Dr. Bruce Decker, missing since February, presumed dead

Bruce L. Decker, 71, of Guilderland has been missing in John Boyd Thacher State Park since February when his car was identified by park police. 

NEW SCOTLAND – A backpack, wallet, and identification belonging to Dr. Bruce L. Decker, missing in John Boyd Thacher State Park since February, were found near human remains on Saturday, June 9, according to Randy Simons, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Simons could not confirm that the remains were those was Decker, 71, of Guilderland. He said that first the Albany County Medical Examiner’s Office had to identify the remains and, if possible, determine the cause of death.

To his knowledge, Simons said, a suicide note had not been found. He also said that he did not yet have information if anything was inside the backpack.

Bruce L. Decker is listed by U.S. News and World Report as a doctor, who, Simons said, is retired. He received his medical degree from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. No one had reported him missing.

Decker has been missing in Thacher Park since at least Wednesday, Feb. 21, when when his car was identified by park police. Investigators then went to his home, and determined Decker had not been there since at least Monday, Feb. 19. Video footage from inside the John Boyd Thacher State Park Visitor Center places Decker in the park on Feb 19.

Saturday had been the first time Indian Ladder Trail had been open to the public in almost a year. It had been closed since July 2017, when Nancy Ladd-Butz was struck, and subsequently paralyzed, by a falling rock while walking along the trail.

Simons said that the remains were found by a hiker who had gone “off trail.”

The remains, he said, were found about halfway down Indian Ladder Trail, when entering from the visitors’ center, in the area of a waterfall, and down an embankment that is 75 yards from the trail.

Even if the trail had not been closed for nearly a year, Simons said that, at the time Decker went missing, it would not have been open to the public, since it’s normally closed for the winter.

Simons said that the remains were in a spot that is difficult to reach during the summer, but added that the area had been searched in February and March. Snow and ice could have prevented searchers from getting close enough to where the remains were found or the remains could have been already covered in ice and snow, he said.

Simons also pointed out that a March 1 storm compounded the problem by dropping another 2 feet of snow on the park. On March 5, after 4,500 work hours, the search was switched to a “limited-continuous search operation,” which meant periodic spot searches of the parks’ trails, interior swamps, cliff edges, rock formations, and waterfalls, by park police and rescue partners.

Also hampering the original investigation, Simons said, was that no missing-person report had been filed for Decker, and, when park police identified his car, no family member could be found to confirm that Decker was missing. All investigators had to go on was what they could find in their search of Decker’s apartment.

If the remains are found to be Decker’s, then investigators will again try to find a family member, said Simons. But that could prove to be difficult.

During the first investigation, said Simons, police were able to find only an acquaintance of Decker, who hadn’t spoken to him “in a pretty substantial” amount of time. The acquaintance was not aware of any family or friends, Simons added.

Although the remains were found by a hiker who had gone off trail, Simons said that the parks department strongly advises visitors to stay on its trails and in areas designed for traffic. But, he added, there are visitors “who take their own tour.” Those visitors, he said, often end up as targets of search-and-rescue efforts either because they cannot find their way back or they get injured.

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