More than two months after Albert Jay Pitkethly's bones were found in the East Fork area of Blaine County, answers to the cause and circumstances of his death remain elusive.
The case is nine years old, dating back to when Pitkethly, then 42, disappeared on Sept. 16, 2001. He was last reported seen in the Gimlet area south of Ketchum, within a few miles of where his partial skeleton was discovered by a hunter on Oct. 15.
Pitkethly's family believes he died from an accidental head injury he received earlier on the day of his disappearance, but investigation and analysis of his remains has not been able to confirm that.
"There's been no cause of death determined," Blaine County Coroner Russell Mike said Wednesday. "We don't think we're going to be able to find one from the physical evidence we found."
What investigators have to evaluate so far is a skull, complete except for the lower jaw, about 40 bone fragments and several fragments of clothing. Mikel described the remains as "less than a half skeleton."
He said there was no indication of a head injury from examination of the skull, but acknowledged that an internal brain injury, such as a concussion, would not show up on a skull examination.
Investigators haven't ruled out foul play, but Mikel said examination of the bones has shown "no evidence of injury or trauma."
Capt. Ed Fuller, lead investigator for the Blaine County Sheriff's Office, said Thursday that investigation into Pitkethly's death and disappearance remains active.
"I have a task force of officers dedicated to working the case and interviewing," Fuller said.
Investigation in the area where the bones were discovered was stymied in late November when heavy snow blanketed the Wood River Valley, preventing further search. Massive police searches conducted before the snow fell discovered a few additional bone and clothing fragments, but not enough to provide solid answers.
"We spent about two weeks in that area with a team of searchers looking at any evidence pertaining to the body," Fuller said. "The weather has inhibited us, but we'll probably start looking again when the snow's gone.
"It's a challenging case, but we are investigating and trying to determine what he was doing at the time and what may have happened," said Fuller, who declined to discuss specific leads that investigators are looking into.
"I'm not frustrated with the investigation at this point," he said. "We're still investigating, but it will take some time to run down all our leads."
Narda Pitkethly, Jay Pitkethly's sister, said the family still believes he died of a head injury from when he fell off a balcony at his home. She said the accident occurred earlier on the day of Pitkethly's disappearance and that he struck his head on concrete and was unconscious for several minutes.
She said her brother, who lived at the Crestview apartments in south Ketchum, accidentally locked himself out numerous times and would climb up on the balcony to get in.
"He'd done it hundreds of times before and not fallen," Narda Pitkethly said. "But he'd been partying all night [before his disappearance]."
A vehicle that Pitkethly may have been driving that day was later discovered in the Gimlet area and there were reports that he was seen with two other people. However, investigation has thus far not been able to solidly implicate anyone else in his disappearance or death.
Narda Pitkethly dedicated a good part of the past nine years trying to find her brother, uncertain until identification of the bones that he was really dead.
She said she has suffered from depression because of the uncertainty of what happened but is gradually overcoming it.
"It's bittersweet," she said. "Some days it's bitter, like he just died. Some days it's so sweet, like I don't have to worry about him anymore. There's a sense of lightness I get because I didn't know it was so heavy.
"I'm just happy that the hunter found him."
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org