Case File Overview
In September 1963 Noreen Greenley was a vibrant 13-year-old. She lived in quaint Bowmanville, Ontario with her four brothers, two sisters, and parents Harvey and Nadine.
Noreen was a well-rounded teenager who enjoyed school as well as playing sports, including baseball, skating, swimming, bowling, and horseback riding. She also had fun baking, cooking, and sewing. Noreen was an excellent singer—her two favourite songs were “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Lemon Tree.” And for pocket money, even though she was only 13 years old, Noreen took on extra responsibility and worked at a gas station in town.
She was not that interested in boys yet. But Noreen liked hanging out with her friends and loved family time. In fact, she often cared for her siblings. She was said to be like “a mother to them and looked after all their needs.”
On the evening of Saturday September 14, 1963, Noreen went bowling at Liberty Bowl on Baseline Road with her best friend, Bonnie Wilkins, and Bonnie’s new boyfriend, Gary Woolner.
After bowling wrapped up, the trio headed to Sam’s Restaurant, a popular local hangout, for a bite to eat. Eventually, they ended up at Bonnie’s house at the corner of Waverly Road and King Street/Highway 2 (now “Old” King Street).
Bonnie and Gary wanted some alone time, so Noreen said her goodbyes and went to wait for the 11:35PM westbound bus that would carry her home. The bus stop was just steps from Bonnie’s house. Shortly after 11:00PM, after waiting only a few minutes in the unseasonably cool night air, Noreen ran back across the street to tell her friend she was cold. Bonnie offered Noreen a coat, which she refused, and the young teen resigned herself to waiting back at the bus stop.
Sometime between 11:00PM and 11:15PM William Polley drove by the bus stop. He had his wife, daughter, and mother with him, and they were on the way to drop his mother off at her place on Waverly Road. Polley noticed a young girl waiting at the bus stop as they passed but did not think much of it.
At 11:35PM the bus arrived at its scheduled stop, but Noreen was not there. When she failed to return home her father reported her missing and a massive search effort began.
For eight days after Noreen vanished more than 1000 searchers combed the area. Workers from Goodyear, Duplate, and General Motors offered up their time to help with the search. Tracking dogs were used, ponds were drained, and an aerial search was conducted, but there was no sign of Noreen.
The police interviewed Noreen’s family, friends, and acquaintances. Also, the mayor of Bowmanville, Ivan Hobbs, pledged a $1,000 reward for information on the case. In 2015, an age progression sketch was released to the public with the hopes it would spark new leads. All to no avail – Noreen remains missing to this day.
Noreen Greenley Age Progression Sketch (2015)
At the time of her disappearance Noreen was 5 feet 2 inches tall, 100 lbs, and had brown hair and greenish blue eyes. There was a dark freckle on the righthand side of her lip. When she was last seen Noreen was wearing a white blouse, peachy-pink sweater, black jeans, and black running shoes. She also wore a fine silver chain around her neck with a blue pendant and was carrying a small navy dome change purse with about 70 cents in it at the start of the evening.
Case File Theories
Left on her own accord
Did Noreen run off to start a new life?
As with most missing persons cases this is a pretty preposterous suggestion. By all accounts Noreen was happy. She was close to her mom and dad and apparently talked about how much she enjoyed caring for her siblings. Noreen was interested in school and involved herself in several after-school and weekend activities. There was not even a whisper of abuse at home. Also, her friends and family said Noreen had not yet become interested in boys.
All of this suggests the young teen had little reason to run away from her family, friends, and the safety of her home.
Abducted and murdered
Was Noreen abducted and murdered?
Unfortunately, this is the most probable theory.
William Polley, the man who initially saw Noreen at the bus stop, saw something else of note when he passed Noreen again on the way back to his house after dropping his mother off. He told authorities he saw “the same young girl get into a blue 1957-58 model Prefect car, either extremely well kept or recently painted.” Polley said the car was driven by “a man wearing a black hat” and it travelled westbound in the direction of Noreen’s home.
