By Harlan Yarbrough
In the four years I spent tracking Brian Jacobsen, my opinion regarding his whereabouts reversed itself several times. Although I didn’t know him personally, several of my friends and acquaintances did—that’s how I got involved in looking for him. Jacobsen was known as a brilliant author, albeit unsung until after he vanished, and, among a small circle of cognoscenti, an equally brilliant musician and songwriter. Taller than average, good looking, and usually wearing a smile, he amassed an impressive number of friends, more admirers, and at least two children. His disappearance occasioned a good deal of discussion in the region where he had made his home for two decades. For most of the four years I sought him, I vacillated every week or two about whether I thought he was alive or dead.
The authorities seemed convinced that Brian Jacobsen remained at large and alive somewhere. Several officials expressed concerns he may have left the country (and entered another) illegally. Certainly, there was no record of his having done so legally. Others seemed to think Jacobsen had assumed a new identity and relocated to a part of the country where noone knew him. He did not continue writing, performing, or composing—at least not for public consumption.
Jacobsen was no figment of my or anyone else’s imagination, though, and had clearly been a solid citizen for half a century or more. His disappearance came as a shock to everyone—or, perhaps, almost everyone—and left those who bothered to pursue the topic puzzling over tantalizing and often contradictory clues.
A police investigation, for example, established that Jacobsen spent a good deal of time in the months before his disappearance hanging around marinas and urban yacht harbors asking about opportunities to crew on a yacht bound for Australia or the South Pacific islands. In four years, though, neither I nor the police ever found a yacht owner or skipper who admitted to having had Brian Jacobsen on board. The police made much of the absence of Jacobsen’s passport from its usual storage spot, as identified by his ex-wife, but the police and I confirmed separately that his passport had never been presented in any other country.
Then there was the matter of his pickup, parked securely at home with the keys on a table in the hall. That was partly explained by two sightings on the day Jacobsen disappeared, one by a neighbor who picked him up headed out of the little rural valley where he lived and the other by an acquaintance who saw him hitchhiking on the coastal highway.
My own investigations, more thorough than those of the police, led me to Brian Jacobsen’s many friends in the nearest city and the larger city five hours away. None of them saw Jacobsen on the day he hitch-hiked out of the valley or any day since, but all remained convinced he was still alive. Dan Gearhart, one of Brian Jacobsen’s closest urban friends, told me something he hadn’t told the police: he said Brian Jacobsen had rung and left a message on Gearhart’s answering machine seven weeks after Jacobsen’s disappearance. Gearhart said he hadn’t told the police because he suspected the call wasn’t genuine. Away at the time of the call, he didn’t get to speak with Jacobsen, and Jacobsen never rang back. Dan Gearhart told me he supposed the call was probably pre-recorded, although he could suggest no reasons for this supposition. “Just a gut feeling,” was all he could offer.
Three months after Jacobsen’s disappearance, the owner of a block of cheap apartments discovered a laptop computer connected to a telephone line in an apartment where the rent had gone unpaid for a month. Suspicious, the man turned the laptop over to the police, who eventually identified it as Brian Jacobsen’s. Their forensic hacker was, however, unable to find any software on the machine capable of making a ’phone call. One thing I learned about Brian Jacobsen, though, is that he was a skilled computer programmer—quite capable of writing a program to dial a number and deliver and then erase a pre-recorded message, and probably capable of crafting one that could then subsequently erase itself without a trace.
Two of Jacobsen’s other friends, a fellow named Graham in the city and Ray, a rural friend a few miles from Jacobsen’s home, showed me postcards they claimed—correctly, I think—were written by Brian Jacobsen. The cards were postmarked within a week of each other and nearly four months after his disappearance. They were mailed from two small towns not far from each other in northeastern Australia. Brian Jacobsen’s writing them does not, of course, mean he mailed them. If he didn’t, however, their existence suggests a confederate in Queensland willing to hold them for Jacobsen and mail them in his absence. To date, I have been unable to locate any such person—but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
A colleague from my military intelligence (now, there’s an oxymoron) days now living in Cairns, who feels he owes me, has resources all over Far North Queensland looking for Brian Jacobsen, or any trace of him, in the course of their other work. In four years, none of them has turned up anything. If Jacobsen actually made his way to FNQ, he couldn’t have stayed there long. Those guys are good—if Jacobsen spent any time at all in Queensland, they’d know it.
