Details of Disappearance Alice was last seen in Bellingham, Washington on October 6, 1990. At the time of her disappearance, she was living with her husband, Bruce Allen Hummel, and two of their children on Alabama Hill. Their oldest child was in college. The family had previously lived in Alaska and Alice and Bruce had held teaching jobs in the remote Alaskan bush.
Days before Alice disappeared, her twelve-year-old daughter, Shanalyn, told her mother Bruce had been sexually abusing her since she was a toddler. Alice had suspected this and had asked Shanalyn twice it, before Shanalyn finally told her about the abuse a few days before the child's birthday. Her mother promised to take care of the problem and said it would never happen again.
A few days later, Shanalyn came home from school and her mother was gone. She hadn't mentioned that she was planning to leave and her daughter never saw her pack anything. She left behind all her belongings, including her purse, wallet, identification, bank cards and medicine. She missed Shanalyn's birthday; they had planned to attend a ballet performance together that day.
Bruce told their children Alice had gone to California to find work. Shanalyn helped Bruce pack her clothes, makeup, medication and purse to send to her, and the couple's son, Sean, saw Bruce pack more of Alice's belongings into boxes and a suitcase. Bruce in fact sold some of Alice's things at a garage sale, and Sean found the boxes and suitcase Bruce had packed hidden in the basement months later.
Sean and Alice had a history of leaving secret notes for each other in a space above the false ceiling in the basement. He checked the space right after his mother disappeared and it was empty. Later, Sean checked the place again and found a "suicide letter" which was purportedly written by his mother, but the handwriting resembled Bruce's.
The children received some correspondence from their mother afterward, including birthday cards, possibly a wedding present, and one letter signed with Alice's name which stated she was involved with another man who didn't want children.
Bruce said she'd gotten a promotion at her job and had moved from California to Texas. He reportedly threw "tantrums" if he caught his children checking the mail to look for a letter from Alice, and he continued to abuse Shanalyn.
Bruce later remarried and moved to Billings, Montana. Alice's father died in 1993 and the children attempted to locate Alice to tell her, but couldn't find her. The family's oldest child, Sharinda, reported her disappearance to police in 2001.
Authorities conducted a records search in every U.S. state and the Canadian province of British Columbia, but could not find any evidence that Alice had died. Investigators located Bruce in Montana in 2004. He said he had last seen Alice in October 1990, when he took her to the airport so she could fly to California for a job interview. He said he'd last spoken to her in 1991.
Since 1979, Alice had been drawing $1,500 a month in disability payments from the Alaska Teachers Retirement System. The payments did not stop when she went missing in 1990. Bruce admitted to forging Alice's signature on checks and letters to Alaskan officials so he could keep the payments for himself. He also admitted to having sexually abused Shanalyn.
Authorities tried to approach Bruce for a second interview, but he had fled, leaving behind a letter. The letter stated Alice had not run away in 1990; instead, Bruce had found her body in the bathroom. She had committed suicide by slashing her wrist, and left a note asking him not to tell the children.
Bruce wrote that he cleaned up the bloody scene and bought a new bathroom rug to replace the bloodstained one, and hid Alice's body in his van. The next day he constructed a raft, put the corpse on it and towed it out into Bellingham Bay. Bruce said the raft capsized and the corpse fell overboard, weighted with a rock and held to the raft by one rope, and he was unable to get it back because the wind was too bad and the water too rough, so he left it where it was.
Police began searching for Bruce after he fled Montana in 2004. They found him camping in St. Maries, Idaho a month later and he agreed to take a lie detector test, but ran again instead. He lived at various campsites for the next few years, moving frequently. He told his wife he was afraid of going to jail and might commit suicide instead.
In late 2006, Bruce was located in Grays Harbor, Washington and arrested on federal charges of wire fraud. The charges are the result of his misappropriating Alice's disability benefits. In the summer of 2007, he pleaded guilty to twelve charges, admitting that Alice has been dead since October 1990 and he stole $276,000 in benefits. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison.
Investigators do not believe Alice left of her own accord in 1990, and they do not believe Bruce's second story. Weather records show there was no wind at Bellingham Bay on the night he says he took her body out there, and the water conditions were calm. Police do not think he could have disposed of Alice's corpse in the manner he says he did.
Authorities searched the home where the Hummels lived in 1990, and they could find no traces of blood in the bathroom. Bruce is known to have done some work on his home's foundation around the time his wife disappeared.
In August 2008, authorities charged Bruce with Alice's murder. He was still incarcerated on the wire fraud charges at the time. At his trial in August 2009, Bruce reverted to his former story that Alice had walked out on her family. He said he'd made up the story about Alice's suicide because he was under pressure to explain her disappearance. A former cellmate testified against him, stating Bruce told him he'd poisoned Alice with barbiturates.
Bruce was convicted of first-degree murder. Prosecutors offered to recommend the minimum sentence if he would reveal where Alice's body was, but he refused. He was sentenced to the maximum term of 45 years in prison. However, an appellate court overturned Bruce's conviction on technical grounds in early 2012 and ordered a new trial for him.
He was convicted again in 2014 and sentenced to 26 years in prison. In October 2016, however, his second conviction was overturned after the appellate court ruled there was no evidence to prove the murder was premeditated. Because a reversal of conviction for insufficient evidence to equivalent to an acquittal, Bruce cannot be tried a third time. He was freed.
Police theorize that when Alice confronted him about the child molestation, Bruce murdered her and made up a story to explain her absence to their children. He still maintains he did not cause his wife's death. Alice's remains have never been found, but foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.
- Bellingham Police Department
Updated 9 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated March 28, 2018; details of disappearance updated.