The 90-year-old Idaho cold case of a missing game warden is finally closed - East Idaho News
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The 90-year-old Idaho cold case of a missing game warden is finally closed

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MULLAN (Spokesman-Review) — Investigators believe they have solved the Great Depression-era cold case of an Idaho game warden who vanished in the mountains south of Mullan.

Though the body of Ellsworth Arthur Teed has never been found, his death has long been considered a homicide.

His remaining family is relieved to finally close a 90-year mystery.

“His son, in his 80s, was tearing up and crying, wishing he knew what happened to his father before he died,” family member Melissa Sellers Teed said. “They never had that closure. We do.”

Teed, the first full-time Fish and Game officer in Idaho, got a tip in August 1934 that there may have been illegal hunting of deer and game birds in the area. He had found evidence the day before and was going back out to Boulder Gulch to catch the poachers. He said goodbye to his wife, Alma, and headed out in his Model A Ford with a packed lunch.

Teed parked his car at the Mullan Cemetery, near the base of Boulder Creek Road, and hiked into the forested area. He never came back.

On Monday, the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office announced it had, at last, closed the case after four people came forward with information about what they had heard happened: George Petland, his teenage son John Robert Petland and another teen, Oscar Downing, were poaching deer in the Mullan area and came across Teed. George Petland killed Teed, and the two boys helped dispose of his body.

“We went down and verified people’s family trees, they all did interviews, and according to them, the suspect told people and (the story) was passed down,” sheriff’s office Cpt. Seth Green said. “We also knew they wouldn’t have been able to hear it from each other. That’s something you have to watch out for. … So we are closing the case.”

The story of the missing warden had been passed down through generations over the years. Each person had an extensive, detailed account of the alleged homicide of Teed, and those accounts were all corroborated, according to Green.

“Four people who all said the same thing. That’s the best you can get for such an old case,” Green said.

Teed was expected to attend a neighbor’s funeral later in the afternoon of Aug. 28. It was a service he wouldn’t have missed, according to the sheriff’s office. Alma Teed told officers investigating the disappearance that her husband would always tell her if he was going to be away overnight, and it was unlike him to disappear without notifying her.

“She feared he had been hurt in an accident or had met with violence at the hands of others,” The Spokesman-Review reported at the time.

City, county and state officers, along with hundreds of volunteers released from their shifts at the Morning Mine in Mullan, the Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg, and the Hecla Mine in Burke, combed the hills. The search effort also included bloodhounds from the penitentiary in Walla Walla and airplanes, according to newspaper archives. It was one of Shoshone County’s largest recorded manhunts, according to Idaho Fish and Game.

When officials combed Mullan, they found Teed’s packed lunch and his coat inside his locked car. They also discovered shallow graves of dead deer and evidence of closed-season harvesting of game birds in the area Teed was searching, something that indicated he may have been “interrupted” during his investigation, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

But he was never found.

Alma Teed declared her husband dead in a court of law on Feb. 6, 1942, and was awarded spousal benefits. That’s where the case sat, stagnant, until 2023.

In February last year, Idaho Fish and Game accepted Teed into the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and Idaho Peace Officers Memorial to honor his service when he was “lost in the line of duty” that day in 1934, a news release on the agency’s website says. His award was covered by local news stations, prompting people to reach out to the sheriff’s office about what they were told happened to Teed all those years ago.

He grew up in Clearwater County and worked in the mines for many years. He then moved to Shoshone County and took on the job of game warden.

Green said the sheriff’s office will not be releasing witness statements or any more detail into the alleged homicide. Officials also will not be going out to conduct a search for Teed’s remains. The area has had its fair share of fires and heavy rains, which could have moved the remains to a completely different area.

“Bodies will move over time. You don’t even really know where to look. If we ever do a manhunt … the chances of finding him is slim to none,” Green said.

As far As Green is aware, a 90-year-old cold case would be Shoshone County’s oldest. And it feels good to have tracked down answers, he said.

“It’s cool to bring some closure,” he said. “My investigator and Fish and Game were very happy to get to the bottom of it.”

Adeline Watkins, an investigator with Idaho Fish and Game, said the case is so unique because of how long ago Teed went missing. There are no police reports investigators could locate, so most of their knowledge was through newspaper records and word of mouth. Watkins still hopes more people come forward with additional information, even though the case is considered closed, and was happy to bring the Teed family some much-needed answers.

“For the family, it was closure,” she said.

Teed is the great-uncle of Melissa Sellers Teed’s husband. She knew Teed’s three sons, she said. Often, they would discuss their father and how they wished they knew if he was killed in an accident or at the hands of someone else.

When he disappeared, his sons were between the ages of 8 and 14 – and all were extremely close with their father, Melissa Sellers Teed said.

“It was heartbreaking. The family was ruined from losing him,” she said. “It was a sad story for years.”

Melissa Sellers Teed said she’s most grateful for the investigators and the people that came forward to help a family.

“They didn’t have to do this. They didn’t have to get their family involved,” she said. “But no one should be ashamed from the past … to have closure, now, is nice.”

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