Retired MDOT employee, missing since April, found dead in Pryors

2014-05-29T15:00:00Z 2014-06-01T13:25:13Z Retired MDOT employee, missing since April, found dead in PryorsBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Jane Kelly received the news she was half-expecting to come but completely dreading.

Her husband, Joe Kelly, who had been missing since April 14 was found by search crews in the Pryor Mountains on Wednesday. He had died of hypothermia.

The news has left her heartbroken. Joe, 59, had retired from the state highway department last year and the two had plans to make the most of their newfound free time.

On Thursday, Jane visited the funeral home to make arrangements for Joe’s body and spent much of her time on the phone as friends and family called or texted with messages of sympathy and support.

They talked a lot about Joe. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, who was “very loving, caring and generous.” Jane described him as a smart guy, which made his disappearance all the more troubling. And devastating.

The search for her husband had been going since April 14, when Joe Kelly grabbed the keys to his Ford F-150 and left the house at 3:30 p.m. He had told Jane he wanted to go run errands and Jane told him to wait a minute and she’d join him. But five minutes later he was gone, she said.

He gassed up his truck at a West End convenience store and then topped it off a few minutes later at a downtown gas station. A few days later, a motorist thought he had spotted Joe’s truck headed west toward Columbus on Interstate 90.

And that was the last record they had of him.

For more than a month, friends and family worked to keep Joe’s disappearance in the public eye, maintaining a Facebook page with information on Joe and his truck, and asking people to watch and call with tips.

Joe’s brother hired a private investigator to help with the search. After the first day, Joe hadn’t used his credit card or accessed his bank account.

After a week, Jane said she came to the realization that if Joe wasn’t trying to use his money, if he wasn’t trying to buy anything, “I knew he wasn’t able to.”

At that point, she knew what the outcome would likely be.

When Jane learned searchers had found Joe’s body Wednesday in the Pryors it wasn’t a surprise.

“But it was kind of a surprise he went back to the same place,” she said.

In early April, before he went missing, Joe had hopped in his truck one afternoon to go drive around south of town. Jane said at some point during the drive he got turned around and ended up in the Pryor Mountains.

He eventually found his way out and made his way back to Billings, getting home at 1:30 a.m.

After that, Jane and Joe made an appointment with a specialist. Although Joe was only 59, he was showing distressing signs of a rapid mental decline, Jane said.

They were hopeful the specialist would provide them with answers and maybe even treatment options.

But the appointment never happened. It was the day Joe was supposed to see the specialist that he disappeared.

Crews found Joe about a half mile from his truck. It appears he got stuck and had tried to walk out. Jane said had he set out walking in the opposite direction, he would have found a home that was about a half mile from his truck.

That was hard news to receive, she said. But it also confirmed that he wasn’t thinking straight after he disappeared. For now, she’s thankful Joe has found peace.

“It’s kind of a relief to have it over,” Jane said. “The not knowing is very difficult.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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