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Officials recover missing East Texas woman's body from lake

By Robyn Claridy rclaridy@news-journal.com
Nov. 7, 2011 at 11 p.m.

After more than three years of searching for answers regarding the disappearance of 58-year-old Brenda Oliver, family members have been given closure.

On Monday, Van Zandt County Constable Pat Jordan said authorities had recovered the remains of the Canton woman Saturday evening from a submerged vehicle on FM 1861 in the Martin Mills area.

Oliver's sister, Donna McWilliams, said her sister's remains were recovered about a mile from where she was reported missing July 12, 2008.

"It's been a really long, drawn-out thing and we have prayed for closure," McWilliams said. "We didn't at first, but as time wears on you, you do, and we have it now."

Although forensic DNA testing hasn't officially confirmed the remains were Oliver's, McWilliams said she is certain the body is her sister.

"My mother is in very poor health and she just kept saying she couldn't die without knowing what happened to her daughter. It's a sad ending, but we do have closure now."

Jordan was called to the small lake about 5:20 p.m. Saturday by area resident Jack Mewbourn who said his grandson thought he saw a car in a lake near his home.

"My grandson called me and said 'Daddy Jack, come over to my house, I think there's a car in the lake,'" Mewbourn said. "I told him that it was probably a barrel or something, but he said that he could see what looked like a windshield."

Mewbourn said once he and his grandson took out a boat to confirm that it was a vehicle, they called Jordan out to remove it from the lake.

He said he stayed at the lake and watched as a wrecker service pulled Oliver's algae covered Chevrolet Monte Carlo from the seven-acre lake, firefighters extracted the remains from the vehicle and Department of Public Safety officials and sheriff's deputies investigated the death.

"I didn't know her before all of this, but I do now," Mewbourn said.

Officials said the remains were found in the driver's seat with a seat belt on.

After the vehicle was hauled from the water, Jordan said, officials ran the license plate number, which returned a flag saying the car and its owner had been missing since 2008.

The year after Oliver's disappearance, family members posted more than 300 flyers around the Martin Mills area and in Canton, and mailed out flyers to homeless shelters, state mental facilities and hospitals in hopes of finding clues to the disappearance.

"We stopped because there was nowhere else to go. We posted them in Mesquite (where she was raised) and she was in the national database for missing persons. She had no activity on her credit cards and all of her retirement checks were being automatically deposited into her checking account and there wasn't one transaction after the day she disappeared," McWilliams said. "By the end of the the first year, we just pretty much assume that she was deceased because it's hard to live without a paper trail."

McWilliams described her sister as quiet and said she retired from Lucent Technologies about five years before she disappeared.

Oliver had one child named Jeremy Oliver, who drowned when he was 19 in Cedar Creek Lake.

She was the middle daughter of three and grew up in Mesquite. She started working for Lucent Technologies when she was 17.

Jordan said the remains were sent for forensic testing to confirm Oliver had been found.

He said no foul play was suspected.



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