Eva DeBruhl spent the morning of Wednesday, June 29, 1977, completing one of her chores, mowing the grass at her Catawba, South Carolina home. Around 11:00 am, the 15-year-old went inside to make some iced tea. The phone rang and she answered it, then told her father, Willard DeBruhl, that it was his supervisor at work calling to see if he could come in. Willard, who worked for Suburban Texaco, agreed to go in for an extra shift and left the house shortly after 11:00 am. Eva’s mother, Opal DeBruhl, had worked a night shift and was still asleep when her husband left. Eva was gone when she woke up around noon. No one ever saw her again.
When Opal couldn’t find Eva, she got worried right away because Eva always woke her mother up to let her know where she was going. There was a full pot of iced tea in the kitchen and an empty glass next to it. The TV was on and showing a religious show that Eva liked to watch. For some reason, Eva seemed to have left before she could drink any of the iced tea.
Opal went outside and saw that the grass had just been cut and that Eva’s flip-flops were lying on the grass next to the front door. This made her feel confused. Eva Maree, Eva’s grandmother, lived in a trailer on the property, about 40 feet from the main house. She remembered seeing a Jeep or Scout that looked brand new pull into the family’s circular driveway about five minutes after Willard left for work. A medium-sized white man in a light green shirt and dark green pants walked up to the front porch and seemed to be talking to someone through the door. After that, he got back in his car and drove off. Ten or fifteen minutes later, he came back.
She didn’t see her granddaughter leave with the man, and she didn’t hear any screams or sounds of a fight. Detectives said they didn’t know if the man had anything to do with the teenager’s disappearance or not. The man may have had a good reason to be in the area. Capt. Gene Ervin of the York County Sheriff’s Department said there was no evidence that Eva had been taken by force. Since there was no proof that she had been taken, Eva was just listed as missing.
Friends and family of Eva were sure she hadn’t left home on her own. She had just graduated from Castle Heights Junior High School and was excited to start her first year at Rock Hill High School that fall. People said she was a nice but shy young woman who liked singing in the choir at Providence Baptist Church and was very close to her family. At home most of the time when she wasn’t at school or church, she wasn’t seeing anyone.
Eva was the third daughter of Willard and Opal. Her oldest sister, Elaine, was married and no longer lived at home, and her youngest sister, Tami, was 17. Eva got along well with both of her sisters, and neither of them thought she had left home on her own. Eva had spent the night before at Elaine’s house. When she left, she was in a great mood, and there were no signs that something was wrong.
Opal said that Eva had been barefoot and hadn’t brought any of her things with her when she disappeared. She only had on her shorts and shirt. The rest of her clothes were still in her bedroom. She forgot her pocketbook, which had $54 in it from babysitting, and the new red dress she had just bought.
If Eva were at a friend’s house and was going to be even a few minutes late getting home, she would call Willard and Opal. This made them think the worst. She almost never went somewhere without telling one of her parents where she was going.
Eva’s family, neighbors, and friends spent hours searching the area for her but couldn’t find any signs of her. Her school or church friends hadn’t heard from her, and no one in the neighborhood remembered seeing her after she cut the grass that morning.
On Thursday, the search for Eva got bigger. Authorities searched nearby Lancaster and Chester counties, as well as some parts of North Carolina, for anyone who might have seen the missing teen. The sheriff of York County, W.E. Sutton, told reporters that he had told the FBI about the case, but they couldn’t help with the investigation at that time because there was no proof that Eva had been taken or crossed state lines.
The small, close-knit town of Catawba was worried when Eva went missing. People who knew Eva well said she would never have run away from home on her own. Rick Vaughn, who worked at a store in the neighborhood, said that Eva was always with her mother or her best friend Jane Cassidy. He said she never went anywhere by herself. At the time Eva went missing, Jane was on vacation in North Carolina.
Reporters asked Jane’s mom if Eva often stayed the night at their house. If so, Eva would call her mom before bed to tell her she loved her. What a sweet young woman! She would never do anything that would make her parents worry.
