Episode 11

The Missing Singers of the Universal Harmony Choir: Jan Nibs

Read the Episode:

Hi, Micheal Midas here. For this episode, I’m going to turn back the clock to the balmy September of 1997, and talk about Jan Nibs, the first singer of the Universal Harmony Choir to disappear.

The talented and charismatic young woman joined the choir just after her 19th birthday, beating out four other singers that were competing for the available soprano spot.

Back then the New Moon Church had only existed in The Mysterious Bluffs for a few years, after being built on the site of an abandoned police station.

Jan fit right in singing the baroque choir music that was being rehearsed for the fall/winter season, and in a short while she excelled to be a highly recognized singer in the 25 member group. But This caused friction between her and Elissa Williams, the lead soprano.

Elissa, a plump, spinster, had been in the choir since it was founded in 1994, and not only was she regarded as a top singer, but she also had a say about who got to join the group.

Ironically, she recommended Jan for the spot, which wouldn’t have been likely a month or so later when she could barely stand her. But it was different at the time of the audition. Jan was recovering from the flu, so her voice was at about seventy percent. She still won the audition, and without alarming Elissa to a potential competitor for the lead soprano spot.

Before I detail the tension the between them, it should be mentioned that Jan – though an invigorating singer – was oddly numb to the way people felt about her. Hardly able to decipher another person’s demeanour, she had little insight into a conversation.

Her parents, Mark and Natalie Nibs, never thought to have Jan examined for a personality disorder. Her immense singing talent meant a lot to them, so her insensitivity to other people was trivialized, along with the abrasive ego she’d developed from perhaps too much encouragement.

Getting back to the choir, Jan’s bombastic self-worth soon hit a sour note with lead soprano Elissa, as Jan often brushed off her criticism with an aloof hum. The disrespect drove Elissa to quip about the talented singer behind her back.

“She’s just too good for us,” Elissa once said to Bryan, a tenor in the choir.

“Jan used up all her heart for that voice,” Elissa told the janitor another time.

And there was the rehearsal Jan showed up for a bit late, after she’d been delayed at the doctor’s office. As Jan made her way up the risers, Elissa announced that, “It’d be more fun waiting for a bus.”

Of course, the choir had sung one song already, so nobody was waiting for Jan – but Elissa wanted everyone to feel like she’d held them up.

All the choir could do was the next song. When it came time for Jan to sing, she did so with such stunning confidence that Elissa’s eyes filled with disgust. She could barely concentrate on her own voice – and every instance her anger flared up, she helplessly peered at Jan.

It took a few songs for Elissa to regain her stride, and ignore Jan’s angelic voice.

Elissa swore out loud that, “she was going to make the little snot care.”

So when Jan went missing a few days later, Elissa was the only singer questioned by Detective Kirk, the silver haired near-retiree who was assigned to the case.

The questioning took place on a staggeringly humid September evening. Arriving at the church after a sweaty walk from her house, Elissa immediately noticed that Jan wasn’t present. And since the conductor, John Smalls, was still in his office, she jokingly called him a slave to Jan’s voice for not starting without her.

But John Smalls soon returned to the choir, and delved into the music without a hint of concern that Jan was absent. The rehearsal went smoother than usual – Elissa was quite relaxed without Jan on her mind.

Detective Kirk arrived about half-way through the rehearsal, introduced himself, and let everyone know Jan that had been missing for about three days. After a few gasps from choir, the detective asked to speak with John Smalls in private, so they hurried off to his office.

While they were speaking, the choir rehearsed a short song, though it sounded a bit shaky. By the end of the song, John and the Detective returned to the nave.

“Can I speak with Elissa in the office,” he said.

Elissa’s face went red with shock, but she couldn’t have been overly surprised, because she obediently hurried off the risers, and followed him to John’s office.

John had obviously mentioned Elissa’s quips about Jan during his short meeting with Detective Kirk. But no worries to Elissa – the detective was soft-spoken while he asked her a few easy-going questions, like when she first spoke with Jan, (which she couldn’t remember), and if they ever met anywhere besides the rehearsals (which was a definite no).

Only one question kind of jarred Elissa. The Detective asked how she felt about Jan’s voice.

“I knew she was talented,” she said, “but she didn’t care that I did.”

“Sounds like she was a decent person,” the detective said.

