Bernice Charlotte Gray

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Above: Gray, circa 1991

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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: December 26, 1991 from St. Clair Shores, Michigan
  • Classification: Endangered Missing
  • Date of Birth: May 25, 1968
  • Age: 23 years old
  • Height and Weight: 5'5, 140 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Brown hair, green/hazel eyes. Gray occasionally smoked cigarettes in 1991, and preferred the brand Marlboro Lights.
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    Details of Disappearance

    Gray was last seen when she dropped her one-year-old daughter off at a day care center in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, left the center, and drove west on Gordon Street. This was at approximately 6:30 a.m. She has never been heard from again. People in the area reported hearing a noise that morning that sounded like a firecracker at about the time she disappeared. Gray was supposed to arrive at work at 8:00 a.m.; she was a reliable employee and usually showed up early. She never showed up for her shift on the day of her disappearance and her boss called her boyfriend, Robert William Pann, and left a message. Pann returned the call at 8:34 a.m. and said Gray had stayed the night at her mother's home and possibly overslept. Gray's employer then called her mother to report her absence.

    On December 30, four days after Gray's disappearance, her blue Pontiac 6000 was found abandoned on Eastlawn Street near Mack in on the east side of Detroit, Michigan. The car was unlocked, the keys were on the floor and the driver's side window was rolled down one and a half to two inches. Gray's wallet, identification, several boxes and her daughter's car seat were inside, and Marlboro Lights cigarette butts were in the ashtray. No fingerprints could be found anywhere; authorities believe the vehicle had been wiped down. The vehicle had two .25-caliber bullet casings and one spent bullet on the front seat. Blood, determined to be Gray's, was pooled on the passenger seat and spattered on the window, windshield and sun visor on the driver's side. A blood spatter expert later testified this was consistent with a person being shot in the head, either from behind or from the side, while sitting in the driver's seat. The victim would then have slumped forward and either fallen or been pushed onto the passenger seat, and the shooter could get into the driver's seat and drive away.

    Police suspected that Pann, who is the father of Gray's child, killed her. A photograph of him is posted below this case summary. He worked in construction in 1991 and owned several pieces of construction equipment, including a backhoe. Pann and Gray had begun seeing each other in 1987 and moved in together in late 1987 or early 1988. In 1990, Gray applied for low-income housing for herself and her daughter and was placed on a waiting list. She later changed her mind, but in September 1991 she called the housing commission and asked to be placed back on the list and prioritized because there was domestic violence in her current housing situation. At one point during the summer of 1991, Pann had thrown Gray out of the house with almost no clothing and her grandmother had to come pick her up. She moved out of Pann's residence with their daughter a few weeks before her disappearance and went to live with her mother, but continued to date Pann.

    Two days before her disappearance, Pann had proposed marriage and Gray rejected him. Later that night she called a friend, upset, saying that Pann had threatened to kill her and had told her he was not going to get into a custody dispute over their daughter. She stated she was unhappy with their relationship and wanted to start seeing other men. On Christmas Day, Pann went to Gray's mother's home and he and Gray made a date to celebrate New Year's Eve together, but they got into an argument and he left angrily shortly before midnight.

    A few hours after Gray disappeared, Pann went back to the jewelry store and returned the engagement ring he'd bought her. He tracked mud and dirt into the store as he did so. They evening he talked to Gray's uncle. He was clean at the time but appeared very tired and and said he knew Gray was dead. He also stated he had been at an accountant's office doing an emergency repair. He said he spent all day digging a nine-foot hole by hand; he couldn't use tools to do the job because it would crack the sidewalk. (The accountant later stated Pann had spent the morning and early afternoon repairing a nine-foot crack in the basement wall of his office building, the repair was routine, and he paid Pann $225 for his services.) When one of Gray's relatives confronted him about threats he'd made against Gray, he said he never intended to harm her and only meant to, at most, kidnap their daughter in the event of a custody dispute.

    Pann has a criminal record for a least a dozen various offenses, including filing a false report and attempted murder of his ex-wife, who stated he had abused her on numerous occasions. While he was in prison for the attempted murder, prosecutors charged him with murdering Gray. They theorized that he attacked her in her car while she was sitting at a stop sign and shot her twice in the head at about 6:30 a.m. on December 26. Prosecutors alleged that Pann had a history of attacking women who rejected him. Pann's attempted murder of his ex-wife had a similar pattern in that he hid in the back seat of her car and attacked her while she was driving. Before Gray's disappearance he said he knew a man who had killed his wife and disposed of her body, and it was a "perfect crime" because you can't prove murder without a body.

    While investigators were unable to locate a body and had no physical evidence linking Pann to the crime, they believed they had enough circumstantial evidence to prove that he had murdered Gray. When he was arrested for murder in 2000, he asked who had "snitched" on him. The jury convicted him of first-degree murder after deliberating thirteen hours. Pann was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

    In January 1995, Gray was declared legally dead, with the date of presumptive death being listed as December 26, 1991, the day she disappeared. She has never been located, but foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved. She was employed as a medical records clerk at the time of her 1991 disappearance, with plans to go to school for nurses' training.

    Pann
    Above: Robert Pann in 2008

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    Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    St. Clair Shores Police Department
    586-445-5300

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    Source Information
    The Detroit News
    Michigan Does
    Michigan Department of Corrections
    NamUs
    U.S. Government Publishing Office

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    Updated 5 times since October 12, 2004.

    Last updated November 30, 2015; distinguishing characteristics and details of disappearance updated.

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