Dr. Bruce Decker, missing since February, presumed dead

Bruce Decker

Bruce Decker

NEW SCOTLAND – He was a loner, but he had family — and they want everyone to know it.

Warren Decker, a first cousin of Bruce Decker, says that he hadn’t seen Bruce in 60 years when he was 20, and Bruce was 10.

On Saturday, June 9, 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, according to Randy Simons, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The Enterprise posted that news on Monday.

Simons told The Enterprise in February 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, said Simons. If the remains are found to be Decker’s, then investigators will again try to find a family member, said Simons on Monday.

This is why Warren Decker contacted The Enterprise on Wednesday, he said, because he kept reading reports that said Bruce Decker had no living relatives.

“We hate to keep seeing the same thing in print, that there are no relatives. Well, there is – and there is a concerned relative. One who has been calling every week,” Grace Decker said of her husband.

During the first investigation, said Simons, investigators 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. Warren Decker wants people to know that there is family.

Mrs. Decker said that Bruce never married or had children. “It’s too bad, because we’ve got a big family; we would have been glad to take in one more,” she said.

Warren Decker said that Bruce grew up in Schenectady and moved with his parents to Burnt Hills. He was an only child. The Enterprise has been able to determine that Decker is a 1964 graduate of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central Schools. He then went onto graduate from the Albany College of Pharmacy in 1969 and from Vanderbilt Medical School in 1973.

Bruce’s mother was a physicist, Warren Decker said, he thought that she worked at General Electric, in its research and development department. Bruce’s father worked at G.E. as well.

Bruce Decker’s mother died young, Warren said; Bruce’s father remarried.

Warren said that he and his wife would receive Christmas cards from Bruce’s father and second wife. But Bruce Decker was such a loner that, although he lived in Guilderland and practiced medicine there, and Warren and Grace Decker lived just miles away in Schenectady, they hadn’t known he was nearby. They learned of it from news reports in February as rescuers searched for him at Thacher Park.

Saturday’s discovery

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.

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.

Warren Decker said that he contacted James Seresky, the detective from the New York State Park Police who is in charge of the case, in February to inform him that he was Bruce Decker’s first cousin, which Seresky confirmed for The Enterprise. Warren Decker has called every week since to check in.

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. Rocks were since removed from the cliffs to make the trail safer.

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.

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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