A team from Adventures With Purpose sets out on the Waterbury Reservoir at Little River State Park on Oct. 2 to search for signs of the Ford pickup truck Donald Messier was driving when he was last seen on October 15, 2006. Photo by Gordon Miller

Lisa Scagliotti is a reporter and editor at the Waterbury Roundabout, where a version of this story first appeared on Oct. 13.

WATERBURY — Early this month, an RV pulling a trailer emblazoned with the words “Search Team Dive Unit” and “Underwater SONAR Search and Recovery” bearing Oregon plates rolled into downtown Waterbury.

After the occupants did some laundry at the laundromat on Park Row, they headed to Little River State Park. In the midst of a 19-state cross-country trip, the four-man team hauling inflatable boats, sonar equipment, television cameras and an assortment of tools and gear arrived to spend their afternoon hoping to solve a 15-year-old local mystery.

They set out in two boats from the boat launch in view of the Waterbury Dam under an overcast sky in a steady rain, eager to see if their equipment would locate a possible target the size of a Ford 150 pickup truck.

Because that was the type of vehicle that 34-year-old Donald Messier was driving the night of Oct. 14, 2006, when he went to a party in Waitsfield and never was heard from again.

Messier, a Waterbury native and employee at the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters downtown plant at the time, was last seen in the early morning hours of Oct. 15, 2006, when witnesses told investigators they believe he left the get-together on Main Street attended by 50 or more people.

Donald Messier in 2003. He would be 49 this October. Courtesy photo.

He didn’t return to his sister’s home, where he was living at the time, and he didn’t show up for work on Monday. His family reported him missing to the Waterbury Police Department, who turned the case over to the Vermont State Police.

By Oct. 18, state police issued a press release alerting the public to their latest missing person case. In early November, a follow-up public notice appealed to hikers and hunters in the woods to be on the lookout for Messier’s red 1997 Ford pickup with the license plate BGG890 and several NASCAR stickers on the back window.

Nothing.

In the midst of a divorce, Messier was in treatment for depression, according to his family members. One scenario that investigators floated was that he might have decided to take his own life and perhaps chose a remote spot — even a body of water such as the Waterbury Reservoir — to do so.

Donald Messier and his sister Amy Messier Currier in an undated holiday photo a year or two before his disappearance. Courtesy photo

“He was still down in the dumps” about his divorce, said his sister Amy Currier. “Who wouldn’t be? But he was making jokes, talking with us about the future and making plans.”

He was seeing a therapist who expressed surprise at the suggestion Messier had chosen suicide, Currier said in a recent interview, as the anniversary of her only sibling’s disappearance approached.  “I never really bought [suicide] as the story.”

Fifteen years later, however, family members are pragmatic in their outlook. “We all know the likelihood of him coming home alive is fairly slim,” Currier said, adding that some friends hold out hope that Messier is leading a new life somewhere else and intentionally cut all ties to home. 

Currier doesn’t buy that scenario either. Not long before his disappearance, she recalled how her brother sat up all night beside his dying grandmother’s bedside. “His family was his world,” she said. “He wouldn’t have left his family” without a goodbye.

Early in the investigation, the state police assembled a team to search the reservoir, to no avail. Family and friends pursued what they thought was a more plausible theory that post-party Messier in his truck simply went off a dark road accidentally. With hope of finding him in his truck down a bank, they methodically searched what became hundreds of miles of rural roadsides over months. 

Still, nothing.

Posters popped up around town on bulletin boards and on store checkout counters. News outlets ran stories. By June 2007, the Waterbury Record published  a follow-up story with the headline, “What in the world happened to Donald Messier?”

In the years that followed, police say they have received various tips, but none have led them any closer to solving the mystery of Messier’s disappearance. His family members say there never was any activity on his cellphone, bank account, credit card, or even his Social Security number being used, based on what investigators have shared with them.

After Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, Currier said family and friends hoped activity along roads repairing washouts and doing river and stream cleanup might have turned up her brother’s vehicle at the very least. Again, nothing.

A public Facebook page, “Forever friends of Donnie Messier,” marks milestones as time passes and a 2016 podcast, “The Vanished,” takes a dive into the case exploring various theories that involve foul play.

Currier, who was interviewed for the podcast, said she’s heard much speculation that suggests something nefarious. “I’d like to think it’s not one big conspiracy,” she said. “But who knows?”

Vermont State Police Lt. John MacCallum oversees missing persons investigations and said this case is one where anonymous tips have run the gamut, including suggestions to search specific properties in the area. The trick is trying to determine if the tip is credible, he said. Searching private property would require establishing probable cause to believe something could be found, MacCallum said.

As for saying whether investigators suspect foul play, MacCallum said there’s not enough to go on. “We don’t know what happened to him. We don’t have information to say he was a victim of harm or to say that any other possible theory is valid,” he said. “Evidence is all still lacking.” 

