Bernadette M. Caruso, 23, left her job at an Eastpoint Mall jewelry store Sept. 27, 1986, to drive home to get ready for a big night on the town. She never arrived.
In more than eight years, Baltimore County police have found no trace of the brown-haired, green-eyed Essex woman or her 1982 gray-green Chevrolet Cavalier.
"Christmas is rough because she's not here, but we never stop thinking about her," said Patricia Stevenson of Dundalk, Mrs. Caruso's mother.
As the holidays arrive and families traditionally draw together, the pain remains for Baltimore County families whose loved ones have disappeared under mysterious circumstances -- and who hope the holiday will prompt someone to provide some clues. Even for those whose worst suspicions have long since been confirmed, the holidays bring a mixture of happiness and sorrow.
Susan Hurley Harrison, 52, of Ruxton visited her estranged husband, James J. Harrison Jr., retired chief financial officer of McCormick & Co., at his Timonium home last Aug. 5. He said she left the house about 10 p.m.
Mrs. Harrison hasn't been seen since. Her green 1992 Saab appeared Aug. 7 in a parking lot at Washington National Airport ** the day after she was reported missing, but local authorities weren't told for three weeks. Forensic examination of the car produced no evidence of violence, but, a police spokesman said, "We still think foul play might be involved."
"Susan always made such a big deal of Christmas," said Molly Hurley Moran of Athens, Ga., Mrs. Harrison's sister, recalling family celebrations with Susan and three brothers as children in Massachusetts.
Relatives of both victims say they believe the women are dead, but, because they don't really know, the feelings of loss are intense as they prepare for Christmas.
"The not knowing is the worst part; it tears them apart," said Capt. Rustin Price, Baltimore County Homicide Squad commander. "We need to know where the bodies are, to give the families closure."
Lt. Sam Bowerman, an investigator on both cases, said he believes that Mrs. Caruso and Mrs. Harrison were victims of foul play.
Police still are "actively following leads in both cases," Lieutenant Bowerman said. He declined to identify possible suspects, but he said he is optimistic that the mysteries eventually will be solved.
In his view, the lieutenant said, Mrs. Caruso disappeared as the result of a "well-planned, a well thought out conspiracy to get rid of her."
K? "One person couldn't get rid of her and her car like that."
'Somebody knows something'
On the other hand, he said, Mrs. Harrison's disappearance resulted from "an impulsive crime" and a well-calculated effort to dispose of the body.
"Somebody knows something in both cases, and we need them to come forward, in any manner," he said. "Just give us a clue where the bodies are. An anonymous letter or phone call, even from the killers. . . .
"I ask the people to pray over the cases. I tell them to keep the faith and God will help us find a way. Whatever reason someone would have to end an innocent person's life, you would hope they would have the moral responsibility and the compassion for the family to tell them where their loved one is."
Pain not diminished
The Stevenson family is preparing for its ninth Christmas since Bernadette Caruso disappeared. Mrs. Stevenson has three other daughters and three sons, but the pain has not diminished over time. This is particularly so, she said, because among her 11 grandchildren there is a constant reminder. Bernadette's daughter, Nicole, 11, closely resembles her mother, not only physically but also in her mannerisms.
Darlene Huntsman, 39, one of Bernadette's sisters, said Nicole seldom talks about her mother, "but you can see it in Nicole's eyes when she's here. The others are with their moms; she's alone. My kids feel a great loss for their aunt and we set up a tree every year with Bernadette's ornaments on it."
Bernadette and her husband, P. Michael Caruso, were in the process of divorce when she disappeared. He is rearing their
daughter and declined to speak about the case.
The first Christmas
For Susan Harrison's family, this will be the the first Christmas without her.
"I don't know how I'd get through this without my three brothers," said her sister, Mrs. Moran, who has been meeting with a grief counselor.
She said Tom Owsley of Homeland, Mrs. Harrison's first husband, is taking their sons, Jonathan 24, and Nicholas, 19, on a trip to the Southwest "because they couldn't bear the association with a traditional Christmas."
James Harrison said recently, "I hope to God Susan is back by Christmas. I pray she comes back safely, but the longer she's missing the less the possibility seems."
The Harrisons separated but he said, "We were just about getting back together. She brought new curtains to the house. I love Susan very much."
"I can't figure out what the devil happened" after she left the house, he said. Twice on visits to his house, he said,