COLUMN: Straight From the Hog’s Eye — Bratschi case demands justice

Randy Bratschi went missing not long after I went to work at the Morning News. It was fall 2004, and I wasn’t even a reporter at the time; I was working on the copy desk. Less than a year later, however, I began covering the public safety beat in Florence, and Bratschi’s story became one that I followed closely.

Investigators were looking everywhere for Bratschi. I particularly remember covering one major dig at the spot in New Hope where cadaver dogs had led sheriff’s deputies.

Unfortunately, the results continued to be the same: The search turned up nothing.

Another time, we heard a report that someone out driving their truck through the mud had discovered some bones underneath a bridge at the Great Pee Dee River. That location was near Smurfit-Stone Container, where Bratschi was last seen as he left work one morning. The bones, however, turned out to be those of an animal.

It was disheartening for me, because I was hoping for a break in the case, and I know it was unimaginably sad for Bratschi’s family, who sincerely wanted closure.

I know the sheriff’s office worked extremely hard on this case, but at times I worried that no search, no matter how intense, would ever lead to a resolution of Bratschi’s disappearance.

I met some of his family members once, during a press conference held in November a few years ago at the Florence County Sheriff’s Office. Bratschi disappeared in late November, so Thanksgiving was a particularly difficult time for the family. They announced they were hiring a forensic psychic to help find Bratschi and said they just wanted to give him a proper Christian burial.

In the end, however, the sheriff’s office received its big break in the case from two men who during this past summer were moving a trailer from Bratschi’s former property.

Under the trailer were remains that, after a long period of analysis at the University of North Texas, were determined to be those of Bratschi.

Not long after we learned the results of a mitochondrial DNA analysis, which identified the remains, investigators announced they’d made an arrest — Bratschi’s wife was charged with murder.

Later that day, they also arrested Bratschi’s stepson and charged him with misprision of a felony. Florence County Sheriff’s Lt. Jason Dore said he thinks the stepson knew about Bratschi’s slaying, but didn’t report it.

It should go without saying, but I’ll make it abundantly clear that I’m a firm believer that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. All I want is for justice to be served in this case, regardless of what outcome is necessary for that to happen. The family has received some closure, but they deserve to have their minds at peace as much as humanly possible.

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