He looked over Elissa, and though she was a little shivery with nerves, he saw that her eyes lacked the burning vacancy of a killer. Elissa’s acting would have to go beyond human in order to show up to choir rehearsal and appear calm and unknowing after ridding herself of an adversary.

So other than writing a few meagre points in his note pad, the detective dismissed Elissa’s jealousy for Jan as coincidental. He let her return to the choir rehearsal.

Let’s go back a day, when the detective was first assigned to the case after Jan had been missing for 24 hours.

It was a slow afternoon at the police station. Detective Kirk was about go home, pick up his grand daughter’s birthday present, her first two-wheel bicycle, and deliver it to her. That’s when the missing person report came in. His grand daughter would have to wait.

The detective called Jan’s college to ask if any items had been turned into the lost and found. The receptionist mentioned a cell phone that had just been dropped off by a student. It’d had been found across the street from the school.

A quick call to Jan’s mother, Natalie, revealed it was the make and model of Jan’s phone. This was undoubtedly not a coincidence. The detective assumed it must have been dropped there by the culprit to prevent tracking her. And the spot where the phone was found was suspicious, just away from the view of the security cameras, which meant her abduction might have been planned.

He wondered how she was taken against her will in broad daylight. Someone must have seen a struggle, or heard a scream, unless she ran off with a boyfriend after purposely leaving the phone in a easy to find spot.

Either way, Jan’s mom also mentioned to Detective Kirk that she and her husband had plastered the area with flyers, so they were optimistic the true story would be discovered.

After the call, Detective Kirk visited the Nibs family home to speak with Jan’s mom. The plump woman was pale with sadness as they spoke in the living room. Her son Neil was also there, snug on the couch, playing video games on a school day. The short, skinny kid had messy brown hair and a devious look in his eyes, and not the slightest appearance of fear about Jan’s disappearance.

The detective made a mental note of Neil’s apathy, then asked Natalie for any info about her daughter that could help the case. She tearfully described Jan as a thin brunette angel that was the most caring person in the world.

She then mentioned that Jan hadn’t been acting strange of late, nor brought up any odd events that happened to her. There were no new friends in her life. Nothing could be have led Natalie to predict her daughter would disappear.

The Detective sat on the couch besides Neil, and asked him if he forgot anything important about Jan’s disappearance. The young man shrugged his shoulders, as though the question wasn’t worth his time, then said, “I don’t have much to do with her.”

All the while, he managed to play his turn of Grand Theft Auto.

Unable to downplay Neil’s indifferent attitude, the detective’s face radiated with interest. He asked Neil to pause the game so they could talk a bit more. Neil, obliged, though with a little sneer on his face.

The detective asked him where he was the day before, and he answered at school. Then the detective asked how well he got along with his sister.

Neil said, “She’s okay, I guess.”

“You guess?”

“Yeah, we really don’t talk much.”

“You don’t have a reason to think bad of her?”

“She ain’t the devil.” Neil said

It was at this point, that Detective Kirk asked Natalie to leave the room. She obliged, then went to give a load of laundry some TLC.

“Who is your sister, if she isn’t the devil?” the detective asked Neil.

“I don’t know, maybe a unicorn.” he answered.

“Can you tell me who the devil is?” The detective asked.

Neil nonchalantly sighed, then un paused his video game.

“I mean to say, she really doesn’t bug me.”

“Oh, that’s all,” the detective said. “What did your sister and you talk about the last time you saw her.”

“She asked me to stop playing my video game, just like you did.”

The detective chuckled a little. “So am I going to disappear as well, then?”

“I guess if you’re not lucky.” the youngster said.

“So when did you find out she was missing.”

The teenager paused his game again.

“I got home from school, and she wasn’t here when she usually is. She always makes me a sandwich then. When mom got home from work, I told her I was hungry.”

Hearing that the sandwich mattered so much, the Detective concluded the teenager was hindered by a personality disorder that kept him from fully grasping Jan’s disappearance. He wasn’t acting suspicious in a way that raised an alarm.

“That’s all I need to know right now,” he said.

Back at the police station, Detective Kirk ran the teenager’s name through a databank, and found out that he had been caught purse snatching twice. That’s when the detective’s interest in him was reignited.

He called Neil’s probation officer, and found out that the young purse snatcher had been given a psychological assessment while he was detained in a Youth Detention centre. According to the report, Neil claimed that the two old ladies reminded him of his mother.

