'I'm always going to believe that she's alive'

Ann Myring vanished in 1997. Three years on, her husband and sons believe that she is still alive, while her mother is convinced that she was murdered. Who is right?
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A bove David Myring's bed is a poster of the TV presenter Kelly Brook in a shimmering bikini. On the adjacent wall is Kate Moss clutching a teddy bear. A pile of clothes is slumped in the corner. It's a typical teenage boy's bedroom, except for one thing - the photographs of his mother dotted around the undusted clutter. They make an odd contrast with the sparsely clad women clawing the blue-and-white-striped walls.

A bove David Myring's bed is a poster of the TV presenter Kelly Brook in a shimmering bikini. On the adjacent wall is Kate Moss clutching a teddy bear. A pile of clothes is slumped in the corner. It's a typical teenage boy's bedroom, except for one thing - the photographs of his mother dotted around the undusted clutter. They make an odd contrast with the sparsely clad women clawing the blue-and-white-striped walls.

David would be the first to admit that it's not exactly cool for an 18-year-old design student to have a photo of his mum next to his bed. But it's easy to forgive him his sentimentality: his mother, Ann Myring, vanished three years ago. Her body has never been found.

On 7 October 1997, David's father, Brian Myring, was charged with her murder, but was acquitted last December. David and his brother Stephen, 24, still live with him in the family home in Bristol. And three years on, they are both still waiting for their mother to return.

In the same chair in which he was sitting when told of his father's arrest, David talks with affection about his mother, whom he last saw on 25 June 1997. "She was really caring, always there, intelligent as well. She liked doing crosswords and that, and metal detecting. She used to find quite a few coins. She liked her books as well, Mills and Boon," he says softly, with a smile.

Sitting with him in the three-bedroom modern house (which it is fair to say lacks a feminine touch) is Stephen, a plant fitter. "She was a real kind, caring person. I could speak to her about many things, and she was always there for us," he says.

On the other side of the city is another room filled with pictures of Ann Myring. They belong to her mother, Gwendoline Brace. But unlike David and Stephen, Gwendoline, 71, is no longer waiting for Ann to return. She, along with Ann's siblings, is convinced that she has been murdered. Gwendoline, who has lost her voice box to cancer, and speaks with an electronic voice enhancer which she holds to her mouth, almost shakes with rage at the suggestion that Ann walked out on her family. The two sides of the once-close family are no longer speaking.

"David was the apple of her eye. She would never have walked out on those boys, ever," says Mrs Brace. "She'll never come back. She's dead, and that's all there is to it," she says, banging her hand on the table. "I had cancer five-and-a-half years ago, and there's no way my daughter would not have looked after me. We were like that." She crosses her fingers. "She was my best friend, not just a daughter. She would come and take me out once a week, sometimes twice. She idolised her husband.

"I'm not very happy about them wanting their mother to come home when it's absolutely impossible. I think it's very sad. She was my daughter, she was my flesh and blood." She bangs the table again.

On 25 June 1997, Ann Myring, 45, a clerical assistant, told colleagues she was going out for dinner with her husband that evening. David and Stephen insist they saw her at home that night. The next day, they say, their father told them she had gone to a health farm for the weekend. The following Monday, he told them that Ann had left him.

"Me and Steve were really shocked,'' says David. "We didn't think anything was going wrong with the relationship. Apparently they had been arguing quite a lot that week, and going out on regular drives to chat about it away from us. I think it was about money."

Several weeks after Ann had failed to contact any of her family, she was reported missing. The police embarked on an extensive national and international search, and the National Missing Persons' Helpline launched an appeal at the request of Ann's sister, Lynn Flatt.

In October, Brian Myring was arrested in connection with Ann's disappearance, along with his lover of two years, married mother-of-two Teresa Kempster, 39, also from Bristol. She was released, but Brian was charged with murder.

"It was such a shock. I was shattered," says David. "You can't imagine something like that happening." Stephen was equally horrified when he heard the news on the radio. "I just couldn't believe it. I thought maybe they'd got the wrong address. One minute they're looking for my mum, and they next they've arrested my dad. I was in shock for most of the day.''

