Missing Teenager Search Continues
By Tyler M.
On the night of January 16, 1987 17 year old Joe Helt left a local party with three acquaintances and was never seen again. It has been 25 years and still no evidence of what happened to him.
The Friday night he disappeared was a pretty typical night for a teenager in Ellenville, NY. There was partying at the local abandoned Mount Cathalia ski lodge where many people saw Helt get into a car with three men, John LaForge, Wade Marks, and Kelly Diaz. The last eye witness account of his whereabouts was the top of Sam’s Point Preserve where Laforge’s Subuaru got stuck in the snow.
Helt and his three companions were enroute to Marks’ house, five miles from Sam’s Point and a quarter mile from Mount Cathalia, when the car got stuck. The boys tried to free the car from the left ditch where it was stuck in six to eight inches of powder that lined the outside edges of the snow packed road. Helt, who was close friends with Kelly, started walking down the road with nothing but a camouflaged jacket lined with a sweatshirt, high top shoes and a Walkman. The three men continued to try and free the car, but after 15-20 minutes gave up and walked the same direction that Helt had gone.
The three men made it safely back to the Marks’ house never saw Helt again. Diaz and Marks remarked that they would jog for a while, call Helts name, walk and repeat until they arrived at their destination where the three where going to sleep over. Laforge, who was older than the other boys, did not plan to stay the night at Marks’ house.
When Helt failed to show at work the next day at the Napancoh Auction Barn, the owner called Helts’ mother and notified her of his absence. She contacted the police after she checked around for him.
Search efforts where focused on Sam’s Point Preserve and teams geared up during the night and despite snow flurries to searched for evidence of Helts’ whereabouts. Over the next two days a large snow storm hit the area, erasing all foot prints or evidence of direction. For six days NY State Forest Rangers, State Police helicopters, K-9 search teams, local police, local volunteer firefighters and numerous friends, relatives and neighbors investigated the area, but due to lack of evidence and extreme conditions the efforts were called off.
Many officials are focusing efforts to the different paths and trails that the delirious Helt could have taken. The use of alcohol and marijuana mixed with below freezing temperatures made for lethal conditions. The 45 minute walk from Sam’s Point peak to Diaz’s house is a reasonable walk for somebody prepared for the conditions and not under the influence. The switchback road that Helt walked gave many opportunities for hypothermia effects to set in and allow for a deviated path into the woods or snowmobile trails that led even deeper into the woods.
Speculation around the town are common and some are suspicious. The NY State Police have labeled Joe Helt’s disappearance as a lost persons due to the lack of evidence pointing towards foul play. Some former students state that there was a small altercation between Helt and the other three boys about a marijuana deal that almost turned physical. Ranger DET report seeing no evidence of tire trails at the apparent scene.
Family School Dog Corps students participated in a search for evidence of the lost boy. The search was a joint effort by Sam’s Point Search and Rescue, Eagle Valley Search and Rescue and New Jersey Search and Rescue.
The three friends, John, Wade, and Kelly have suffered with the unbearable load of losing a friend. For 27 years this tragedy has been a mystery in Ellenville, NY and many friends, family and alumni want to know what happened to Mr. Helt. If you have a tip, no matter how small you may think it to be, we urge you to call the lead investigator in Joe’s case, Mr. Thomas Fortuna of the NYS Police. His direct phone number is 845-626-2863. You can also reach the private investigator working with Joe’s family, Mr. Robert Rahn, at 1-800-490-2267.