Confirmation of long-lost brother's death brings grief, closure

Stephanie Schrade never imagined the time she spent with younger brother Jimmy Reymer at the Libertyland amusement park and other spots in Memphis, Tennessee, during a weekend visit to him there in the summer of 1983 would be the last time she'd ever see...

Confirmation of long-lost brother's death brings grief, closure

Stephanie Schrade never imagined the time she spent with younger brother Jimmy Reymer at the Libertyland amusement park and other spots in Memphis, Tennessee, during a weekend visit to him there in the summer of 1983 would be the last time she'd ever see him alive.

And there's been little in the decades since to prepare her for the newfound pain of learning he's been dead for the past third of a century.

"A majority of the family is trying to come to grips with the closure," said Schrade, a longtime Hanover Park resident. "I'm having a harder time with it than they are."

Authorities recently confirmed that the unidentified body of a teenage boy found in a rural area of North Carolina in February 1984 was that of 16-year-old Jimmy. His death has been ruled a suicide.

He had run away from the Memphis home where he'd been living with a family friend on the day before his birthday. It was immediately after that weekend he'd spent with his 18-year-old sister, who then lived in Streamwood.

"We went everywhere," she recalled of the weekend visit. "He knew everybody. Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined that anything was wrong."

The last things she knew for sure about her brother was that he'd left the home of family friend and former neighbor Homer "Mack" MacFadden after reportedly stealing money from the man's wallet, and that he had been seen walking across a bridge away from town.

Schrade said she was hurt by remarks she saw connected to recent news articles about the positive identification of Jimmy's body asking why the family never looked for him.

"I want them to realize we never stopped looking for him," she said. "Authorities weren't very helpful when you're three states away. My mother never closed the door to him."

Jimmy's disappearance occurred long before online resources were available, but when the internet came along, the family tried in vain to find clues there to their loved one's whereabouts.

"I hoped he'd found his niche, started a family and had a good job," Schrade said.

Those hopes were born of Jimmy's high intelligence, straight A grades in Memphis, dreams of medical school and promise to their mother that he would one day look after her in her old age.

Originally from the Northwest suburbs, Jimmy and his sister lived for a couple years in Memphis with their mother while she was separated from their stepfather. They moved back to Streamwood when the couple reconciled.

Jimmy never found a happy a fit as a middle-schooler in Streamwood, where his potential was not acknowledged the same way it had been in the Memphis schools, Schrade said.

It was mutually agreed that the best solution for all was for Jimmy to move back to Memphis and stay with MacFadden, who baby-sat the siblings when they were younger.

During the 33-year mystery of Jimmy's disappearance, the family never came across solid leads or explanations, only rumors and speculation, Schrade said.

Some said he'd gotten involved in drugs, informed on someone, and was in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Others suggested that MacFadden -- who's since died -- had been abusing Jimmy in some way.

Schrade said she never came across a shred of evidence to support any of the theories.

Meanwhile, the search for the identity of the boy found in North Carolina continued in fits and starts.

The boy had been using the name John Norris, which was quickly found to be a stolen identity.

A makeshift resume had been found near the body listing a nearby restaurant named Leah's as an employer. Streamwood High School was claimed as part of the educational history. The Streamwood reference gave North Carolina investigators some direction in 1984, but there was no missing person report in Streamwood that matched. Jimmy had been reported missing from Memphis.

Two years ago the mystery of Jimmy's fate began to unravel when authorities created a digital rendering based on the skull found in North Carolina.

At that point, the Streamwood lead was used again as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children sent a copy of the digital reconstruction to the Daily Herald.

A middle-school friend of Jimmy's from Streamwood saw the Daily Herald article and sent a yearbook photo of his old buddy to authorities.

During the two years that passed before official confirmation, Schrade said she and her mother often were asked to recall dates and other facts to help the reinvigorated investigation.

The reconstruction always looked somewhat older and different to her from the Jimmy she'd last seen. But its resemblance to their biological father -- and now her second oldest child who's in his early 20s -- made her suspect the lead might pan out.

Though the owner of Leah's died after the initial 2015 release of the digital reconstruction, her husband recently was able to match Jimmy's middle school photo with that of the restaurant's onetime employee, closing the case.

Schrade has much praise for the assistance the family received from the investigation's liaisons at the Streamwood Police Department, especially Cmdr. Michael Zeigler.

"Cmdr. Zeigler has been wonderful," she said. "Anytime I've called. he's always gotten right back to me."

While the identification of Jimmy's body has brought some closure, Schrade still has many unanswered questions. She says she'll never believe a young man of Jimmy's potential could have ended his own life.

But authorities said they have not changed their conclusion as to the cause of death.

Jimmy and Schrade's biological father, who was divorced from their mother when the children were very young, died five years ago without ever knowing his son had disappeared, Schrade said. And their stepfather, who was raising his own children with their mother during the 1980s, is no longer married to her.

The recent confirmation of Jimmy's death has brought new grief to their mother, it has also brought her some rest, Schrade said.

"She's sad," she said. "She's going to cry on his birthday. She's going to cry at Christmas. But she doesn't have to look for him anymore."

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