Decades-Old Disappearance Still Haunts New York Town

By Pei-Sze Cheng
|  Saturday, Feb 12, 2011  |  Updated 11:33 AM EDT
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Cold Case Solved

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Joseph Helt was last seen on January 16, 1987, hiking near Sam's Point ice caves in Ellenville, New York. Joseph was last seen wearing, a camouflage jacket, a t-shirt, a long sleeve thermal shirt, a grey hooded sweatshirt, and white high-top tennis shoes. A

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More than two decades have passed since 17-year-old Joe Helt disappeared, but the sting of not knowing what happened to him still haunts family and friends. 

“It hurts to not know,” said Beth Churchill, his aunt.  “I’d like to feel that my sister got her answers.”

But sadly, she never did.  Leann Helt died of cancer in 2007, after spending much of her life searching for answers. 

“She didn’t want to give up hope. No one wants to lose a child but in the end she came to terms with it I think.”

On January 17, 1987, Helt was hanging out with his friends at the old Mount Cathalia lodge, a popular gathering spot.  According to police, Helt went for a ride with three friends.  But when their car got stuck in the snow near icy Sam’s Point Road, Helt decided to walk home, in the dark.  That was the last time anyone saw him. 

His friends made it home without incident but Helt seemingly disappeared.  State police sent a helicopter over the mountain to search for him, but one day after he went missing, the area was hit with a tremendous snowstorm. Many feared the snow may have buried any clues. 

“It extremely hampered the ability of the search efforts,” said Capt. Joseph Tripodo of the New York State Police.

Police say the three teen boys who went for a ride with Helt were never named as suspects in his disappearance.  No body, clothing or any personal belongings were ever recovered, and Helt's disappearance has become local folklore.

“People believe that he took off and never came back.  People believe he fell into a crevice,” said Jackie Mennella, a high school friend of Helts.  “There are a million stories.  What actually happened, I have no idea.”

Mennella and others have started a Facebook page, dedicated to finding the truth about Helt’s disappearance. 

“We’re really hoping for something to click in somebody’s head,” said Mennella.  “Maybe someone will say, 'Hey, wait a minute.  Maybe I should tell somebody this.'”

If you have any information you are urged to call state police in Ellenville at 845-626-2800. 
 

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