Joe Helt Goes Missing “Quietly Into the Bad Night”

Joe’s life on Friday January 16, 1987 seemed to mirror the words of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, whose poem, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night is eerily similar to a warning Joe may or may not have had….  However, more about this analogy toward the end of the story….   Joe’s ordeal remains a mystery after 25 years. That Friday night was the culmination of activities by a group of young men in their teens with one exception. “The Three Stooges,” as we will call them, were Kelly Diaz, age 16, Wade Marks, 18 years and John LaForge, age 21, who lived in Ellenville, New York (population 4,135 -2010)

Ellenville is characterized as “a village nestled between two mountain ranges” – the Catskill and Shawangnuk ranges in southwestern New York, about 90 miles northwest of New York City and 90 miles southwest of Albany.  Demographically, there are slightly more females than males (53% versus 47%;) with predominantly White and Hispanic residents numbering nearly 85%. In 2009, median wages were estimated at $37,712 annually, an increase of $10,000 in a decade.  Internet searches did not reveal any particular outstanding industry.

However, a “big drawing card” to the area, is the Ice Caves in Sam’s Point Preserve, off of Craggsmoor Road, east of Ellenville.  The ice caves are housed in the depths of its crevasses and is supposedly the greatest open fault in the United States, with sweeping views of Sam’s Point, gaining an elevation of 150 feet for a total elevation of 2230 feet. It also contains lush flowers, dwarf pines, blueberry and huckleberry fields.  Is it any wonder that the Nature Conservancy guards its contents meticulously? But, can we say the same for wayward hikers and those not wanting to be discovered??

In the 1980’s, the “hotspot party place” was the former Mount Cathalia Ski Lodge, in Cragsmoor, five miles south of Ellenville. In its heyday, Mount Cathalia was a thriving ski lodge with an adjacent building containing a full bar and fire pit. The lodge was originally built in the late 1800’s, known as Mount Meenagha… a virtual 500 acre compound complete with cottages, a bowling alley, library and a golf course.

In the early 1980’s an accidental fire occurred, partially burning the structure and it was abandoned except for partygoers.  IT WAS AFTER A PARTY IN THIS PLACE THAT JOE SAID GOODBYE TO LIFE AS HE KNEW IT!  To young guys living in a “not so swinging town” an abandoned spot was perfect for the usual unsavory activities, particularly the old fire pit.  Did Joe “pick the wrong taxi ride home” and did he pay with his life?  Yes… but not in the manner described by the “Three Stooges.”

Before Ladyjustice addresses the “Mystery Points” in the case, one must ask a few questions and tell about Joe himself…   Why oh why would a 21 year old be hanging around with 16 and 18 year olds? In addition to the obvious reason of probable immaturity, was John LaForge a self-styled “king of the hill” within the Ellenville teen scene?  Was he a “drug kingpin,” as other residents have attested that the “Stoogies” were dealing drugs? This may be a likely scenario….

Who Was Joe -The Young Man? 

According to former classmate Gina Schuster, he was selfless, always concerned for others welfare more than his own.  He made it his duty to make others feel better. As the oldest boy and one of four children, he took over the “man of the house role” at some point, assisting his mother with whom he was very close.  His two older sisters are Christina and Tracy while his younger brother is John. His work ethic was strong; He possessed the entrepreneurial spirit, in that he worked a part time job at a local auction house known as the Napanoch Auction Barn.  In fact, Joe was being groomed to take over the business from his boss, Vic at his anticipated retirement in a couple of years.

Reportedly Joe was a talented artist displaying his talent with very detailed illustrations of record album covers done “free hand from memory”.  Joe also was passionate about rock and heavy metal music, ranging in interest from KISS, to ACDC, to Metallica and Twisted Sister.  His temperament was upbeat and he was a jokester in a playful way, always watching over others.

So… What REALLY Happened to Joe that Night?

The truth of the matter was that it was a typical January Friday night in Ellenville.  The locals went to the Mount Cathalia Ski Lodge to hang out and party.  Joe mingled with a lot of people. It was never reported that he was drunk or without his faculties. He had a family to supervise and a job to report to the next night.  Typically he might stay overnight at a friend’s home if the evening got away from him and he couldn’t catch a ride.  In fact, that’s what his mother expected…

He was to catch a ride with the Three Stooges… the wrong guys that night. The fabricated story goes that the car got stuck in a ditch…. That Joe was upset with their failed attempts and just walked off  alone into the night 5 + miles while it was snowing RATHER THAN stay with the group and walk to one of two guy’s homes which were just  over two miles away. What was really going on? How were they interacting?  What made Joe, the level-headed guy who always comforted others want to leave independently? (If in fact he did leave of his own free will)

Ten Mysteries”

  • Disputed time line…LaForge claimed in a Times Herald article on January 20th that Marks called him at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 17th to report that Joe was missing.  IN ACTUALITY, the first person to discover that Joe was missing was Vic, (Joe’s boss) when Joe did not report for work between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m. Joe’s mother learned for the first time  that Joe was missing when Vic called her sometime between  5 and 5:30pm….   (LJ- Were the Stooges trying to get their stories straight?);

  • Three Stooges are not suspects… Ellenville police and the New York State Police never considered the three guys as suspects and therefore have not pursued them for information then… or over the many years. To this day, the new Private Investigator, Robert Rahn, a former New York Police Lieutenant who has taken on the case, was forbidden to speak to Diaz, Marks and LaForge!  Furthermore, he has been denied access to old records concerning the case.  How’s that for collaborative effort??   What skeletons do they not want revealed?

