Monday, December 18, 2023

Lost and Never Found: The Case of Leighton Goodell

Loon Lake Mountain region

The Adirondacks have their share of people who have gone missing and never been found. The cases of Douglas Legg (1971), George Bombadier (1971), Steven Thomas (1976), Thomas Carleton (1993), George LaForest (2006), Jack Coloney (2006), Irene Horne (2007), and Thomas Messick Sr. (2015) are among the more well-publicized in the annals of Search and Rescue. Adam Federman’s article “Lost,” published in a 2010 edition of in Adirondack Life, provides a superb-yet-chilling summary of the those who went missing within the Park between 1951 and 2008. One unsolved missing-person case barely discussed is that of Leighton G. Goodell, who went missing in October 1924 – almost 100 years ago.

On the morning of Sunday, October 12, 1924, Goodell, a retired policeman from Buffalo, gathered with a group of hunters at the Kushaqua Club camp near Lake Kushaqua, which lies at the southeastern foot of the Loon Lake Mountain. After a later dinner, Goodell along with his nephew, Dr. Charles Goodell of Jamestown, and Dr. Walter L. Rathbun of Stony Wold, decided to head out for some partridge hunting. After walking a short distance from the clubhouse, Goodell told his companions to go ahead, “I can take care of myself all right.” No apprehension was felt for leaving Goodell alone in the wilderness. He was in reasonably good health and had hunted in other parts of the Adirondacks, such as Blue Mountain in Indian Lake and the Allegany region in the southwestern part of the state. However, this was his first visit to the Loon Lake region.

When Goodell’s two companions returned to camp in the middle of the afternoon, they expected to see him. When he did not show up, the men waited half an hour before firing a signal outside to let him know they returned to camp. As dusk approached, everyone at the camp began to signal regularly with their guns, hoping the reports would help direct Goodell out of the woods. Once darkness fell, all grew quite concerned for their missing companion, especially since the night-time temperatures had been, as of recent, below freezing.

At dawn the following Monday, a search party was organized at the camp to look for Goodell. Members of the group included Goodell’s nephew, Dr. Rathbun, Dr. Harry Bray of Ray Brook, Dr. Ezra Bridge of Stony Wold, and Dr. Jacob Miller of Buffalo – all respected doctors. The efforts of this coterie to find their friend in the large swathe of wilderness were of no avail. Realizing they needed more help, Dr. Bridge contacted the observer on Loon Lake Mountain, Barnard Paye, and the Troop B barracks of the State Police in Malone and explained the situation.

On Tuesday morning, from twenty-five to over one hundred men were assembled to take part in the search.

Among them were State troopers, game protectors, forest rangers, guides, and woodsmen, in addition to members of the Kushaqua Club camp. With the search regiment “spreading out over a wide territory on the slopes of Loon Lake Mountain and to the country beyond,” one party headed by game protectors Edward St. Clair and C. J. Kirby, together with an experienced guide named Seymour Doty, headed toward the notch between the Sable and Loon Lake Mountains from the camp. Another party, headed by protectors Harlow Wheeler and Harrison Benoit, went from McCollom’s (located about 7½ miles southwest of Loon Lake Mountain, south of Meacham Lake) toward Hatch Brook (northwest of Loon Lake Mountain), working their way toward the Kirby-St. Clair party. The search parties communicated their respective locations through their rifle fire.

Bloodhounds employed in Tuesday’s search followed Goodell’s scent and led searchers to a stream where he stopped to drink, then to a stump where he stopped to rest, but all traces of him ended there. In the language of Search and Rescue, the stump was his Last Known Point (LKP). Searchers reported that it appeared Goodell “had zig-zagged and circled around endlessly as though dazed and crazed by the realization he was lost,” and believed he either had some accident or succumbed to exposure.

By Friday afternoon, searchers reached the summit of Loon Lake Mountain and told the observer that no signs of Goodell had been found. As the search for Goodell continued into the following week, all hope for finding him dwindled, as did the manpower of the searchers. Early in the week, Sergeant Fred B. Homedew of Troop B in Malone withdrew his State troopers. By the end of October, after almost three weeks of scouring the mountain, the search for Goodell came to an end.

Goodell’s family offered a $500 reward to anyone who found him, but this proved futile. Goodell’s 25-year-old son, Leslie, refused to give up the search for his father. After the end of deer-hunting season (November 15th) and the organized search, Leslie went to Lake Kushaqua to engage in his own search. Leslie, along with Ernest Hathaway and Hiram Porter, covered much of the ground that was searched earlier. The three men also searched the area around Loon Lake and the camps at Wolf Pond (about five miles north of Loon Lake), but to trace of Goodell was found.

