The woman on the phone, Critchlow said in an interview, told her that she had spent Tuesday night with Gerry at the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to.
Critchlow, who regularly ferries hikers to and from the trail, serves as a kind of message board for hikers and gets many calls of this sort. She said she hadn’t met George Largay — he was not staying at her motel — but she had heard from hikers that the man she had seen in a car at the Wyman trailhead for several days was looking for his wife.
But he wasn’t there, she said, when she went to pick up hikers later Wednesday evening. When the warden service called her on Thursday, seeking information from hikers about Gerry, she told them about the call.
At first, the phone call seemed an important lead. The wardens issued public pleas to attempt to reach the woman caller. But she has not been found despite considerable publicity about the disappearance and the extensive AT-hikers’ grapevine, which the warden service has worked to use.
Not hearing from the caller is “kind of strange,” said Lieutenant Kevin Adam, head of the service’s Incident Management Team, at a press conference. However, when the wardens concluded that Gerry hadn’t stayed at the Spaulding shelter, they assumed the call was from a long-distance hiker who had lost track of the days of the week.
That theory also assumes the caller might be mistaken, too, about where on the trail she was, a far less likely proposition. Critchlow said she was certain the caller referred to “Tuesday night” and the Spaulding shelter. She also said she couldn’t say whether the caller’s voice was young or old, and she didn’t ask where the caller was or, if she was on the trail, which way she was headed.
Lieutenant Adam said phone information gathered, including from the Stratton Motel records, revealed nothing significant. “We’ve taken it as far as we’re going to take it,” he said of the phone searches.
(Adding a Twilight Zone dimension to the story, Critchlow was featured in a Phoenix article last year about Stratton residents seeing weird lights in the sky and hearing ghosts. See “The Strange Lights of Stratton,” by John Crawford, February 24, 2012.)
Not a trace
Here’s another part of the mystery: not a trace of Gerry Largay’s clothing or gear has been found.
The grid effort on August 4 involved men and women walking close to each other in straight lines through the woods. It covered a total of more than four square miles on both sides of the AT from near where the young men saw her to near the Spaulding Lean-to.
“It’s like mowing a lawn,” John MacDonald, the warden service spokesman, described this kind of search. If there’s a bush, the searchers go through it. In some of the most challenging mountainous terrain of the entire AT, it’s very arduous.
In the early morning in a Sugarloaf parking lot, near the large, black warden-service mobile command post, a warden sent off searchers with a warning: “You’re going to think you’ve just walked into hell.” The appearance of the tired, dirty searchers as they came off the grids at the end of the day made his warning seem fitting.