 

  • The walking distance traveled by Joe in order to take refuge from the “car breakdown” and the bad weather does not make sense. Everyone who knew him steadfastly maintains that he would never have walked over five miles to return to Ellenville as it snowed, when two participants lived just over two miles away;

 

  •  Drug Deal Gone Bad? It was well known that the Three Stooges were into drug dealing.  Whether it occurred in the presence of Joe and a fight ensued is anyone’s guess.  Did Joe get caught up in a transaction and paid with his life?   Did he witness something and had to be silenced for good?  Was he beat up and “had to be stashed away?”

 

  • What Tow Truck? According to the Stooges account, a tow truck was called and the car was removed.  IN FACT, no record of an official tow was found by any local company. Although there was a record amount of snowfall in the days after the presumed murder, a search was conducted in the area where the car had supposedly gotten stuck.  No indications – no frozen ruts or moved earth were noted whatsoever. The official search was called off after six days, in part due to the two feet of snowfall;

 

  • Lack of adequate search for clues…. It was reported on Crimewire that a canvas of the area for completed. Were search dogs used? It was reported that a detailed grid search was never performed AND….. Why was the remaining structure known as Mount Cathalia ordered condemned and demolished on Friday January 23, 1987…just one week after the event WITHOUT SEARCHING FOR PHYSICAL EVIDENCE or FORENSIC INFORMATION?

 

  • Dirty politics?  It was learned that a father of one of “The Stooges” was/is a  judge.  Were the police officers involved then and still on the force in another capacity now complicit in a drug ring or cover-up orchestrated by the judge?

 

  • No illumination in the area where Joe was last seen…  How could someone determine what direction Joe may have walked, if the group split up at ten and twenty minute intervals as reported without a way to view and track movements? Even with snow flurries, footprints may have been covered over with accumulating snow;

 

  •  Posters torn down…Prior to a memorial vigil on the 24th anniversary of Joe’s disappearance, posters around town also went missing – were torn down – sometimes within an hour and up to 24 hours!  RED FLAG! RED FLAG!  Someone knows something… Someone is angry… Someone feels threatened that they will be discovered.  You can’t hide forever!

 

  • The Ice Caves, at Sam’s Point Preserve (LJ- Sam’s Point Road was the road travelled for” a joy ride” not far from the party at the ski lodge, according to “the Stooges.”)  The Ice Caves are the largest known ‘Open Faults” in the U.S. – … lots of crevasses and spaces to hide things… like remains, perhaps. Were these caves ever thoroughly searched with technology available today?  

 

  • The Latest News… According to Private Investigator Rahn, the most current news is that the New York State Cold Case Unit has agreed to begin investigating this case. Bob Rahn sincerely wants to build bridges with them in the sprit of collaborative effort.  We can only hope that they are more interested in solving this case at long last… rather than covering up past mistakes and corruption!

 

It’s funny how lives may parallel each other….  Getting back to poet Dylan Thomas who observed his father grow progressively weaker and frailer with age…  The speaker in the poem, “Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night” tries to convince his father to fight impending death. Ladyjustice wonders if Joe Helt even had a chance to fight the forces that caused his death. Was he too beaten and battered by these “friends” until he was too frail to fight? Was Joe a good man, a wild man trying to defend himself or a man meant for the grave?

 

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day?

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight,

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Dylan Thomas (1951)

 

It is politically correct to apply the saying “It takes a Village” to almost anything and everything worth doing these days…   In this case, it really does take a village… namely the Village of Ellenville and surrounding towns to step up for justice…. Step up for Joe Helt!