From there the story gets stranger. The file also stated that Neil lacked financial motivation to steal the purses, as his well-off parents spoiled him. Neil said he was the family treasure.

The detective doubted that Neil was being honest about his family status, so he said good-bye to the probation officer and called Neil’s mother to corroborate his claim. He asked why her son would think of himself as a treasure, after he’d been caught purse snatching.

She said that he’s treated like a baby, but admitted only because she and her husband feel guilty that his sister is very talented compared to him.

They also gave Neil a sizeable allowance of five hundred dollars a month, and plenty of freedom to do as he pleased. This meant he often spent weekends hanging around on Yonge St, where many teenagers cruised retail stores and fast food restaurants.

After the detective hung up the phone, he scanned the databank further and discovered that Neil had committed the two robberies on Young St in broad daylight, and with bicycle cops so close that they caught him red-handed.

Several questions came to the Detective’s mind. Had Neil ever treated his mother as badly as his purse snatching victims? And what about his sister? Did Neil treat her badly as well. Did she go missing because she forgot to make him sandwiches one day**?

The detective made a note to invite Neil to the police station for further questioning.

(radio jamming sound)

What’s going on here? There’s some interference in the podcast. I can’t hear myself speak. Nobody’s going to listen to static. I might as well put down the pencil and pick up a hoola-hoop,

Russian Speaker:

Hello Micheal, this is Yuri Karmazinov, everyone’s favourite Russian Ice-cream salesman. We met near your house. My ice cream truck have flat tires, and you came and offered me coffee.

Remember?

Of course you do.

Micheal, don’t be alarmed about this way I’m contacting you. It is Microwave Radio beaming message into your computer, a very safe way of communication. But in case you get hair loss or dizziness please visit your doctor.

Anyway, you and I both know everyone loves ice-cream, but I have discovered something everyone even loves more.

Free ice-cream.

Ha! I know what you’re thinking – that nothing in the world is for free, especially Russian world! So, now you wonder, how does one pay for something that is free? I have simple answer.

By doing favours!

And some are so good to do, that it is a favour to yourself to know you did the right thing. That is better than something for nothing!

So, what good favour can you do to get free ice cream?

I need you to have conversation with a policeman we both know. You tell him you really like ice cream, and you used to buy it from my truck. But then I stopped selling it, because my doctor said I have personality disorder. So I moved to Argentina to relax.

That’s a good favour to do, no?

Of course it is!

Micheal, you could use your mouth for worse things – like beg for food in Siberian Gulag.

I’m sure you will agree to help, but I give you time to think about free ice cream – in case you want to live. I will contact you for meeting, where we talk about details. How about we play chess in park and drink a little Vodka?

All the choir could do was sing the next song.

Whatever that was about, it’s none of anyone’s business. The interruption is over, let’s get on with the story.

So we left off with Detective Kirk about to invite Neil to the police station for further questioning. He picked up the receiver to call Natalie back so she can make the arrangements with her son, but then the Detective changed his mind.

The request was a little abrupt for a family that had just suffered the disappearance of their daughter. Also, the Detective felt there was more to learn about Neil before making him an official person of interest.

Instead, he called Natalie to see if he could stop by her home and ask more questions. Of course, he didn’t mention his goal – to extract information from her about Neil.

Natalie answered her phone barely after a ring, desperate for good news about Jan. The Detective said he wished he had some, but needed to ask more questions before he can get results – so they should get together right away. Natalie moaned with disappointment. She was outside in the rain, busy posting and handing out missing person flyers. They decided to meet the next morning.

The detective arrived at Natalie’s house just after breakfast, They sat together at the kitchen table.

He asked where she’d been putting up the flyers, and she said at every major intersection within a 10k radius of Jan’s college.

And she added that she was going to continue distributing them after the Detective left, but unfortunately alone, as her husband had to return to his college teaching job.

The detective asked if her son Neil had helped with the flyers, and Natalie paused for a long breath.

“No, I haven’t seen him since – I can’t remember,” She answered, Then she said that, she didn’t check her son’s room the night before to see if he was home. She and her husband returned late and went straight to bed without a bite to eat.

At this moment she mentioned that the day before she’d met several people, who volunteered to help with the search, and one of them even knew a producer at a local TV station. He promised get Jan’s disappearance on the News.

The Detective smiled modestly. Natalie was doing the best she could. But underneath he wondered if she was diverting the conversation from Neil, because she was hiding something from the detective about him.

