As news broke that skeletal remains found in the western Maine mountains Friday are likely those of a hiker who vanished more than two years ago, a former game warden said he isn’t hopeful the state’s only other missing Appalachian Trail hiker will ever be found.
In July 1983, Dave Sewall led a brief and unsuccessful search for Jessie Hoover, 54, of White Settlement, Texas, who had come to Maine that spring to hike the iconic trail from Katahdin to its southern terminus at Springer Mountain in Georgia.
“I think unfortunately the odds would be very, very slim” that Hoover will be found, Sewall said. “But miracles do happen.”
When Sewall began his search for the missing Texan in July, he learned Hoover had tried to climb Mount Katahdin on May 20, 1983, but Baxter State Park rangers had counseled her on the difficulty of the task and turned her away because they felt she wasn’t prepared.
At the time, Hoover was ill-prepared for the hike, wearing blue jeans, a blue shirt, a blue windbreaker and heavy boots, carrying a blue knapsack with little camping gear and reportedly only beef jerky for food, according to Sewall’s 1983 investigation report.
Sewall tracked Hoover to the Abol Bridge on the Golden Road, where an attendant at the old Abol gatehouse told him Hoover had passed through in May headed in the direction of the trailhead of the 100 Mile Wilderness, the most remote stretch of the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail.
The search eventually was called off because nearly six weeks had passed since Hoover was last seen and the area in which she vanished is some of the most remote and inaccessible land in the state.
Ever since her disappearance, Sewall has wondered what happened to Hoover. But as the years have passed, he said it’s unlikely we’ll ever know. Sewall said he was “surprised” to learn that Largay’s remains may have been discovered because he said the odds are so small that a person will be found the longer he or she is missing.
“I’ve never located the remains of someone who has been missing a [long] period of time,” he said. “It happens, but I’ve never been involved.”
Sewall doubts Hoover’s remains would be identifiable after so many years. He said the best hope of identifying Hoover would be to find her gear, though her belongings would be long buried.
Cases such as those of Largay and Hoover in which someone is missing for years aren’t common, according to a 2012 warden service search and rescue report. About 95 percent of missing persons are found within 12 hours and 98 percent are found within 24 hours, the report states.
Only 1 percent of all people who go missing in the Maine woods are never found, according to the report.
Sewall recalled only three searches he conducted during his tenure with the warden service in which he failed to find a missing person. In each case, neither bodies nor belongings ever turned up once the search ended, he said.
Between 2 million and 3 million people hike on the Appalachian Trail each year, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database lists 11,676 open missing person cases, of which the only people who have gone missing on the Appalachian Trail are Hoover and Largay.
Hoover’s case with the state police remains open, according to a 1983 police report.
Attempts to reach Hoover’s family in Texas on Friday were unsuccessful.