Potential lead found in 1967 case of missing boy

Mark Wilson was 13 when he disappeared in 1967. File photo
Dan McDonald
Managing Editor

Trained dogs detect scent at abandoned well in Meadow Valley


More than 46 years ago, 13-year-old Mark Wilson left his Meadow Valley home on foot. He told his parents he planned to try to hitch a ride to Quincy to watch a movie.

The eighth-grader was never seen again.

Shortly after Mark — his friends called him “Wilson” — disappeared without a trace Nov. 4, 1967, a search began.

An all-points bulletin was issued by the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office to law enforcement agencies throughout the region.

As the days and weeks passed, Sheriff W.C. Abernethy personally traveled the state searching for any possible leads to Wilson’s whereabouts. The sheriff would eventually distribute fliers nationwide.

Wilson’s mother, Betty Wilson, offered a $500 reward for information that could help her find her son.

Weeks, months and then years passed without a single credible lead. Wilson had simply vanished.

Current sheriff Greg Hagwood said that despite having absolutely no clues to work with, his office revisited the Wilson case every year.

“We haven’t had any actionable leads in the 26 years that I’ve been at the sheriff’s department,” Hagwood said.

Until now.

“I want people to know that regardless of how old the case is, we haven’t forgotten about it. And the family hasn’t forgotten about it. And we are going to take whatever efforts to conclusively determine what is at this site.”

Greg HagwoodPlumas County Sheriff

Last October, a specially trained dog (known as a cadaver dog) zeroed in on abandoned well in Meadow Valley. The dog and its handler, which were brought in by friends and family of Wilson, were definitely on to something.

The Sheriff’s Office followed up by bringing in a cadaver dog of its own. That dog made “a positive alert” at the same location.

In January, a third “highly credentialed” dog was enlisted by the sheriff. According to Sheriff Hagwood, the dog that specialized in the recovery of human remains picked up a scent in the same spot.

“It was kind of a triple-blind test,” Hagwood said. The sheriff emphasized that the three dogs weren’t led to the site. They found it on their own.

“We wanted to be completely objective about this,” Hagwood said. “Given that three dogs have independently alerted to human remains at this site, and its proximity to the area where Mark Wilson was last seen, we have an obligation to find out what’s in there.”

Hagwood said he didn’t want to give the exact location of the well, which is on private property in Meadow Valley.

“We aren’t identifying the property specifically at this time in the interest of the actual case and in the interest of the current property owners,” Hagwood said.

The sheriff also cautioned that because the dogs were trained to detect “historic and prehistoric” human remains, whatever attracted them could be more than 100 years old.

“That is important to bear in mind,” he said. “We have no evidence at this point to be able to say the dogs are alerting on (Wilson’s) remains. We don’t have that.”


Excavating the well site

Hagwood said an excavation at the well site would likely happen in May or June. He said the team of experts needs to be assembled. And it is important to have relatively good weather.

He expects the excavation to take seven to 10 days.

“Once this process starts, it won’t stop until it is completed,” Hagwood said. “It’s not a situation where we can work for a couple days and take a week off. Once it starts, it will go daily until it’s completed.”

The cost of such an operation, which could involve as many as a dozen specialists and technicians, could total more than $100,000, according to the sheriff. However, Hagwood said he has enlisted the help of FBI experts from across the country.

“They have what is known as an ‘evidence recovery team.’ They are FBI agents and specialists and technicians whose expertise is in processing, recovering and excavating historical sites,” Hagwood said. “And with that, it brings a level of expertise that is world-renowned at very little, if any, cost to Plumas County.”

The sheriff said his office is fortunate to have the expert help. But he said he would have dug up the well even without it.

“I’m gonna find out what’s in that well, come hell or high water,” Hagwood said. “That’s just the bottom line.”


Little known about the well

Hagwood said there are no records to indicate when the well was dug or when it was last used.

“I know it was there in 1926. I’ve got photographic evidence that it was there in ’26,” he said. “But that’s about all we know.”

Hagwood said his office has been trying to contact local people who might have some knowledge of when it was built.


Wilson remembered

The sheriff said people in the community have been very helpful in the case.

“There are a lot of people still in the Quincy area and Plumas County who knew the young man and who were close to the family,” Hagwood said. “There is a high level of interest in a case like this.

“I want people to know that regardless of how old the case is, we haven’t forgotten about it. And the family hasn’t forgotten about it. And we are going to take whatever efforts to conclusively determine what is at this site.”

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