬Â
There was another earlier death in the Beers family before Dixie was born. Amber Beers, a sister to Brittney, was the victim of a crib death on May 10, 1990. Amber was 11 months old when she died.
Today as Dixie keeps adding to her scrapbooks of photos, newspaper clippings and cards and memoirs, she wonders if Brittney could be alive somewhere and maybe not even remember that she was abducted. Maybe sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s with a family that cares about her, Dixie imagines.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My goal in life is to find out what happened to her,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I would like to see the police spend more time talking to Uncle James,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“They have the perfect opportunity to see him now.Ã¢â‚¬Â
James Allen Beers is currently serving a 4-20 year sentence for controlled substance-delivery/manufacture-methamphetamine at Riverside Correctional Facility in Ionia County.
Terry Katz is a staff writer for the Journal. Contact her at email@example.com.