Terry Cleys said he's "nobody special," but the rural Brainerd man felt fortunate that by discovering Erika Dalquist's remains Saturday he was able to bring an end to the Dalquist family's 18-month agonizing search for their missing daughter.
Cleys found Dalquist's skeletal remains about 200 yards from his property line in a wooded area owned by his neighbors, Norman and Arleen Myears, grandparents of William Gene Myears, a suspect in Erika's disappearance.
It was an unusual set of circumstances that drew Cleys to his neighbors' property Saturday night. Cleys and his family had volunteered to search for a bloodhound, Calamity Jane, after she went missing while searching for Dalquist on the Myears' property.
Denny Adams, Calamity Jane's handler, said he and the rest of the private search party, which included private investigator Bob Heales; the Dalquist family; Allan Sjodin, Dru Sjodin's father; Lowell Sjodin, Allan's brother; and search dog handler Nolan Baldwin, had been searching the Myears property when Calamity Jane disappeared. Adams had two search dogs with him, Calamity Jane and Molly. Baldwin had his bloodhound named Jethro.
Adams said the wind current suddenly changed and Calamity Jane expressed a great deal of interest. He believes Calamity Jane picked up a scent and took off. It was highly unusual for the nearly 11-year-old bloodhound to disappear like that, said Adams. Calamity Jane is a veteran search dog. She and Adams have searched for missing persons throughout the country and around the world. The duo helped search for Eric Rudolph in North Carolina, the man arrested for the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta.
"I was extremely worried," said Adams, about his missing dog. "I was sick. I thought maybe I was too eager, too careless. You know how you start blaming yourself. To me, Calamity Jane is part of my family. To me, she is not just a dog."
Adams said the Myearses saddled up their horses and attempted to help find Calamity Jane.
He later drove to Terry and Dana Cleys' home and asked if they would watch for his dog.
The Cleys' daughters, Kenzi, 10, and Madison, 8, had two friends, both sisters, staying overnight. The girls told Adams how much they love dogs -- the Cleys have six dogs of their own -- and Adams offered to give them a bloodhound puppy if they found Calamity Jane.
Dana Cleys walked as her daughters and one of their friends rode two horses to search the Myears property for the missing dog. Terry Cleys saddled up their pony named Casper for his daughters' 8-year-old friend to ride.
The Cleyses walked through their horse pasture and out a gate on a wooded trail on the Myears property. At a fork in the trail, Dana and the girls took the trail to the right while Terry Cleys, who had fallen behind the group and was holding onto Casper's lead, inadvertently took the trail leading to the left.
When Cleys reached a curve in the trail about five feet away he spotted what appeared to be a bone on the ground. He thought it was a deer or cattle bone until he picked up the femur bone and held it next to his own leg. It was about the same size.
When Cleys spotted a second femur bone, he started looking around and noticed an indentation in the ground where there was sweatshirt-like material partially visible but buried in the ground. When he pulled on the fabric it unearthed a human skull.
Cleys knew he had found Erika Dalquist.
It was about 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Cleys tried to shield the grisly discovery from the young girl on the pony, telling her that he found the remains of a deer. He left his baseball cap in a nearby tree branch to mark the spot and quickly turned the pony around to go home. The 8-year-old asked him why he was leaving his cap in the woods. Cleys told her he wanted to show Adams how far they had traveled to search for his dog.
When Cleys and the girl arrived back in the horse pasture he met back up with his wife and the other girls on horseback. He wouldn't say anything but appeared very worried, said his wife. He told everyone to go home now.
"I asked him, 'Did you find the dog?' and he just kind of nodded his head at me," said Dana Cleys. "He looked way worried. I knew something was wrong. I thought they'd found the dog dead, but he looked way beyond being concerned about if the dog had died."
The girls rode ahead and Cleys told his wife what he found. After they arrived home, Dana Cleys drove down the road to find Adams and the rest of the search party. She returned with Adams, Allan Sjodin and Bob Heales. Terry Cleys brought them out to where he found the skeletal remains, about 200 yards from his property line. Heales used his cell phone to call the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department.
By nightfall, the Cleys' driveway was filled with squad cars. The Cleys' girls and their friends were taken to a neighbor's house.
Terry Cleys helped Adams search for Calamity Jane until about 3:30 a.m. without any sign of the dog. The Cleys let Adams sleep in their camper.
At about 4:30 a.m. Sunday, the two law enforcement officers guarding the crime scene found Calamity Jane resting next to Dalquist's remains in the rain. Adams believes the dog had found Dalquist and waited for him, as she has been taught, but when he and the rest of the search party didn't show up, the dog left. He said he is surprised Calamity Jane didn't go to a neighboring home but ended up at the crime scene.
Adams, a native of International Falls, has spent 25 years in law enforcement and now operates Dakota Territory Search Dogs based in Conde, S.D.
Terry Cleys, who is a foreman for Nor-son, said he feels for the Dalquist family as well as for Norman and Arleen Myears, his neighbors for the past seven years.
"He's a helluva nice guy who'd do anything for you," said Cleys, of Norman Myears. "I feel bad for him. I still like the Myearses for my neighbors. They can't be held accountable...."
"I can't imagine being Erika's parents," said Dana Cleys. "I can't imagine what they have been through. My heart just totally goes out to that whole family. My heart goes out to the Myears. Having your grandson accused of this, I can't imagine. Things like this don't happen in Brainerd, let alone in my backyard."
Adams said he plans to return to Brainerd to attend Dalquist's funeral, bringing Calamity Jane and one of his seven bloodhound puppies to give to the Cleys. The Cleyses' daughters are looking forward to the new addition to their family.
The only request that Adams had was that the family name the puppy Erika.
"I don't feel like I'm nobody special," said Terry Cleys. "I feel lucky and unlucky at the same time. I'm glad it happened. It happened for a reason."
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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