Body found in Acton confirmed as Richard Nethercut

The weeks-long search for Concord resident Richard “Dick” Nethercut ended Tuesday morning when a citizen search team of two discovered the 83-year-old’s body in a dense patch of conservation land near the Acton-Carlisle line.

According to Concord Deputy Police Chief Barry Neal, around 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6, Acton Police notified their counterparts in Concord that a body was discovered in an area off of Log Hill Road in Carlisle, accessible through a conservation trail off of Pope Road in Acton.

The two departments, working with the offices of the Middlesex District Attorney and state Medical Examiner, identified the body as Nethercut, who had been missing since Sept. 19.

Neal said his department was disappointed to hear Nethercut’s body was found.

“We were hoping to find him,” Neal said. “I know everyone worked really hard. It’s a feeling of frustration among the searchers and the investigators.”

As of noon on Wednesday, the cause of death was still under investigation, according to Neal, who said Concord Police were awaiting results from an autopsy performed by the Medical Examiner’s office.

The preliminary investigation indicated there was no reason to believe foul play was involved, he said.

Nethercut, a Concord Greene resident well known for his work with prison outreach programs, was last seen or heard from on Sept. 19.

A week later, on Sept. 26, Acton Police reported finding Nethercut’s vehicle, a red 2001 Ford Taurus, parked at the Nashoba Brook conservation area off of Davis Road in Acton, prompting a massive search of the 400-acre woods popular among local hikers.

For two-and-a-half days, police from Acton, Concord and Littleton, as well as Massachusetts Environmental and State Police, area K-9 units and trained civilian teams with cadaver-sniffing dogs scoured the area, finding nothing. Concord Police continued probing the area after Acton Police withdrew Sept. 28, but the search was scaled back as investigators explored other avenues.

According to Neal, Nethercut’s body was discovered in a shallow, cove-like area along the edge of swampland in a dense area investigators said was difficult to access and not along a cleared trail.

The two people who found the body told investigators at the scene they had taken it upon themselves to search the area after becoming aware of Nethercut’s disappearance through local media reports, Neal said.

Acton Police tagged the location with a GPS locater and police are reviewing search data to determine whether Nethercut’s body was found within the search grid, Neal said.

A man who touched lives

Friends described Nethercut as a sharp, spiritual and active man, who had recovered well from open-heart surgery this spring and enjoyed walks in the woods when he wanted to clear his head.

Nethercut was known across the state as an outspoken advocate against the death penalty and active volunteer with prison outreach programs. A member of the Alternatives to Violence Project, he was to receive the “Volunteer of the Year” award Sept. 28 at the MCI-Norfolk volunteer appreciation dinner.

“He had a very quiet way but he was relentless,” said Nancy Shippen, an Acton resident and co-chairman of the AVP chapter in Eastern Massachusetts. “I think he was a model of such a deep, deep sense of commitment and then he just reached out and recognized in others their abilities and their potential.”

Nethercut’s daughter, Jaina, was raped and murdered in a Seattle hotel in 1978, and he later forgave his daughter’s killer, act that surprised some and inspired many.

On Sept. 25, about 150 people — including doctors, ex-inmates and people from different programs, attended a service of prayer and reflection was held for Nethercut at Concord’s Trinitarian Congregational Church, where he was an active part of the church’s outreach arm and tutored young people on forgiveness as part of TriCon’s confirmation program.

“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,” the Rev. Dr. John Lombard said last week. “Dick was so central to all of these efforts around prison ministry in the broadest sense of the word, and his absence is quite a gap in the world.”

The service featured a number of readings on forgiveness, and concluded with everyone singing the hymn “Let There Be Peace On Earth.”

“He probably has embodied and incarnated forgiveness in a more profound way than anyone I’ve seen in my life,” Lombard said. “In that way, he has kind of challenged us all in our faith. I think his interest in social justice, his concern for human beings — especially those who have been marginalized — his care for them, I think, has challenged us all to step up to the plate.”

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