In May 1990, Myrtle Brown was visiting her best friend in New York when her purse, which contained her identification documents and epilepsy medication, was stolen.
Later that evening, she told her family she didn’t feel well and went alone to the emergency room of a Brooklyn hospital to get a refill on her medication, NBC News reported. She never came home and they never heard from her again.
“She ended up going by herself,” Myrtle’s daughter Eboney, who was 13 years old when her mother disappeared, told NBC. “And then that was the last moment, you know, we ever heard from her.”
In the weeks after she disappeared, Myrtle’s mother and other family members searched for her at local hospitals and asked if local police precincts had any information.
“I never thought she passed away,” Eboney told NBC. “I thought maybe she just wanted something different, maybe, out of life. I didn’t know, to be honest, I was just confused and sad.”
For 32 years, Myrtle’s family wondered what had happened to her. Then in April, Myrtle’s brother Robert happened to be watching an episode of “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” that highlighted the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner’s cold case unit. During the segment, Robert noticed a facial reconstruction of a woman featured on the program.
“I saw a young lady that could be or could not have been my sister,” he told NBC. “And I said to myself, ‘Wow, I wonder if that could be her.’”
Two days later, Robert and his wife contacted the medical examiner’s office and told them about Myrtle. Dr. Angela Soler, assistant director of forensic anthropology and the woman who ran the cold case unit, agreed to look into Myrtle’s disappearance.
“I took a look at the reconstruction and noticed, OK, I’m probably looking for a middle-aged Black woman,” Soler told NBC. “It all matched with what the family was telling us, and we were also informed that she went missing in May of 1990. So I knew exactly where to start my search.”
Soler began searching a two-week period of records from May 1990, and she soon discovered the woman in the facial recreation, which led Robert to contact her office, was not Myrtle. But Soler did find another set of remains from May 17, 1990, that could be a match for Robert’s sister.
“In this instance, the contextual information included the date that she passed away,” Soler told NBC. “She passed away in Brooklyn, which matched the family telling me that she used to receive medical care in Brooklyn.”
“She had a presumptive name that matched, a presumptive date of birth that matched, and the family had given some medical information about their missing loved one that also matched what was in the case file,” she added.
Soler then called Robert to say she may have found his sister. She sent the family a photo of the woman and they confirmed that it was, in fact, Myrtle.
“As soon as I saw the photo … just, you know it, you knew it was her,” Eboney told NBC.
The family soon learned what really happened to Myrtle. She went to the hospital, just like she said, but she was never registered or admitted. While she was waiting to be seen in the emergency room, she had a seizure and died, and because she didn’t have her identification, the hospital only had her name and date of birth and was apparently unable to find her relatives to let them know she had died.
Just knowing, however, allowed the Brown family to find peace, and they held a virtual memorial for Myrtle.