Several months ago, I began pursuing a line of inquiry that lay neglected for almost three years. Not that earlier investigations—mine, the police’s, and others—had failed to look at possible connections with Brian Jacobsen’s wife. A woman who had tried to lure Jacobsen away from his wife went to the police suggesting Mrs. Jacobsen had dispatched her husband, either in a fit of jealous rage or to keep him from leaving. Especially because Jacobsen’s wife was known to experience violent episodes, the suggestion made her a suspect for a short time. The police soon established to their satisfaction—and I agree with them—that Mrs. Jacobsen did not kill her husband. At that point, everyone involved seemed to forget all about her. That, I’m embarrased to admit, includes me. Not until earlier this year did the thought occur to me that, even if she was not involved in her husband’s disappearance, she might be able to shed some light on the circumstances surrounding it.
Not surprisingly, Darling Jacobsen (and I ask you, what kind of parent names their child Darling?) did not want to talk with me, when I first approached her. With the help of a couple of shared friends—one of whom I had known before Brian Jacobsen disappeared, the one, in fact, who got me involved—and repeated promises that I did not suspect her of any slightest involvement, I eventually persuaded Mrs. Jacobsen to vouchsafe an hour of her time to converse with me. Blonde, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, portly, and possessing a classically beautiful face, Darling (sorry, I still stumble over that name, although we are comfortably on first-name terms) Jacobsen approached my table at a restaurant on the coast, where we had agreed to meet.
Once she recognized that I bore her no ill will and harbored no suspicions about her, Mrs. Jacobsen relaxed enough to see that I wanted no more than to help her and all of us to find out the truth about her missing—or, as I am now convinced, late—husband. I don’t suppose we will ever be close friends, although she’s a nice enough person, but we have developed a good working relationship. We talked an hour or two twice or three times a week for twelve weeks, and I learned a great deal. We still meet every month or so.
In our fourth and fifth sessions, the widow Jacobsen (as I think she is) described her interviews with the police and other authorities. She told me she had answered all their questions honestly but had not volunteered any information beyond their specific queries. In retrospect, that is hardly surprising. In the following, sixth, session, Darling Jacobsen revealed that at the time of her husband’s disappearance she was involved in a romantic liaison with another man.
The news about her romantic liaison caught me by surprise, a real eye-opener. I wondered why that had never come out in any of the earlier investigations. Later work revealed that, even though most of their friends resented what Mrs. Jacobsen had put her husband through, they closed ranks and acted as if her indiscretion had never occurred. I asked her if her husband was angry, expecting he would have been furious.
She said, “No, he wasn’t angry at all. It was amazing—he was amazing. He never got angry about my little romance—the only one I had in twenty years of marriage—but he was profoundly sad.”
“That does seem unusual,” I said. “Why was he not angry?”
“He said he recognized that I didn’t fall in love with someone else on purpose, that nobody makes a conscious decision to fall in love,” she said. “He knew I didn’t mean to hurt him.”
“Did he not say he wanted you to stop seeing this other fellow?”
“Oh, yes, of course he did, but he also said he wanted whatever was best for me. Every time we’d talk about it, which was a lot, he repeated that he wanted me to be happy.”
“And that meant being with your new romance,” I said, letting the words and context provide the question in lieu of the absent inflexion.
“Yes, or at least I thought it did then.” Darling Jacobsen broke down and wept at that point, and I offered her a handkerchief. She used it and thanked me and said, “Oh, god! I was such a fool. I had a wonderful marriage to the most wonderful husband on the planet, and I threw all that away—for what!?”
As Mrs. Jacobsen wept, I asked if I should leave her in peace and come back another time. She nodded and thanked me. I walked her to her car, told her I’d see her in a few days, and left.
Although I feared Mrs. Jacobsen might not want to see me again, after the emotions evoked by our previous interview, she allowed me to visit and resume questioning her early the following week. Subsequent conversations with her began to disclose important details about the Jacobsens’ situation and Brian Jacobsen’s state of mind in the weeks and months leading up to his disappearance.
Darling Jacobsen confirmed my earlier research disclosing that three of Mr. Jacobsen’s musical compositions had met with commercial success a few months before his disappearance. The success did not make the Jacobsens rich, but I contend it provided enough funds to leave him confident she would do OK without him—and to allow him to spend freely for a few months.
