Joseph Helt: Missing from New York, since 1987

Joe Helt

8/10/12 UPDATE: Gina did an interview with me a year ago about Joe (scroll about mid way down to read that interview) and now I have heard that a person has come forward with information about Joe. 

There has been what was called “third-party” information brought to the attention of the police before, but nothing ever came of it.  I am not sure if this info below is one of the original “third-party” conversations that Gina mentioned when I talked to her last year, or if it is something new.  Also, you will see an July 19 update below from CNN where the police told the family that they were “are swamped”, “too busy” and “are going on vacation again next week”, therefore they do not have the time to follow up on solid leads which were brought to their attention 7 weeks ago.” 

Here is the new info:

“Joe and (the friend) got in a fight over weed and (the friend) pushed him off the mountain,” said Shari Schwartz, who sat behind Joe in class.
Schwartz said she heard two classmates talking about Joe and that he was missing during class on Jan. 21.  She asked them when Joe was coming back and they said he wasn’t because he was dead, said Schwartz.
The other classmate  “told him to shut the * up and pulled him out of the room,” said Schwartz.
Schwartz promptly reportedly the conversation to the Ellenville High School principal, but she said the information never made its way into police files.
“It was brushed under the rug,” Schwartz said.
 “Finally, after all these years, somebody has come forward (with information),” said Bob Rahn, an ex-NYPD homicide detective assisting the family.

7/19/12  UPDATE:  An interesting article came out concerning the police investigating Joe’s case.  Click here to read.

This interview below is originally posted on the Examiner.  There is a possibility that Joseph is still out there or someone somewhere knows something about Joe and his disappearance.

The funny thing about cold cases, is that they can be solved because people will finally come forward after many years to tell what they know.  I am hoping that is the case, here.

Interview:

Gina Schuster is a friend and classmate of missing Joseph Helt who disappeared on January 16, 1987.

Gina and Joe both attended Ellenville High School in Ellenville, New York, when Joe disappeared, and Gina never forgot him.  She is doing all she can now, to bring attention to Joe’s disappearance. 

 I spoke with Gina and she agreed to do an interview and let all my readers know about Joe’s story.

Examiner:  What did you hear about Joe’s disappearance?

Gina:  On January 16, 1987, Joe went out late that night partying with friends at a local party spot, the remnants of the old Mount Cathalia Ski Lodge in Cragsmoor NY (which is just outside of Ellenville NY). Joe left the party to take a ride with three acquaintances, Kelly Diaz, Wade Marks and John “JP” LaForge. According to these acquaintances, their car got stuck in a ditch on Sam’s Point Road and Joe got frustrated so he left to walk back to Ellenville. Kelly and Wade left about 20 minutes later, walking the same way that Joe did. John left 10 minutes after that and walked the short distance back to his home in Cragsmoor. Marks, Diaz and LaForge say that the last time they saw Joe, he was walking away from them when the car got stuck in the ditch.

Examiner:  Who reported him missing? 

Gina:  On January 17th when Joe failed to show up for his shift at the Napanoch Auction Barn in Napanoch, his boss, Vic, called his mother, Lee Ann. Lee Ann checked around for Joe and when it became apparent that Joe was nowhere to be found, she contacted Ellenville Police. The police and rescue workers soon scoured the Cragsmoor area looking for Joe.

Examiner:  What was found during the search?

Gina:  Unfortunately, as the rescue workers made it up to the mountain a major snow storm was moving into the area. Over the next several days, over two feet of snow fell which hampered the search. Rescue workers worked through the storm for six days searching for any trace of Joe, but nothing was ever found. They called off the search after six days saying that if Joe was up there on the mountain, there was no way he could possibly survive.

Examiner:  Was that the last time anyone searched for Joe?

Gina:   Search teams did go back up on the mountain in the spring after the snow melted and the ground thawed, but no trace of Joe was ever found.

Examiner:  What have you heard might have happened to Joe?

Gina:   Rumors have flown all around the Village of Ellenville over the years, pointing toward Kelly, Wade and JP. There have been several people who have come forward with information that contradicts the story told by these three; however, the information is “3rd party” information. For example, one woman came forward stating that she witnessed a conversation that Kelly Diaz had with her ex-husband where Kelly stated that the story about the car getting stuck in the ditch was just a cover story. We have even had a couple of Joe’s family members and a friend of his father’s come forward with information that contradicts the story told by these three acquaintances.

Examiner:  Do you think there was anything different that could have been done in his case?

Gina:  Joe’s case was never added to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children until October 2010, 23 years AFTER he was missing. His case was never added to the NYS Police list and website of missing persons in NYS until April 22, 2011, 24 years AFTER he went missing.

Examiner:  Has anyone been a suspect or given a lie detector test?

Gina:  The investigator in charge of the investigation at the moment tells us that the 3 individuals who were the last ones with Joe just before he disappeared all took polygraph tests in 1987, however we’ve received other information from someone else connected with the case who told us that one of the individuals, Wade Marks, the one whose father mysteriously packed him up and shipped him to Tennessee to live with his mother within weeks of Joe’s disappearance, REFUSED to take a polygraph test in 1987.

Examiner:  Is there anything that you would like people to know about Joe’s case?

Gina:  The investigator in charge of the case will NOT allow Joe’s aunt, Beth Churchill (who is the family member contact for Joe as both of his parent passed away in 2007 and 2008) to see the police report taken in 1987 or anything at all about the case. We’ve been told by several missing persons advocates that Joe’s family has the right to ask for the original police report, however, they have been denied access.We just sent in a FOIL request to the NYS Police records officer in Albany NY for these records and await their reply. In a taped interview with NBC news in February (a link is listed below) a NYS Police spokesperson states that the 3 individuals who were the last persons with Joe just before he mysteriously disappeared without a trace are not now and were never considered suspects or persons of interest. This we just do not understand! Another thing to consider is that the father of one of the three (John LaForge’s father) was an influential town judge at the time of Joe’s disappearance. The current Ellenville Chief of Police, Phil Mattricion, claims that Joe’s case has continually been looked at and investigated several times a year over the years. Yet nothing seems to have been done. The three who were with Joe that night were never reinterviewed, the police didn’t reinterview Joe’s family over the years and we are not really sure if any additional search efforts were ever made. No one ever contacted Crime Stoppers, they never contacted the media in an attempt to bring any new leads in Joe’s case.

Examiner:  There has been renewed interest in Joe’s case.  Can you tell me about it?

Gina: In November, 2010, a Facebook support group was created called “In Support of Joe Helt“.  Since November 2010, the group has grown to over 500 members and the group held a candlelight vigil for Joe on the 24th anniversary of his disappearance, January 16, 2011.  A media campaign was launched in an effort to help Joe’s case. Since then several newspaper stories have been written about Joe in papers such as the Times Herald Record, the Shawangunk Journal and the Poughkeepsie Journal. TV news stations also picked up the story. Hudson Valley Cable News Channel YNN ran three news stories on Joe’s case, and NBC news in NYC also ran a segment. His case was even showcased in an episode of Nancy Grace‘s America’s Missing: 50 People in 50 Days.

Examiner:  Any last words?

Gina:  It is our hope that we can bring peace to Joe, to his family, to his friends and to the community of Ellenville/Cragsmoor as a whole.

If you know something or have any information about Joe Helt, please contact me here or at the Examiner (you can remain anonymous) or the  NYS Police at (845) 626-2853.

Here is Joe’s website for more information.

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Jerrie Dean, who is retired from Federal Law Enforcement, is the Founder of Missing Persons of America.

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