This same type of car was later seen by Noreen’s sister Joyce and her friend while they waited for Noreen to get off the bus by her house. They said the Prefect weaved towards them, almost hitting them, and they could hear a girl screaming from inside the vehicle as it barreled out of sight, travelling north down Holt Road.
Joyce was positive the girl she heard screaming was Noreen. She ran home and told her dad, Harvey, and her brother about what happened. They frantically drove around the neighbourhood trying to find the car, but it was long gone. Harvey returned home and called Noreen’s friend Bonnie, but she did not know where his daughter was… to her knowledge Noreen had taken the bus home. It was at this point Harvey contacted police and reported Noreen missing.
Authorities documented that Joyce and her friend heard Noreen scream from a passing car, but they said that since she was not actually seen in the vehicle it was unclear who was screaming. In fact, police seemed to doubt if the incident even happened at all, and as a result it was not initially released to the media.
But there is potentially much more to this incident than authorities originally thought. The vehicle Joyce and her friend described hearing Noreen screaming from matches the make and model of the car Polley witnessed Noreen hop into at the bus stop. And when Joyce and her friend first spoke of the incident they likely knew nothing about the Polley vehicle sighting. On top of that, you will see a Ford Prefect makes another appearance in the case shortly.
Regardless, the question remains whether or not Noreen knew the man who abducted her. If she did, the police may have a better chance of solving the case because her killer could already be on their radar as a suspect.
Killed by someone she knew
Was Noreen killed by someone from her inner circle, or even an acquaintance?
On the one hand, Noreen could have been acquainted with the person who abducted her. In fact, her family wondered if he frequented the gas station where she worked. On the other hand, Bonnie told police sometimes her and Noreen hitchhiked, so it is not beyond the realm of reason Noreen willingly got into a stranger’s car for a ride home to escape the cold.
The Durham Regional Police dusted off Noreen’s case several times over the decades and interviewed countless people even loosely connected to the young teen, but their efforts never amounted to much.
Then suddenly, in 2016, Noreen’s family received a tip that had the potential to break the case wide open.
A tipster called and said his dad had made a deathbed confession, admitting to his son he had killed Noreen. According to the story, his dad was a construction worker and a part-time school bus driver in Bowmanville. So when he offered Noreen a ride home that fateful night she recognized him from his time as a school bus driver and felt safe getting into his car.
He said he killed Noreen by hitting her on the head with a dowel. Afterwards, he placed her body in the trunk of his 1959 Ford Prefect. On the following Monday he went to work at the construction site where he was helping to reroute Highway 57 near Concession 8. There, he buried his car using a bulldozer and backhoe, telling his coworkers he was “done with the vehicle because it was a jalopy that had given him no end of trouble.”
There was no mention of motive in any of the media coverage of this confession, although it is probable the crime was sexually motivated.
Noreen’s family substantiated the parts of the story they could. They confirmed the man’s dad had been a part-time bus driver in Bowmanville and discovered the highway had indeed been rezoned in the timeframe and area detailed by the caller.
Noreen’s family pressed on and funded a magnetic scan of the property. A Geophysical Survey Report was put together by forensic anthropologist Renee Willmon, and her report indicated “areas of interest” where a car may have been buried. Willmon explained, “There were certain areas of the property that showed a significant anomaly that could be consistent with a car.”
But Durham Regional Police were less than enthusiastic… they doubted the credibility of the tipster. Nevertheless, to satisfy the family, in October 2018 an extensive excavation was done in the vicinity of Regional Road 57 and Concession 8.
According to police, two long, deep trenches were dug in search of the buried Ford Prefect. One was roughly 150 feet long and the other was about 100 feet long. The trenches were dug to a depth of seven feet and then metal detectors were used to penetrate three more feet into the ground.
Noreen Greenley Excavation
Although the excavation generated a lot of media attention it unearthed no clues as to the whereabouts of Noreen.
But Rene Willmon, the forensic anthropologist who first did the magnetic scan of the property, took issue with the search.
