WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKBN) — His cousin says Charles Blanche was a superb musician with seemingly little effort.
“He could play improvisational jazz from memory,” said Lynette Seith on the phone from her home in Ashtabula County.
However, one thing no one can improvise is a scenario in which Charles can be found happy and healthy. He has been missing since Dec. 28, 1989, when he left a halfway house on the North Side to board a bus.
He hasn’t been seen since.
Charles, who was 39 when he disappeared and would be 70 now, is one of 14 missing people whose cases are being handled by the Youngstown Police Department. There are two more cases that city police are helping out within Mahoning County as well.
His case is the fifth oldest that is still being actively investigated. There is another missing person from 1989, Marcell Byers; Phyliss E. Brewer, who went missing from Lowellville in June of 1981 whose case is being handled by the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office; two people who went missing in 1974, John Robek, whose case is being investigated by Boardman police; Joann Coughlin; and Frank Cerimile, who was last seen at a Poland Avenue bar in July of 1969.
Lynette is one Charles’ last living relatives, as his parents and siblings are now deceased. She feels a connection because they are not only the same age, but they were born the same month, attended Jefferson High School together and both were into music.
“We were very competitive all through school,” Lynette said. “We played together as children.”
But to hear Lynette tell it, she was not even in the ballpark when it came to her cousin’s playing. He could play piano and was “extremely talented,” Lynette said.
“He was better at it [music] as for being more creative,” Lynette said. “I could just never memorize music like he could.”
In fact, Charles was talented enough to be selected to be a member of the McDonald’s All-Star Band and got to Europe. However, his life was forever changed by that trip, when he had to come home because of a mental illness that stayed with him throughout his adult years and basically stopped his life in its tracks.
His father was a security guard at a factory in Ashtabula, and his mother was treasurer for the Ashtabula County vocational school and later a bookkeeper for another school district. He had two siblings, both of whom are deceased, as well as his parents.
Lynette said her cousin’s life was consumed by his mental illness and spent part of his time in hospitals. The last time she saw him was at a family gathering before he disappeared.
Lynette said family members believe Charles got on a bus to see his sister in Florida. She said he took some money out of an account his parents had for him and took some of his medication with him.
The lead investigator on the case, Detective Sgt. David Sweeney, said it is believed that Charles got on a Greyhound, but no one was ever able to confirm it.
Sweeney, who is in charge of missing persons’ cases for the department, collected DNA from relatives of Charles and submitted it to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NAMUS, a database of DNA, dental records and other information to help track down missing people.
In 2019, Sweeney thought he may have had an answer to Charles’ disappearance. Police outside of New Orleans had an unidentified homicide victim whose description matched Charles, including the thick glasses Charles wore.
However, the DNA was not a match with the homicide victim, and Charles is still missing.
Lynette said even after her cousin was diagnosed with his mental illness, he could still play the piano. Maybe he is around somewhere still performing and no one knows who he is.
This story is part of a series of cold cases that WKBN is examining.
She said she wonders if he is one of the vast numbers of homeless people across the country who grapple with mental illness.
“I wonder if he’s among the homeless?” Lynette asked.