At the conclusion of her senior year in high school she married Jim Gillespie, her high school sweetheart. From this union came a daughter, Shannon Gillespie, who is now a senior at the University of Oregon, age twenty two.
This marriage ended in divorce and between the years of 1967 and 1973 Brenda received he higher education at Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Lane Community College in Eugene, and Oregon College of Education, Monmouth.
After receiving her BA degree in General Science at Oregon College of Education in Monmouth in 1973, Brenda was married to a college sweetheart, Michael Kerber, who grew up in Salem. Mike adopted Shannon and she goes by the name of Kerber. This marriage also ended in divorce but from this marriage came David Kerber, now fourteen, who lives with his father in Grants Pass, Oregon.
Between the years 1978 and 1981, Brenda worked at two elementary schools in Salem and when her husband Michael became manager of the Farm Cooperative in Grants Pass in 1981, Brenda worked for an elementary school in Grants Pass.
From the years 1982 to 1985, while living in Grants Pass, Brenda was doing very well at her new profession. She was a computer analyst and newsletter editor for a large insurance company called Smith Management, Inc. of Grants Pass. She was involved in a new preventive medicine approach that the insurance company had started. She began to have trouble getting along with her co-workers. She had a good relationship with her parents at that time, often calling upon her father for ideas in editing her newsletter. Her parents visited her often and so enjoyed Brenda and her family.
She began to have trouble with her marriage and when we inquired about why her marriage with Michael was in trouble, Brenda told us "lack of communication." About then she became enamored with a young minister, Tony Chester, and his "Church of Science" in Grants Pass, which included a good deal of meditation. She started going to a retreat in Northern California called Ananda, and began to draw away from her family. She wanted us to become involved and begged us to understand. She became involved with a group who had a "guru" named Yogananda and followed his teachings.
Her minister friend, Tony Chester, left Grants Pass about 1986 and moved into the Los Angeles Area. In the summer of 1987, Brenda moved from Grants Pass to the Bay Area in California. We feel that Tony Chester had much to do with her leaving Oregon for the Bay Area. She found temporary work in the computer field but later found a job on the Stanford Campus with Dr. John Farquhar who was very involved in preventive medicine. She seemed to be moving forward and was less involved with religion for a short period. Then Zen came into the picture through Frederick Lenz.
Brenda and her son David rented a home for $1,600 per month at Menlo Park, near the Stanford campus, and leased out half to other persons. We would visit her and she would seem like our daughter of old "at times". It was during this time that she became active in the Zen Buddhism movement. We are confident now that Tony Chester was a recruiting agent for Frederick Lenz at this time and got Brenda working with him in recruiting new members. We remember visiting Brenda at Menlo Park and having her show us the large multi-colored brochures that Lenz used in his recruitment advertising at that time. She told us she wanted to go to New York for his advanced classed if he would accept her. We informed her that we would not help financially and did not want her to go so far away. We still had a good relationship at that time. Later on, we saw an advertisement for a seminar in one of the Bay Area newspapers that gave Brenda's first name and phone number as an evening contact.
She persisted in moving to New York and sold most of her furniture and made arrangements for her son David to live with his father in Grants Pass and signed over custody to him, something she would not have done a few months before.
Around January of 1989 Brenda and Tony Chester left the Bay Area for New York to follow Frederick Lenz. Earlier, Brenda had flown to new York to attend a Lenz seminar and, from reports in her diary, was completely entranced.
Brenda rented a room with an elderly lady, Mrs. S. Palazzetti in Mt. Kisco, New York. This obviously warm lady became very fond of Brenda. Our problems began to multiply at this time. She gave us only a post office box for an address and an answering service for a phone contact. She would call occasionally and beg us to understand and support what she was doing without ever really explaining what she was studying to attain. She took out a loan from a bank in New York, $6,000, to take a computer programming course.
In May of that year we made a special stop to see her and had a very traumatic visit. When her father tried to give her a hug she shoved him away and told him not to do that. Then she would put on another face and act as if nothing had happened. It was a very weird feeling. It was like watching someone change personalities right in front of you. I mentioned her son and she looked at me as if looks could kill and said, "Don't lay that guilt trip on me, Mother!" After that visit we paid for her daughter, Shannon, to visit in June and she had a very unsatisfactory time with her, but did not feel that she was in a cult at that time. However, none of us really knew what to look for. She would not tell us where she was working and made her daughter promise not to tell.
Jim wrote to Brenda on July 18th stating, "We think of you every day and are bewildered with your attitude toward your parents and your kids. I guess things could be worse. Every day the newspapers tell the sad stories about young people who are into drugs and prostitution. You are so damned secretive about everything you are doing, I figured you are now an executive secretary for the New York Mafia."
Brenda blazed back with a phone call and letter telling her dad that he was a sick person and she was shocked and insulted by his letter.
About September 5th we received a note from Brenda with this message: "After much thought - really - it seems in my best interest to take a long break from you - 6 months or so. I have explained the best I know how, what I am up to these days, but you don't seem to understand. Methinks you don't want to. I know. It wasn't what you had in mind. I appreciate all you do for the kids. They are very fortunate to have you as grandparents." This was the last correspondence we received from Brenda, and the only encouragement that she is alive and going under an assumed identification. Except for this note, one would have to assume she is either a homicide or suicide.
Later, she moved to White Plains, NY, and rented a room from Gerald Desharnais. In October 10th, Mr. Desharnais reported her missing. He had not seen her for about a week. We were notified about October 10th, 1989, of her disappearance. Her mother and daughter flew back to White Plains to talk to the police department.
Assigned to the case were Detectives Al Cuzzo and John Kelleher of the While Plains Police Department. We commend both of them for their treatment of Brenda's mother and daughter who flew to New York to visit with them and to place newspaper advertisements offering a $1,000 reward for any information leading to her. They were unable to close the apartment at that time as the police were still investigating.
She vanished about October 1, 1989. Also missing was her Ford station wagon. She left behind all her personal possessions, cash, credit cards, bank book, driver's license, purse and even her personal diary. The reason that her father feels that she is dead instead of taking another identity is the fact that her diary was left behind. "No one wants another to read his or her personal diary," he says.
We have since learned that she had obtained a job in computer programming with Orion Films in New York for a period of about two months and was consequently fired. She had never been fired from a job and this would have been a terrible blow to her ego. In her diary she talks about her worry about being able to pay for the seminars ($1,000 to $1,500 each) and talking to Lenz about this and how cold he was to her. She couldn't find another job in the computer business and was working two jobs as a waitress to make ends meet. From things the police told us she sounded as if she was having some kind of breakdown. She was acting very strangely.
On November 2nd the Barratts released a local story on the disappearance of their daughter in the Corvallis Gazette Times. Reverend Art Morgan mailed the story to Portland to Adrian and Anne Greek who operate the Positive Action Center there. They mailed a copy of the CAN (Cult Awareness Network) Newsletter to the Barratts with information on Frederick Lenz and his cult. The publication was dated March, 1988 and outlined activities of Lenz while he was in California.
Because of his background in journalism, Brenda's father immediately thought of publicity and advertising at the key to finding her. He wrote to People Magazine but to no avail. He wrote to the publisher of the eleven Gannett Newspapers in upper New York State and Joseph Umgaro put a reporter onto the case. After a two hour interview over the phone, Richard Thompson completed a story that was run in all eleven newspapers. In addition, the Barratts put Brenda's photo along with a story about the $1,000 reward in USA TODAY that has a circulation of two million.
To date we haven't heard one word. We had a detective in New York working on it for a while and he came up with a little bit about Dr. Lenz, but no clues to where Brenda might be. Dr. Lenz says he has never heard of her. His "lawyer" called later one night to tell us to call off our detective or they would take action. He was supposedly "harassing" Lenz. It was a young girl who wouldn't answer any questions that we asked her and we found out later that she hadn't passed her bar examination in New York and wasn't licensed at the time.
We hired a detective in Los Angeles and he hasn't come up with anything either. She still owes $6,000 to the bank in New York and periodically, they try to collect from us.
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