Without A Trace

Joseph Helt disappeared without a trace in 1987, but his story lives on in the hearts of those he left behind. So many questions left  unanswered, so many hopes left unfulfilled. Whatever happened to Joe on that cold January night?

Both of Joe’s parents died of cancer in 2007 and 2008, twenty years after their son vanished from Cragsmoor, without ever knowing what  happened to their boy. Now his remaining family and friends seek an answer to this 24-year-old mystery.

The story goes that on January 16th of 1987, 17 year old Joe Helt was partying with friends at the remains of Mount Cathalia Ski Lodge in  Cragsmoor, a few miles from his hometown of Ellenville, NY. This was a frequent hang out spot for the kids in that area. At some point in the night, Joe left the party with three acquaintances, Kelly Diaz, Wade Marks, and John LaForge. The four got into LaForge’s Subaru and drove a few miles, heading for Sam’s Point Dwarf Pine Ridge. They drove up the  mountain and were following the loop road around the lake when the four wheel drive vehicle got stuck. After attempting to free the vehicle for some time, they say Joe got frustrated and walked off alone, heading back down the mountain and five miles into Ellenville for help. This was at about 3:30 a.m. Twenty minutes later, Marks and Diaz left as well,  heading the same direction as Joe, walking to Marks' house which was within two miles of their location. Alone, LaForge left about ten minutes later, heading to his home only a mile and a half away. When the others didn’t catch up to Joe, they thought nothing of it. It was cold and dark; he must have been moving quickly. The next day, LaForge  returned to the loop road with some friends to retrieve his vehicle. That evening, Joe did not show up for work. His mother, who had thought he spent the night with friends, became concerned. She made some calls but couldn’t find him.

And the search began. For all of that evening and much of the next day, state police with canines searched a twenty mile square area around Sam’s Point Preserve. As the team searched, the snow began to fall. Over the next few days, a harsh winter storm blew in over the Shawangunks, dumping over two feet of snow on the area around Sam’s Point. The search had to be called off after six days, when the storm made roads impassable, and survival nearly impossible. Search teams returned to the  area after the snow melted, but still not a trace of Joseph Helt was ever found.

In January 2011, a group of Joe’s classmates arranged a candlelight  vigil, to mark the 24th anniversary of his disappearance. They are  working to raise awareness for Joe’s case, which is now under a new detective and being reviewed. A Facebook page and Twitter account are the center of the awareness effort in support of Joe Helt. Media response includes articles in local and regional newspapers and coverage on YNN News Channel 6, NBC and Nancy Grace. Most recently, an online petition is asking for FBI involvement in Joe’s case, and it appears there may be reason.

Those supporting Joe’s cause have been putting up fliers around the Ellenville area, and those fliers have repeatedly been torn down, except for the two in sight of security cameras. Suggestions have been made of  fabrication or alterations of details to the case and the story of what happened that night. Some say that the story given by the last three to ever see him makes no sense at all. There are also suggestions that conflicts of interest may have occurred between this case and a political figure in the area at the time. It seems that there is more  motivation behind this publicity than just closure. And one can't help  but wonder about any such motivation, especially since Joe's case was never listed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children until 2010, a full 23 years AFTER he disappeared. He was never listed on the NYS Police's list of Missing Persons until 2011, a full 24 years  AFTER he went missing. Law enforcement has never contacted Crime Stoppers either. Family, friends and those familiar with Joe’s case think there is something yet to be discovered. Perhaps there really is a mystery to be solved in Ellenville, NY. 24 years later, as his 42nd birthday approaches, it is about time we found an answer to the big question; what really happened to Joe Helt?

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Who was Joseph Helt?
By: Gina Schuster

    My name is Gina and Joe was my classmate back in 1987. We were in our junior year of high school at Ellenville High School in Ellenville NY. I'm working with Joe's aunt, Beth (who was only 4 years older than him) and his close friend, Jackie to bring awareness to Joe's case in the hope that new lead come forward.

    I never had the chance to really get to know Joe. I was far too shy in school, dealing with a lot of abuse issues at home (from my father) and an alcoholic mother. I blended in with the wall and I liked it that way. I was so afraid that people would find out about my problems at home. But Joe was one of the few people who actually saw me. Every time he saw me in the halls he gave me a big hello and huge smile every time he saw me. He was such a sweetheart.

    Joe used to pretend that he was "in a band" with his best friend, Armando Rodriguez. They had guitars and they played music when they were younger and enjoyed learning to play music as well as listening to music. Their favorite bands were AC/DC and KISS.

    Joe was very artistic. He would draw on anything and everything. He'd draw on his school papers, on his notebooks, even on his friends hands. When one of his friends needed a pick-me-up, he would draw a smiley face on their hand. He even loved to draw album covers from his favorite rock bands and they were GOOD!

    Ellenville School had classrooms in the basement of the school and during one study hall that Joe had in these basement classrooms, he used to climb out of the window, walk into town, buy a whole bunch of orders of french fries from McDonalds, climb back into the window and share fries with all of his friends! He was just that sweet (and mischievous).

    One day in science class the teacher was explaining how the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body and Joe, who was drawing on his notebook, said, without looking up and without skipping a beat on his drawing, "so does that mean that I could do push ups on the desk with my tongue?" Again, this is an example of his mischievous ways. 

    To give you some background on Joe's family, his parents divorced when he was young.  Joe was the third child in a family of four. He had two older sisters, Tracy and Christina, and a younger brother, John. A few years after he passed away, Joe's mother had another child named Jennifer. She's 19 or 20 now. She was named Jennifer because when Joe's mother was pregnant for him, Jennifer was the name that she had picked out if she was having a girl. Joe's mom and dad both passed away from cancer in 2007 and 2008 respectively, within 9 months of each other. They passed away never knowing what happened to their son.