Left and Center: Sara circa, 1996
Right: Age Progressed to age 39
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: April 3, 1996
Missing From: Spooner, Washburn County, Wisconsin
Classification: Endangered Missing
Date Of Birth: August 15, 1980
Age: 15 years old
Height and Weight: 5’0″ and 104 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian Female, Blonde hair, Blue eyes, Sara has moles on the right side of her upper lip and the left side of her neck, she was known to wear wire framed glasses, her nickname is “Bug” and she might spell her name “Sarah”
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A blue jacket, a Tweety Bird shirt, blue jeans, a pair of black Reebok sneakers, Sara was last known to be wearing four sterling silver rings on her right hand; one of these was a Spooner High School class ring with a black stone on it
NCMEC Number: 818087
Details of Disappearance
Sara was last seen in Spooner, Wisconsin on April 3rd 1996. She was last seen getting off of her school bus at the end of her long gravel driveway of her family’s residence at 4:00 pm. At least 4 witnesses saw Sara begin to walk up her driveway, she never made it to her home and was never seen again. One of Sara’s stepbrothers called her mother, Marie Lambert, at 4:37 pm and told her that Sara never came home.
Marie got into her car and drove to Spooner. She and her husband, Jim Lambert, were out of town on the day of her disappearance and had no intentions of returning until the next day but Sara’s disappearance caused her mother to do so. Her mother spent the whole night calling and visiting places she would frequent but she was unable to locate Sara.
She reported her daughter missing the next day. Police initially treated the case as that of a runaway and was investigated as such for 3 years after she disappeared. She lived in a home described as not a place for a teenaged girl. She was manipulated by her stepfather and was also said to be the victim of sexual abuse in her home.
The abuser has not been named publicly but it made Sara fall under the impression that sexual intercourse was a way of showing affection. She later got pregnant and was forced to have an abortion in February of 1996. In addition to that, Sara was also grounded from leaving her home for anything besides school.
On the day she disappeared, Sara was looking forward to getting home because that weekend she would be ungrounded. That morning, her stepbrother drove her to a friends home and they walked to school from there. During her lunch break, Sara was picked up by her 21 year old boyfriend, Travis, and they went to a friends house. Her friends noted how Sara seemed so anxious to get home.
They said that Sara claimed if her stepfather got home before she did, he could possibly find and read her diary which could’ve apparently grounded her for a longer period of time. Travis dropped her back off at school. She was unable to find a ride home from school and ended up taking the bus.
It’s possible that when Sara got off the bus, she was seen speaking to an unidentified individual driving a dark colored pickup truck. It’s possible Sara entered the vehicle which was seen backing out of her driveway and drove off into the direction of the town of Trego.
Sara had been living with her mother and stepfather since 1994. Sara’s mother and father had been divorced since she was a toddler. She originally lived with her father, Michael, and older sister, Lesley, in Colorado. In December of 1994, Sara was caught shoplifting and fled to live with her mother to avoid her father’s disappointment.
Sara visited her father and kept regular contact with Lesley. Investigators have since looked into other possibilities in her case, they’ve said more recent investigations have shown evidence that Sara was a victim of foul play. She didn’t take any extra clothing or personal belongings with her. They still consider the possibility that Sara fled the area.
There’s been immense speculation that Sara’s disappearance is connected to the 1996 murder of Crystal Soulier. Crystal disappeared on October 1st 1996 in Cable, Wisconsin. In 1997, her body was discovered in Rock County, Wisconsin but remained unidentified for a few years afterwards. Her murder remains unsolved.
Investigators have noted that both girls physically resembled one another and both disappeared under very similar circumstances. Crystal disappeared after being stranded by her boyfriend and left to find her own way home. They both also knew each other and had 19 mutual friends who were in rival groups. The girls both attended parties thrown by these men.
Investigators believe that the men might now what happened to both girls. They believe one of the men or another person associated with the groups was the one who picked Sara up in the truck that day. Several of the men even told the Bushland family that Sara had been seen in different cities throughout the state. It’s possible they gave advice to Sara to run off or get a ride from them.
It should also be noted that Crystals body was discovered off Highway 90 and many of the young men drove trucks or had relatives that drove over the road trucks. There was also a suspect who was serial killer and a truck driver at the time. He has not been mentioned as a suspect in Bushland’s disappearance.
Investigators have also searched numerous areas of the Lambert property since 1999. Jim Lambert was described as a a hard man who hunted illegally and used his sons to poach animals and trap game illegally. He was also suspected in several arson schemes that ended in insurance fraud. They’ve searched the property at least 3 other times since but found nothing.
At the time of her disappearance, Sara was possibly thinking of moving back with her father and her stepmother. They lived in Chippewa Falls at the time. She was described as a girl who could fit into any friend group and put others before herself. She was a sophomore at Spooner High School in 1996.
Sara’s disappearance remains unsolved and foul play is suspected in her case. Her father believes she is deceased but her sister holds onto hope that she’s still out there and hopes for her to come home one day.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Washburn County Sheriffs Office 715-468-4700
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Missing in Wisconsin – Sara Bushland’s story