The search for missing Broadalbin residents Mark and Brent Richards has expanded from sonar maps of the Great Sacandaga Lake to credit card records of the father and son.
After four fruitless days patrolling the waters, Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey said he’s not sure the two men are even in the lake.
“We heard about this, and we all assumed they had been on the wrong end of an unfortunate accident,” he said. “Now we’re thinking they might have just run away from home, if you will.”
Mark Richards, 51, and his son Brent, 24, apparently launched their 8- or 10-foot flat-bottomed boat near the state-run Broadalbin boat launch at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. When they did not return in the evening, they were reported missing by Darla Richards, Mark’s wife and Brent’s mother. Their vehicle was found on MacVean Road near the public access, and a search began.
A few bobbers and a bait box were found floating off shore Sunday night. A larger search was launched Monday and continued with divers and state police helicopters, as well as Department of Environmental Conservation boats, for three full days.
Lorey said Thursday the search had been scaled back to one boat and will not continue into the weekend.
As days passed, something about the case started raising red flags in Lorey’s mind. He’s handled a half-dozen drownings in area lakes since becoming sheriff. In every case, he said, the victims eventually floated to the surface.
“I’ve never handled anything like this,” he said. “Usually when a body goes into cold water it will stay down for a while, but not this long. All the experts are telling me something should have popped up by now.”
Divers on the scene earlier in the search said the lake is about 30 feet deep on average, with a water temperature between 50 and 60 degrees at its bottom. Such temperatures don’t usually slow decomposition enough to keep a victim submerged so long, police said.
Over the coming days or weeks, the Sheriff’s Department will send out an occasional boat to see if anything has floated to the surface, but the focus of the investigation is shifting.
“We’re in the process of getting cellphone and credit card records,” Lorey said. “We’ll have to get a subpoena, so it could take some time.”
He would not comment Thursday on whether the father and son had a reason to run, or if there were any signs of kidnapping, saying only that investigators must consider every possibility, including insurance fraud.
“He’s not the type of guy to just split,” said Mike Cole, a longtime friend of Brent Richards. “If someone wanted to fight, he wouldn’t let himself get kicked around, but he’s not the type to get in trouble.”
But he also noted that Brent Richards had backwoods knowledge and experience and wouldn’t have let himself drown in 50-degree water.
“I think he and his dad are camping somewhere and will just turn up,” Cole said.
Lorey wasn’t as optimistic. Since the two went missing, he said, Darla Richards has been interviewed repeatedly; so far, there are no leads suggesting where the men might have gone or any sign of them on land. Lorey pointed out that aside from the car found on MacVean Road, there’s no indication they’re in the water, either.
“From everything their friends and family told us, they did all their fishing in two bays,” he said, “the one by the boat launch and the one immediately to the north. We’ve searched both of those bays, and half a mile up and down in both directions. There was nothing.”
At this point, he said, the cost of a continued search is too high when measured against the likelihood of success.