Four years before Eva disappeared, her family was shocked when her 14-year-old brother Willard died. A car killed him while he was walking with friends near his house. A terrible event brought Eva and her parents closer together, which is one reason she always told them where she was going. Soon, Opal wouldn’t leave the phone for long because she hoped Eva would call her.
On July 3, 1977, more than 100 volunteers spent the day looking for Eva in the woods and along the Catawba River, but they couldn’t find her. On Monday, about 200 more people joined the search, which was now going beyond Catawba. Volunteers looked in more places on motorcycles, ATVs, and boats, but they couldn’t find the missing teen.
Willard said that he and Opal were trying to stay positive, but they were afraid the worst would happen. Deep down, they were sure that their daughter would never leave home and would have called them if she could. Each day that went by, they became more afraid that they would never see her again.
Willard, who works as a mechanic, took some time off to help look for Eva. He told reporters that he hadn’t been able to sleep and was getting more and more anxious about his daughter. People had been calling Eva’s family several times since she went missing, but they had no idea where she was.
Detectives said they still didn’t have any proof that Eva had been taken, but they did say she didn’t seem like the kind of girl who would have left home by herself. They put her information into a computer at the National Crime Information Center in case she had any dealings with police in another area.
Investigators asked the public several times to help them figure out who Eva Maree saw at the DeBruhl home around the time she went missing. It could have been a Scout or a Blazer, but it looked like a Jeep. It was either green and white or blue and white. The neighborhood was searched, but no one was able to figure out who the driver was.
In July 1977, Daniel Boulware was charged with blackmail after calling five times to demand a $2,000 ransom for Eva. He was arrested and charged. Detectives said they were sure the man had nothing to do with the girl’s disappearance and was only trying to get money from her family. The teen’s home in Great Falls, South Carolina, was searched, but no sign of him was found. Even though Daniel was African American, he didn’t look like the man driving the Jeep. Daniel finally admitted to blackmailing the woman and was given a seven-year prison sentence.
The family had to deal with more than just scam calls and ransom calls. Someone called once and said they had Eva. While Eva’s mother was on the phone, the caller acted like they were beating her. Someone else called Tami and told her that they had her sister and were going to take her next.
Over the next two weeks, Willard heard from at least four people who thought they saw Eva and the person who took her in a blue and white 1977 Jeep Wagoneer with a license plate from South Carolina. On Interstate 95, the car was seen going toward Florence, South Carolina. Willard went to Charleston, South Carolina, on July 20, 1977, in search of his daughter. He could not find any sign of Eva.
A month after Eva wasn’t seen for a while, her parents said they were starting a fund to pay someone who could help them find the teenager or the person who took her. When they started the fund, it had $200. Soon, people gave more money, and it had $400. The family was able to put donation jars near the cash registers of several stores in the Catawba and Rock Hill areas. This made it easier for people to give. They had raised more than $700 by the end of August.
Police still didn’t know what had happened to Eva in November. Willard chose to quit his job so that he could solely look for his daughter. He was sure Eva had been taken, and he was obsessed with finding the person who did it. Soon after Eva went missing, Willard found a soda bottle in the front yard that he thought might have belonged to the person who took her. The bottle led him to Georgia, but it didn’t break the case in any way.
The York County Sheriff’s Department kept saying that Eva was missing because there was no proof that she had been snatched and they couldn’t be sure that there hadn’t been any foul play. Even though investigators were still following up on every tip, they said that they were getting almost no new leads and phone calls about the case at all.
Willard and Opal sold their house to get the money they needed to look for Eva. They moved into a mobile home in Catawba just before Thanksgiving. No one in the family felt like celebrating Christmas as it got closer. Eva had always loved decorating their Christmas tree the most. Opal decided not to do any decorating that year since Eva wasn’t going to be there to enjoy it. After a quiet holiday, the family put their search for their missing daughter back on hold.
