If Monday had been like most other Mondays, a solid and steady Hildegard Hendrickson would have been seated in a metal chair at the Center for Urban Horticulture by precisely 4 p.m., ready to identify any mushroom anyone would care to bring in.
Instead, a handful of other members of the Puget Sound Mycological Society gathered in her honor, their discussions of mushrooms never straying far from their concern for their 79-year-old friend, missing since June 8 on what was intended to be a day hike in search of tasty morels.
“It’s disturbing. It’s unsettling. It’s unexplainable,” said Kim Traverse, a society member who has known Hendrickson since 2005. “It was Hildegard who taught everyone how to be safe in the woods.”
After a week of fruitless searching, Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett on Monday said his agency has suspended the search for Hendrickson in a mountainous area northeast of Lake Wenatchee — but he considers the matter still an open missing-person investigation.
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Burnett said detectives are attempting to determine whether Hendrickson, hiking alone, could have been the victim of foul play.
“We’re definitely not ruling that out, but we have nothing that specifically points to it,” he said.
The search for the retired Seattle University faculty member and well-known mushroom authority drew more than 60 searchers on foot, eight dog teams, plus searchers on horseback and in a helicopter.
An area within a radius of a half-mile of where Hendrickson’s car was found was searched, and no evidence was discovered.
Hendrickson was last seen by other mushroom hunters at the Minnow Creek Trailhead, about 15 miles northeast of Lake Wenatchee. She told them she was going alone to look for morels.
In addition to law-enforcement and emergency agencies, the search has drawn family and friends of the missing woman, including dozens of members of the Mycological Society.
Society President Marian Maxwell said some members of the group are continuing the search on their own.
She said they’ve been advised by law enforcement that if they do find any of Hendrickson’s belongings — such as her walking stick or mesh mushroom basket — they should leave it in place and call authorities who would come examine it and the area around it.
Burnett acknowledged that some people who know Hendrickson want to continue the search, but he urged caution.
“We don’t want to have people up there who don’t know the area and we end up with another search,” he said.
Anyone who may have seen Hendrickson in the area or who has any information on the case is asked to call 509-663-9911.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Kent Sisson, who coordinated the search, said, “We need to step back and look at some other aspects of the case.”
Regarding the possibility of foul play, Sisson said, “You always investigate that side of any search.”
But Hendrickson’s purse and money were found in her unlocked car at the trailhead, making it hard to see what the motive might have been for harming her, he said.
Although Hendrickson had intended just a day hike, her absence wasn’t noted until three days later, when someone who lives in the area noticed that her car, unlocked, had been there three days.
That person looked in the green Ford Focus and found paperwork that identified it as belonging to Hendrickson, whom he knew. He then called the sheriff, and a search was begun.
Danny Miller, who led Monday’s mushroom-identification session, said society members are bracing for bad news.
“We’re grateful that the sheriff is investigating every possible angle,” he said. “This is very difficult.”
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