First, she thought the area excavated did not perfectly align with where she identified anomalies. Second, she said a grid should have been set up to help systematically examine the property for evidence. Third, she wondered if the authorities used the right equipment, suggesting they would have been better off using a flat-edged bucket on the excavator “to mimic the work of an anthropologist using a trowel.” Fourth, she questioned the decision to skip using ground penetrating radar and move straight to excavation. And finally, she was surprised she was not invited to participate in the search, especially considering her expertise.
Given all of this, Willmon thinks further investigation of the area is warranted. And Noreen’s family could not help but wonder if the OPP dug within feet of the vehicle containing Noreen’s body but missed it.
What do you think happened to Noreen?
After Noreen disappeared her family fell apart.
Noreen’s mother, Nadine, took the loss of her daughter especially hard, telling the media it was “like a living hell” not knowing what happened to Noreen. She set a place at the dinner table every night for Noreen and celebrated each and every one of her birthdays. Shelley, Noreen’s sister, said the disappearance “turned my mother into an alcoholic. She fell into the bottom of a bottle and never came out.”
Shelley also shared that her father “became consumed with the search for his missing daughter and died of an aneurysm.” As a result, Noreen’s younger siblings were split up and placed in foster care, permanently changing the trajectory of their lives.
Shelley said Noreen’s disappearance “just destroyed our family for generations. It’s been hell, you know, not knowing. We wanna bring her home. We want anybody who knows anything—you know, there’s a hope, we hope.”
Before Noreen’s mother died, her children promised her they would keep looking for Noreen. And although more than half a century has passed since Noreen vanished, her family has kept their promise.
On Saturday May 23, 2015, more than 100 people participated in the “Walk to Remember for Noreen Anne Greenley.” The route started at the site of the old Liberty Bowl on Baseline Road, continued downtown to the location where Sam’s Restaurant once stood, went on to Bonnie Wilkins’ old home on Waverly Road, and ended where the bus stop once stood where Noreen disappeared. Throughout the walk, participants carried signs with the simple yet seemingly unattainable request: “Bring Noreen Home.”
Walk to Remember Noreen Greenley
Noreen’s family has recently tried to get a copy of the case file. They said they believe the police are not searching for Noreen anymore so they either want to “do their own digging” or find a private investigator to look into the case.
But Detective Terry Haight with the Durham Regional Police explained, “Since the investigation is still active, police will not share the investigative file. If it was released it would make any prosecution impossible if the case ever makes it to the courts.”
The Greenley family and the Bowmanville community have been waiting decades for answers. If you have any information about Noreen’s disappearance please help bring her home: contact Durham Regional Police at 1-888-579-1520 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
Sources and Related Reading
“Search for missing girl’s body takes on renewed vigour.” Ontario Farmer, November 12, 2019.
“Cold case: Family relentless in quest to bring missing Bowmanville teen home.” The Peterborough Examiner, July 14, 2019.
“Feature: Missing in Durham region.” The Oshawa Express, April 2, 2019.
“Police excavation in 55-year-old cold case was incomplete, forensic expert says.” CBC News, October 19, 2018.
“Cold case dig near Bowmanville brings no new clues after bedside confession.” Canadian Press, October 18, 2018.
“Teen who vanished in 1963 may be in trunk of buried car: family.” CTV News, October 18, 2018.
“Police investigating potential new lead in 55-year-old Bowmanville cold case.” Global News, September 14, 2018.
“After 55 years, new hope in mysterious disappearance of 13-year-old girl.” Toronto Sun, September 13, 2018.
“Family hopes to find missing teen who disappeared in 1963.” Calgary Herald, June 6, 2015.
“‘It’s been hell’: Family desperate for answers in Bowmanville cold case.” Global News, June 3, 2015.
“A walk to remember for Noreen Greenley, missing for over 50 years, will be held this weekend.” Durham Radio News, May 20, 2015.
“Fifty years of searching for missing Bowmanville girl.” Durham Region, September 19, 2013.
“Bring Noreen Home.” Blog, n.d.
“Bring Noreen Home.” Facebook Page, n.d.
“Noreen Greenley.” Missing Kids, n.d.
“Noreen Greenley.” The Doe Network, n.d.
“Please Bring Me Home: Noreen Greenley.” Website, n.d.