By the end of the year, it was clear that the investigation into what happened to Eva had come to a standstill. The police had followed up on all possible leads, but they were still no closer to finding out what happened to Eva than they were on the day she went missing. According to investigators, there was no evidence of foul play, even though Eva’s parents said she had been taken by someone else. The case quickly went cold, and it stopped making the news.
Eva’s case was talked about again in February 1980. Police learned that a body that had not been identified had been found near Lumberton, North Carolina, on June 1, 1978. Those of Eva were sent to a forensic dentist so that they could be compared to those of the body that hasn’t been identified. They were cautiously hopeful that they would be able to find Eva. They told reporters that they thought she had finally been found.
On February 15, 1980, Capt. Ervin said there was no match and that Eva was still missing. The news gave her parents hope that their daughter was still alive. Reporters asked Opal if she wanted to believe Eva was dead. She did say that if that were true, the family hoped Eva’s body would be found so they could bury her properly.
Eva’s parents were desperate to find out where she was, so they asked psychics. At least three of the psychics told them that Eva was dead, which made them give up. Everyone thought that her body would be found in a heavily wooded area close to where she was last seen. For years, Willard would search the woods on two Sundays a month for anything that could help him find his daughter.
The Charlotte Observer asked Willard in 1982 what he did to find his daughter and he said he did everything he could think of. He lost his job, sold his house, talked to psychics, drove to nine states to follow up on possible leads, and spent more than $18,000. He did everything that could separate him from Eva. “I don’t think she’s alive,” he said. She’s been dead for two hours since she left the house. I’d like to bury her.
In July 1984, Henry Lee Lucas said that he had taken Eva hostage and killed her. She was one of only 600 people he would say he killed. Later, investigators would find that most of his confessions were not true. Eva’s case was different. He said he picked her up while she was walking along a road in York County, killed her, and then threw her body in a forest. It didn’t fit with what we knew about Eva’s disappearance.
He told police that he killed Eva, so they spent weeks looking through Landsford Canal State Park in Chester County, South Carolina, where he said he dumped her body. He told them a story that didn’t hold water, and detectives were able to prove that he had nothing to do with Eva’s disappearance.
Twenty years after Eva was last seen, on July 3, 1997, the York County Sheriff’s Department told her parents that they were going to look into the case again. The happy Willard told Opal that he thought they were finally going to find out what was going on. Things would never get better for Willard, though. Two days after that, he died in his sleep. People who knew him well said he never got over losing Eva and that he died with a broken heart.
Detectives made a picture of Eva’s ages going from youngest to oldest and sent out new missing person flyers all over the country, but they couldn’t find any new leads. It had been years, but the case was still open. In June 2017, the 40th anniversary of Eva’s disappearance was marked by her family and friends. That day, her mother and two sisters got together to remember the shy teen who had disappeared without a trace.
A reporter from The Herald asked Tami if the pain of losing Eva had become less over time. “Some days it feels like yesterday, but it’s been 40 years.” Every day, I think about her. She was such a lovely, sweet, and pretty girl. We only want to get her back home.
Opal kept hoping to find out what happened to Eva, but she never did. It was the same pattern for Willard. She passed away in May 2022.
Evan Gerline DeBruhl ran away from her home in Catawba, South Carolina, in July 1977. She was only 15 years old at the time. Eva was a shy and nice teenager who loved singing in the choir at church and couldn’t wait to start high school that fall. She had never run away from home before, and her family has always thought she was taken by someone else. When she went missing, Eva was 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 105 pounds. She has blue eyes and blonde hair. She wore blue shorts and a pink shirt with flowers on it the last time she was seen. She had her glasses on and no shoes on. It’s possible that a white man in a blue and white Jeep, Scout, or Blazer took her. Please call the York County Sheriff’s Department at 803–628–3059 or York County Crime Stoppers at 877–509–4321 if you know anything about Eva.