40 years later, case of missing boy remains an Adirondacks mystery

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

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Parents Continue to Hope for Lost Son

Legg family believes Doug is alive and with someone

The parents of Douglas Legg still believe he is alive and may be with someone. Flyers describing the 8 year old youngster and asking anyone who has any knowledge of where he might be to call his parents are being distributed by Mr. and Mrs. William Legg of 7001 River Road, Baldwinsville throughout the Adirondacks area where the boy disappeared July 10.

Mrs. Legg said yesterday that the flyers are – light posters – have produced no results so far. She said she and her husband “personally” took some of the flyers to various locations in the rugged mountain area near Newcomb. Others have been mailed out. “And we’re mailing out more.” she said.

Douglas, 8, was last seen on July 10 when a brother and a cousin spotted him on a ridge about 200 yards from the main lodge on Melvin estate. The boy’s disappearance triggered a massive search.

For 3 weeks, thousands of persons tramped through dense woods, swamps, and steep hills in the 13,000 acre Melvin estate in a vain effort to find the boy. Searchers employed air-craft mounted infrared cameras, dog teams and even a clairvoyant in hopes of finding some trace of Douglas. None of the devices turned up any solid evidence of what happened to Douglas.

The Melvin family paid airfare from California for members of several crack mountain rescue teams who eventually described the terrain around Newcomb as some of the toughest they’d ever searched. A Special Forces Unit from Massachusetts participated in the search as did hundreds of military reservists, airmen, police, forest rangers and other experienced woodsmen.

No sign of the boy was ever found and the search was called off August 1. The flyers include a front and profile picture of Douglas, a description of the clothing the youngster wore when he was last seen, and an appeal to anyone who knows of his whereabouts to call his parents collect at their Baldwinsville home.

One bundle of posters was mailed to Supervisor, Patrick Quinn of the Town of Newcomb, along with a letter asking Quinn to distribute them at gasoline service stations, stores, campsites and other locations in the area. In the letter to Quinn, the boy’s father told the official, “My wife and I believe our son is alive and with someone.”

Mrs. Legg yesterday refused to discuss the flyers than to confirm they are being distributed and how – and that the family has not heard from anyone about the poster appeal.

Newcomb town supervisor Liblern Yandon, who had been a leader in the search said he had not seen any of the posters in Newcomb, but that he understood they had been distributed in surrounding areas.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he remarked. “Maybe, they (The Legg Family) want to exhaust all possibilities. I suppose when there’s any hope at all you try everything.” Yandon believes that Newcomb may have been left off the distribution list because the people there are already familiar with the boy’s physical appearance.

Source: Syracuse Herald American, September 12, 1971