In the 10 days Mark and Brent Richards were lost in the Great Sacandaga Lake, their family had to contend with police suspicion along with the usual measures of uncertainty and grief.
“It was the worst 10 days of my life,” said Darla Richards, wife and mother of the two men. “I was out on the beach every day, sometimes in the middle of the night, asking the water, asking God: ‘What happened to them?’ ”
Those horrible days, she said, were made worse by the Sheriff’s Department’s eventual theory that Mark, 51, and Brent, 24, had not drowned, but simply skipped town.
The Broadalbin father and son launched their small jon boat just down the shore from the state-run Broadalbin access ramp May 18. When they didn’t return the next morning, Darla Richards reported them missing and went down to the launch site to investigate.
After five days and countless man hours of searching, Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey suggested they might have faked their own deaths.
“We’re thinking they might have just run away from home, if you will,” he told The Daily Gazette at the time.
At his suggestion, the boat and sonar searches were ended in favor of a more traditional investigation on land. Law enforcement subpoenaed credit card and cellphone records and questioned Darla Richards.
“I couldn’t understand,” she said. “They started asking me about life insurance policies — what does that have to do with my missing husband and son?”
When the two men’s bodies washed ashore Tuesday, Lorey said at a news conference that the investigation’s shift in focus had been prompted by reports that Mark and Brent had contacted family and friends via Facebook.
Ron Baker, Mark’s brother-in-law, said following such a nebulous lead was highly unprofessional. “We all know how easy it is to create a false Facebook account,” he said. “The fact that they put so much stock in social media is just shocking.”
Lorey did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.
While law enforcement investigated the case as if the men were still alive, Darla Richards and Baker knew otherwise.
On the Sunday night in the first hours of the search effort, Darla Richards found some floating debris in the water. One item specifically, a small bottle of fish scent, she recognized from her husband’s tackle box.
“That’s when she knew something was really wrong,” Baker said.
Beyond the fish scent, he said the two men had too much at home to run off as Lorey suggested. Specifically, Brent’s dog, a dachshund named Blue Eyes, was left at Darla’s house.
“That dog was the love of his life,” she said. “He would have brought it with him if he planned to run away or something.”
The family was so sure that the men were in the lake that Baker dragged his old kayak out of storage to search on his own after the state police divers went home.
“I paddled for hours,” he said. “At one point I had to stop looking just to stay upright in the 2-foot waves. That lake can get nasty.”
Darla said she’s still upset about Lorey implying her husband and son were on the run, but as the days of uncertainty rolled by, the family did consider his theory.
Baker drove up to a piece of disused land Brent owned in the town of Day to see if they were hiding out there for some reason. There was no sign of them.
By Tuesday, Darla Richards was desperate enough to consult a psychic. She was actually in Albany in a reading with Ann Fisher when news came that the bodies had washed up on shore.
“I must have called her 800 times on the way there,” Baker said. “Her phone was off but I just kept dialing.”
Baker is a self-described skeptic about psychics, but Fisher was correct.
“She said they were gone,” Darla said. “That a wave had tipped the boat and they never came up.”
Though the search parties did not find anything, Baker said the family is thankful for all the people who put in so many hours.
He said both men were cremated Thursday. There will be calling hours at Jeffords and Stewart Funeral Home in Broadalbin From 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday.