The story of June’s missing person of the month begins with a deadly blaze in a small town. April 2nd, 1976, Wolf Lake, Minnesota. Between 11:30 PM and 12 AM, Kevin Mickelson was on his way home from work when he noticed his neighbor’s house engulfed in flames. It was evident to him that the fire had been burning for quite a while by the time he saw it.
Kevin rushed home to learn that his family was already aware of the situation. Apparently, minutes earlier his cousin Tony Beck had attempted to break down the front door, fearing there were people still in the house. But he was unsuccessful due to the intense flames and smoke. The two-story farmhouse was home to Bernard Rusness, his common law wife Peggy Parmenter and their eight-year-old son, Brian. According to Jen Baxter’s article for Medium; “Within minutes, 10 members of the volunteer fire department were at the scene, but it was clear to them that there was nothing they could do. By the time they were able to extinguish the flames, the house had been reduced to ashes.” It did not take investigators and fire marshals long to make a series of grim discoveries. The remains of what appeared to be multiple people had been discovered throughout the house.
Again, according to Jen Baxter’s article: “The case took an unexpected twist four weeks after the fire, when officials made the stunning announcement that only Brian’s remains had been found in the home. Some of the bones that they had initially believed to be human turned out to be from the family’s two dogs, who had perished alongside Brian in the flames. A human skull that they had tentatively identified as belonging to one of the adults turned out to be a macabre planter that had been given to Peggy by her mother; the exact origin of the skull planter was never determined. No trace of Bernard or Peggy had been found in the home, and they were officially listed as missing persons.”
To this day, it appears investigators are not sure as to what caused the fire. Due to the unusual circumstances, arson is the most likely result however, there has been no official conclusion stated. It is also unclear if young Brian died in the fire or if he was killed prior to the fire being set.
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It was unusually warm the last day the family was seen alive on April 2nd, 1976. Nearly reaching 60 degrees, 49-year-old Bernard decided to take advantage of the sunny day to install a new sound system in his four-wheel-drive Ford pickup truck. Earlier in the day, Bernard and his partner, 41-year-old Peggy Parmenter, went to the grocery store together after completing their respective workday. They arrived home around the same time as their son, Brian. Bernard started his work on the truck later in the afternoon. But the project was taking longer than anticipated. Before the sun went down, Bernard decided to call it a night. Leaving the hood of his truck up and his tool shed door open, it is assumed he planned on finishing the work in the morning.
By 1976, Bernard and Peggy had been together for nearly ten years and lived in North and South Dakota before settling in Minnesota in 1974. The family’s home originally belonged to Peggy’s mother. Peggy moved there in 1974 to care for her sick mom. Less than a year later, Peggy’s mother died, and Bernard moved into the Wolf Lake home. At the time of their disappearances, the couple had recently finished remodeling the house. Depending on what publication you read, Bernard and Peggy were either very social and friendly with their neighbors or they were very private and the people of their little town did not know much about them. Regardless, no one has made any mention of the couple having any issue with anyone, nor did anyone comment that they had issues with each other. Brian, by all accounts, was a happy, healthy and well-adjusted third grader who adored his parents. His teachers never saw anything to indicate that he was dealing with any sort of stress at home.
All the family vehicles were left in the driveway with the keys in the ignitions of each one. The couple also left about $1,000 in their bank accounts and never picked up their last paychecks from work.
Foul play is suspected in the disappearance of Bernard and Peggy. Bernard’s son from a previous marriage, Ben Rusness, disclosed in a 1983 interview that he believed his father was dead and was convinced that the police botched the investigation.
Bernard Rusness Jr would be 96 years old today. At the time of his disappearance, he was 49 years old, stood between 5’10” and 5’11” and weighed approximately 165 pounds. He is described as a Caucasian male with brown hair and hazel eyes. Bernard has a receding hairline and a noticeable injury to his left eye, which resembles a lazy eye. He also has pellet scars in his lower abdomen/groin area from a hunting accident. He may go by his nickname Russ. Bernard is known to wear wire rimmed eyeglasses, a gold watch on his left wrist and a gold or silver ring with a square emerald on his left index finger. At the time Bernard was still technically married to his first wife Margaret Rusness, who lived in Fargo, North Dakota at the time. They had been unofficially separated for years, but neither had ever filed any paperwork to formally divorce. He had at least one child from this marriage.
If Peggy Joyce Parmenter were to resurface today, she would be 87 years old. She is described as a Caucasian female with brown hair. She stood at 5’4″ and weighed approximately 118 pounds. Peggy also wears eyeglasses. She may use her former married name, McKay. Peggy had also been previously married, but her divorce had been finalized for several years. A former babysitter of Brain’s described Peggy as a loving and very protective mother.
Anyone with any information on the disappearance of Bernard Rusness Jr and Peggy Parmenter, or information regarding the death of their son Brian, is encouraged to contact Becker County Sheriff’s Department (218-847-2661).