The mother of a British backpacker who vanished in Canada 31 years ago has made a fresh appeal for information on a new podcast highlighting missing persons cold cases.
Charles Horvath-Allan, then aged 20, was last seen in May 1989 at a campsite in Kelowna, British Columbia, where he had been staying while doing odd jobs in the tourist town.
He last contacted his mother Denise around the same time when he sent a fax home to Sowerby Bride, West Yorkshire, to co-ordinate travel plans for a trip to Hong Kong they were planning to take together.
When local police failed to help in the search for her son, Denise took it upon herself to travel to Canada and launch her own investigation.
On her second visit to Kelowna, three years after Charles’s disappearance, Denise received a mysterious letter that remains the biggest clue as to what happened to her son. Delivered by hand to Denise’s motel, the note claimed Charles had been beaten to death in a fight at the campsite and his body dumped in a nearby lake.
Although the letter never led to a witness, it does suggest that at least one person knows what happened to Denise’s ‘carefree’ son all those years ago.
Speaking on The Missing Podcast, Denise urged anyone with information about Charles or the location of his remains to come forward, saying she fears she will go to her grave without answers.
Charles Horvath-Allan, then aged 20, was last seen in May 1989 at a campsite in Kelowna, British Columbia, where he had been staying while doing odd jobs in the tourist town. His mother Denise, pictured with her son, has launched a fresh appeal for information
Charles, pictured, last contacted his mother Denise around the same time he was last seen when he sent a fax updating her on his adventures and co-ordinating travel plans for an upcoming trip to Hong Kong they were planning to take together
‘I know there are people in Kelowna who know the fate of my young son but unfortunately they are too afraid to come forward,’ she said on the first episode of the podcast, which was released yesterday. ‘I don’t understand why, when they can remain anonymous but I don’t live there, I don’t walk in their shoes.
‘I just pray that while I’m still alive, they will somehow find the courage to come forward and tell someone where the remains of my son may be located.’
Originally from Halifax, Charles was born in 1968 in Canada, where Denise had moved aged 18 to work as a nanny, and met his father.
The family returned to England, and while Denise and Max’s relationship broke down, Charles remained in contact with his father following his return to Canada.
After leaving school he announced to Denise that he would like to spend a few months in the land of his birth. Denise bought a return ticket as part of his 21st birthday present and Charles left for Montreal in September 1988.
Three months later, Denise flew out to spend an early Christmas with him. Charles had stayed in regular contact via phone and fax. Denise last saw her beloved son on a December day as she boarded a plane home to England. Her last image of her son was of him waving from the airport lounge.
The last time Denise heard from Charles was May 11, 1989, when he sent a fax to heir home in Sowerby Bride, West Yorkshire. Pictured: Charles as a youngster with mother Denise
On April 17, 1989, in what would be his final call home, mother and son discussed plans for a birthday rendezvous in Hong Kong, where Denise had spent her childhood. Four weeks later, Charles wrote to his mum via fax from Kelowna in British Columbia, asking her to look into booking an air ticket.
It would prove to be his last contact. With the days rolling by, and awaiting a call from her son to confirm he wanted her to book his Hong Kong flight, Denise started to feel uneasy. By the end of May, she called the Kelowna detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Three years after Charles went missing, Denise (pictured) received an anonymous note saying that Charles had been beaten to death at the campsite where he had been staying
‘We understood at that point that we were not going to get any assistance from the authorities in Canada,’ she said. ‘I contacted the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, any agencies that may have been able to assist with a missing persons, to no avail. Then we started to make arrangements to go to Canada to look for Charles ourselves.’
Before she set off, Denise sent a letter to the local newspaper detailing her plans. Unbeknownst to her, the letter was published and on her arrival Denise was met by people who had come to know Charles and wanted to help.
Denise and her mother Edith were able to piece together some of her son’s movements. He had been staying at a local campsite, Tiny Town, doing odd jobs to pay his way.
The campsite manager said he recalled Charles and revealed he had kept three items that had belonged to him: a rosary given to him by his godfather, a tiny red bible and a leather bootstrap.
‘As I held these items in my hands in disbelief, I said to him: “Is this all that’s left of my son?”‘ It emerged the rest of his belongings, including his passport and IDs, had been thrown away.
Denise told the local police what she had learned. Police searched the site and warned Denise that they thought Charles had died and that his body might never be found.
With that, the trail ran cold and Denise eventually returned to the UK. She continued to hope that she would hear from her son – but she never did.
‘All I could think about was going back to Kelowna to continue the search, to continue the investigation,’ she said. ‘It took two years before I was able to plan the journey to return.’
Speaking on The Missing Podcast , Denise urged anyone with information about Charles or the location of his remains to come forward, saying she fears she will go to her grave without answers. Pictured, Denise with her son before his disappearance
It was on this journey that she received the mysterious note.
She continued: ‘After being in Kelowna a few days, we received an anonymous letter which was delivered by yellow cab to my motel. The note had been collected by a young person by a pay phone and addressed to me.
‘It stated that they had been partying at Tiny Town and two men had knocked Charles out but he died and that his body was in the lake by the bridge. I can’t really recall much of my feelings at the time, except for sheer horror and panic and disbelief.’
The police began searching the lake. Shortly afterwards, Denise received a second anonymous note.
‘The second note stated that they [the police] were searching on the wrong side of the bridge,’ Denise explained. The details revealed the writer of the note had information about what happened to Charles’s body.
A body was indeed recovered from the lake but it was that of an elderly man, not Charles.
Under the Presumption of Death Act 2013, Charles (pictured) was officially declared dead on August 14 after a High Court of Justice hearing
In the years since Denise has returned to Canada on countless occasions, hoping for a breakthrough.
‘The toll taken upon my family over the 31 long year search for Charles has been unimaginable. The pain, the heartache, the duress. the hope. “Will it be this year the search will be over? Will it be tomorrow? Or the day after, or the day after?”
‘Every day, hoping against all odds that one person who knows where his remains lay will make the call to tell where we could recover his body.’
Under the Presumption of Death Act 2013, Charles was officially declared dead on August 14 after a High Court of Justice hearing. This allowed Denise to finally attend to her son’s financial affairs.
Denise was given a small glimmer of hope this year when it was revealed the case will be investigated by a cold-case unit being launched by Leeds Beckett University.
Criminology students from the university will work alongside Locate International, a team of ex-detectives and specialists who help try and solve missing persons cases.
Despite everything, Denise refuses to give up hope.
She added: ‘I will never stop searching for answers. I have searched the world over for 31 years and will continue to do so as long as I can stand, walk, and talk. I will search for my son until the day I die.’