Searchers scoured fields, forests for missing boy
December 22, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Innocence Lost, a three-part series about the 1968 disappearance of David Adams.
Part 2: Search
Only memories and frayed newspaper clippings remain from the fruitless search for David Adams.
Ask any longtime Issaquah resident about the mystery, and talk turns to the May 1968 search for the missing 8-year-old boy. Many old-timers scoured fields and forests in the frenzied days after David vanished.
The search drew people in the hundreds — perhaps even 1,000 searchers — to Issaquah, just a flyspeck on maps back then. Volunteers swarmed Tiger Mountain in the days after David disappeared, but the first searchers were bound together by faith, community and the desire to find the lost boy.
The first teams included members of the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where the Adamses worshipped. The call for help rippled through the congregation hours after David failed to return home. Searchers combed the mountain through the night. By the next morning, the King County Sheriff’s Office arrived, and the case caught the attention of Seattle news organizations.
Searchers said the effort represented the best qualities in humanity. But no trace of David was ever discovered.
Don Cronk organized the volunteer search effort. From headquarters at the Adams house, he plotted a search grid and sent search teams into the thick forest.
Cronk and other tireless searchers imagined David lost on the mountain, “out there somewhere, weaker and colder” as time passed.
“We were just going for 24 hours a day,” Cronk said. “I don’t think I slept for a day or two.”
Eileen Erickson heard about the case the Sunday after David disappeared. A call for volunteers came during a church service in Magnolia, the Seattle neighborhood where the Ericksons worshipped with the local Mormon congregation.
Issaquah claimed about 4,000 residents then. Seattleites viewed the outer suburb, beyond Lake Washington and nestled in the Cascade foothills, as rugged and wild.
“Enough people knew Issaquah well enough that we thought of Issaquah as the end of the world,” Erickson said.
Kevin Bryce was the last known person to see David. Bryce, then a 6-year-old neighbor, played with David in the hours before the May 3, 1968, disappearance. When David headed home for dinner, he walked with Bryce to a bridge across 15 Mile Creek, and then set off down a trail toward home. Bryce was confused hours later when he heard David had never returned.
“It’s so easy to get there,” Bryce recalled. “I don’t know how he could have not made it home.”
‘The world was a lot safer place’
David and Bryce parted ways at about 5 p.m. near a shortcut from modern-day 241st Place Southeast to the next street, where the Adamses had moved from Eastgate less than two weeks before. David planned to take a shortcut worn by neighborhood children. Bryce, now 48, explained the route before David left.
“For me, being a grown adult, looking back on it and knowing every inch of that land, I think he got to that lot, balked at the trail and then left the area under someone else’s guidance,” Bryce said.
Investigators and volunteers handled the disappearance as a search-and-rescue mission. Issaquah was safe; some residents left doors unlocked, because crime was almost nonexistent.
Ann Adams, now 76, said the Tiger Mountain neighborhood seemed like a safe place where she and her husband, Don, could raise their family.
“At that time, everyone was just assuming that he had become lost; 40 years ago, the world was a lot safer place and we were in a very undeveloped neighborhood at that time,” she said. “The idea of crime in Issaquah just had not really raised its ugly head that much.”
Cronk and the search team set up in the first floor at the Adams house. The family had just built and moved to the house; the first floor was almost empty, with little furniture. Women from church transformed the kitchen into a soup kitchen to feed searchers. The group received help when the American Red Cross set up another soup kitchen in the driveway.
Investigators set up the sheriff’s office command post at another site, though searchers could not recall the location.
Investigators integrated volunteer efforts into the official search; detectives and deputies focused on the area where Bryce last saw David. Volunteers fanned across Tiger Mountain.
“The idea of someone doing harm to a young boy was really not the first concern at that time,” Ann Adams said.
Clark Bean joined the initial search. Bean, now 76, was in the Air Force Reserve, like Don Adams, and the families knew each other through church.
Bean recalled the effort to “comb the area foot-by-foot.” In the days after David disappeared, searchers were optimistic he would return.
“We had every reason to believe he could find his way home,” Bean said.
When David failed to return in the first hours after the disappearance, a call for help reached other Mormon congregations in Western Washington.
“When you tell the Mormons you need a couple people, you get a couple hundred,” Bryce said.
Soon, other searchers tromped across Tiger Mountain — Explorer Scouts, mountain rescue teams, German shepherd teams, high school students, servicemen and congregations from other faiths.
Exhaustive search, inexhaustible searchers
Ava Frisinger and her husband, Bill, moved from Michigan to a May Valley house near Tiger Mountain the previous winter.
Ava Frisinger was a University of Washington graduate student then. Nowadays, she serves as the mayor of Issaquah. Bill Frisinger, now retired, worked as a Boeing engineer.
The couple joined a search party a few days after the disappearance, and scanned brush near Issaquah Creek. About 15 people fanned out across the designated search area, kept arms’ lengths apart and ran wands through the brush to look for signs of David.
“People thought this was something that happened in big cities,” Ava Frisinger said. “Small towns were safe places. They were good places for kids.”
Bill Frisinger recalled when military helicopters equipped with then-secret infrared sensors buzzed the area at night. Noise from the rotors, and lights from the helicopter, startled the Frisingers awake.
The infrared technology offered the Adamses new hope for resolution.
“I said, even if there’s a body, would they find it?” Ann Adams recalled. “And they said, yes, that they could.”
But the helicopter search, like the ground effort below, failed to find anything.
Despite widespread efforts by area residents, and news coverage the case received, the disappearance received little attention in the Clark Elementary School classroom where David attended third grade. Rob Killian shared a double desk with David, and attended the same church.
“Nothing was said at school,” Killian recalled. “It was not discussed. And, now that I think about that, in memory that seems so odd. We weren’t warned or counseled or offered grief counseling or interviewed.”
At the Adams house, search organizers reached a grim conclusion. After days spent scouring Tiger Mountain, teams had found nothing.
Investigators searched the area for about five days, while volunteers kept up the unofficial search for another five days or so.
Cronk recalled how businesses donated food and batteries to the search teams. Volunteers were so committed that some searchers refused to leave the mountain, and lost jobs because they wanted to continue.
Inside the search headquarters at the Adams house, however, Cronk and other organizers knew the search was done. Cronk walked outside and addressed the crowd — between 75 and 100 people — through a bullhorn and called off the search. People broke down, overcome with emotion.
“We chased every loose end,” Cronk said. “We chased every possible lead we could find.”
The case would gather dust at the King County Sheriff’s Office for the next 41 years.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.