Texas EquuSearch, the organization involved in some of the most publicized missing persons cases in recent memory, will be in Johnstown in early April to look for 36-year-old Kellisue Ackernecht.
Ackernecht has been missing since Oct. 1, when her 1998 Saturn was found burning around 2 a.m. in the parking area at Frog Hollow at the end of West Montgomery Street. No one reported seeing her after she left work around 10 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Rite Aid on Route 30 in Amsterdam.
As friends and family members await the search, they are also planning a spaghetti dinner benefit for EquuSearch, set for 5 to 8 p.m. May 4 at Lombardo’s Pizzeria in St. Johnsville. Meals, including takeouts, are $11. A 50/50 raffle will also be conducted.
Kellisue Ackernecht’s husband, Jayson Ackernecht, is among those organizing the benefit. Fort Plain residents Kalley Lee and Deb Walsh and Kellisue Ackernecht’s brother, Thomas Kilcullen, are also working on the dinner.
Jayson Ackernecht said he is now taking a leadership role in the search effort, after backing off last fall, when some of his wife’s relatives suggested he was responsible for the disappearance.
“Not a damn thing,” he told The Gazette on Monday, when asked if he had anything to do with his wife becoming a missing person.
“We have no clue about what happened … it’s a mystery,” he said. “I was home sound asleep with my daughter … I waited until midnight and then I went to bed,” he said. Usually, he said, “she was home by 10:30.”
Ackernecht, who stopped talking to reporters in the days following his wife’s disappearance, said he remains alienated from his wife’s family. “I don’t have contact with any of them,” he said.
Kilcullen said he welcomes EquuSearch, an organization with a wealth of experience. “They may know where to look,” Kilcullen said.
He said he anticipates the search area will be a six-mile radius around the site where the car was parked. If his sister is in the area, he said, it is probable her body would be found in the vicinity of the car.
If she is alive, as even some investigators contend, “it seems awful odd there have been no phone calls,” Kilcullen said. He said he is certain if his sister relocated she would have called him or another family member.
“We’d kind of like some closure … is she around or isn’t she?” Kilcullen said.
Lee said she volunteered for this effort out of gratitude to the donors and volunteers who aided her family when her 4-year-old daughter, Alexandra Handy, was diagnosed with leukemia. The child is now in remission and doing well, her mother said.
“I reached out to Jayson,” Lee said, calling the situation “very sad.” After talking to Ackernecht, she said she does not consider him a suspect. “I don’t think Jayson did anything; he really misses her. When he talks about her he gets very emotional,” Lee said.
Lee said EquuSearch did not request the fundraiser. “They’re not expecting anything,” she said.
Johnstown Police Chief Greg Horning said his detectives have followed every lead in the case, but have hit some dead ends.
He said he expects to coordinate search activities with officials of EquuSearch and said anticipates a team effort that may “find something.”
Johnstown police, with assistance of other departments and state forest rangers, conducted a number of searches in the area where the car burned, along the Cayadutta Creek valley and surrounding, mostly overgrown former farmland.
While detectives have yet to develop information that may solve the case, Horning said the investigation has eliminated many possibilities.
“Until we have definitive answers, we’re still treating it as though she is alive,” Horning said.
With so much time elapsed without an indication his wife is alive, Ackernecht said he is losing hope.
“I hate to say it, but my feeling is, yeah, but where,” Ackernecht said, conceding the search may now be to recover a body.
EquuSearch was founded in 2000 near Galveston.
The organization’s Web site said it has about 1,000 members and conducts searches on land and in water using a variety of resources including dog teams, horse and rider teams, planes, a drone and helicopters.
EquuSearch is also equipped with the latest technology.
EquuSearch officials did not return a call for comment by late afternoon.