The dogs found the only possible clue: they may have picked up the scent of a cadaver. But it was “not conclusive,” MacDonald said.
Usually, even cadavers are swiftly found. Adam said that within 12 hours of a report of someone missing in the woods, 95 percent of people are found; within 48 hours it’s 98 percent. “We’re clearly in the one percent here,” he said.
Rita Hennessy, assistant manager of the National Appalachian Scenic Trail, which is a 2200-mile-long national park, said from her office at Harpers Ferry that she had never heard of a disappearance like this on the trail.
But the National Park Service, Hennessy said, had not assigned investigative rangers to the case or asked other federal law-enforcement officials to get involved. It is letting the Maine Warden Service take the lead, although her chief ranger, Todd Remaley, was in Maine assisting with the investigation and had interviewed Critchlow.
The blogosphere has had its share of suggestions that Gerry Largay was probably murdered. But, on average, only once in five years does a murder occur anywhere on the entire AT, and millions of people hike a section of it each year. Adam said he had never heard of a serious crime on the AT in Maine.
And, while every missing-person case is potentially a criminal case, he said, he had no indication that Largay’s disappearance involved foul play.\
People get lost in the woods all the time, however, and the Maine Warden Service is far more experienced in conducting searches for them than in looking into a possible murder. Adam has only one investigator working on the Largay case full-time.
For the searches, the agency relies on its wardens and on volunteers — whenever possible, on the trained volunteers of the units around the state that are members of the Maine Association for Search and Rescue, as was the case in the grid search. That day, searchers also included some state police and federal border guards.
But even the searches have limited resources. “I’d love to have a bunch more trained volunteers,” Adam said.
A side trail to Mount Abraham heads off from the AT close to where Gerry Largay went missing. Abraham is a giant mountain with many precipitous pitches. The grid searchers only covered part of it. “We don’t have the resources” to grid all of Mount Abraham, Adam said.
His assumption is that Largay or her body is lost somewhere off a trail or road in Maine’s bewildering rain forest. The trails and roads themselves have been well covered with what are called “hasty searches.”
The near-impenetrability of the high-altitude spruce forest would seem to discourage Adam’s assumption. So would the facts that the missing woman was a fit, veteran hiker; that the AT is clearly marked; that at this season it’s well trafficked; that the weather was perfect; and that she was believed to have a whistle.
A long-time family friend, David Fox, a Nashville public-relations man acting as a family spokesman, said that Gerry, a retired nurse, was healthy. But she was beginning to get old for a long-distance hiker. One can imagine hidden atherosclerotic plaque in an artery growing during a lifetime and finally blocking the blood supply to her brain, causing a stroke, and then her altered mental function led her off the trail.