A search with few clues

Posted Dec. 04, 2008, at 9:42 p.m.

LUBEC, Maine — Officers from the Maine State Police and Marine Patrol expanded their search Thursday to include Quoddy Head State Park while looking for clues to the disappearance of a 27-year-old periwinkle harvester.

The search for Kristopher Fergerson began around 10 p.m. Tuesday after he disappeared while harvesting shellfish informally called wrinkles in the area of the Channel Light.

Known locally as the Sparkplug, the Channel Light is about a mile from the state park.

Fergerson was reported missing by his housemate Dennis Knox, 47. The two men, along with Knox’s girlfriend, share a trailer on South Lubec Road.

The Lubec Channel is popular with harvesters of periwinkles, a small, edible species of gilled snail found in coastal areas from Maine to Virginia, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Pickers either go by boat or walk out onto the tidal flats.

On Tuesday night, Knox and Fergerson had gone by foot to the flats off Lower Water Street, in what is known as the Brownville section of Lubec.

Knox told police that he and Fergerson had been picking wrinkles when the tide started to come in. He said he told Fergerson to quit and return to the car, but that when he turned around Fergerson wasn’t behind him.

He said he could hear him hollering. He said he believed Fergerson had been caught in the rising tide and had gone to higher ground to await rescue by the Coast Guard.

Knox then went to the nearby U.S. Customs office at the foot of the Roosevelt-Campobello International Bridge to summon help.

Police said little Thursday about why they had expanded the search area.

“This is basically an area of interest to us right now and we are basically continuing a multiagency effort between Marine Patrol, Sheriff’s Department and state police to combine resources and try and expedite locating this guy if we can,” said Sgt. John Cote of the Maine State Police criminal investigation division on Thursday. CID was called in to investigate on Wednesday.

“Basically detectives and especially scene-work guys — a lot of times they can pick up footwork impressions and other things that somebody may not recognize. Anything we can do to see if our missing person made it to this area on foot,” Cote said.

Cote said police had received tips about sightings of Fergerson. “We haven’t received any tips that bring him out of this general area,” he said. “But we have had some reported sightings that we are trying to punch into a timeline to see how plausible those sightings are compared to other events that we have that we can confirm.”

It was unclear Thursday whether investigators believed that the currents in the area might have carried Fergerson’s body to the state park.

If Fergerson drowned, Cote speculated it could take up to 10 days before his body was recovered. “It is more of an expanded timeline because of the cold water temperatures depending again upon the depth of the body. And again that is all presumptive if he was not able to make it off the island [sandbar] to some place that we weren’t able to locate,” Cote said.

Washington County sheriff’s Sgt. Jack Fuller was the first on the scene Tuesday night.

Fuller mobilized more than 60 law enforcement officials and volunteers along with two helicopters, boats and ATVs, to search for Fergerson. The search continued into Wednesday.

The ground search was called off around 11 a.m. while the U.S. Coast Guard called off its search around 4 p.m. that day.

Though the wind and seas were calm for the search Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard said that the 20-foot tidal range and 6-knot current, one of the strongest in the country, made it difficult at times for boats to reach the area. Air temperatures at 38 degrees and water temperatures at 48 degrees posed additional concerns during the search, the Coast Guard said.

Members of the Marine Patrol, Sheriff’s Department and state police continued the search Thursday in the Quoddy Head State Park area and were expected to continue looking today.

Although questions have been raised about the legality of harvesting periwinkles at night, Marine Patrol Officer Russell Wright said Thursday it was not unusual. “There are a lot of guys that do that,” he said. “They work on the tide, the low-grade tides. So sometimes if the tide falls at night they’d be harvesting at night.”

Police did find wrinkles in the trunk of Knox’s car. “There were a couple of bags in the trunk,” Russell said.

While police were investigating Fergerson’s disappearance, Patsy Kelley, who owns the trailer Fergerson had rented, said she had learned just recently that Knox and his girlfriend also were living there.

Kelley said she had given police permission Thursday to search the trailer, which she said she had rented solely to Fergerson. She also said she wanted Knox and his girlfriend out of the trailer.

“My lease is between Kris Fergerson and myself. These people are squatters or trespassers or interlopers,” she said.

Knox could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

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