Sara Bushland had been in a good mood when she left her Spring Lake, Wisconsin home on the morning of Wednesday, April 3, 1996. It was the last day of classes before spring break; it was also the 15-year-old’s first day of freedom after being grounded for several weeks. One of her stepbrothers dropped her off at a friend’s house in Spooner, Wisconsin that morning, and the two of them walked to Spooner High School together.
Sara’s first half of the school day went by quickly. Travis Lane, her boyfriend, picked her up for lunch and took her to a restaurant. Travis took her to school and dropped her off after lunch. She went to her afternoon classes.
Sara had planned to walk back to her friend’s house with her when school was over, because they were going to go back to school together later that night for an event. But Sara changed her mind by the end of the day. To get back to her own house, she told her friend that she had to go and asked several people to drive her there. To get to school, Sara took the school bus because her house was on the edge of the rural community of Spooner and no one was willing to drive her there.
It took Sara about 40 minutes to get home on the bus, and she talked with other students during that time. Someone noticed that a dark pickup truck seemed to be following the bus. It belonged to a man that Sara used to date, it was recognised.
This time, Sara got off the bus at the stop that was near the bottom of her gravel driveway. More than one person saw the dark-colored pickup truck pull into Sara’s driveway. Sara knew the driver from the way she moved. All the witnesses saw Sara walk up to the driver and start talking to him, but it’s not clear if she got into the truck with him or not. A few of the witnesses thought Sara did get into the truck, and one thought she saw her talk to the driver but not anything else. The only thing that is certain is that Sara was never seen again.
As the bus pulled away, the truck was seen backing out of Sara’s driveway. One witness said the truck then went north to Trego, while another said it went south. Two people who saw what happened didn’t know if Sara was in the truck or not. She might have started the 100-yard walk up her driveway to her house.
At 4:00 pm, Sara got off the bus. David, her 20-year-old stepbrother, would have been the only one home at that time. Marie Lambert, her mother, had to leave town for a funeral and was going to spend the night in Chippewa Falls. Jim Lambert, her stepfather, was in Minnesota visiting a friend.
Sara’s stepbrother saw that she wasn’t home from school and called his dad in Minnesota at 4:37 pm to let him know Sara wasn’t there. No one expected Sara to be home after school because she had planned to go to a friend’s house instead. It’s not clear if he still thought she was grounded or not.
Jim called his wife in Chippewa Falls to say that Sara didn’t seem to be home from school. Marie drove back to Spooner right away because she didn’t know what was going on. She got there around 6:20 pm. She called some of Sara’s friends, but none of them had seen her since school ended. At 8 p.m., Marie began driving to different places she thought Sara might be. She went to the house where Sara had been dropped off that morning and to Travis’s flat, but Sara wasn’t there either.
Travis told Marie that he had lunch with Sara but hadn’t seen her since he took her back to school. A number of Sara’s classmates confirmed that she went back to school after lunch and then took the bus home. When Marie got home, she couldn’t sleep because she kept thinking about where her daughter was.
Jim said that he got back from Minnesota early the next afternoon. He and Marie then went to the Spooner police station and told them that Sara was missing. Based on the first report, it looks like the couple thought Sara had just run away. Since they didn’t seem too worried, the police didn’t do much to find Sara. There was no news about her disappearance at all, and many of her classmates didn’t even know she was missing until two weeks after she was last seen.
Marie didn’t bother to call Sara’s dad to let him know that his daughter was missing, which I found strange. A few days later, Mike Bushland’s ex-mother-in-law called him to tell him that she had gone missing. He was sure from the start that Sara wasn’t running away. She hadn’t taken any of her things with her; all of her clothes, makeup, and hair products were still there.
Sara had only lived in Spooner since December 1994. Before that, she had lived with her father and older sister Lesley in Colorado. They had been close their whole lives and were only 18 months apart in age. Their parents split up in 1984, and for most of their childhood, they had joint custody of the girls. Both girls chose to move with Mike when he moved to Colorado in 1990.
Mike did all he could to make sure his daughters had a stable home life, and things looked good. The sisters started to act out a bit when they were teenagers. It made Lesley feel good to steal from stores, but she never really took anything valuable. Soon, Sara decided to give it a try, but she wasn’t as quiet about it. She was caught shoplifting at a nearby mall in November 1994 and was arrested.
Mike was upset when he found out about his daughters’ new hobby, and he told them they couldn’t do anything fun. In typical teenage fashion, Sara got mad and decided she didn’t want to live with her dad anymore. She planned to move to Wisconsin to live with her mom and stepdad. Mike agreed, and the next month, Sara left Colorado.
Jim and Marie Lambert lived in Spooner, Wisconsin, on a 65-acre farm that was next to Spring Lake. They didn’t rebuild their house after it burned down in 1990; instead, they turned their two-story garage into a home. Two of Jim’s sons were already living there when Sara moved in. Jim and Marie weren’t home very often, which gave Sara the kind of unstructured space she had been looking for since she moved out of her dad’s house. It cost something.
