By Karen Wilkinson
Triplicate staff writer
Seven months after disappearing, Gene Pillow's family say they no
longer hold hope that he's alive.
"We all feel that he's dead, that's our gut instinct," said Valeta
Kieny, Pillow's oldest of three daughters, from her home in
Placerville. "But we still haven't claimed him dead because we still
don't really know."
Pillow, who suffers dementia and Alzhiemer's disease, was reported
missing seven months ago by his in-home caregivers after he didn't
return after taking a walk along Parkway Drive.
Pillow's caregivers, Connie Blagden and James Sanders, who noticed
him gone the morning of June 16, reported him missing to the Del
Norte County Sheriff Office at 4 p.m.
"We thought he had just walked around like he always does," Sanders
said. "He'd go off and then come back we just thought that's what
By the time officials were notified of Pillow's disappearance,
however, "He had a lot of time on us," said Del Norte County Sheriff
County search and rescue volunteers combed the area Pillow was last
seen several times following his disappearance. Some of those
searches included dogs trained to find cadavers, but turned up nothing.
The dogs did pick up scents on Parkway Drive and a side street, Kieny
said, "but it didn't go into the woods or anything."
Missing person notices were also sent to state and nation-wide law
enforcement agencies, Wilson said, to no avail.
The search didn't stop with law enforcement, however. Pillow's
daughters and family members travelled to Crescent City to do some
work of their own.
Kieny and her daughter drove from their Placerville home the next
morning. Two days after frustrating conversations with law
enforcement and Pillow's caregivers, the family searched the area
themselves and spoke with neighbors.
"Everywhere we were going we were getting little bits of information
from people," Kieny said.
Recollections of Pillow wandering the streets "almost on a daily
basis" and sometimes at night, only to be taken home by a police
escort surfaced, further infuriating Pillow's family, who weren't
told of his behavior.
The following Monday, Pillow's second oldest daughter Geni Pillow,
and her daughter, arrived from New Jersey to aid in his recovery.
Along with friends they made along the way, Pillow's daughters and
granddaughters made and posted missing person flyers, contacted local
media and organized another foot search.
"We really traipsed in the woods that time areas off the road and
down in gullies and didn't find anything," Kieny said.
Geni also contacted two psychics one in New Jersey and the another
in Placerville who had similar readings, that he was intentionally
hit over the head and was laying in the woods near water, she said.
One psychic even drew an image of a man she thought Pillow got into a
pickup truck with. Geni gave the picture, along with an incomplete
Oregon license plate number the psychic recalled, to authorities.
That information led officials nowhere, so Geni spoke with a private
investigator in Brookings in October. The P.I. told her there's not
much more he'd be able to do.
She then had her father's image and description posted on the online
"America's Most Wanted" missing persons section.
"I just wish we could find him so we know what happened to him," said
Geni, who now lives in Placerville with Kieny. "I still have a
feeling that it was a crime, that someone did something."
But the lingering feeling that not enough was initially done to
locate their elderly father hasn't dissolved.
"The elders in our country don't get the respect they deserve," Kieny
said, adding that missing children seem to receive more attention and
responsiveness than missing elders.
"(Elderly) don't have to be left out in the woods to die because
someone doesn't want to get off their butt and look for them," she said.
Without any luck after seven months, Pillow's daughters simply want
closure so they're not constantly imagining the worst.
"It's just sad the end of his life had to be like this," Kieny said.
"That's going to be the story of his life the way it ended."