Cold Case of Icelandic War Bride Probed in the US Skip to content

Cold Case of Icelandic War Bride Probed in the US

The Portland Police Bureau has assigned a missing-persons detective to follow up on leads to the whereabouts of the Icelandic war bride, Ragna Esther Sigurðardóttir Gavin, who came to Portland in 1946 and disappeared in early 1952; her Icelandic family suspects that her abusive ex-husband, Emerson Lawrence (Larry) Gavin, murdered her.


Ragna Esther Sigurðardóttir Gavin. Source: a blog on

Detective Carol Thompson has taken over the file opened by the bureau’s cold-case unit, which last summer looked into Esther’s disappearance. Esther was 23 when last seen, as reported by Anne Saker on

Esther’s sister, Dagný Karlsen, and other relatives have searched for her ever since her disappearance, before which their father had tried to locate Esther and her two children and have them sent to Iceland, RÚV reports.

Her father never managed to contact Esther, even though he had sought assistance from the Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Dagný explained. Later it turned out that Gavin had beaten her so badly that she had to be hospitalized for two weeks.

Earlier this year, Lillý Valgerður Oddsdóttir joined the search and found court documents on the internet where it was stated that Esther’s children had been adopted when they were six and three and given new names, Robert and Debra.

Esther divorced her husband and won full custody. But she could not pay childcare costs, which is why they were adopted, as explained on

Debra passed away in 1999. She suffered from disabilities which may have been caused by beating during Esther’s pregnancy. But Robert is alive and Esther’s relatives have managed to contact him.

“He remembers her mother, he remembers her eyes. I feel better after finding her child but I think it is terrible not to know more about her fate,” Dagný said. “One cannot accuse anyone without certainty.”

Robert’s last memory of Esther is of his father standing over her with a knife and he believes he may have witnessed her murder.

Dagný met Gavin in Iceland where he was based in World War II and he and Esther became acquainted. Dagný said she had always disliked him. “The reason is perhaps that I had known Esther since she was born and she was very dear to me.”

Saker writes that Thompson said on Tuesday that the only avenue to explore the case now is to obtain DNA from a relative of Esther and register it with the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas.

Esther’s family in Iceland contacted Melissa Gavin of Vancouver, a child of Larry Gavin’s second marriage. She also joined the search and contacted the bureau’s cold-case unit, presenting the material that she had received from the family in Iceland.

Retired Detective Dennis Baker launched a search, talking with colleagues in the bureau’s homicide unit, searching law-enforcement databases and checking with other agencies. The search was fruitless and he told Melissa Gavin that the biggest obstacle was the age of the case.

Baker wrote a report to open a file with the bureau’s missing-persons unit, and Thompson was assigned to the case last week.

Click here to read the full story on


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