There were claims of sexual abuse and bad feelings between Sara and her stepbrothers, but no charges were ever brought, and it’s still not clear what happened in the Spooner home. Sara wasn’t watched very often, but her bedroom didn’t have a door and was also Jim’s office, so she didn’t have much privacy.
Sara was known for being friendly and happy, and she never had a problem making friends. But after she moved to Spooner, she began hanging out with friends who were a lot older than her. The first time she dated Travis, she was only 15. They were together for two years. Marie and Jim didn’t like this, and they tried to tell Sara she couldn’t date until she turned 16, but Sara kept seeing Travis.
A lot of teenage girls do it, and Sara did too. She only wrote in it sometimes, but when she did, she wrote in great detail about how tense things were between her and her stepfather and stepbrothers, as well as other relationship issues. Jim found her diary and read it in March 1996. Some of the things she wrote made him mad, so he grounded her. It’s not clear what made him so angry, but the fact that Sara was still dating Travis probably played a role. Sara could only leave the house to go to school or do things related to school. Her punishment was supposed to end the day she went missing.
Sara moved to Spooner because she was mad that her father had grounded her. After her stepfather grounded her, she seemed to realise that she had had a good time with her father. She told her grandmother not long before she disappeared that she was thinking about moving back in with her dad and sister.
No one has ever been able to fully figure out what happened when Sara went missing. She told a friend that day as she was trying to find a ride home from school that she was afraid her stepfather would read her diary again. She said that if he read her most recent entries, he would probably ground her again. Before this could happen, she said she wanted to get home. However, Jim was supposed to be away from town for the night, so there was no chance that he would find and read her diary. She might have been afraid that one of her stepbrothers would find it and tell her stepfather what was inside, but no one knows for sure what she was thinking.
The police quickly believed that Sara had run away, even though her father and older sister were sure she hadn’t. Because of this, there was no real investigation. Mike wasn’t happy with how the case was handled because the sheriff’s office didn’t get in touch with him until Sara had been missing for over a year. He could see that they had never even bothered to look at her disappearance briefly, let alone do a real investigation.
In July 1999, the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office went to Jim and Marie’s house in Spooner to look for Sara for the first time. They searched through a trash dump on the property, but they wouldn’t name anyone in the family as a suspect or person of interest. They did not find any clues about Sara’s disappearance.
A second search of the Lambert property was done by police in August 2000. Now that they had a search warrant, they dragged Spring Lake and looked in a few other places on the property, but they still didn’t find anything.
A lot of people thought that the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office was focusing their search on the area around Sara’s house, but officials wouldn’t say anything about the case. Since they didn’t seem too concerned about finding the dark-colored pickup truck that was seen the day Sara went missing, it looked like they had given up on it as a possible clue. They seemed to think Sara had shown up that day and died at her own home.
The search for Sara’s body seemed to stop after the second search of the Lambert property. It would be more than ten years before another physical search would happen.
Marie clung to the hope that her daughter had chosen to go missing on her own, and she thought that her daughter might come back after she turned 18. The day went by and Sara hadn’t said anything, and her family said it was getting harder to trust them.
After Sara had been missing for five years, police finally agreed that it looked like she had not gone missing on her own. They didn’t have any proof that Sara was still alive, but they also didn’t think she was alive because of foul play. They didn’t have many leads in the case because Sara wasn’t getting much attention and not many people seemed to know she was missing, but they thought that someone in the Spooner area knew exactly what had happened to the teen.
People always thought that Sara’s case was being looked into, but nothing new was found for years. The police started looking for Sara again in 2013. In May 2013, they did another search of the Lamberts’ property. Over 70 investigators searched the whole property for two days, looking in every building and inside the house. Cadaver dogs were brought in to help, and they responded to the smell of death in a number of places. Officials once again left without any clues about what might have happened to Sara, even though they searched for years.
Jim and Marie both passed away in 2017. A week after Jim’s death, the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office searched their property a fourth time. Another time, searchers failed to find any clues about Sara’s disappearance.
The truck that was seen in Sara’s driveway the day she disappeared has never been found. One witness saw a truck that looked like it belonged to the father of Sara’s boyfriend, and another saw one that belonged to a man Sara had called Steve. There was no one named Steve who was known to be close to Sara. It’s possible that both witnesses were talking about Travis. In any case, there is still no proof that Sara got into the truck that day; it may have nothing to do with her disappearance.
Detectives seemed to be very interested in the Lambert property, which makes me think that they had proof that Sara did something there, but they have never talked about this in public. For now, Sara is still thought to be missing, even though they don’t think she is still alive.
Sara’s father and sister know that she was probably k*illed, but they have never stopped looking for her. Lesley has done a lot to keep Sara’s case alive, and she still hopes that they will find out what happened to her sister one day.
The last time anyone saw Sara Bushland was when she was 15. Her hair is blonde and her eyes are blue. She was 5 feet tall and 104 pounds when she went missing. A blue jacket, black trainers and blue jeans with a Tweety Bird T-shirt on the front were the last things that were seen on her. She also had wire-rimmed glasses on and four silver rings on, one of which was a Spooner High School class ring with a black stone. On the left side of her neck and on the right side of her upper lip, she has moles. Please call the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office at 715-468-4700 if you know anything about Sara.