In the early morning heat and wind Wednesday, vehicles carrying 35 or so searchers gathered in a grassy field at the end of Smude Trail, just off Crow Wing County Road 159 about eight miles east of Brainerd.
There were police officers and sheriff's deputies dressed for walking through thick brush and bogs, saddled horses waiting for their riders to mount and search dogs being readied to sniff out a scent.
Their goal was to look for clues that would lead them to Erika Dalquist. Their target, said Brainerd Police Investigator Chad Kleffman, was the woods and wetlands surrounding the property of Norman and Arleen Myears, grandparents of William Myears, a suspect in the disappearance of Dalquist.
However, the search, which lasted from about 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., failed to turn up any information as to the whereabouts of Dalquist.
Duane (left) and Colleen Dalquist (right) showed a map of the area to law enforcement searchers Wednesday east of Brainerd. The search for the body of Erika Dalquist focused on the Mud Lake area near Crow Wing County Road 159. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
"It went well in terms of we covered a lot of territory. We definitely eliminated some areas we were interested in searching," said Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc, one of several police officers who participated in the search. "However, we didn't find anything of significant evidentiary value."
Dalquist, a 21-year-old Brainerd woman who disappeared from a downtown Brainerd bar on Oct. 30, 2002, has been the focus of several searches, from wooded areas in Brainerd to ponds in northern Morrison County.
The most focused search took place in January 2003 of a mine pit lake near Trommald. At that time Myears was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter in connection with the disappearance of Dalquist.
Investigators were led to the mine pit lake based on statements taken from Myears. However, several weeks of searching the lake failed to yield any clues. Investigators determined she wasn't in the lake and the charges against Myears were dropped.
Brainerd police investigator Chad Kleffman (front) handed out maps to Crow Wing County Sheriff's Mounted Patrol members Wednesday east of Brainerd. Dozens of law enforcement members searched for the body of Erika Dalquist, who was last seen Oct. 30, 2002, in downtown Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
While law enforcement officials had flown over the area of Myears' grandparents house after Dalquist's disappearance, Kleffman said based on recent telephone tips received by investigators pointing to the Mud Lake area an intensive ground search was needed.
"It's an area we feel strong about, that needs to be cleared," said Kleffman Wednesday morning as he directed search parties on where to go. To help in the search, a profile of Myears and special maps created by the Minnesota Army National Guard were used.
Brainerd police officers walked woods on the north side of Mud Lake, which is adjacent to the Myears property, and searched the banks of the lake itself. There were a lot of bottles, cans and other garbage in the narrow stretch of woods between County Road 159 and Mud Lake, but no sign of Erika.
On Smude Trail, which runs adjacent to the Myears property, Carla Leehi, Central Lakes Search and Rescue member, and K9 Search Services member Bob Thielen walked with Thielen's dog, Scout, a scent dog in wilderness and cadaver work. Scout, one of three cadaver dogs employed in the search, was sniffing the marshy areas next to Smude Trail.
Erika Dalquist has been missing since Oct. 30, 2002. She was last seen about 1 a.m. near the Tropical Nites bar in downtown Brainerd.
The 21-year-old Brainerd resident, formerly of Pillager, is believed to be a homicide victim.
Police investigators are asking area residents, especially seasonal cabin owners, to check their entire property for anything out of the ordinary, such as articles of clothing or shoes. People should look under brush and leaf piles, in abandoned cars and wells, in old sheds and in outbuildings. Close attention should be paid to areas not often traveled, such as swamps and ravines.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Brainerd Police Department at 829-2805.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Mounted Patrol searched the length of Smude Trail, County Road 159 around Mud Lake and in isolated areas north of Mud Lake. An air search was conducted in the afternoon. The Salvation Army brought out a lunch wagon to feed the searchers.
All searchers were asked to pay close attention to areas close to roads and trails -- areas where someone could place a body.
What to look for would be difficult, said Pat Boone, Erika's uncle. After 18 months, clues, such as clothing, could blend into their environment or could be spread over a large area.
"For these guys, for law enforcement, they've spent a lot of time looking for Erika and I think it's become personal for them," said Boone. "It's stressful. We need closure, and that's what we're looking for."
Boone and Erika's parents, Duane and Colleen Dalquist, were at the field at the end of Smude Trail Wednesday but didn't take part in the search. Kleffman said Wednesday's search would be easier to direct with fewer people involved. The Dalquists, who with family and friends had searched County Roads 25 and 159, and along Highway 210, on Saturday and Monday, helped Wednesday's searchers locate areas on maps.
Though the search for Erika continues, Colleen Dalquist, Boone and Kleffman all said they will never quit looking for the 21-year-old. Boone said the efforts of law enforcement and the support of friends and family has been "phenomenal." He said because of this effort he believes Erika eventually will be found.
"We need to get 'that much' lucky, to stumble upon something that will lead us to Erika," said Boone, holding his index finger and his thumb about an inch apart. "One of these times we're going to be lucky in our search. We'll be having a press conference saying this is over and then we'll begin our recovery."
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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