Taking a gap year is a rite of passage for millions of young people the world over. Full of excitement and promise; an opportunity to experience different cultures and maybe do a little soul searching.
For Charles Horvath-Allan, it was a chance to explore his roots. Born in Canada but raised in Britain, he planned to hike across the country and pay a visit to his father in Ontario.
Charles set off on his journey in April of 1989, the plane ticket an early birthday gift from his mother, Denise.. He worked odd jobs to fund his travels - some shifts in a kitchen, a stint at a ski resort - and kept his expenses to a minimum, staying at hostels and campsites.
He kept in touch with Denise when he could and called her on April 17th, telling her that he had found a job and somewhere to live. He arranged to meet up with Denise and his stepfather in Hong Kong that August to celebrate his 21st and her 40th.
Charles’ last known location was Kelowna, a city in the south of British Columbia, which he reached on May 3rd. He bounced around between friend’s homes and local hostels before ending up at the Tiny Tent Town campsite. He last sent his Mum a fax on May 11th, but when days turned to weeks with no contact, Denise began to grow concerned. When she called Kelowna police, however, she her worries were brushed aside, told that 20-year-old men were not obliged to call their mothers.
It took several more calls before police finally took her seriously, and as a result Charles was not officially reported missing until August 10. He was last positively identified on May 26, where he was caught on camera cashing a cheque at the bank. Charles had left his tent and a number of personal belongings at the campsite.
Denise flew over to Kelowna to see what she could find out herself. There she was told by the campsite manager that they waited for a while, but when Charles didn’t come back to the site they had thrown most of his belongings away. All that remained was a leather strap from his boot, his bible and his rosary. Despite the fact the police station is only a five minute drive away, they never thought to report his disappearance.
Denise next visited Kelowna in 1992, determined to unearth some clues. It was on this trip that she received two anonymous notes that claimed to know the root of this mystery. Delivered by taxi to her motel, the notes said that Charles had been beaten to death during a party at Tiny Tent Town, on the same day that he had been seen at the bank. His body, they said, was in Lake Okanagan.
When divers searched the lake, they found a body. Rather than being told by police, Denise was informed by friends and family who had seen the report on the news. After a six week wait, she found out that the body wasn’t that of her son, but of an elderly man who had committed suicide seven years before.
Another camper claimed that Charles had been dumped in the septic tank. Despite Denise’s best efforts, police refuse to take a DNA sample from the tank to put the rumour to bed once and for all.
Now aged 70, Denise continues the search for her son, flying back over to Kelowna as recently as November last year. She has dedicated her life to finding Charles, even selling her hairdressing business to fund her trips to Canada.
In total, Denise has been to Kelowna 15 times, meeting with police, handing out posters and talking to anyone who may know what happened. Although 30 long years have now passed, she refuses to give up until she brings her son home.