Mrs Jacobsen also disclosed that her husband was devastated by her preferring the company of another man. Gradually and with many apologies for my intrusive questions, I succeded in getting Darling Jacobsen to disclose details about her relationship with her husband in the months before he disappeared and also about the Iberian beauty who tried to take him away from her.
“I don’t think he would have paid any attention to Graciana at all, if I hadn’t been spending most of my time with Alex,” she said. “She’s gorgeous and all, but he never fooled around, never once.” She took a deep breath and continued, “I don’t think he ever really got involved with her. He probably cried on her shoulder more than anything.”
With the information Darling Jacobsen provided, I was finally able to track down Graciana López. Other business took me to Europe, and I made a side trip to Spain to meet Dr. López in Barcelona. She invited me to talk with her in her office at the University of Barcelona, where she taught at the Medical School.
Tall, slim, and briskly efficient, with a clear olive complexion, Graciana López lived up to Mrs. Jacobsen’s description of “gorgeous”. She welcomed me with a smile and a handshake and seemed almost eager to discuss Brian Jacobsen. That provided a stark contrast to Darling Jacobsen, in both appearance and attitude—Graciana López seemed willing to tell all she knew from the outset.
We met almost daily for two weeks, sometimes in her University of Barcelona office or in a meeting room at either Pompeu Fabra University or at the Hospital Clinic or in one of the many nearby cafės. I learned that Dr. López met Brian Jacobsen at a dance she attended, where Jacobsen played in the band, the very week he learned of his wife’s new relationship. A visiting professor who specialized in fast-spreading viruses, Dr. López fell for Jacobsen immediately and set about wooing him, albeit without much success. She completed her visiting professorship and returned to Barcelona three months after Brian Jacobsen vanished.
“If she didn’t kill him directly, she killed him by breaking his heart,” Dr. López insisted, the first time we met. “He deserved better. He deserved me.” She repeated those thoughts almost every time we met.
In our third or fourth meeting, and with no attempt at gallantry, I said, “You’re obviously beautiful and intelligent. Why didn’t he go with you?”
Tears welled in Dr. López’s eyes, as she said, “He was too much in love with his wife.” She paused and took several deep breaths. “He told me he loved me. He said ‘Te amo’ and ‘Te quiero’—he spoke a little Spanish—and I think he really meant it. But he also said he loved Darling so much he could never promise to say ‘No’ to her if she asked him to come back.” She paused for more steadying breaths and continued, “I hoped I could convince him otherwise. I hoped I could make him forget all about her, if I could be his lover for a few weeks—but then he disappeared.”
In another meeting, Dr. López told me, “I rang him between lectures almost every day—sometimes two or three times a day—whenever I knew Darling wasn’t around. That was easy, because she was almost always at Alex’s apartment. Brian was wonderful to talk with, and not just because I was in love with him. He was interested in everything and a very intelligent man.”
“And he apparently enjoyed talking with you.”
“Sí, he did. He really did love me, I think, but not enough.”
“Not enough for you?”
“No, no! Not enough for him! Not enough to suppress his pain over Darling.”
“Did she know that?” I asked.
“Sí, I mean yes, I’m sure she did. He told her everything, I’m sure. He loved her so much. He always wanted to share everything with her. Yes, I think he told her everything—his every thought, his every feeling.”
“Did he tell her he loved you?”
“Yes,” Dr. López said, her eyes brimming, “I’m sure he did. He would have put it in context though, would have explained that his love for me wasn’t even a tiny fraction of his love for her. What a pity she didn’t appreciate that—at least Brian would be alive and happy, even if I couldn’t have him with me.”
Dr. López’s tears ended that interview. In two of our last sessions, she revealed something I had long suspected. “He said that, if she did ultimately decide to end their marriage and make a life with Alex, he knew the pain would be more than he could bear.”
“Was he suicidal?” I asked, with increased alertness.
“He wasn’t a suicidal person,” Dr. López answered. “By then, I knew him well enough to know that. At the same time, I knew he loved Darling so much that the pain was already almost unendurable. I did worry that any more might prove too much for him.”
“Mrs. Jacobsen told me she did move in with Alex and ask her husband for a divorce.”
“Yes,” Graciana López said in a voice almost too soft to hear, “he told me that in one of our last ’phone calls.”
That session also ended in tears, and the conversation continued the next day. “Do you think Brian Jacobsen took his own life?” I asked.
Dr. López nodded and said, “Yes. If she didn’t kill him, he did.”
When I returned from Europe, I received a message from Brian Jacobsen’s distant neighbor Ray urging me to contact him. When I did, he said he wanted me to meet his cousin Joelene. We arranged a meeting, and Ray introduced me to Joelene, who said, “I think you should talk with my friend Moira. She was a friend of the Jacobsens, and I think she might be able to help you.”
Of course, I wasted no time arranging to meet Moira. I met her and Joelene at the same restaurant where I had met Darling Jacobsen, and the three of us enjoyed a leisurely lunch and two hours’ conversation. Moira had been good friends with both Mr. and Mrs. Jacobsen, although she felt estranged from Darling after what happened.
“Before he disappeared,” Moira said, “Brian gave me something to give to Darling, after he left—“after I’m gone” was they way he said it. I remember that, because—except for thanking me—it was the last thing he said to me.”
“And did you?”
“No. I guess I always hoped he’d come back, and I could give it back to him.”
“What was it?”
“A little package,” she said. “I figured it probably held a letter for Darling or something like that.”
“You’ve never opened it” I asked.
“And you’ve never told anyone about it?”
“No. Do you think I should’ve?” Moira asked me.
“No, Moira,” I reassured her, “I don’t think it could’ve made any difference. You haven’t done anything wrong.” She looked relieved, and I asked, “Would it be OK for me to check it out?”
“I thought you probably should. You’ve done more about Brian than anybody, I guess.”
I thanked her, and she rummaged in her purse and brought out a small parcel. My first glance suggested it contained a CD, as did careful palpation. I asked Moira if I could take the parcel with me, “as long as I’m careful with it.”
“Yes, of course,” she replied. “Do you think we should pass it on to Darling?”
“Probably,” I said, “but I’ll get it back to you, and we can decide after I’ve checked it out.”
That evening, I opened the package and confirmed my expectations of its contents. I put the disk in my CD player—hardly used, now that I mostly listen to MP3s—to find what Brian Jacobsen had wanted to convey to his beloved wife after he was gone. By then, I had listened to enough recordings of Brian Jacobsen to recognize his strong, smooth voice immediately. That voice began by greeting Darling Jacobsen and saying he loved her. He then said he wished he could share another twenty or thirty years with her and wanted to leave her something to express his feelings better than he could with mere words.
The rest of the CD told the story I expected. Backed by his guitar and a bass, Brian Jacobsen sang five songs, mostly with a country flavor and all sung beautifully. He began with a country song from George Jones called “I Sleep Just Like A Baby” and followed that with the Hank Williams classic “You Win Again”. Stepping out of the country mode, Jacobsen sang “Turnaround” by Stan Rogers, on which he had over-dubbed a second guitar played finger-style. Returning to the country style, Jacobsen sang another George Jones song, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, then ended with Gene Watson’s “Farewell Party”. Although I never met Brian Jacobsen in person, I was in tears by the end of the CD.
If anything survives, when the body is no more, I hope Brian Jacobsen will forgive me for making a copy of the CD before I returned it to his friend Moira. I told her I thought we shouldn’t give the package to Darling Jacobsen and suggested she hold onto it in case Brian returned.
When I played my copy of the CD for a detective who had befriended me in the course of our investigations, he said it was enough to change his mind about Brian Jacobsen’s fate—but, of course, neither of us had any proof.
Epilogue: A year later, a major bust by the organized crime team established that some gang-related criminals had provided convincing fake ID to a man who matched Brian Jacobsen’s description. My subsequent investigations revealed that the man had crewed on a large yacht bound for Australia. On arrival in Brisbane, the skipper reported the mysterious disappearance of a crewman mid-way through the voyage.
About the Author:
Graduated as a mathematician, Harlan Yarbrough has been a full-time professional entertainer most of his life, including a stint as a regular on the Grand Old Opry. Repeated attempts to escape the entertainment industry have brought work as a librarian, a physics teacher, and a city planner. Harlan lives in New Zealand but returns to the US to perform.