Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Teens also in search of perfect love?

I realize the parallels aren’t perfect. But when I heard the story this week of a pair of teenagers from Michigan who were found in the Lakeview neighborhood this week after having run away from home together, I couldn’t help but recall the tale of Scott and Carolyn Swanson.

They pop into my memory occasionally, because they were (for a few months) a big deal for the Chicago Police. They were a missing couple who, for awhile, it was feared had run up against foul play.

IN REALITY, THEY were in Southern California – having run off together so they could live  what they hoped would be a cozy lifestyle. Searching for “perfect love,” as I recall Carolyn saying once the couple turned up.

It seems the couple – who were students about to graduate from Wheaton College back when they disappeared in spring of 1988 – wanted to marry. They went up to Wisconsin, where they were wed. Then, then went to Southern California, where they lived for a couple of months under assumed names.

Back then, I was a police beat reporter for the now-defunct City News Bureau. I can remember being the reporter who, every day, was contacting Chicago P.D. to see if they had come up with any new traces about what might have become of the couple.

As I recall, police figured out within one day of the couple being reported missing that they had eloped. Then, the trail went cold.

I REMEMBER DAY after day of doing stories that reported on the various tactics used by Chicago police to try to find out about the couple – only to have those tactics turn up new information.

In the end, the couple was found when they wanted to be found – which was when their money ran out. They wrote home, and the parents went out to California to get them.

I still recall the sight of Scott Swanson being interviewed live from California by Chicago television stations (no, City News didn't send me out there, a trip to California Avenue was exotic for their budget), talking about the life he and bride Carolyn had during those two months. I also recall hearing from police sources about the chewing out that high-ranking Chicago police officials gave the couple upon their return for just running off without leaving any kind of word of their whereabouts.

Since then, the couple has lived the past quarter-of-a-century in relative anonymity. They’re not the kind of people who keep popping up into the public eye.

WHICH COULD BE the eventual fate of Braxton Wood and Jayden Thomas. They’re the pair of 14-year-olds who were found in a Ford Explorer parked near a gas station in the Lakeview neighborhood.

They wanted to be together. They had parents who didn’t like the idea of them spending so much time together (which is a difference, because I seem to recall the Swanson and MacLean families approving of each other).

So, they took the SUV belonging to Braxton’s parents and drove to Chicago, where it seems they have spent the past couple of weeks “roughing it” in the streets not far from Wrigley Field.

The Chicago Tribune reported that a man recognized the couple from television news reports about their disappearance. He then contacted police, who were the ones who approached the van with covered windows (one smashed from when the couple locked themselves out) and found the couple on Sunday.

BY THAT POINT, they were ready to be found. They were hungry and didn’t have money to fill up the gas tank any longer.

Police literally gave them Egg McMuffins, before contacting their parents in Michigan to let them know their kids had been found.

I’m sure the disappearance of Braxton and Jayden is a bigger deal from a legal perspective than that of Scott and Carolyn 25 years ago because of the age – these were both minors who were roaming the streets.

Admittedly, they weren’t in the inner city. But they are both fortunate that they didn’t suffer serious harm while in Chicago. Just think of the negative publicity Chicago would be getting these days if something had happened to them.

PERSONALLY, IT WOULD be best if the teenage couple winds up with the same ultimate fate as the Swansons – they have just receded into the woodwork of our society.

They’re not constantly in the news. They got on with their lives. Let’s hope Braxton and Jayden do the same.


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