***If you have any information regarding this case, do the right thing ….follow your heart and conscience. All information can be reported anonymously and remains confidential   

Contact:

1) Robert H. Rahn,  Director of Investigations      

 Management Resources Ltd of New York

Tel: 845-781-7233
Toll-Free: 800-490-2267
Fax: 845-738-9021                                                                                                                                         

2) Susan Murphy Milano

murphymilano@gmail.com or

Crime Wire Investigative Bureau

312.675.2254

Email:   thecrimewire@gmail.com

 

Resources: Crimewire.com; Facebook Justice for Joe, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; Murphmilanojournal,blogspot.com; Citydata.com Ellenville New York; readyhiker.com;  Wikipedia 1)Sam’s Ice Caves Trail; 2 “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”; Recordonline.com; Village of Ellenville Portal; E-mail and Verbal accounts from Gina Schuster, Robert Rahn and Susan Murphy Milano   

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  1. #1 by DW on January 27, 2012 - 4:31 am

    There are actually two sets of ice caves at Sam’s Point. The “open fault” is over 4 miles away from Sam’s Point and at least a mile thought steep terrain off of a carriage road from the other side of the mountain. The closer one is a trail through the cliff face and not that large and well traveled. Althought neither would be accessible in winter in the dark.

  2. #2 by Donna R. Gore on January 28, 2012 - 2:19 pm

    Good Morning DW: Thanks so much for the information! This could be very useful information should Joe’s supporters and Bob Rahn be able to register Joe’s case with the CUE Center for Missing Persons. I was told that searching these faults are “doable.” I’m confident that this will create more information and interest! Stay tuned!
    Regards,
    Donna

  3. #3 by Fred on February 12, 2012 - 5:31 pm

    It would take hours and hours to reach the “other” ice caves in the winter in the dark from Sams Point. You likely might die or be seriously injured trying. People have done this in broad daylight in the summer while perfectly sober in the Shawangunks The question is WHY would you do it if you were Joe Helt? It’s not impossible that someone could or would hide a body in those caves…but again, WHY would you when people do occasioanlly go there? People probably have been there numerous times since Joe disappeared. If you wanted to hide a body you’d choose a crevasse deep in the woods or the brush off a trail where you could wedge it in nice and tight in a place that wasn’t particularly attractive to anyone. It might not be discovered for century unless someone happened to bushwhack far off the beaten trail. . This is not easy in any season due to many reasons. But in the winter it could actually be easier because of the ability to slide the body through the snow somehow, and to have it be frozen so it doesn’t dlop around. This could have even been done days or weeks after an actual killing. When you look at it in this practical and raw fashion it opens up the possibilities tremendously.

  4. #4 by Vivi Lee on May 15, 2012 - 7:26 pm

    It seems pretty open and shut. He decided to walk home and having been drinking, wandered off the trail and died of exposure. Animals took care of the remains.

  5. #5 by jan16th1987 on June 10, 2012 - 8:39 pm

    Vivi, witnesses have come forward who have direct knowledge of the involvement the three have in Joe’s demise. Several people who had direct conversations with one or more of the three where the three admitted that they lied in their initial account of that night have come forward. Witnesses who had direct conversations and written correspondence with the three (and others who have direct knowledge of that night) have given signed statements as to the incriminating information and admissions the three gave them. People who witnessed the physical confrontation between Joe and the three that night have come forward. The lead investigators are currently working on these solid leads as we speak……

  6. #6 by gschust on October 6, 2012 - 11:04 pm

    WITNESS STATEMENT HEATS UP JOSEPH HELT CASE: JOE WAS KILLED BY THOSE WHO WERE LAST WITH HIM IN A FIGHT OVER MARIJUANA
    **Proof that the allegations are true**

    One of the three told her “Joe is dead. He’s not coming back.”
    She gave this statement to school officials back in 1987 immediately after it happened. She was told that her statement would be given to law enforcement. She recently reached out to Joe’s family after they asked for any witnesses who may have given testimony years ago to please contact them so that Joe’s family could make sure that any and all available information was in the hands of law enforcement. The witness gave a signed, sworn statement to the lead investigator, who told her “We believe your statement is true.”

    Read the story, watch the video of the witness interview with CBS NEWS:
    VIDEO OF THE WITNESS’ INTERVIEW WITH CBS NEWS:

    CBS NEWS ARTICLE:
    http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/08/02/seen-at-11-finally-a-break-in-a-quarter-century-old-upstate-n-y-cold-case/

    Police state “We believe your statement”- direct quote to the witness AND WITNESS OFFERED TO TAKE A POLYGRAPH TO PROVE THE ACCURACY OF HER STATEMENT (something that is in process and will be done as soon as the arrangements are made. She is doing so ON HER OWN accord, to prove that she is telling the truth!)

  7. #7 by Kelly Diaz on November 11, 2012 - 4:10 pm

    That sure is strange, cause I swore I heard Sherri say, I don’t think that they believe me. Plus they said, Investigators remain unimpressed. So why would you post this, Gina!?!?! >>> WITNESS STATEMENT HEATS UP JOSEPH HELT CASE: JOE WAS KILLED BY THOSE WHO WERE LAST WITH HIM IN A FIGHT OVER MARIJUANA **Proof that the allegations are true** or this too >>> Police state “We believe your statement”- direct quote to the witness. On CBS News, they said, police remain unimpressed, NOT Impressed. If the police don’t believe her, then why would you believe her too if the police don’t!?!?! School records showed we never had class together either.

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