A Marine and his friend vanished in 'The Desert.' The mystery lingers despite discovery of the friend's bones
Marine Sergeant Bruce Falconer was last seen driving away from a North Dakota bar with Timothy Jewell in the winter of 1981. Falconer's remains were discovered nearby in 1993.
Editor's note: This article is No. 3 in a series as The Vault reports on missing persons in North Dakota, whose cases are logged in a new database from the North Dakota Office of the Attorney General.
Marine Sergeant Bruce Falconer was on leave in his hometown of Bismarck when he and longtime friend Timothy Jewell hit the town to celebrate.
Falconer was fresh off his promotion and just days away from a transfer that would take him south to Yuma, Arizona.
Life for the young Marine seemed promising.
Falconer and Jewell were last seen driving away from a Bismarck bar in the Marine’s Chevrolet Blazer on the evening of Feb. 20, 1981. Five days later, the vehicle they were driving was discovered along the Missouri River in an area known by locals as “The Desert.”
Large-scale search efforts conducted by surrounding law enforcement departments and the Air National Guard in the days, weeks and months following their disappearance did not turn up any clues.
After exhausting all leads, the case went cold — until 12 years later, when there was a monumental break in the case.
A relentless search
Jewell and Falconer were reported to have been at multiple bars the evening before they went missing.
Based on interviews with witnesses who spotted the young men out, investigators determined they likely drove to The Desert at around 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 21.
Despite not coming home that weekend, the two were not reported missing until Feb. 24. Bruce Falconer’s mother, Dorothy Falconer, made the call to authorities.
His mother told authorities that her son was in a good place in life, and likely wouldn’t walk away from it all. He also had paychecks at home that he had yet to cash. All signs pointed to something being terribly wrong.
Her motherly instincts were correct.
The next day, the vehicle they were driving was located in what is known as "The Desert," alongside the Missouri River. The Blazer was found covered in mud, according to a Bismarck Tribune article written in the following days.
The discovery prompted a scouring of the area, by both land and sky. There were theories that the two young men got out of the vehicle and attempted to make their way to the nearest shining lights, which would have taken them across the icy river. According to that theory, they could have fallen in.
Leads also poured in to the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Office. Ultimately, they were all dismissed.
Burleigh County Sheriff Bob Harvey said in a 1981 Bismarck Tribune article that the leading theory was that the two young men got out of the vehicle and attempted to make a fire to stay warm. From there, they could have succumbed to the icy elements that define winter in North Dakota.
Less than one month later, Harvey theorized that the two young men likely didn’t make it out alive.
“We have to draw the assumption they’re in there (the Desert someplace,” Burleigh County Sheriff Bob Harvey said in a 1981 Bismarck Tribune story. “And if they are in the area they are no longer alive.”
By November, Harvey gave up hope altogether.
“We’re going on the assumption that they’re dead. It just doesn’t seem very logical that two guys just up, walk away and disappear,” Harvey said in a Bismarck Tribune article.
Jewell and Falconer were both considered legally dead five months after their vehicle was discovered.
Still, the department kept the case open to new discoveries.
A break in the case
More than ten years later, they found answers — at least for family members of one of the young men.
In December of 1993, a hunter stumbled upon skeletal remains in the same area where the two men’s vehicle was discovered. The story made headlines in local newspapers, yet Harvey was hesitant to make any connection between the remains and the case of Falconer and Jewell until a forensic analysis was complete.
By April, forensic analysis confirmed that the remains belonged to Jewell. There were no signs of injury. It was believed he died of natural causes.
At the time Jewell’s remains were discovered, his family had already held a memorial service. Yet, the 1993 discovery allowed the family to hold a graveside service, which they did weeks after the discovery.
“Tim has been in our hearts and prayers since the date of his disappearance and will continue to be missed by all who knew him,” Jewell’s obituary stated.
After the confirmed discovery, the sheriff’s department made continued efforts to find the remains of Bruce Falconer. To this day, his remains have not been discovered.
If you have any information related to the disappearance of Bruce Falconer, lease contact the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Office at 701-222-6651.