Disappearance remains unsolved mystery

Friend/business partner not giving up the search for René Nolette.

René Nolette

Whatever became of René Nolette, Normand Doucette maintains his friend’s disappearance was no accident.

Seven years have passed since Nolette officially became a missing person. The tragedy of his loss for family and friends was exacerbated by inconsistent and conflicting reports surrounding his disappearance.

“We may never know for certain what specific chain of events led to the loss of our dad,” say Nolette’s daughters, Christine Nolette Findlay and Debbie Petty in a written statement. “Dealing with the paralyzing frustration over this inability to get answers, and the uncertainty surrounding the circumstances of his death has been a daily struggle. We carry the pain of losing our dad, husband, father-in-law, and grandfather deep in our hearts and we ask that our privacy be respected.”

One theory, suggested by authorities, is that Nolette accidentally drowned during an early morning boating excursion on Shuswap Lake. But Doucette says there’s no way this could have happened as Nolette was an excellent swimmer. Doucette considers his friend’s disappearance to be suspicious, and is determined to solve this mystery.

“I knew René since he was born. He was my neighbour on the farm. We worked together, we worked in California, we worked in the oil patch, he was my partner in N & R Trucking Ltd. out of Peace River, so nobody knew him better than me…,” says Doucette. “That’s how far we go back and that’s why I’m not going to give up. Wherever he is, dead or alive, I’m going to find him.”

The last time Doucette saw his friend was in Sicamous on the night of Aug. 13, 2008. The two had been in a business meeting with friend Jay Butterworth at Moose Mulligan’s. The gathering broke up about 1:30 a.m., when Nolette, Butterworth and a man named Mark Cote, who had been bartending at the restaurant, decided to head to Butterworth’s lakeside cabin –a 15-minute boat trip from town. The three men borrowed Doucette’s pontoon boat and were at Butterworth’s cabin by about  2 a.m.

Doucette said Nolette had planned to stay at the cabin, but about an hour after their arrival, Cote said he had to be at work the next morning. Despite Butterworth’s protests, Nolette, a seasoned boater, agreed to take Cote back.

“I know René left the Butterworth cabin at five to 3 a.m., because a lady next door woke up and saw him leave,” said Doucette.

According to Doucette, eight-and-a-half hours passed before Cote finally showed up, the boat running on fumes and without Nolette.

Butterworth and Doucette began their own search after Cote told them he’d dropped Nolette off near Marble Point. After an unsuccessful search there, Doucette says Cote’s story changed, that he’d  instead dropped Nolette off near Annis Bay by the railway tunnel. Doucette and Butterworth searched there as well, but again found no trace of their friend.

Another eight hours passed before Nolette’s disappearance was reported to police. Search and rescue operations began at approximately 7 p.m. that day. The water, land and air search lasted about 17 hours. The only thing found were Nolette’s sandals, located in the water about two miles apart.

“Our suspicion… is that he fell off the boat and into the water because we located two of his shoes in the water,” former Sicamous RCMP Const. Pat Pyper commented following the initial search. He noted the search was made difficult by inconsistent information received from witnesses.

“And that’s not only of the witness who was on the boat, but of other people who gave statements… and our people have looked at the statements and they’ve determined that inconsistencies could be put up to the alcohol and darkness and a bunch of other things.”

Cote left the area soon after Nolette’s disappearance. In October 2008, police said he was still in the country and was being co-operative.

As a body has not yet been recovered, Sicamous RCMP say Nolette is still considered a missing person.

After the police search, Doucette and Butterworth hired Darren Muntak to search for Nolette. Using a combination of side-scan sonar, GPS mapping and a submersible remote camera, Muntak’s search covered 20 to 30 square miles of lake bed over 25 days, but came up empty.

“The area we’ve searched, I can pretty much say there’s a 90 to 95 per cent probability he’s not in that area,” Muntak told the News.

Asked for his theories about the disappearance, Doucette explained Nolette had incurred substantial debt and he believes either foul play was involved or – and to a lesser degree – that Nolette is in hiding.

Not having done so yet, Doucette says he may hire a private investigator to continue the search.

“I’m just doing the same thing he would do – and I want to know. It’s unfair to everybody,” said Doucette.

Nolette’s family is also hopeful the truth will one day be revealed.

“We continue to pray for answers and hope that someday the truth is spoken by those who may hold it,” say Petty and Nolette Findlay. “Our dad was a great man, and he deserves a proper ending to his life story.”