Without a composting toilet, dry sink, or sufficient source of heat at the yurt yet, we decided to head back home to Whitefish rather than stay the night. As Chris closed the gate to our lane, I took one last look at the cabin, far off in the distance. There had to be more to the story of Bo and Deb, and I was dying to find out.
As soon as we got home, I dove into bed and got out my laptop to Google. All I had to go on was “Bo Tanner,” “Polebridge,” “Montana,” and “Debbie Tanner.” I landed on the right combination, and bingo. Up popped a whole comment thread on the couple and a two-part video from Unsolved Mysteries.
“Oh my god, hurry up in there!” I said.
“Whuh?” Chris answered, his mouth full of toothpaste.
“You are not going to believe this! Oh my god.”
Chris hurried out of the bathroom, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, a look of alarm on his face. “What’s going on? What?”
“Deb and Bo! They’re on YouTube, Unsolved Mysteries!”
“No way, you’ve got to be kidding me.”
He crawled into bed, and I pushed the play button. Huddled in front of the laptop screen, we watched the show open with familiar scenes of our new “neighborhood” and host Robert Stack explaining that, “for the most part, modern life has given Polebridge, Montana, a very, very wide berth.” He then revealed that one resident, Bo Tanner, had been missing since September 4, 1990, the day he dropped off his wife, Debbie, to work at the Polebridge Mercantile.
Here’s the rest of the story …
Debbie and Bo had gotten married in the summer of 1986 after a six-month courtship. They moved to a 500-acre ranch (the site of the abandoned cabin) that once belonged to Debbie’s grandfather (and which, we learned from neighbors, he bought for peanuts during the Depression). Since his death in 1973, she had dreamed of reviving the ranch. When Bo came along, she thought he was just the man to help her make that dream come true.
They got a herd of cattle, and apparently some ducks, and started ranching. But it wasn’t long until some locals took umbrage with the effects they felt cattle farming would have on the pristine land just outside Glacier National Park, an area known for maintaining a wild and scenic environment.
Not one to let others stop her, Deb not only continued on with the cattle ranching, she and Bo also started a church. They bought forty-five hymnals and bibles, erected a big yellow circus tent just near the entrance to our lane, and held Sunday services. Bo was the pastor, welcoming any and all to join them in worship—for a small fee.
But it seems at least one person wasn’t interested in the idea of evangelizing on the North Fork. On September 10, 1989, during the last full moon of the waxing of summer, someone took a machete knife to the tent, slashing it in eighteen places, and threw the hymnals and bibles all over the deflated structure.
Debbie was distraught over the violence and the thought that someone in the community was out to get them. But she was determined to make a go of her little church, and so they tried again—this time in a friend’s cabin nearby (we don’t know who this is yet, but it seems certain they’ll have more of the story to tell).
On July 8, 1990 (on another full moon), that church, too, met with disaster. It was burned down to the ground overnight. “The sheriff’s department found that the blaze was incendiary, not accidental,” said Detective Pat Walsh, Flathead County Sheriff’s Office. “The building was totally consumed.”
According to Deb, Bo was sure someone was after him. Then, on yet another full moon (August 4, 1990), Deb and Bo came home to a ransacked cabin—not a single corner had been left unturned. Even more ominous was a calling card the intruder left behind. It was a newspaper with Bo’s picture on the front. Written across the top was the message “Get Out!” A bullet pointed toward Bo’s face.
Early the next morning, Detective Pat Walsh and a team of investigators arrived to take fingerprints. They needed to get Bo’s prints in order to eliminate him from their results. But on the day of his appointment at the sheriff’s office, Bo called Detective Walsh and said he was running a little late but that he’d be there. Then he called Debbie and told her the same thing.
They never saw Bo again.
Deb’s first thought was that the person out to get Bo had been successful. But then, three days later, Deb got a letter. It read: “I don’t expect you to understand. I love you a lot, but I have to leave. I have to go back to my family. I have to be where my family is.” A postscript added, “You’ve probably found the car at the airport by now. Here’s the key.”
Debbie wasted no time tracking Bo. She went to Emory, Utah, one of the places he used to live, where she visited area businesses and homes with a picture of her missing husband. Some of the people recognized the photo but not the name. That was Jim Holloway, not Bo Tanner, they said. And he was married to a woman in town, Lenora Holloway.
Deb found Lenora, who had by now also been abandoned by Bo, and over lunch together a story unfolded that left Deb utterly mystified. Not only had she been married to Bo (real name Eddie Riddlehoover) while he was married to Lenora, but he also had at least four or five other wives. And that was just the half of it.
He left two of his wives by attempting to stage his own death. With one, he left his car on the Houston Ship Channel Bridge, leaving everyone to assume that he had jumped to avoid an arson investigation. With wife number two, in Washington State, Bo vanished without a trace, leaving behind a truck doused in blood. His creepy scam failed when the blood was determined to be that of an animal. Soon thereafter, it seems, he met Debbie.
During an interview in the 1990 Unsolved Mysteries episode, Deb said that nothing surprised her anymore about Bo, that she’d heard it all. But still, she told Detective Walsh, “Wherever he is, I want him to know I love him. Maybe we can’t be together, but we can work through things together.”
In the weeks since Chris and I have watched that video, we’ve met people around the area who know a little bit more about the story. Deb has remarried and has three children. Bo is possibly living in Wyoming, under yet another alias and with yet another unsuspecting girlfriend/wife. He is wanted on charges of bigamy and arson. Around here, it is commonly believed that he was responsible for the acts of vandalism and the burning of the church.
Last night, just 400 yards away from where Bo laid in bed and planned his schemes, Chris and I laid in our own bed and watched the full moon pass over the dome of our yurt. As the light shone upon our faces, we looked at each other. “I can still feel his presence,” Chris said.
For the full story, read all three parts: A Mystery Unfolds; The Plot Thickens; and Evangelizing, Vandalizing, Bigamizing.
8 thoughts on “Evangelizing, Vandalizing, Bigamizing”
That is really an incredible story and it is amazing that people remember what happened 20 years ago. Does Debbie still own the property that was her grandfather’s? I am glad she moved on and has a family. What a great story to tell her children.
Debbie’s father still owns the property. We’re told she comes out to visit every so often and stays in the newer cabin that she and Bo built. We hope to meet her someday.
um, creepy! That last photo is spectacular.
Wow, fascinating story. Not at all what I expected! Do you and Chris have aspirations to buy the cabin and rebuild…? And yes, cool special effects on that last pic!
Well, that’s mighty messed up!
Maybe you should consider doing a Bo Cleansing ceremony during a full moon, of course. Deb is a gutsy woman and hope you get to meet her. Bo, on the other hand– Just when one thinks life gets a little dull, there are always the Bo Tanners to spice it up a bit.
You are a fabulous story teller. You always have been and you always will be.
We want MORE…
Thanks, Annie. That was a fun story to tell, mostly because it wrote itself!
WOW! Great story! Unbelievable!! I signed up to receive updates from the blog again. Can’t wait to read more about your adventures!