Troopers still look for clues in 1999 disappearance of Wasilla teen

Posted: Monday, June 05, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Michael Palmer was a 15-year-old riding his bike to a friend's house after a graduation party when he disappeared on June 4, 1999.

Alaska State Troopers called in Outside help on the case as recently as March but are no closer to unraveling what happened to the Wasilla teenager.

Troopers don't think he's alive, investigator Leonard Wallner said. But they have no evidence that he was the victim of a crime. They also have no way to prove he wasn't.

''The long of it is there's nothing that's solid that's developed to date. We just flat don't know,'' Wallner said.

Palmer's friends said they last saw him riding on Pittman Road about 4 a.m. on June 4. They told authorities he fell behind. They waited for a while at the corner, near a 7-Eleven on the Parks Highway, then figured he had gone home.

His mother called troopers at 3 p.m. The next day, a teenager who had been at the party told troopers he found a pair of wet, silty shoes in the middle of a private airstrip about 200 yards from the Little Susitna River. Troopers found the bicycle Palmer had been riding in the shallow water.

Search dogs checked a one-eighth-mile radius but turned up no sign of him. The dogs weren't attracted to the river, Wallner said. Numerous flights over the shallow, clear water showed no sign of him downstream to a dam.

Every lead has come up empty.

''My boy, I love him. And if he's dead, he's with God, and that's the only thing that's keeping me together,'' Palmer's father, Charles Palmer, said on the eve of the anniversary.

Over the winter, Charles Palmer took a young man down to the trooper station after his other sons heard that the youth had been telling a detailed story about Palmer's being beaten and shot at a bridge far from the bicycle.

''He showed me the spot,'' Palmer said. ''It just sounded too real.''

But troopers uncovered holes throughout the youth's story and gave him a polygraph. The young man flunked, then said he had made the story up, Wallner said.

Troopers and the family had been excited at the prospect of getting some answers. Their hopes were dashed.

''This kid was the first person who was claiming to be an eyewitness,'' Wallner said. ''Up until then, everything was secondhand.''

Wallner had called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in Alexandria, Va., early in the investigation. In March, the group provided three retired law enforcement officers, who work with a program called Project Alert. The program was founded in 1992 to give police departments extra hands and a fresh pair of eyes free of charge.

A former federal Drug Enforcement Administration officer from South Dakota, a former U.S. Secret Service agent from Anchorage and a retired Fairbanks police detective spent a week reviewing the file and reinterviewing people. They had the search dogs come out again, this time expanding the radius to a quarter-mile.

''I think we're in the same dilemma that the troopers are,'' said Ron Jones, the case manager at Project Alert. ''Of course everyone's not straightforward. Something did go wrong that they're not telling.

''It's one of those things that's going to take time, and with luck this thing will turn.''

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