Left and Center: Nicole circa 1982
Right: Age Progressed to age 26
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: March 11, 1982
Missing From: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: February 20, 1979
Age: 3 years old
Weight: 35 pounds
Hair Color: Brown
Eye Color: Brown
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A blue jacket, a gray turtleneck sweater, a green velour t-shirt, blue jeans with a star on the right rear pocket, and brown suede shoes
AKA: Nicole may use the nickname “Nicki” or her middle name might be spelled as “Lynne”
NCMEC Number: 600499
Details of Disappearance
Nicole Lynn Bryner was last seen on March 11th 1982. Her mother reported that Nicole was abducted from a supermarket known as the Giant Eagle Supermarket in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The supermarket was located at 23rd Street and Jane Street. Her mother claimed that she left Nicole in a shopping cart as she was at the meat counter. She said she turned around for a moment and when she looked back, Nicole was gone.
Authorities immediately started to search for the young toddler but they found no trace of Nicole or her supposed abductors. Authorities were skeptical of the story from the beginning. No one reported seeing Nicole at the grocery store, however according a news article, a man at a pretzel stand reported that he saw a child matching Nicole’s description staring at him while he made and sold pretzels outside the store. He stated the child was standing at the exit of the store and she vanished soon afterwards.
A school guard who was off duty on the weekend of Nicole’s disappearance reported that he saw a woman walking with Nicole near the supermarket shortly after her disappearance. He was shown a picture of the missing child and confirmed it was Nicole. The woman that Nicole was seen with is described as thin, standing at 5’4″, dark blonde hair cut just below her ears. She was seen wearing a gray three quarter length parka.
Authorities initially believed that Nicole was abducted in a custody dispute. Her father and mother both ended their 4 year marriage and both wanted custody of Nicole. Nicole’s father, Michael Bryner, was in Texas at the time of her disappearance and flew to Pittsburg to assist in finding his daughter. Her relatives including her mother and her boyfriend, Timothy Widman, were all cleared of involvement in her case in the initial stages of her disappearance.
Several days after Nicole vanished, her mother received a letter purportedly from Nicole’s abductors. The letter said that “Nikki was dead and buried”. Handwriting analysis suggested that Nicole’s mother, Melody Childs, wrote the letter herself. Extensive searching uncovered no signs of Nicole.
There were many sightings of Nicole after her disappearance. One of these sightings took place in Bakersfield, California when a man reported that he had seen a girl matching Nicole’s description in the company of an unidentified male in a Bakersfield shopping center on March 3rd 1983. By the time authorities reached the shopping center, Nicole and the man had disappeared. Authorities stated they are seeking a green 1979 Chrysler with Texas License plates. The man stated he recognized Nicole from the milk cartons that featured her photograph and information. It has not been confirmed that the girl was Nicole but the man was extremely convinced that it was in fact her.
In February of 1984, a man named David Romanelli was named as a possible suspect in Nicole’s disappearance. David sexually assaulted and murdered 12 year old Richard Grochosski in the same month. David was questioned regarding Bryner’s disappearance but there is no evidence to implicate him in her case.
Four years after her disappearance, Timothy Wayne Widman, Melody’s live in boyfriend at the time, confessed to killing Nicole in March of 1982. According to him, he was on a drug binge at the time and was sleeping when Nicole awoke him by biting his toe. He stated that he punched Nicole and then she hit her head on a radiator. He didn’t realize she was badly injured. Melody took Nicole to bed with her.
The next morning they found that Nicole had died. They wrapped Nicole’s body in a plastic bag and buried in a wooded area along Brookline, Pennsylvania. Investigators searched the area they indicated but Nicole’s body was not found. He stated that it was Melody’s idea to report the abduction to cover up her death.
Widman was originally charged with Involuntary manslaughter and was due for trial. Melody was arrested in June of 1986 for federal charges of lying to authorities about Nicole’s disappearance. They had to bury the case because they could not find Nicole’s body and it was a law back then that a body must be found in order to prove murder or manslaughter. The law changed in 1988.
In September of 2006, Widman was charged with criminal homicide in Nicole’s case. Since the law changed, they can charge him with Nicoles presumed death. He cooperated with authorities and in May of 2007, he admitted to Nicole’s murder again. He plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to two to four years in prison. He died at age 56 in 2011. He apologized to Nicole’s living relatives.
Nicole’s mother died in 2001 at a Texas hospital after back surgery. Nicole’s case remains unsolved and authorities believe she was the victim of foul play. Her case remains classified as a non family abduction.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Pittsburgh Police Department 412-255-2888