October 2021: Search team arrives

Fast-forward to 2021 and the outfit Adventures With Purpose, based in Oregon, is building an online following for its work traveling the United States with equipment to examine watery locations where people have gone missing and their cases have grown cold.

Their work is part environmental cleanup, as they locate vehicles to be removed from waterways, and with some luck, they solve mysteries as they locate missing persons, providing at least some closure for their families. They document their travels and searches on their Facebook page and YouTube channel and they rely on donations and merchandise sales to support their work. They never charge the families involved, they said.

Adventures With Purpose traveling in an RV with a trailer hauling the team’s boats, equipment and gear, sets up at the boat launch at Little River State Park recently. Photo by Lisa Scagliotti

Last spring, a former co-worker of Messier’s came upon the site and emailed the team, suggesting that team members check out his case if their travels ever brought them to New England. 

Standing on the shore of the Waterbury Reservoir two weekends ago, search team members said they agreed and added it to their current Fall Road Trip, where they are pursuing “27 cold cases in search of 36 missing persons, in 44 days beginning Sept. 17, taking us to 19 states across the U.S.,” according to their website.

When the team members were in Waterbury, they had already had success on the journey, having located deceased missing persons in Nebraska and Michigan, bringing the total to 12 cases solved since 2019.

They went to work quickly, splitting into pairs and putting into the water in two small boats. They motored around the perimeter of the human-made lake near shorelines and access points that a vehicle might have used.

As they were heading back to the boat launch, the two craft stopped and lingered in one spot off the left-hand shore, about a quarter-mile from the boat ramp and about 200 feet from shore. They returned with sonar images of a large object on the lake bottom measuring approximately 15-17 feet in length.

“We’ve identified a shape,” said team leader Jared Leisek, who made a point of sharing his skepticism. “I’m not optimistic it’s a vehicle. Our magnet isn’t attaching.”

Nonetheless, Leisek changed into his scuba suit, grabbed diving gear and he and partner Doug Bishop, along with their camera crew, headed out in their boats a second time. The dive was brief and they motored back to shore carrying a very deteriorated gasoline canister. 

Because they document their searches with video, they waited for their cameraman to be in place before discussing their find.

Their best guess? “An old Bayliner boat down there 10-15 years at least sitting upright,” Leisek said.

Bishop pulled up the sonar image on his smartphone to note why they thought it was a reasonable object to investigate. “This looks like every vehicle we find underwater,” he said pointing to the contours and how it resembled an overturned vehicle. “We find the majority of our cars upside down.”

To the couple of onlookers interested in the case and a reporter and photographer taking in the scene, Leisek said,  “We wish we could have solved this one for you. I know we’re coming up on the 15-year anniversary.”

The team proceeded to pack up, saying they were headed to New York state for their next search. A video from the Waterbury search will be posted to their social media sites soon, they said.

Investigators are all ears

Today, Messier’s case is listed on the Vermont State Police website as an active missing person file. On his birthday, Sept. 27, he would have turned 49, his sister said last week. 

Three years younger, Currier can attest to the fact that her brother’s 15-year absence is still painful to his family, including their parents, Lou and Brenda, who still live in downtown Waterbury, and her four children. “I have one who never met him. I was pregnant with her when he disappeared,” Currier said. “But it impacts her too. She’ll be 15 in March.”

The family has photos they hold dear, and a park bench along the Thatcher Brook under the Interstate 89 overpass bridges on Stowe Street is dedicated to Donald Messier’s memory.

Currier and investigators say they have some hope that reminding the public about this case now could bring forward some new information to help connect what few dots they have in this mystery.

“If you think you know something, if you have some credible information, get it to the right people,” Currier said. “Even a small detail may be what helps.”

The searchers head out a second time with the dive team in one boat and camera crew in the other. Photo by Lisa Scagliotti

MacCallum agreed. “All it takes is one person with one bit of information sometimes,” he said. “At this point, we hope that anybody who has any good, credible information about what occurred with Mr. Messier or his whereabouts would contact us.”

While anonymous tips are welcome, leaving contact information would allow investigators to ask questions to better understand a tip, he added.  

MacCallum said there are multiple ways people could share information with investigators, from contacting the Middlesex State Police Barracks by phone at 802-229-9191 or emailing him directly at [email protected] Tips may also be submitted anonymously at vsp.vermont.gov/tipsubmit, or by clicking the Tip Submit image on the website page bearing the Donald Messier case information. The system also accepts text messages by typing the keyword VTIPS to 274637 (CRIMES).

MacCallum said individuals could even simply share information with law enforcement anywhere, explain what case it pertains to, and it would get forwarded to Vermont State Police.

“He was well-liked in this town,” Messier’s sister said. “Somebody somewhere knows something. It would be nice if we could get some closure.”

MacCallum echoed Currier’s point that some individual likely has information not yet shared. “For whatever reasons, they have been hesitant in the past. Work with us to bring some resolution to this case and his family. Put yourself in the Messier family’s shoes,” he said.

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(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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