July 15, 2011 3:57 pm • DON LEHMAN
What happened to Douglas Legg?
Four decades after the disappearance of the 8-year-old boy triggered one of the biggest missing persons searches in the region, it remains one of the biggest mysteries in the southern Adirondacks.
It was 40 years ago this week that Douglas disappeared while walking through woods to his family’s seasonal home on what is now the Santanoni Preserve in Newcomb.
He and some relatives were headed out for a hike on July 10, 1971, when an uncle told Douglas to walk back to the camp to get long pants to protect his legs from poison ivy.
It was just a short distance and a straight walk down a path, but the boy — described as an avid hiker and “mini woodsman” in media accounts from the time — did not meet back up with his family and was never seen again.
More than 600 searchers, both professional and volunteered, combed miles of woods for 6 weeks. Helicopters and U.S. Air Force planes equipped with infrared equipment to seek body heat were used as well.
But not a trace of the Syracuse-area boy was ever found.
Long Lake resident and Adirondack historian Phil Terrie was among those who took part in the search, after the owner of the summer camp where he worked volunteered counselors to help out the day after the boy went missing.
Fliers were posted all over the region, and at every trailhead in the High Peaks, as the dragnet widened through the summer.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Terrie said.
As the search continued without any clues being found, rumors flew about what could have happened, with accusatory fingers pointed at relatives, friends and others.
“There are all kinds of absurd, ugly stories,” Terrie said.
But the police theory all along has been that Douglas got lost, and in the unforgiving woods of the Adirondacks, in an area rife with swamps, bogs and other areas that could swallow a young boy whole.
“It is such a wilderness there,” said State Police Senior Investigator Patrick Kelleher, who is overseeing the investigation as it heads into a fifth decade. “Over the years we’ve heard different things, but none of them have led us to the conclusion that he was kidnapped and murdered.”
Investigators have occasionally run down leads in the case that have come in in recent years.
In 1993, a lake bed in Lewis County was searched based on a woman’s claim that a boy had been kidnapped, killed and buried there, but nothing was found.
An island on Newcomb Lake was also searched, according to State Police.
“We’ve followed leads that have come in over the years but none of them have panned out to be anything,” Kelleher said.
Many of Douglas’ relatives have died in the years that have passed, including his father. The family sold the property months after the boy’s disappearance.
The disjointed initial search effort was credited for prompting the state Department of Environmental Conservation to put more money into more thorough search-and-rescue coordination.
For more information, click on newyorkstatemissingpersons.ning.com/photo/douglas-j-legg-oswego-county or www.doenetwork.org/cases/3370dmny.html