Acton police halt search of Nashoba for man, Concord continues

Acton, Mass. - More than a week after he was first reported missing, the disappearance of 83-year-old Concord resident Richard “Dick” Nethercut remains a mystery.

Since Saturday, the search has centered on the Nashoba Brook Conservation area in Acton, where Nethercut’s red 2001 Ford Taurus was located that afternoon. Prior to that, the last time anyone saw or heard from Nethercut was Sept. 19, when he was spotted buying oil at auto shop in Acton and called a friend around 6 p.m., police said.

By Monday afternoon, search teams with dozens of officers from Acton, Concord, Littleton and state police had covered most of the conservation area’s estimated 400 acres and up to 800 miles of trails, but there was still no sign of Nethercut, said Lt. Robert Parisi of the Acton Police Department.

By Monday night, Acton police had called of their search, but Concord police planned to continue to look in the conservation area, along with the state Environmental Police, later in the week.

According to Parisi, the Nashoba Brook Conservation area is approximately 400 acres of forest with conservation trails, swampy areas and a brook running through the woods, which connect to the Boy Scout land in Concord.

An 83-year-old Concord Greene resident known for his work with prison outreach programs, Nethercut was reported as a possible missing person after missing a meeting. At that point the Concord Police Department immediately launched into a multi-phase investigation and entered Nethercut and his motor vehicle, a red 2001 Ford Taurus, into state and national computer databases.

“Nothing we’ve learned so far has sent us in a specific direction,” Concord Police Chief Len Wetherbee said Tuesday. “We’re welcoming and requesting any and all phone calls. Any information whatsoever could be helpful in establishing more patterns of his life. Until we actually get a sighting of the person, we have to explore every avenue.”

After Acton police reported finding Nethercut’s missing vehicle at the Nashoba Brook conservation area off of Davis Road in Acton police from Concord, Acton, Littleton, as well as Massachusetts environmental and state police, area K-9 units and specially trained civilian teams with cadaver-sniffing dogs searched the area popular among local hikers.

Wetherbee also said Concord Police have identified a witness who says Nethercut’s car may have been parked at the conservation area as far back as Sunday, Sept. 20 — six days prior to when Acton Police reported finding the vehicle.

Aside from that, leads have been few and far between. Nethercut, who lived alone, allegedly phoned a friend the evening of Sept. 19, but he has not been seen or heard from since.

Wetherbee said Nethercut’s financial records and credit cards show no activity since he went missing and, although his car was parked at the conservation area, there is no evidence indicating whether Nethercut actually entered the woods or if he was alone when the car was parked there.

“From what we found in his apartment and the interior of his car, it would lead one to believe that wherever he went, he intended to return home shortly,” Wetherbee said. “That’s the appearance it had. His medicine and cell phone were at home. His mail was on the front seat of the car; he had an appointment Sunday evening.”

Because of the lack of a personal sighting, police have not ruled out any possibilities, including the chance that foul play was somehow involved in Nethercut’s disappearance, Wetherbee said. Separate teams of Concord police officers are working different angles so as not to taint each other’s investigations.

“It’s exhausting and we’re putting in hundreds of hours, but we’re not stopping,” Wetherbee said. “We appreciate all the phone calls. We fully understand the frustration people are feeling with the inability to find any trace of his disappearance at this point, and we share that frustration. But we are coordinating with every resource that’s available to us and not leaving any avenue untraveled. We’re working this full-time and this case will never be closed until we have a logical conclusion to it.”

‘Out of character’

Nethercut, whose daughter, Jaina, was raped and murdered in a Seattle hotel in 1978, has been an active volunteer with prison outreach programs and an outspoken advocate against the death penalty in Massachusetts. A member of the Alternatives to Violence Project, Nethercut was to receive the “Volunteer of the Year” award Sept. 28 at the MCI-Norfolk volunteer appreciation dinner.

Friends of Nethercut’s say disappearing unannounced is out-of-character for the responsible and sharp man who was reportedly in good health despite undergoing open-heart surgery this past May.

“It was entirely out of character for him,” said the Rev. Dr. John Lombard of Trinitarian Congregational Church. “Dick was active on all levels of his life — by that I mean intellectually, spiritually and physically.”

A retired diplomat from the foreign services agency, Lombard said Nethercut wrote letters of reference for young people going into that field and kept up on what was going on in the world and has been very active in the church’s outreach arm and tutored young people for the forgiveness part of TriCon’s confirmation program.

About 150 people — doctors, ex-inmates and people from different prison and religious programs — attended a prayer service and reflection for Nethercut Sept. 25 at TriCon, which included a number of readings and prayers, candle lightings and a heartfelt hymn, “Let There Be Peace On Earth.”

“Quite frankly it was a very moving experience. We had a very large group of people and from lots of different walks of life that Dick’s life has touched and continues to touch in so many ways,” Lombard said. “People were obviously very heavy of heart and anxious and concerned.”

On Tuesday, Lombard remained cautiously optimistic his friend and parishioner would turn up in good health and fine spirits. “Our hope is undimmed but our concerns are heightened,” he said.

Concord police are asking that anyone with any information about Nethercut contact them immediately at 978-318-3400.

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