Searchers find one of two missing Boise women dead at Craters of the Moon monument

jsowell@idahostatesman.com, kterhune@idahostatesman.comSeptember 25, 2013 

The search will resume early Thursday for the second of two women who didn’t return as scheduled from a trip to Craters of the Moon.

Butte County Sheriff Wes Collins said the deceased woman is “definitely” one of the missing hikers. He said the body was recovered just before dark Wednesday a couple of miles from a popular Craters trailhead parking lot.

The identity of the dead woman will be released Thursday morning after family members are notified, Collins said.

“It definitely looked like she had gotten lost and was trying to hike out,” Collins said.

Jo Elliott-Blakeslee, 63, a physician at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Ontario, and Amelia Linkert, 69, a special education teacher who retired from Lowell Scott Middle School in Meridian, were supposed to return from Craters on Saturday, two days after they arrived at the monument southwest of Arco.

Friends and relatives described the women as experienced in the outdoors and unlikely to leave their dogs alone for long. Their two labradoodles were found in a pickup parked at the Tree Molds Trailhead at the south end of the monument’s popular driving loop and hiking trails.

Friend and former colleague Deanna Salazar-Brown said Elliott-Blakeslee spends a lot of time outdoors and visits Hawaii each year.

“It doesn’t surprise me that she was hiking and camping over there,” Salazar-Brown said. “I’m really stunned and concerned to learn she’s missing.”

The two women parked their trailer at a KOA campground in Arco, about 22 miles northeast of the monument, Superintendent Dan Buckley said.

Collins said he does not think the women were victims of a crime. Their purses and other items were still inside the truck, along with their cellphones.

“We’re open to any possibility, but we don’t see any signs of foul play,” Collins said.

Cold, wet weather hindered the search Wednesday night, Buckley said. The area even got some snowfall.

“It was spitting snow a bit, but no accumulation,” he said.

Overcast skies were also making things difficult for the aerial searchers.

Two Army National Guard helicopters and one from the Teton Interagency Fire Center will join the search Thursday morning, Buckley said.

GENEROUS ENDOWMENT

Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas said he was saddened to hear of the women’s disappearance. In 2000, Elliott-Blakeslee bequeathed her entire estate — worth an estimated $1.5 million to $5 million — to establish a scholarship endowment at ISU.

Elliott-Blakeslee earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from ISU in 1971 and a master’s degree in zoology three years later. She specified that the scholarships be awarded to health science majors, with a preference given to women.

“She has been very instrumental in advancing the health fields here at Idaho State,” Vailas said. “She has been a huge supporter of expanding medical and health education in Idaho.” The women were reported missing Monday when Elliott-Blakeslee did not show up for work at the Ontario prison.

Searchers went over a 5-square-mile area, focusing their efforts along the Tree Molds Trail, the Wildernesss Trail and the Broken Top Loop. The body was found in a rough lava field a little more than a mile west of the Tree Molds Trail, Buckley told the Statesman.

About 40 people, including family members, searched on the ground and from the air Wednesday. Buckley said the search included caves and other places the women might have taken shelter.

The Army National Guard sent two Black Hawk helicopters from Boise to help with search efforts.

DOGS ARE SAFE

Collins said he spoke with the women’s families, who indicated that the dogs — both alive and OK — would not be left in the vehicle if the women were planning a long hike. The women did leave the dogs water in the pickup, and the windows were cracked.

“They say they’re not backpacker hikers,” Collins said. “They wouldn’t stay out there overnight, and they wouldn’t leave their dogs for more than an hour.”

Susie Hart of Federal Way, Wash., is a nurse who served with Elliott-Blakeslee in the Navy and is friends with both women.

“Two of the nicest people you would ever meet,” Hart said. “They’re fun-loving and would give you the shirts off their backs.”

They visited Hart earlier this year and were scheduled to visit again at Thanksgiving, she said.

Salazar-Brown, who has known Elliott-Blakeslee since the 1990s, said her friend is intelligent, kind and an excellent doctor.

“She’s obviously skilled being a physician. She could easily take care of herself and others,” she said.

Gina Groefsema of Lakewood, Wash., grew up with Elliott-Blakeslee in Mountain Home. She said she was worried when she learned from a reporter that her friend was missing.

She last saw Elliott-Blakeslee during their 45th Mountain Home High School class reunion last summer.

“She is a super person,” Groefsema said.

The Butte County Sheriff’s Office asks that anyone who spotted the women or was hiking in the area at the time to call the Butte office at (208) 527-8553.

Get updates on the status of the search at IdahoStatesman.com.

John Sowell: 377-6423; Katie Terhune: 377-6219. Brian Murphy contributed.


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