Brian was bailed to a hostel in Weymouth, where he was visited by his sons every other weekend. In a statement to The Independent, he writes: "I was very surprised I was arrested as there was no forensic evidence at all, no history of violence and there had been several sightings of Ann around the country, with three in an area that Ann knew, although myself, Stephen or David had not been told of any sighting.

"I suppose the worst thing is the two years I spent away from my family [on bail]. David was only 15 going into his final year at school, and for some four months I was not allowed to see or talk to him. This initial period was very traumatic for myself and for David.''

At the three-week trial, Mr Myring denied murdering his wife of 24 years so he could begin a new life with Mrs Kempster. The jury took less than three hours to find him not guilty. His sons have always believed in his innocence. "We couldn't imagine anyone like him ever doing something like that," says David emphatically. "He's never hit us, never shown any violence towards anybody, really. He's really nice. I just don't think it's feasible."

Stephen is equally adamant. "I'm the best person at winding anybody up, and Dad has never, ever raised a hand. He's quite mellow, actually. He's got a good sense of humour as well. It never ever, not once, entered my mind at all."

Brian Myring's sons say he is still shunned by most of the neighbours. "You walk out of a pub and people are saying: 'I reckon he did it'," says Stephen. David adds: "Dad feels really awkward going round to see people because he's afraid he might get abuse. He seems to be getting along in his own way, but you can tell it's affecting him."

In the summer, the two brothers appealed for their mother's return in The Big Issue magazine, and they have run a series of poster campaigns in Yorkshire, but there have been no leads.

David says that his father has suggested that they contact local newspapers in areas that had a special significance for their mother. "We're all encouraging each other to try and do as much as we can to try to find her," he says. "I'm not bothered about her reasons, I'm more concerned about her making contact. If she came back I wouldn't even ask her where she's been, I would just be crying, I'd be so happy."

Brian writes in his statement: "I would like to say to Ann: 'Come back. I know it means facing up to a lot, but the boys miss you a lot although we shall never be together. The first 20 years of marriage was very good and I would like to know you are all right.' "

David refuses to consider that his mother may be dead. "I would rather take the positive approach. There is lack of evidence both ways, but I would rather be more positive. I'm always going to believe that she's alive. There has never been any significant evidence as far as I'm concerned to say that she's dead."

Stephen says he feels "gutted" that his mother hasn't contacted him. He has since had a daughter, and given her the middle name of Ann. He also wears his mother's gold necklace, which the police agreed to give him before clearing the house of her possessions. "With my job, I'm out on the road on my own driving about, and you've got to think about something, and unfortunately it always seems to be about my mum and where she can be. I do still cry about it."

Last March, the Brace family held a memorial service for Ann. "We all believe unanimously that she's dead," says Ann's brother, Mark Brace. "Before she went missing she asked me to remember to call her with the results of mother's biopsy as she was concerned about it. Ann spent a lot of time with mother, doing things, putting feeding tubes down her throat, seeing what cancer did to her at the time. And there was no possible way that she would ever not contact her to find out whether it was benign or malignant."

Mr Brace, 39, an engineer, has moved away from Bristol. Ann's sister Jayne Marszal, 34, an administrator, has done the same. Since Ann's disappearance they have both had daughters, whom they have named after their sister.

Mrs Marszal says that Ann had told her that she would never leave her husband. "She confided in me that she knew Brian was having an affair, and that it had been going on for ages. She told me that she loved him, and that she wasn't going to leave him," she says.

The family hopes that Ann's body will be found, so they can grieve properly. "The boys would have to come to the realisation that she's dead," says Mr Brace, "and depending on what they find, it will show, in my opinion, that she's been killed."

Detective Chief Inspector Geoff Anderson of Avon and Somerset Police, who are leading the investigation into Ann Myring's disappearance, says that they are convinced that she is dead, and are not pursuing any new lines of inquiry. "Does a woman leave home leaving nine single shoes, all her make-up, her jewellery, and all her money?" he asks. "Her mother was ill with cancer, and she was very supportive of that. She was very supportive of her children. There was a huge amount of circumstantial evidence that suggests that this woman had not left that home on her own volition carrying two suitcases with all her belongings."

In the meantime, David still waits for his mother to come home, his heart missing a beat every time the doorbell goes. "I've had lots of dreams about her coming home," he says. His smile then suddenly vanishes. "But I also have nightmares about her not recognising me."