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Missing White Plains woman Brenda Kerber's remains found 30 years later

Lohud.com, Westchester County logo Lohud.com, Westchester County 1/29/2021 Ryan Santistevan, Rockland/Westchester Journal News

Brenda Kerber was found more than 30 years after she went missing in September of 1989. 

The White Plains mother's remains were found in a station wagon pulled from the Muscoot Reservoir in Somers on Jan. 19. Kerber is believed to have died in a suicide by drowning, White Plains police said Thursday.

Police said they determined it was a suicide based on "a review of the evidence in the case and the recent findings from the vehicle, along with the ME's exam." No other information was immediately available.

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The confirmation is based on the Westchester County medical examiner's examination of the skeletal remains, including matching dental records. Kerber's family has been notified, according to police, who said they hope the news will bring the family closure. 

a truck that is driving down the road: New York State Police, White Plains Police, and DEP Police investigate the scene around a car that was found submerged in the Muscoot Reservoir along Route 100 in Somers Jan. 19, 2021. © Frank Becerra/The Journal News, Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News New York State Police, White Plains Police, and DEP Police investigate the scene around a car that was found submerged in the Muscoot Reservoir along Route 100 in Somers Jan. 19, 2021.

BRENDA KERBER: Missing case tied to car pulled from Muscoot Reservoir

MUSCOOT RESERVOIR: Human remains found in submerged vehicle

MUSCOOT RESERVOIR: Station wagon found submerged in water

Kerber, who was 40 when she went missing, was a follower of a man some considered to be a cult leader, Frederick P. Lenz III. Her disappearance puzzled police at the time as her personal identification papers were found inside a pocketbook in her apartment on Alex Drive in the Rosedale section of White Plains.


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Two diaries were located and detailed her obsession with Lenz, who attracted followers to what he called his brand of "American" Buddhism. Police said all leads and information were exhausted in the year following her disappearance. 

Kerber's 1982 Ford Granada station wagon was found in the reservoir off Route 100 during a recent Department of Environmental Protection study of the reservoir bottom, a DEP spokesman said Jan. 19.

It was removed from the reservoir and analyzed by state police. White Plains police then reopened her missing person's case.

After her disappearance, Kerber's family placed national ads in USA TODAY, offering a $1,000 reward for information. Her parents, Dorotha Barratt-Knecht and James Barratt Jr., have since died.

Kerber's father told The Journal News in 1989 that his daughter was depressed after her second marriage ended in divorce three years prior. He said she sought emotional support, found a religious group and moved to the San Francisco Bay area. 

a group of people standing in front of a car: New York State Police, White Plains Police, and DEP Police investigate the scene around a car that was found submerged in the Muscoot Reservoir along Route 100 in Somers Jan. 19, 2021. © Frank Becerra/The Journal News, Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News New York State Police, White Plains Police, and DEP Police investigate the scene around a car that was found submerged in the Muscoot Reservoir along Route 100 in Somers Jan. 19, 2021.

There she met followers of Lenz and eventually moved to the New York City area, where Lenz was based. Lenz was the leader of a loose-knit group of computer programmers, largely based in Westchester County, who taught Zen Buddhism, meditation and yoga in what he called "American" Buddhism. The group was considered by some former members, as well as some psychologists and therapists, to be a cult. 

a person standing next to a car: New York State Police, White Plains Police, and DEP Police  look over a car that was found submerged in the Muscoot Reservoir along Route 100 in Somers Jan. 19, 2021. The car may have been missing from White Plains. © Frank Becerra/The Journal News, Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News New York State Police, White Plains Police, and DEP Police look over a car that was found submerged in the Muscoot Reservoir along Route 100 in Somers Jan. 19, 2021. The car may have been missing from White Plains.

Barratt added that Lenz, known as Zen Master Rama, would charge followers a monthly fee of $1,000 to attend his lectures.

Kerber's parents last saw her in May 1989 when they visited her in New York City following a cruise from Puerto Rico to Portugal.

Lenz died in April 1998 after consuming a large amount of barbiturates and either falling or jumping off the dock of his home on the Long Island Sound.

Ryan Santistevan is the breaking news reporter for the Poughkeepsie Journal, Journal News and Times Herald-Record. Reach her at rsantistev@gannett.com; 845-437-4809 or follow her on Twitter, @NewsByRyan_. 

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Missing White Plains woman Brenda Kerber's remains found 30 years later

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