Twenty-five-year-old Lois Hanna was tired but cheerful as she left alone from the reunion dance at the arena in sleepy small-town Lucknow near Lake Huron on Sunday, July 3, 1988.
“I gave her a big hug,” her big brother Dave Hanna said in an interview. “We both agreed we had a lot of fun that weekend.”
Then Lois vanished, despite frantic and consistent efforts by her family and community to find her.
“I’ve had nightmares watching her walk away,” Hanna said. “I can still see her walk away.”
The dance was the final event in a weekend celebration of the community’s 130th anniversary. Lois left the dance before midnight because she had to open up MacG’s clothing store in nearby Kincardine, where she worked as a fashion consultant.
When she didn’t show up for work the next morning, her work colleagues got nervous. Lois was always punctual. She enjoyed her job and life.
“She loved her job,” Hanna said. “She loved her boss. She loved the group of girls that she worked with.”
A nervous co-worker went to Lois’s red-brick bungalow on Baker Street.
Her Pontiac Grand Am was in the driveway. Her garbage had been taken out to the curb. No one answered a knock on the door. There was no sign of forced entry and all three house doors were locked. The employee feared Lois was hurt and crawled in through an unlocked window. The TV was still on. So were the living room lights. The pink dress Lois had worn to the dance hung neatly in a closet. There was a half-empty cup of tea on the kitchen counter, close to her keys, wallet and purse.
“Lois never left anywhere without that purse,” Hanna said. “That purse had everything in it for her.”
All that was missing was a peach-coloured bathrobe and a matching nightgown.
Dave immediately notified the local police, and felt they didn’t take it seriously.
So he rallied dozens of his friends and began a search; they continued their efforts into the night. It was no problem attracting volunteers, since Lois was a long-standing, popular community member.
When it got dark the first night, the manager of the local Canadian Tire reopened his store so they could equip themselves with high-powered spotlights.
Searchers included long-time friends of the Hanna family. Her other brothers from Hamilton and Winnipeg rushed in to help.
It was inconceivable to the family that Lois left town on her own — especially since her car and purse remained at her home.
“She never would have left the area,” Hanna said. “She was a homebody girl. That just wasn’t her makeup at all.”
Longtime friend Mike Dennis agrees. Lois was best friends with his wife, Jackie.
“She was to be our maid of honour at our wedding,” Dennis said.
Dennis quickly dismissed the idea Lois might have just left town or taken her life.
“I just don’t see that side of her at all,” Dennis says. “She wouldn’t do that to her family.”
Volunteer searchers stepped up their search with all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles. They went door-to-door and through local properties. They recruited divers and even took to the skies.
“We had two planes in the air,” Hanna said.
By the end of the week, the larger, better equipped Ontario Provincial Police had stepped in.
Still, there was nothing beyond suspicions.
At first, there seemed to be plenty of leads, including videotape and photos of people at the reunion dance.
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Hundreds were interviewed.
There was also possible DNA evidence from two small patches of blood on the wall of her bungalow.
There was a report of two men who wandered around the clothing store where she worked around 9:30 a.m. the morning after she disappeared.
Hunters provided reports of graves — but when police dug them up, they found that they weren’t burial sites. There were bone fragments. Some were from animals.
Locals wondered if Lois’s disappearance and that of area resident Lisa Leona Maas, 22, that summer were linked to serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo, who had vacationed in the nearby Owen Sound area.
In May 1990, a body was found in the St. Clair River off Sarnia’s commercial dock with a concrete block tied to her waist with nylons. But it wasn’t Lois Hanna.
More human remains found in Meaford were from a man.
A police theory emerged that a killer was in the crowd at the dance at the Lucknow arena, stalking Lois.
The theory went that he followed her home on the 20-minute drive and abducted and killed her, then hid her body.
Lois likely knew her killer, Det. Insp. Wally Baker of the Ontario Provincial Police said at a news conference 10 years after the disappearance.
That theory makes sense to Dave Hanna.
He wonders about a man who knew Lois for years, although he was never particularly memorable.
“He was always sort of a shadow,” Hanna said.
“He was at the dance that night,” Hanna said. “Of course, he said he wasn’t.”
That man even joined the search the Tuesday Lois she vanished, Hanna said. Now, he wonders if the man was really checking out the searchers, trying to figure out what they knew.
“He knew Lois real well,” Hanna said.
He has high praise for local volunteers and appreciates the efforts of Owen Sound amateur sleuths Nick Oldrieve and Matt Nopper, who run the group Please Bring Me Home. They run a website trolling for tips. They also operate mass searches.
Oldrieve and Nopper say more searches are planned as COVID-19 social distancing restrictions lift.
“There’s still a lot of grid to cover,” Oldrieve said.
Hanna said it was painful to watch their mother suffer as years passed and Lois wasn’t found.
“It just crushed Mom,” said Hanna. Christmases became painful events, which always ended with their mother saying, “Hopefully she will be back next time.”
Their mother never gave up hope, right up until 2013, when she died.
“She had faith — this blind faith,” Hanna said.
He said he doesn’t wonder how his sister’s life might be today, if she hadn’t vanished.
He’s certain she would have remained at the centre of a loving community and family.
“She would have had lots of kids and (been a) big part of our family. She just loved being around kids and the kids migrated around her.”
Peter Edwards is a Toronto-based reporter primarily covering crime for the Star. Reach him via email: [email protected]
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