Left: Ricky circa, 1949
Right: Age Progressed to age 66
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: December 19, 1949
Missing From: Mauston, Juneau County, Wisconsin
Classification: Endangered Missing
Date Of Birth: November 9, 1945
Age: 4 years old
Height and Weight: 3’4″ and 40 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian Female, Blonde hair, Hazel eyes, Ricky’s nickname is Jeannie and most missing children’s agencies refer to her by that name
NCMEC Number: 1007456
Details of Disappearance
Ricky was last seen in Mauston, Wisconsin on December 19th 1949. She was at her family’s farm residence located three miles northeast of the town. Her parents, Raymond Bryant and Opal Bryant, were not at the home when she disappeared. Ricky, her older brother, Forrest, and her younger sister, Elizabeth, were being watched by their grandmother, Helen Halverston. Ricky’s older sister, Sharon, was at a nearby schoolhouse.
A fire broke out at the Bryant family home but accounts differ as to how exactly Ricky disappeared. Helen stated that she escorted both Forrest and Elizabeth out of the home and ran back inside to search for Ricky because she assumed she was still inside. She stated she begged for an answer from the child but got nothing and reportedly couldn’t understand how she could still be in the house.
After Helen couldn’t locate Ricky, she grabbed a ladder and propped it against the house. She climbed up to the 2nd story level of the house so she could rescue her husband, Casper, who was handicapped at the time. She said she carried him down the ladder to safety. A firefighter who was attempting to put out the flames said he heard the screaming of a child come from the house but that he couldn’t find her.
Investigators and her family initially believed Ricky perished in the fire. Some accounts state Ricky may have fallen through the staircase in the home but it’s unknown of this happened. A day after the fire, a search uncovered particles that looked like bone fragments. The particles were taken to the state Crime Laboratory in Madison but tests came back negative.
Despite her claims, Halverston’s alleged search for Ricky in the fire has been contradicted by both newspapers from that time as a shocking statement from Forrest. Forrest claimed that he, Elizabeth, and Ricky all made it out of the home and were told to wait in the yard and watch his sisters by Halverston. Forrest said a tall woman with blonde hair pulled up to the residence in a newer model car.
The woman urged Forrest to get help from a neighbor but instead of sending him to a nearby house, she sent him to a residence that was farther away from the house. She told him the phone at the nearest house wasn’t working. Forrest went and got the neighbor who came to help. When they returned, the woman and Ricky were gone. The car that was driven was also gone.
The neighbor stated she went inside the residence to help Halverston look for the child. While she was searching, Halverston said “Don’t worry about the girl, she’s with a relative.” After the fire, Ricky’s name was never to mentioned in the family again. They only said her name whenever they put the star on the Christmas tree. They would say she was a star in heaven.
Investigators and Ricky’s remaining family do not believe she perished in the fire. Her siblings believed the fire was set as a diversion in order to take Ricky. It’s believed the strange woman probably abducted Ricky and took her away from the area. It’s possible Ricky was conceived out of wedlock and was abducted and then taken to the care of her real father.
It should also be noted that authorities and Raymond searched the burnt down remains of the house a few times after the incident and found absolutely no evidence that she died in the house. In 1959, 10 years after Ricky disappeared, Opal and Raymond separated and later got a divorce from one another. Opal and Elizabeth moved to Washington state.
Forrest and Sharon both remained in the area with Raymond. Sharon recalled that her mother would frequently return to Wisconsin and they would both go to Minnesota to visit relatives. Upon arriving in Minnesota, Opal would leave Sharon with relatives and then leave for days without telling anyone where she was going.
Sharon and Elizabeth believe that Opal was secretly visiting Ricky whenever she took these trips. Opal’s second cousin, Lois Kane, recalls that Opal had a relationship with a man whom she believes may have been Ricky’s real father. Lois said Opal maintained a relationship with the man for years. The man has a daughter who would be the same age as Ricky would’ve been.
The woman was contacted by both Sharon and Elizabeth, she agreed that her history is consistent with Ricky’s and that she may have been their long lost sister. The woman had her DNA tested against Ricky’s DNA profile but it didn’t match. Investigators and her family continue to believe Ricky is alive and hope she’s out there. It’s believed she lives somewhere in the Midwest.
Opal and Raymond Bryant have since passed away. Elizabeth is the only living family member of Ricky from the time she vanished. Forrest passed away in 2017 and Sharon passed away some time later. In Sharon’s obituary, Ricky is listed as pre-deceasing her. Most investigators suspect Ricky died in the fire but the exact circumstances of her disappearance are unknown and her case remains unsolved.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Juneau County Sheriffs Office 608-847-5649
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Clearinghouse for Missing and Exploited Children & Adults
Chippewa Herald-Telegram 02/22/2006
Madisons Newspapers Incorporated