As the search for a missing Anaconda woman enters its third week, it is clear that finding a person in the vast and rugged landscape of Montana is difficult.
The fact is even more apparent since three missing persons cases in the last five years remain open in the Butte and Anaconda area. Authorities said they continue to seek clues to try to solve these missing-person cases.
On Dec. 26, 41-year-old Tammy Salle was reported missing to Anaconda police by her adult daughter. Police using dogs and dozens of citizens have been searching back roads and forested areas around and west of Anaconda without success since that time.
Anaconda Police Chief Tim Barkell said Wednesday that there's no new information on Salle’s whereabouts. He said authorities are still trying to track down new leads and await results from the Montana Crime Lab in Missoula.
Unless police get helpful information, finding a missing person in Montana can take a long time.
Butte police have two open missing-persons cases, while Anaconda has another missing-person case that goes back almost five years.
Friends of Brandy Christiansen, 46, of Butte last saw her Nov. 2, 2007, before she seemingly vanished. Since then, there have been no telephone calls and no activity on her bank account or Social Security.
Just over a year later, Matt Hatfield, 49, was reported missing after last being seen living at his mother’s home on Roosevelt Drive just south of Butte. His disappearance remains a mystery.
Anaconda police also are investigating the May 23, 2008, disappearance of 45-year-old Helen Gracia. She was last spotted that evening at Carmel’s Bar in Anaconda with no sign of her since.
Butte Sheriff Ed Lester said investigators followed information on one of the missing-person cases as recently as Tuesday. He said they won’t stop until these cases are solved.
“We follow leads all the time. Most are dead-ends, but that doesn’t mean the next lead won’t be the right one,” Lester said.
In both Butte cases, police searched wooded areas around Butte and used search dogs. Eventually, the searches were suspended after they turned up no clues.
Butte Undersheriff George Skuletich, who participated in the Hatfield search, said that without new information, trying to find a body in rural Montana is difficult.
“We live in a state that’s huge. The bodies can be anywhere,” Skuletich said.
Wildlife also can make recovery difficult by scattering remains, he said.
The only clue police made public in the Christiansen disappearance was finding her 1991 Toyota Tercel abandoned on the road between Homestake Lake and Delmoe Lake about two weeks after she went missing. When weather conditions cleared by May 2008, dozens of searchers using dogs combed a wide area where he vehicle was recovered. Nothing was found.
Police did a similar search for Hatfield. They searched the property and timberland around his mother’s ranch at 415 Roosevelt Drive, southeast of Butte, without success.
Lester said both these disappearances are suspicious and the two missing people are presumed dead. DNA information on the missing people has been sent to a national data base in case unidentified bodies are found elsewhere in the country, Lester said. Local police will always check to see if the DNA from the local missing person cases matches any unidentified bodies found in other places.
Investigators are always hoping someone will provide information. Even a “shred of evidence” could lead police in the right direction.
“Maybe it was some information or detail that didn’t seem important to them at the time,” he said.
In the most recent missing-person case, Anaconda police say Sallee was last seen Dec. 23. Her boyfriend, John Goldberg, 38, told authorities they had an argument that evening and she left in his car. Goldberg was later found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his pickup at a truck stop near Missoula.