MAYS LANDING — Kathleen Elkow, an 85-year-old woman with dementia, went out for a stroll in the woods 10 days ago, something her family says she’s done hundreds of times as an avid walker and nature lover.
But more than a week later, Elkow has yet to return.
On Saturday and Sunday, more than 200 volunteers searched a campground around Elkow’s Weymouth Road house and miles of the densely wooded surrounding area that is dotted with waterways.
“We’re just trying to bring closure to the family. ... If the woods are her final resting place, so be it, but we’d like to bring her home,” said Michele Lamb, Elkow’s daughter, as she stood outside the Watering Hole Café in Mays Landing where a search crew was gathering.
While dozens canvassed on foot, some used horses and ATVs to cover as much ground possible and a licensed drone flyer scanned 1,000 acres of forest from high above the sky.
One person spotted Elkow last Friday around 5 p.m. on Weymouth Road, near Camp Acagisca, which is across the street from her home, Lamb said. She was last seen wearing blue jeans, tan sneakers and a red, white and black checkered shirt.
But there’s been little luck since then, as Hamilton police continue urging residents to check the exteriors of their homes. During Saturday’s search, Lamb said search dogs caught Elkow’s scent in woods on Mizpah Road.
Elkow has lived in Mays Landing for about 25 years and is well acquainted with the trails, Lamb said, with her mother’s own property spanning about 19 acres. She said Elkow frequents the Watering Hole Café about a mile-and-a-half from her house, and loves sitting near lakes and being near animals.
“I call her woods walker,” she said. “It’s like her second home. ... But having dementia, it’s very easy to get lost. There are trails upon trails upon trails upon trails.”
Lisa Hughes, Lamb’s coworker at South Jersey Gas, helped organize the two-day search and hopes it brings more awareness to the situation. She used social media to spread the word, and later wants to hang up posters to alert drivers that Elkow is still missing.
On Saturday, she said volunteers started in the morning and continued until about 3 p.m.
“It’s restored the faith in humanity,” Hughes said. “Everyone was more than willing to reach out to people they knew.”
There have been some false alarms since March 28, her family said, such as a sighting at a local library that couldn’t be substantiated by surveillance video. On Saturday, some volunteers found a flannel shirt and tan sneakers that they believed to be hers, but that also did not pan out.
Still, Linda Davis, Elkow’s niece, said her relative could have easily covered a great distance in the time she’s been missing.
Elkow, she said, would often walk eight to 15 miles per day before she was diagnosed with dementia.
“Everything was nature for her,” Davis said. “Sometimes twice a day she’d walk.”
Anyone who has seen Elkow should call police at 609-625-2700, ext. 1, or 911.