Missing since: 05/10/41
Missing from: Carolina Beach, Bladen County, North Carolina
Classification: Endangered Missing
Age at disappearance: 36 years old
Height and Weight at Time of Disappearance: 5’7″; 120-125 lbs.
Distinguishing Characteristics: White female. Dark hair and eyes.
Clothing: A summer print dress, brown and white shoes, and a green turban.
Circumstances of Disappearance
Leila Lewis Bryan and her four-year-old daughter, Mary Rachel were last seen on May 10, 1941.
A native of Bladenboro, Bryan and her husband, E.C. “Eddie” Bryan, lived at Carolina Beach. The couple worked for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Leila had been enrolled in nursing school when the couple became engaged and were married. Bryan got her an office job at the railroad. Leila’s mother disapproved of the marriage, as Eddie was divorced.
The weekend she disappeared, Mary Rachel and Leila were headed for Bladenboro to visit her family. Because of the enmity between her husband and mother, Eddie wasn’t accompanying Leila and Mary Rachel.
She planned to leave either Friday or Saturday, possibly riding with her brother, Berry Lewis. Mary Rachel’s Sunday shoes were polished, and several rings Leila always wore were found at the Raleigh Street home. The rings were Leila’s favorites, and she rarely left home without them, according to friends.
On May 10, 1941, Eddie Bryan told investigators that Leila said she was driving to a store a few blocks from their home. Bryan later told investigators that Mary Rachel asked to ride along.
At Carolina Beach at the time, according to town records, there was a small grocery store catering to fishermen and vacationers, a store similar to a general store, and a combination grocery/ department store. All three of the stores were in the same general area, near the modern intersection of U.S. 421 and Channel Drive. Where Leila went shopping that evening, if she did, has never been discovered. Neither mother nor child was ever seen again.
Berry Lewis went to Carolina Beach to visit his sister around 9 p.m. on May 10, 1941. Lewis awakened Bryan, who told his brother-in-law that Leila had gone to the store. Lewis apparently drove around the beach for an hour or so, looking for Leila and Mary Rachel. Figuring he must have somehow missed them, he returned to the Bryan home, located in the 200 block of North Raleigh Avenue. Leila Bryan’s 1935 Ford coupe was still missing. Husband, brother, or both called police.
Bryan told police he was making concrete forms in the couple’s garage when Leila had come home around 6:30 p.m. and made supper. Leila and Mary Rachel had spent the afternoon on the beach.
Local attention was intense as well-Leila’s family was well-liked and widely known in the Bladenboro area. Searchers were combing the island and the surrounding areas for any clue of Leila, Mary Rachel, or the Ford coupe. Professional divers searched areas where a car could be driven into the Cape Fear River, Snow’s Cut, and the Intracoastal Waterway. Officers visited gas stations from 50 to 100 miles away, since Eddie Bryan told investigators he didn’t think the Ford had more than half tank of gasoline when Leila left.
At the request of a newspaper, officers in Pinellas , Florida, began searching for the woman when the pair was reported spotted nearby. Officers questioned some of Eddie Bryan’s family who lived in the area, but no clues were located. Stories and advertisements were placed in newspapers across the country as leads and suspected sightings were checked and rechecked.
Officers thought they had a break later that summer when someone found a piece of automobile windshield in Snow’s Cut (a large canal connecting the Cape Fear River and the Intracoastal Waterway north of Carolina Beach). It was just a few feet offshore, out from a little beach. It was in maybe 18 inches of water at the outside, and had been there for a while. Investigators determined the glass could have come from a 1935 Ford, but couldn’t be sure. The windshield fragment was sent to the SBI lab in Raleigh, but as the case grew cold over the years, the glass disappeared.
Investigators examined three possible fates of Leila and Mary Rachel: Leila could have committed suicide, taking her daughter with her, by driving into the Waterway, the Cape Fear River or off Snow’s Cut;
Leila could have run away, hiding her own and Mary Rachel’s identities to escape what some reported was an unhappy marriage;
or, the woman and child were murdered, and their bodies hidden, and the car dismantled or destroyed.
Investigators never found sufficient evidence to suggest anyone killed Leila and Mary Rachel. No one was ever charged. Nor was there an indication by friends or family that she had ever considered suicide.
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Leila Lewis Bryan, 36, and her 4-year-old daughter Mary Rachel … Bryan was Lewis Smith’s aunt. Tuesday, he was hoping the mystery, or at least his …
Lewis Smith arrived at the little cream-colored house surrounded by … They hoped to find the remains of Leila Lewis Bryan, 36, and her 4-year-old daughter Mary Rachel who …
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N.C. State Bureau of Investigation
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