He asked if they could go to Neil’s room, and search for any clues to his whereabouts. She hesitated by letting out an ah before she agreed. There they discovered that his bed was still made, which meant he hadn’t slept in it since she’d made it the day before.

“You found time to make his bed yesterday?” the detective asked, with a mordantly impressed smile.

A tear ran down Natalie’s cheek. She said that she and her husband had come home in the afternoon for a break, so she could fix them some lunch. Afterwards, she cleaned her son’s room to help ease her nerves.

The detective asked that she call his school to check if he’d been in class the day before. She said that he was, or she would have received an automated message from the school saying he was absent

Natalie’s answer sounded protective to the detective. He recalled when he first visited their house. Neil was playing video games in the living room on a school day.

The detective wandered if Natalie had received a message then about Neil’s absence, and instinctively brushed it off because of the awkward duty it entailed.

She might have to confront her son about skipping classes, and take some abuse for putting the poor boy’s mind off interests that displaced his education.

“Losing your daughter is a big deal. You might have forgotten the school called you yesterday,” the detective said.

Natalie stood silently. A few tears rolled down her cheek.

“You have absolutely no idea what happened to your son?” The detective said.

“Not a clue,” she answered.

She then spoke up about how their family rarely ate meals together. She couldn’t even say if her son was home while she was having breakfast the day before.

The detective looked a bit astounded, then asked if she could get Neil on his cell phone. They went back to the kitchen and she tried to call him.

They heard ringing in the foyer. They went there, and found his phone in a fall jacket hanging in the closet. Neil had just begun wearing it as the evenings were cooling off.

To the detective’s surprise, the cell phone had no security code to prevent him from viewing it’s contents. He checked the recent calls screen, and discovered that not a single call had been made or received in the past month. He auto dialled the phone messaging system, and found nothing as well. And the only number saved in the address book was his mother’s number.

The phone’s battery was near empty, which could have meant Neil had been away from home for quite some time.

The Detective had a few questions for himself.

Was it a coincidence that Neil forget his phone at home after Jan’s had been found near the school?
Tracking both of Natalie’s kids was now impossible.

Did Neil purposely forget the phone, or forget it absent-mindedly while he was in a hurry to do something nobody else needed to know about?

The detective insisted Natalie contact all of Neil’s friends, and ask when they’d last seen him, but she admitted the only friend he’d brought home in the past year was Simon, who lived on the same block as them. And he only visited for a short while, because he didn’t enjoy multiplayer video games, according to Neil.

The detective asked if Neil had ever disappeared before. Natalie said that he’d run away from home during the week Jan had gone to Montreal for a high school choir competition. But Neil came home the day before Jan returned. Natalie asked him where he’d been, and he claimed at a friend’s place, then refused to give further explanation.

Fearing that Neil would get upset and run off again, she let it rest at that.

The Detective speculated to himself that Neil had run away in order to yield more attention than Jan had received from singing in a choir competition.

However, there was still the chance Neil might have had an uncontrollable desire to rid himself of a sister he feared was destined for a better life than him.

The detective called the police station to request a search for Neil. This is when he learned of new development in the case.

A student from Jan’s school reported that he’d seen her willingly hop into a white van a few blocks away from where her phone had been found.

The student didn’t see the licence plate, but recalled the driver was an older balding male with a thick moustache.

From that day on, not a shred of evidence came forth of what happened to Jan – no suspect was found, her clothing wasn’t found, not even a clue on her phone was found. She simply vanished.

And her brother, Neil, came home a few days later, after he’d spent a few nights in a friend’s basement. He’d never told his parents about this friend, since he didn’t think they’d like him.

“He swears a lot,” Neil said, “But don’t worry I don’t like swearing anymore.”

Also, Neil admitted to his parents that he’d bought a pay-per-go phone some time ago, because he thought they were tracking his whereabouts with the phone they gave him.

The detective checked Neil’s story about his friend and it was true. Then he checked Neil’s phone records, and found nothing suspicious.

Some time down the road, Neil also changed the reason why he ran away from simply being upset about Jan’s disappearance, to admitting he thought she’d left on purpose to get more attention from their mother – so he couldn’t let her win.

As the only child left in the family, Neil changed his attitude towards life. He learned to empathize with his parents. He made more friends at school, and achieved better grades. He went on to be accepted in University and eventually earn a degree in environmental studies.