Benson disappearance caused lengthy ‘woman hunt’


Continuing with our month of disappearances, while it’s still possible for inexperienced hunters and hikers to become lost in the Adirondacks, the likelihood of an elderly woman disappearing completely while picking wildflowers on a sunny summer afternoon just a short distance from a camp should be much smaller. Yet that’s exactly what happened on July 19, 1941, when 83-year-old, long-time Gloversville resident Mrs. Georgia Shiner left her son-in-law Harold Chartier’s Benson cabin to pick flowers and vanished.

The July 22 Leader Republican reported, “Mrs. Shiner was coatless and attired in light summer clothing when she disappeared.” Son-in-law Harold, “was sitting in front of the house reading a book when Mrs. Shiner started down the road to pick flowers. When he looked for her a few minutes later, she had disappeared. A search began immediately and continued until dark.”

That was just the beginning. Several days later the Leader reported, “An enlarged search party and two bloodhounds from State Police Troop K renewed their search seven to eight miles from the camp of her daughter and son-in-law. The search was spurred on yesterday with the discovery of additional heel prints about 1,700 feet from the forest camp which she left Saturday.”

The search party, coordinated by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department and state police, also included “Conservation department rangers, Speculator CCC camp supervisors and camp residents, and volunteer Adirondack woodsmen.” The Leader wasn’t optimistic, observing “the trail has led from the camp into timber and brush land unbroken for 20 to 50 miles.”

The Aug. 10 Albany Times Union described the searchers as being engaged in “fruitless battling through acres of blackberry briars, square miles of second growth timber, fields dotted with pines whose branches grow from ground level to their cone head peaks, and miles of wooded, rolling mountain land.”

Shortly, the search was abandoned.

“They are convinced all has been done that can be done,” the Knickerbocker News reported, observing, “The mystery of Cathead Mountain deepens. What befell the grandmotherly woman in country where public transportation is nonexistent? Old Cathead may know, but it is silent.”

Who was Georgia Shiner and what was her connection with Fulton County? The Morning Herald noted Mrs. Shiner was the widow of Jacob Shiner, who had been, “engaged in the thread and silk business in this city (Gloversville) for many years.”

Mr. Shiner died in 1923 and in 1935 Mrs. Shiner sold their 41 E. Fulton St. residence to the First Congregational Church, of which the Shiners were parishioners.

“Through this purchase, the church will now have a frontage of 300 feet along East Fulton Street and 150 feet along Fremont Street.” Mrs. Shiner thereafter resided with her daughter and son-in law, a power company draftsman, in Menands, but returned often to visit old Gloversville friends.

No doubt Mrs. Shiner had enjoyed many summer and fall visits to the Chartier’s Adirondack cabin and had happily picked many a wildflower before her disappearance, and she should therefore have known her way around, but as the intensive search yielded nothing, it had to be discontinued.

The Albany Times Union quoted conservation officials as stating, “We have reached the conclusion the aged woman is not in the five-mile radius of her son-in-law’s cabin.”

But how could she not be?

Perhaps these officials should have pondered just how far an 83-year-old woman could travel in dense timberland during hot July weather, and if they had asked this question, they might have concluded the answer was “not very far.” But they didn’t, and so their intense, five-mile radius search yielded nothing.

As happened regarding Herbert Newsome in our last article, when someone disappears in the Adirondacks, frequently a hunter eventually discovers the body. This also proved true in 1922, when hunter Bill Abrams accidentally discovered the body of FJ&G executive Carleton Banker, missing six years, and if anyone hoped a similar discovery would happen with the Shiner case, they were soon proved right.

The Gloversville Morning Herald of Nov. 6 ran the final story with large headlines, announcing, “Body of Mrs. Shiner Is Found in Benson Woods Near Camp From Which She Wandered.”

It explained, “The body of Mrs. Georgia Shiner was found yesterday only a short distance from the summer home where she had been staying. The remains of the aged woman, who apparently died a short time after she became lost in the woods, was found by Stephen Wadsworth of Benson. Dr. J.E. Grant of Northville, acting as coroner’s physician on behalf of Hamilton County Coroner John Sullivan of Long Lake, viewed the body where it was found, almost in sight of the Chartier’s cabin. An old tin type photograph, probably a member of the family, was still in her hand. He issued a verdict of death by exhaustion.”

The story was typical: Amsterdam postman Stephen Wadsworth, returning from deer hunting, stopped to rest at the top of the hill overlooking the Chartier cabin when he accidentally made the discovery. “She had walked up the grade of the old wood road and into the scrubby woodland for only about 1,000 feet,” Dr. Grant reported, “and her body remained hidden from the searchers by the dense foliage of the undergrowth. Wadsworth said he wouldn’t have seen her if the leaves hadn’t fallen from the brush.” Mrs. Shiner is buried beside her husband in Gloversville’s Prospect Hill Cemetery.

By Patricia Older

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