Nyleen Marshall was a happy and energetic 4-year-old who lived in Clancy, Montana. Her parents, Bill and Nancy Briscoe, divorced shortly after Nyleen was born. Her mother got remarried to a man named Kim Marshall, and he adopted Nyleen and her older brother, Nathan. When Nyleen was 3 years old, Nancy gave birth to Noreen, and Nyleen was thrilled to become a big sister. The three siblings enjoyed an idyllic childhood in picturesque Montana, and they spent a lot of time outside.
Kim was an active member of the Capital City Amateur Radio Club, and he brought the whole family to a field day sponsored by the club in the Elkhorn Mountains on Saturday, June 25, 1983. Although located within Helena National Forest, the Elkhorns were fairly isolated and the only people observed in the area that day were those in attendance at the radio club’s field day. They enjoyed a picnic lunch, and then the children amused themselves by wading in Maupin Creek and chasing after frogs.
Nyleen eventually got tired of running after frogs, and around 4:00 pm she decided to take a break. She sat down near some beaver dams along Maupin Creek, likely hoping that if she stayed quiet she would get to see some beavers. Several other kids saw her sitting there and noted she was alone, but when they checked back a minute later, she was gone. Concerned, they alerted some of the adults that they couldn’t find the 4-year-old, and the entire group began searching for her.
It quickly became clear that Nyleen was not in the immediate area, and a call was placed to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff made the wise decision to call in the Lewis and Clark County Search and Rescue team, and they were dispatched to the scene. Experts in searching the rugged terrain of the Elkhorn Mountains, they immediately conducted an organized grid search of the area where Nyleen was last seen. After clearing that area, they expanded to include all the main trails that Nyleen might have used to get out of the area. Duke, a tracking dog, seemed to pick up a hint of Nyleen’s scent but quickly lost it.
Nyleen had been wearing just shorts and a t-shirt when she disappeared, and she was barefoot. The search team felt sure she couldn’t have made it very far through the rocky terrain without shoes, but they were unable to find any indication of which direction she might have gone. As darkness fell, Kim and Nancy grew increasingly desperate to find their daughter. Nancy noted that Nyleen had been taught basic outdoor safety, and she knew to never wander away from the group. She couldn’t understand how the child could have ended up getting lost.
Although it was nearly impossible to search in the dark, some members of the rescue team refused to give up, convinced that Nyleen had to be somewhere close. Statistics showed that the majority of lost children were found within a mile and a half of where they started, and Nyleen was likely closer than that since she was barefoot. Young children, though, could behave in unpredictable ways, and they worried that Nyleen thought she might be in trouble and was hiding from the search team. It was a sobering thought. If she had curled up in an area of thick undergrowth, they could walk right past her without knowing she was there.
The search effort intensified as the sun came up Sunday morning. Hundreds of volunteers joined the hunt for the missing girl, and search dogs were brought in from all over the state. Searchers walked shoulder-to-shoulder through forest and fields, meticulously searching every possible place a child could hide. They combed through all the known mine shafts in the area, but found absolutely nothing.
Divers were sent into Maupin Creek as well as into all the ponds in the area. When they finished, they were confident that Nyleen was not in the water. They drained the area where the beaver dams were located, and then scoured them for any sign of Nyleen. They found nothing: no hair, no footprints, no scraps of clothing.
Heavy rain began falling on Sunday afternoon, and police grew more concerned about Nyleen. Although the daytime temperatures had been mild, nighttime temperatures were starting to sink into the 40s. Unless she managed to find some kind of shelter, Nyleen wouldn’t be able to survive long.
By Monday, a thick fog had rolled in and heavy thunderstorms temporarily halted the search effort. Worried about the safety of those searching, officials turned away volunteers who had no experience hiking in extremely rugged terrain. Those deemed unfit to search in the mountains kept busy handing out fliers in town and collecting money to feed those taking part in the search. Kim and Nancy were overwhelmed by the community’s response, and publicly thanked everyone for their help.
