Missouri River Breaks Search

Search continues for Minnesota hunter missing in Montana


by Associated Press Posted on Thu, Dec. 04, 2003


WINIFRED, Mont. - The part of Montana where a Minnesota man was going deer hunting is beautiful but unforgiving.

Allen Theis, 52, of Eden Valley, Minn., has been missing since Nov. 25. He disappeared into the Missouri Breaks, the broken landscape leading down the Missouri River, Fergus County Sheriff Tom Killham said.

"It's extremely rugged, eroded ground," Killham said. " It drops several hundred feet from the top down to the river bottom. It's beautiful country, but it's terribly unforgiving. You need to know what you're doing going into it."

"One of my guys said this morning: 'These Breaks, these are inside-out mountains,'" Killham said Thursday.

Theis left for Montana on Nov. 21 to hunt mule deer. He told his mother, Adella, that he would be back by month's end, unless he got his deer sooner. One week later, the day after Thanksgiving, Adella Theis learned her son was missing.

"As time went on we became more worried, because that's just not like him to be gone that long without telling someone," she from Eden Valley, about 25 miles southwest of St. Cloud in central Minnesota. "He just doesn't stay away like that. Never."

Theis, who is divorced and has a college-age daughter, is the youngest of Adella's four sons. She regrets it took so long for anyone to realize he was missing.

"He's an outdoors man," she said. "I never expected him to get lost. He must have been hurt."

Killham said the managers of the motel in Lewiston where Theis was staying were the first to notice he was missing. They told police that Theis hadn't been seen for four days and had left property behind, Killham said.

City police began the search but turned it over to Killham's department after learning from co-workers or family members that Theis was planning to hunt in the Missouri Breaks area north of Lewiston.

"That covers a lot of ground," Killham said. "Like roughly half the state of Montana. In our county between 80 to 90 miles of river breaks is ours."

Killham said he sent an aircraft with a deputy aboard to fly over 'some high probability" areas on Tuesday. They spotted Theis's pickup truck, parked in the Stafford Ferry area, an old crossing of the Missouri River, Killham said. The truck was parked at the ramp, on the south side of the river.

"It's in very remote, harsh country," Killham said. "There's what we call a fair-weather road in and out of it."

A team went into the area that night. They confirmed that Theis wasn't in the truck, but in the darkness, couldn't determine which way he'd gone. They did find his empty rifle case and a pair of light boots on the floor.

"It appears he changed into something designed for tromping around in woods," Killham said. "We didn't find an orange hunting jacket or vest in the vehicle. We have to assume he's wearing something like that."

On Wednesday, search-and-rescue volunteers, two aircraft and two volunteer wilderness search dog teams resumed the search through an area covered with sagebrush, juniper and some scrub pine, Killham said. The ground is broken by sinkholes and washes, he said. Late in the day they found footprints from a lone hiker and followed them until it was too dark to see, Killham said. The search resumed at that point Thursday but didn't immediately turn up anything.

The sheriff said he didn't have any theories about what might have happened.

"Theories? I can cover a whole wall of my office with theories," he said "We try to work with substantial clues. Late yesterday afternoon one of our teams found some footprints. ... To be honest with you that's the best and only clue we have at this point in time."

Information from: Star Tribune