On the night of Nov. 2, 2015, Harold Backer made arrangements to give his son Harrison the traditional tie he had worn during his younger years studying at Brentwood College School.
The gesture was normal, as Harold (a former rower who competed three times in the Olympic Games) had already passed down some of his old Olympic shirts to his son, who graduated from the same private boarding school in 2014.
Living close to one another in Victoria, Harold swung by Harrison’s home that night, gave him the tie and said good night. It was the last time Harrison has seen or spoken with his 52-year-old father — a man he describes as fun, intelligent and an all around good friend.
Unaware anything was wrong, Harrison went to work the next day, then later visited his sister. On his way home he received a text message from his step mother, asking if he knew where Harold was. Earlier, Harold told his wife he was going for a bike ride, but had yet to come home.
“I just knew something was wrong when she texted me and said he didn’t have his phone. He always takes his phone with him,” said Harrison.
“The first thought that came to my mind was he went on a bike ride, he’s been gone all day and he’s in a ditch somewhere and probably hurt. I didn’t think anything more than that, but it’s still a terrible feeling just to think about that.”
The following hours were spent searching the Galloping Goose Trail where Harold said he was going for a ride. Later that day, however, a man closely matching Harold’s description was seen leaving Victoria on the Coho ferry, sparking police to expand their search to include the Port Angeles Police Department.
Harold was officially declared missing around 11:30 p.m.
The 19-year-old tried his best not to worry when his father failed to come home that night. Describing Harold as a quiet, reserved person, Harrison thought maybe he wanted to get away because something was on his mind. His father is one of the smartest people he knows, added Harrison, who trusts him more than anybody.
But keeping a level head in the following days with no word from his father wasn’t easy. Much of his time was spent with his family, talking to police and waiting for answers.
“I live my life because the world doesn’t stop for things like this, but I was obviously upset,” said Harrison. “I was in the weirdest state of mind I’ve ever been in. I was super confused, dejected and couldn’t think of anything. I wanted to know exactly what was going on, but I couldn’t. It was frustrating.”
The family tried to avoid the media, but news soon surfaced that the employer of Harold (who worked for the last 10 years as an investment advisor) had terminated his registration due to an internal fraud investigation.
The Times Colonist also published a letter Harold allegedly wrote to his clients before he disappeared, where he admitted to running a pyramid investment scheme to accelerate gains in funds that had taken a big loss during the dot-com crash. Harold also stated that he has a life insurance policy that should be divided among his investors to cover almost all of the amount outstanding.
Hearing about the fraud investigation and letter came as a surprise for Harrison, noting his father didn’t leave his family in any kind of debt and the family was never wealthy. But it also helped him grapple with so many unanswered questions.
“I don’t think he just up and left for no reason….he had a reason to go and based on his letters and everything that happened, it just seems like he knew what he was doing so that made me not so upset about him leaving,” said Harrison, who’s become frustrated by some of the rumours about his dad.
“The part that makes me most upset is people speculate and say he might be in Costa Rica sipping a mojito right now or having fun with all the money he stole from his clients. He lost their money and he was just too proud to say that he lost their money so he wanted to make it back. All these people have no idea who my dad really is.”
Victoria police continue to investigate the case and are working with U.S. law enforcement agencies for any trace of Harold’s whereabouts. As the weeks turn into months, Harrison tries to focus on all the memories with his father rather than the fact he’s still missing.
A memory from 2012 sticks out more than most. During Grade 9 and 10, Harold was Harrison’s rowing coach. The team went to nationals that year and wound up getting third. At the end of the race, Harrison saw his father standing at the end of the dock. He came up to Harrison and told him he was proud.
“I was so happy to be able to row for him. I’ve always tried to live up to my dad. He’s done so much good in his life and I always wanted to be comparable to him,” said Harrison, who thinks about his father every day.
“It’s hard for my whole family, but for me, I’m a pretty independent person…I think of how amazing he was as a dad and as a friend and I’m grateful to have had such an awesome person in my life for as long as I did.”
Harold is described as Caucasian, standing six feet, three inches tall with a medium build, green eyes and greying hair. It’s believed he was wearing a red cycling jersey, black riding pants, possibly carrying a black backpack and could be riding his Cannondale road bike. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call 250-996-7654.