Before sunrise on Tuesday, a National Guard helicopter equipped with heat sensing radar flew over the area several times, looking in vain for a heat signature that could point them to Nyleen. Kim and Nancy were visibly shaken when the crew landed and reported that they had been unable to find anything. They believed Nyleen had been abducted and was no longer in the mountains. Police disagreed. They believed the area’s remoteness ruled out abduction as a possibility.
Investigators spoke with all the people who had been at the radio club event, and ruled out the possibility that any of the members had done something to Nyleen. When they spoke to the children, however, they were shocked to learn that there might have been an unidentified person in the area around the time Nyleen went missing. One child told detectives that she had seen an unknown male wearing a purple jogging suit near the creek. He had said something to her, but she ignored him and kept walking.
A second child told a similar story about seeing a man in a purple jogging suit. He had stepped out from a wooded area near the creek, and had tried to speak to her. She got frightened and ran away, but believed that Nyleen had responded to the man. Another child backed this up; he heard Nyleen say that she “had to follow the shadow” but he wasn’t sure what she meant. This was immediately before she disappeared.
Investigators weren’t sure what to think. The children who described seeing the unknown male hadn’t spoken to each other, making their accounts seem very credible. If there had indeed been a male attempting to speak with children that day, it was possible that Nyleen had been abducted after all. They didn’t call off the physical search for her in the mountains, but they did start investigating other scenarios.
Over the next few days, the search area was expanded several more times, extending more than eight miles in each direction. Since the heavy undergrowth and steep slopes made it impossible to use horses or ATVs, everything had to be searched by foot. It was one of the most extensive searches in Montana’s history, but it failed to produce any clues to Nyleen’s location. On the tenth day after she went missing, the official search for her was discontinued. Medical experts noted that there was essentially no chance of finding the child alive in the forest, although some volunteers would continue to look for her remains.
Kim and Nancy continued to believe Nyleen had been abducted, and they did everything they could to keep her name in the public eye. Fliers with her picture were sent around the country and her missing poster was placed on milk cartons. Although this publicity did generate several new leads for police, each one led to another de*ad end.
Two years after Nyleen disappeared, an anonymous man called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and told them he had abducted Nyleen. He hung up before giving them any additional information. In January of 1986, another missing children organization received a typewritten letter from a man detailing how he had abducted a girl he called Kay and was raising her as his own child. Kay was Nyleen’s middle name, and the man provided details about the case that had been kept from the public. Detectives believed that the only way the man could have known these things was if he truly had abducted Nyleen. The man claimed he loved the child, and had no plans to give her back to her family. He also claimed that he had traveled with her to several different places, both in and out of the United States. The man continued to contact the group for several months; he sent two more letters and called them from two separate payphones, one in Madison and one in Edgerton, Wisconsin. The FBI conducted surveillance in the area, but the calls and letters stopped.
In 1991, Richard James Wilson, a 42-year-old with a history of mental illness, turned himself in to police and proclaimed that he had killed Nyleen and left her body in a mine shaft in the Elkhorn Mountains. Detectives were skeptical of his claim, as many of the details he provided did not match the case. Still, they launched a three-day search of the mine shaft in question. They found nothing to support his claim, and he eventually admitted he had made up the entire confession.
Nyleen’s case has generated a fair amount of interest on the internet, but there have been no new leads in years. It’s very possible that Nyleen was abducted by someone and is still alive today, perhaps unaware of her past. It’s also possible that she lost her way in Helena National Forest and died of exposure, hidden away in a crevice searchers couldn’t find. Although her case has been cold for decades, investigators haven’t ruled out the possibility that someone knows what happened to her and they hope to one day learn her fate.
Nyleen Kaye Marshall was 4 years old when she went missing in 1983. She has brown hair and blue eyes, and dimples when she smiles. She also had a small mole about her left eyebrow. At the time of her disappearance, she was 3 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 29 pounds. She was last seen wearing shorts and a yellow shirt. If you have any information about Nyleen, please contact the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office at 406–225–4075.