The discovery of human remains last month in the East Fork area of the Wood River Valley partially solves the mystery of a Ketchum man who disappeared nine years ago.
Some people had speculated that Albert Jay Pitkethly, who was then 42, had simply run away in 2001. But the discovery of what the Blaine County Sheriff's Office described as "several bones and clothing fragments" now proves that was not the case.
The sheriff's office confirmed Monday that the remains are those of Pitkethly and reported that identification was made through dental records.
Authorities have not determined a cause of death and are investigating the case as a homicide. But sheriff's Lt. Jay Davis said that is standard procedure in any unexplained death.
"We treat each and every case we come across as a homicide unless we can prove differently," Davis said.
The remains were discovered by a hunter on Oct. 15. Almost three weeks later, the sheriff's office is still actively investigating and still somewhat tight-lipped about its investigation.
But the discovery of the remains brings a sense of relief to Narda Pitkethly, a Ketchum woman who has agonized over the disappearance of her brother for nine years.
"It's amazing what relief it brings," she said Monday. "I'm not waiting around for him to contact me anymore. It's a huge weight lifted."
According to reports from the Pitkethly family, Jay Pitkethly was last seen walking in the Gimlet area south of Ketchum early in the evening on Sept. 16, 2001. A car he had borrowed was later found abandoned at an unoccupied house in the area.
When he was not heard from for a few days, Blaine County Search and Rescue mobilized a massive search. It lasted about three days and included not only Gimlet, but East Fork, Greenhorn, Trail Creek and other areas of the Wood River Valley. But no trace of Pitkethly was ever found.
According to the family, Pitkethly suffered a head injury earlier on Sept. 16, having fallen about 10 feet onto a concrete pad from a second-story roof. The family reported that the fall knocked him unconscious for several minutes. He refused to go to a hospital for treatment but suffered headaches throughout the day.
"We believe the cause of death is he died from a head injury," Narda Pitkethly said. "If he had had health insurance, he would have probably gone to a hospital and would still be alive."
Instead, she said, her brother was in a "state of confusion" and likely "wandered off" and died.
Blaine County Coroner Russell Mikel said the location where the remains were found is "only across one ridge" from the Gimlet area and within two miles of where the vehicle was found abandoned.
"It's possible he could have wandered that far," Mikel said. "It's an open area, but we don't know if the bone pieces we found were taken there by animals or if that's where he actually died."
Mikel said he is still unable to determine a cause of death and that the remains are being analyzed by forensic specialists at the Ada County Coroner's Office.
Narda Pitkethly said that through the years she suspected, or even strongly believed, that her brother was still alive. She created a website at www.jaypitkethly.com in hopes that he would someday find it and see how much his family missed him. Or, that someone else would have seen him and would contact the family.
At the website, she describes her long ordeal of not knowing what happened to her brother.
"It was overwhelming searching for my brother's body," she wrote. "I wanted to find him, but I was fearful of what I might find. Words swirled in my head: 'Where are you Jay? Are you in pain? How can I help you if I cannot find you?'"
Narda Pitkethly wrote that grief, hopelessness and depression set in when the search failed to discover what had happened.
Later, she consulted psychics. On advice from one, she and friends searched the banks of the Big Wood River downstream for six miles from Gimlet. Advice from another took her on a long search with scent dogs of hills and canyons outside of the original search area.
The following spring and summer, she searched mines and caves on a rumor that Pitkethly's body had been hidden by two people, one of them a parolee, who were doing drugs with him the day of his disappearance. According to the story, Pitkethly had gone into convulsions and died because of the head injury and the men hid the body because they were afraid they'd be blamed.
Later, when there were reports in Idaho and the other parts of the West of human remains being found, Narda Pitkethly and the family would each time have to make sure it wasn't Jay.
She describes one account when she was called by a police officer who said "a man whose description fit Jay's had hung himself in a hotel in eastern Washington."
"He asked if I would go on the site for unidentified dead people to see if the picture was my brother," she wrote. "What a miserable experience to look at that website of dead people. The man looked like Jay, but was not Jay."
Terry Smith: email@example.com