Many know Winnie-the-Pooh as one of the most beloved children’s tales of all time. It became popular for its cast of memorable characters and the loveable, honey-obsessed Pooh who learned the values of friendship while on their many adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood. However, many may not be familiar with the story behind the Winnie-the-Pooh books by English author, poet, and playwright A.A. Milne.
Milne drew inspiration from his son Christopher Robin Milne, whose childhood and animal toys served as story lines for Pooh and his friends. The beloved Hundred Acre Wood was really the Milne’s property: Crotchford Farm in Ashdown Forest, Sussex. When the books skyrocketed into popularity, Christopher Milne found life at boarding school to be considerably more difficult. Students would often bully him for his association with the popular series. Other readers tried to compare the real Christopher Robin to the idealistic one set in the Pooh series, a problem that followed Milne for the rest of his life.
The real Christopher Robin Milne won a scholarship to Cambridge University until he dropped out to join the army during World War II. He later returned to Cambridge to finish his degree in English. In 1951, Independent writes that he opened a bookstore in Dartmouth, sold autographed copies of the Pooh books, and donated the money to Save the Children. His daughter, Clare Milne, was born with cerebral palsy and started the Clare Milne Trust, an organization that supports disability projects and smaller effective charities.
Christopher Robin Milne died on April 21, 1999, at the age of 75. Sadly, his daughter Clare Milne passed in 2012 from heart complications. Despite the sadness surrounding the story of the real Christopher Robin, the Winnie-the-Pooh books continue to live on in children’s memories to this day. Milne’s case is one such example where it is important to distinguish idealism from reality.
In the early morning hours of June 16, 2015, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, passing motorists spotted a vehicle burning in a ditch on the side of the road. 33-year-old Narges Shafeirad was lying outside of the car, severely burned and screaming that her son was trapped in the backseat. When firefighters arrived, they were dismayed to find 5-year-old Daniel Dana burned beyond recognition.
Shafeirad claimed that she was taking her son to Ocean City, Maryland for a surprise beach trip, and had packed two gallons of gasoline in the back seat for fear of running out of gas along the way. Then, temporarily forgetting about the tanks in her car, she lit a cigarette. While it appeared to be a tragic accident, Shafeirad’s story quickly fell apart when medical examiners discovered her son did not have soot in his lungs, and that his actual cause of death was not the fire as she claimed, but diphenhydramine poisoning. Even worse still, Daniel had suffered several cuts and abrasions to his face, indicating that his mother had force fed him the fatal dose of medicine.
On February 27, 2017, Shafeirad was sentenced to fifty years in prison, citing divorce, a bitter custody battle, and depression as reasons for brutally ending her only son’s life. Prosecutors believe that Shafeirad murdered her son as revenge against her ex-husband. Daniel Dana was a bright kindergartner who enjoyed fishing with his father and playing guitar. Hamid Dana, Daniel’s father, amid the terror of the long trial, recalls a time that Daniel told him to be strong: “‘Daddy, I’m strong. You be strong.'”
On September 18, 2002, a few mushroom pickers decided to look in Yateley Woods in Hampshire, United Kingdom, when they stumbled upon a gruesome and tragic sight hidden beneath the undergrowth: the remains of a young girl. The remains were those of Amanda Jane “Milly” Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was last seen walking from the train station not far from her home in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, six months prior. It was difficult for investigators to determine her cause of death, as her remains were too badly decomposed–but they could ascertain that Dowler had died not long after her disappearance and that her clothing and belongings were stolen.
CCTV footage caught Dowler on her usual walk home–she left Heathside school at 15:07, took a train from Weybridge at 15:26, arrived at Walton-on-Thames station at 15:30, and was last seen only yards from her home at 16:08. What happened to Dowler in those few moments just several yards from her house perplexed investigators for eight months until she was discovered in Yateley Woods. Unfortunately, the case was a difficult one from the beginning: police spent too much time focusing on Dowler’s father; at the same time, News of the World illegally hacked Milly Dowler’s voicemail and deleted crucial evidence in order to listen to her mailbox. Later, the Dowlers would say that seeing the voicemails had been wiped clean gave them a false sense of hope that Milly was still alive. To add insult to the injury, News of the World breached Dowler’s privacy and violated communications laws with little legal repercussion.
It wasn’t until 2004 when police named their prime suspect: a man named Levi Bellfield (who now refers to himself as Yusaf Rahim), who lived fifty yards from the Dowlers prior to his arrest and was already in prison for the heinous murders of two other women (Amelie Delagrange, 22 and Marsha McDonnell, 19 as well as the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy, 18) at the time the police began to suspect him. Better yet, detectives discovered that CCTV footage caught Bellfield’s red Daewoo driving away from the direction of Dowler’s residence not long after she was last seen.
In 2011, Bellfield was officially convicted of Dowler’s murder and received yet another life sentence without the possibility of parole. In 2016, Bellfield finally admitted to Dowler’s murder and revealed the teen’s final moments to police and Dowler’s family. At this time, Dowler’s family believes that Milly’s spirit can finally be at peace after everything that has happened.
Regardless of the circumstances, it is terribly tragic when a child goes missing.
After taking a fifteen-minute walk around her apartment complex in the early morning hours of September 11, 2000, eight-year-old Zachary Bernhardt’s mother, Leah Hacket (now Leah Hanson) discovered that her son was missing from his bed. After searching the surrounding area, the police could find no trace of the little boy. Strangely, everything seemed to be in order: there were no signs of a break-in or disturbance anywhere in the house. It appeared that Zachary had simply vanished into thin air. Clearwater Police received thousands of leads, but none of them were useful.
Seven months after Zachary disappeared, investigators received tip 764: a man by the name of Kevin Jalbert claimed he had abducted more than 1,000 children and had murdered five. He further implicated himself when he drove an undercover officer to the Bernhardt’s apartment complex and claimed he had kidnapped a boy from there some time ago. However, following further investigation and a failed polygraph exam, authorities could not conclusively determine that Jalbert had anything to do with Zachary’s disappearance. Jalbert could not correctly recall the pajamas that Zach was wearing the night he disappeared. Jalbert also identified the incorrect apartment from which he claims he kidnapped the young boy.
Authorities then claimed that Zachary’s mother knew more than she was telling them. For one, they asked, why did she decide to go on a walk at four in the morning and leave the door to her apartment unlocked? Reporters also discovered that Hanson was facing eviction from her apartment and had a reputation for moving houses. After facing harsh public backlash, Leah Hanson decided to relocate to Hawaii. Today, Zachary’s grandmother, Carole Bernhardt, keeps her grandson’s memory alive with the A-Z Missing Children’s Outreach Center, a foundation she helped set up with another missing child’s parents.
Anyone with any information pertaining to Zachary Bernhardt’s case can contact the Clearwater Police Department at (727) 562-4420.