In desperation, Leslie consulted a psychic who told him his father was being held against his will by two men, “a tall one and a short one.” The psychic drew a map of the area where they claimed Goodell was being held. The map was reportedly accurate, showing a camp, streams, and trails. With the map in hand, Leslie returned to Loon Lake with additional help. The group made a search based on the psychic’s map but turned up no sign of Leslie’s father nor that of his purported kidnappers. After several days of searching, Leslie gave up in despair and returned to his home in Buffalo.

In late December 1924, the Buffalo City Council ordered the cancellation of Goodell’s pension and declared him officially dead. Thus, was the closure of the former Buffalo policeman’s fate, albeit symbolic.

In early July 1934, a heap of bleached bones was found near Debar Mountain. They were thought to be human remains and if so, possibly those of Goodell. However, forensic examination of the bones revealed they were those of an animal.

Whatever became of Goodell remains a mystery. Some theorized he was murdered and his body was hidden or that he soured on life and committed suicide, while others surmised he had troubles of his own and decided to “go away and seek another clime where he has begun life anew.” One thing is for certain: only Loon Lake Mountain knows of his fate.

Just over two years after Goodell went missing off Loon Lake Mountain, another man went missing in roughly the same area: Corporal Charles L. Bailey of Company I, 26th Infantry, Plattsburgh. On the morning of Sunday, October 17, 1926, Corporal Riley went deer hunting with his commander and several other officers of his regiment on the slopes of Loon Lake Mountain, near Lake Kushaqua. He strayed away from his party while attempting to take down a deer and as he kept tramping through the woods, he became lost. As nightfall approached, forest rangers, game protectors, state troopers from the Troop B barracks in Malone, and members of Bailey’s regiment mobilized and searched throughout the night. Fortunately, a member of the search party found the corporal walking on the highway near McCollom’s, today’s State Route 30. The Malone Evening Telegram reported that Corporal Bailey “was not much the worse for his experience after being given a hearty meal.”


Photo at top: A topographic map of the Loon Lake and Sable Mountains region. (Source:

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John Sasso is an avid hiker and bushwhacker of the Adirondacks and self-taught Adirondack historian. Outside of his day-job, John manages a Facebook group "History and Legends of the Adirondacks." John has also helped build and maintain trails with the ADK and Adirondack Forty-Sixers, participated in the Trailhead Steward Program, and maintained the fire tower and trail to Mount Adams.

10 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Collin Gillis – the 18 year old who went missing near Tupper in 2012 is another one. Sad.

  2. Charlie Stehlin says:

    How about the Thomas Messick case near Brant Lake in November 2015! That is one of the most strangest of the more recent disappearances! The FBI got involved in that case which is not the norm, and which proves the mysteriousness of his disappearance. He totally vanished into thin air! My understanding is that they should have found him. Messick was in his 80’s, an experienced woodsman, and even had a walkie talkie to communicate with his buddies…..nothing from him. Just vanished! Also there were reports of a weird silence in the woods that day by fellow hunters, no animal sounds. I always thought the Jack Coloney disappearance to be a strange one also. We’ll never know!

  3. william hill says:

    Another fine article, John!

  4. Sandra Vanno says:

    Interesting article. You should never venture into the woods without being prepared.

  5. Dan Vitale says:

    I am reminded of the young Pruyn boy lost at Santanoni and was never found.

  6. DBMin says:

    Doug Legg was lost at Santinoni in 71 or 72, a childhood friends dad was lost while hunting back in the late 60’s last name was Potter, near the Stillwater area.

  7. Marissa says:

    Kathleen Barcomb went missing in 1966 from Wolf Pond Road Mountainview, NY

  8. Brett ALLEN says:

    It was 1995 wgen my brother and l camw uopn huge bare footprints on Loon Lake. Arriving to Ice fish at 6am at the first crack if light, we accessed the small bay coming East from Weavertown. It was very squally and so the prints were incredibky fresh. My brother, a skeptic and Captain of the Morgan for the Sagamore Hotel, was a skeptic no more! Both outdoorsman, we had been in the woods our entire life. I’ve often wondered if the stories could have a correlation. A researcher, lve known foe decades UFOs/UAP were real …long before the govt admitted it… and the same is true for the Hairyman, who’s existance can be seen in ancient texts like the Bible, to dozens of medeval depictions.
    Brett Allen
    Cover UFO Magazine,
    Pitched the idea for Ancient Aliens.

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