Bernard Rusness and Peggy McKay

After finishing work on the 2nd of April, 1976, Bernard Rusness and his common-law wife Peggy McKay headed to the grocery store in Wolf Lake, Minnesota, where they resided. They returned home in time to welcome their 8-year-old son, Brian, home from school.

Later that same afternoon, Bernard was seen by neighbours to be working on installing a new sound system in his truck. When he realised that he wasn’t going to be able to finish installing the sound system that night, he left the hood of his truck open and his tool shed door open, with the intention of finishing it in the morning, and headed to bed.

At 11:30pm that evening, a neighbour of Bernard and Peggy’s, Kevin Mickelson, was driving home from work when he passed their house that had become engulfed in flames. Kevin said that at the time he saw the fire, it must have been burning for at least 20 minutes. Kevin then rushed home to tell his parents, Lyle and Jeanette, about the fire.

When Kevin got home, he learnt that his cousin Tony had driven past the burning house minutes before him, and Tony had broken down the door of the house to help the family if they were stuck inside, but he was overwhelmed by the smoke and flames and was not able to go inside the house.

A different neighbour, Alice Hendrickson, noticed the fire and contacted the Wolf Lake Fire Department. Within 10 minutes, the fire department arrived, but they were unable to do anything to stop the fire. By the time they put the fire out, the house was reduced to a large pile of ashes on the ground.

Bernard, Peggy and Brian. Credit:

Many neighbours had come to the conclusion that Bernard, Peggy and Brian had all died in the fire, as they were not in the crowds with the other neighbours, and both of their cars were still there.

The morning after the fire, officials started to sift through the ashes. Within a week, the investigators were able to confirm that they had recovered Brian’s bones from the ashes, alongside some of the bones that belonged to the family’s two dogs.

There was no trace of Peggy or Bernard found in the ashes of their burnt-down home, so they were then listed as missing people.

The remains of the burnt-down home. Credit:

The Becker County Sheriff’s department did not comment on whether they thought that foul play was involved with the fire or with Bernard and Peggy’s disappearance.

The other residents started to search the forests and swaps surrounding the Russness’s home, but they came up with nothing.

What is strange is that there was very little done in terms of investigating the source of the fire, as arson seems like a likely cause, and there has never been an official statement on what caused the fire. It has also never been confirmed if Brian died as a result of the fire, or whether he was dead before the fire even started. Though, one report has stated that the position he was found in suggests he was likely in bed when the fire broke out.

Authorities seemed to believe that Peggy and Bernard killed Brian, and then started the fire to cover it up. However, numerous reports from family members, neighbours and babysitters all state that there is no way Peggy and Bernard would have harmed Brian, as they saw him as their pride and joy. Neighbours say they often saw Bernard and Brain playing together in the yard, and that Peggy would walk Brain to the bus stop every morning to make sure he got there safely.

Peggy and Bernard had recently renovated their house, so for them to intentionally burn it down did not make any sense to anyone.

Many people, Bernard’s older son Ben included, believe that both Bernard and Peggy are dead and that the local law enforcement really messed up the investigation which stopped Bernard and Peggy’s family from receiving the answers that they deserve. There were also rumours that the police may have been involved in the crime, and botching the investigation was the authorities’ way of covering it up. However, there has never been any evidence to prove this theory.

It has been 46 years since Peggy and Bernard were last seen – what happened to them? And who started that fire?

Bernard, Peggy and Brian. Credit:


Unsolved, Still Missing, Missing Person, Missing People, Homicide, Investigation, True Crime, Bernard Rusness, Peggy McKay, Wolf Lake, Minnesota, Missing Persons Case, Unsolved Missing Persons Case, Missing Couple, Strange Circumstances, Real Crime

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