A mysterious letter that was recently sent to a couple whose son disappeared in 1977 from Fort Kent has rekindled police interest in the 39-year-old case – and dredged up old emotions for his loved ones.

Bernard “Bunny” Ross Jr. was 18 years old when he vanished May 12, 1977, after leaving the family’s home one morning in a state of distress, his parents said. He was suspected of stealing a vehicle, which was later found abandoned on a dirt road in Ashland.

No one has heard from him since, and his parents, Carol, 78, and Bernard Ross Sr., 80, had to learn to live without knowing his fate.

But any peace they might have found was disrupted when they received an unsigned letter a couple of months ago at their home on Munjoy Hill in Portland, police said. The author indicated that he or she knew about their son’s disappearance, referenced a previous story in the Kennebec Journal about missing persons that mentioned the Ross case, and then suggested that another story about Ross should appear in the Kennebec Journal. The Augusta-area newspaper is owned by MaineToday Media, which also publishes the Portland Press Herald.

A police spokesman said he was not aware of any connection the Kennebec Journal might have to Ross’ disappearance. Maine State Police Lt. Troy Gardner of the major crimes unit in Houlton contacted the newspapers, hoping that a story might coax the letter’s author to contact police.

Maine State Police Lt. Troy Gardner leaves the Portland home of the family of Bernard Ross, an 18-year-old who went missing in 1977. The family recently received an anonymous letter claiming knowledge of their son's fate.

Maine State Police Lt. Troy Gardner leaves the Portland home of the family of Bernard Ross, an 18-year-old who went missing in 1977. The family recently received an anonymous letter claiming knowledge of their son’s fate. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I’ve never had anything like this happen in my career,” Gardner said. “Basically, all we’re doing is extending an olive branch, saying we want to make contact with this person. Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether the letter’s truthful or the information is accurate, but we are asking for whoever wrote the letter to please contact us.”

Gardner declined to release the letter, describe what it said or explain what made police take the unusual step of contacting the newspapers to arrange for an interview with the missing man’s family. Gardner acknowledged that the letter could be an elaborate hoax, but added that even if it wasn’t, police wouldn’t release it to the public.

“If there was details in the letter that we felt were important to the investigation, we wouldn’t release them,” he said. “That’s common sense. It protects the integrity of the investigative process.”

Gardner arranged for an interview with Carol and Bernard Ross Sr. on Friday. The couple said they are reluctant to put themselves into the spotlight, but were willing to endure the pain of talking with reporters because they want to do what’s right for their son.

The couple, who have been married for 60 years, said their other children are grown and have children of their own, but they still wonder what happened to their oldest son. Perhaps the most painful memories were the calls they received from police departments around the country trying to identify a body, putting them in the macabre position of hoping the deceased person was their son.

“We’ve had several calls,” Carol Ross said. “You’d get your hopes up, but of course it would turn out to be someone else.”