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Cold Case: New clues sought about missing Belgian-born woman

Detective Mark Burbridge holds a photo of Michaelle Champagne, reported missing in the early 1990s. Burbridge hopes some memories are jogged by his current work and that he can get new information on what happened to her. (Jesse Tinsley)
Detective Mark Burbridge holds a photo of Michaelle Champagne, reported missing in the early 1990s. Burbridge hopes some memories are jogged by his current work and that he can get new information on what happened to her. (Jesse Tinsley)

Michaelle Champagne never went long without checking in with her family in Belgium.

But after Champagne, a Spokane resident, called her parents during a visit to Washington, D.C., on March 9, 1993, they never heard from her again.

Spokane police Detective Mark Burbridge, who has reopened the missing person case, thinks she was murdered. He’s hoping recently obtained DNA and a re-examination of the case will turn up some clue to Champagne’s fate. July 1 would have been her 48th birthday.

“She is the kind of young lady who called home every week to say ‘Hi’ to her parents,” Burbridge said.

Coming to Spokane

Belgian-born Champagne came to Spokane in 1990 with her husband, Kevin Kyllo, who was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base while serving in the Air Force. The two met and married while he was stationed in Belgium, lived more than three years in Germany, then came to Spokane. They divorced in November 1992.

Her family in Belgium did not return calls seeking comment, but Kyllo, who said he hadn’t spoken with Champagne since shortly after their divorce, remembers her as being adventurous, athletic and strong-willed.

“She can be argumentative,” he said. “She could be bullheaded. She’s a busy person. She always needed to be doing something. All in all she was a good person.”

He said Champagne was independent and left home at a young age.

“She was close with her parents but she always needed to be self-supportive,” he said. “She always had a couple jobs. She was never one to mooch off people.”

Champagne was a skilled, tough soccer player who played at the national level in Belgium. She played some recreational soccer in Spokane but didn’t like playing here because the girls “weren’t strong enough,” Kyllo said.

She liked to cook and worked as a chef, with waitressing jobs on the side. Kyllo said she didn’t use drugs and seldom drank, but the adventurous, blue-eyed Belgian did have a wild side.

“She liked motorcycles,” he said. “She liked to ride.”

The last time the two spoke, Champagne had started dating another man and told Kyllo she was having a large sum of money sent from her Brussels bank account, despite having been granted $60,000 in their divorce. Kyllo said it struck him as odd, but he didn’t press her for details.

“She had said she had called her dad and got some money from there sent back to her … to pay off some debt that she owed somebody,” he said. “She never really did say who it was. I don’t know if she’d gotten in trouble or borrowed money from some bad people. She didn’t go into detail, but I know it was a large sum of money.”

The calls ended

Champagne was reported missing in September 1993 by another man, her former live-in boyfriend, who told police they had broken up about six months earlier.

The boyfriend, now 41, told officers in 1993 he hadn’t talked to Champagne since they split and that he filed the missing person report only at the request of Champagne’s family in Belgium.

The Spokesman-Review is not naming the boyfriend because he has not been arrested or charged with a crime.

What police do know is that Champagne and her boyfriend spent a month and a half in Brussels visiting Champagne’s parents. They flew back to the United States through Washington, D.C., where Champagne called her parents and said they had arrived safely.

“She told the parents they were going to stay in D.C. a couple of nights, see the sights,” Burbridge said. “That’s the last anybody ever heard from her.”

After months passed without any contact, Champagne’s parents grew increasingly concerned and repeatedly urged her former boyfriend to report her missing. He insisted he hadn’t talked to her and had no idea of her exact whereabouts.

On Sept. 8, 1993, nearly six months after her family had last heard from her, he filed the missing person report, but explained that he had not spoken to Champagne since their breakup March 17, 1993. He did tell detectives he thought he saw her around town and that she had left love letters in his mailbox.

In the months before filing the missing person report, detectives say, the boyfriend’s behavior was curious. According to Burbridge, he twice tried to use Champagne’s credit cards, sold all her expensive, Belgian oak furniture out of storage that August, and sold the Volvo the two owned together.

“I don’t know many girls that would date a guy for a few months and let him sell all her stuff and keep all the money,” Burbridge said. “The car, the furniture – use all of her credit cards.”

In April, when the boyfriend put the couple’s Volvo up for sale, he introduced a woman he was with as Michaelle to a Coeur d’Alene couple interested in buying the car, Burbridge said. The woman was holding a baby when they all met in the parking lot of a Browne’s Addition grocery store.

The couple described the woman to police as being fairly short, about 5-foot-2.

“Michaelle was 5-foot-8 and never had a baby,” Burbridge said.

Detectives who investigated the case initially learned that the boyfriend checked into a Spokane motel upon returning from D.C. on March 12. He was apparently alone, and the first phone calls he made from the motel were to an auto parts store and a windshield repair shop.

“The detective talked to the clerk, and the clerk was certain he checked in alone and never had any guests,” Burbridge said.

A lifetime ago

The former boyfriend has refused polygraph testing, telling police he “doesn’t believe in that kind of magic,” Burbridge said.

In a recent interview, the boyfriend said he remembers very little about Champagne and their relationship, which he said ended because they were not a “symbiotic fit.” He said he was shocked when a detective knocked on his door earlier this month after so much time had passed without word from police or Champagne’s family regarding the investigation.

“I was certainly dumbfounded,” he said. “I don’t have a whole lot to say about it. I told (a detective) everything I could possibly say way back when.

“I don’t remember anything,” he said. “It’s a whole lifetime ago.”

Regardless of detectives’ questions about his behavior, he maintains he had nothing to do with Champagne’s disappearance.

“Really, at the end of the day, I feel like I stand on good ground and I’m good in my heart,” he said. “I am somewhat reluctant to be involved in any of it.”

Searching for new leads

Despite the case’s seeming stagnation, Burbridge is pressing on. He recently got DNA samples from Champagne’s parents and brother in Belgium and has been trying to compare them with remains in both the D.C. and Spokane areas.

So far, no matches have come up, but he’s hoping to generate new tips or uncover additional evidence. He sent the title of the Volvo to a handwriting analyst to see whether it is Champagne’s handwriting, or someone attempting to imitate her writing, as he believes.

“I’m not like super-detective,” he said. “The detectives that worked on this in the past put a lot of work into it. I’m just hoping I come up with something they didn’t come up with.”

He also wants to know who was with Champagne’s boyfriend when the car was sold on April 30, 1993.

“I would like the woman … to come forward,” he said, “and anyone that (the boyfriend) may have made statements to over the years to come forward.”