Answer Man: Was missing hunter ever found?

News-DemocratNovember 26, 2013 

A couple of years ago, the BND ran a story about a former Belleville resident who had gone missing while hunting in Oregon. Was he ever found? -- Harold Mason

In late October 2011, Steve Litsey left his home in Paradise, Calif., to "worship" again in the rugged outdoors he loved so much.

But after splitting up with his deer-hunting partner in the mountainous terrain near Roseburg, Ore., he was never seen again. And, just this past summer, the court granted his wife Suzanne's petition to have the 71-year-old real estate agent declared dead as of Nov. 1, 2011.

"They never found any trace," said his sister, Barbara Litsey, who lives in the Signal Hill neighborhood. "He just loved the outdoors so much. He always told me that the wilderness where he went hunting was his church."

The 1957 Belleville Township High School grad had had hunting in his veins ever since he was given his first gun at 13. So when his sister called his wife to make final arrangements for a 2011 Christmas visit, she was not surprised to find he was out trying to bag his next buck.

"But 15 minutes later he called me back," she said. "He said, 'We've hunted all day and we're tired. I'm going to sip a little whiskey and go to bed.' He told me how beautiful it was and wished I could see what he was looking at. I said, 'Watch yourself. Don't fall off the mountain.'"

At the time, she had no idea how eerily prescient those final words would be. Next day, Litsey and his partner would split up because Litsey liked to sit and wait for the deer to come to him while his partner wanted to keep moving. Litsey was never seen again.

Litsey had several strikes against him, his sister said. As a child, he had contracted polio and ongoing hamstring problems limited his mobility. In addition, during a summer fishing expedition, his truck and camper had been sideswiped, pushing him into a ditch. The force of the accident had injured his carotid artery, leaving him with strokelike symptoms. As a result, he was put on Pradaxa, a powerful blood thinner.

Making matters worse, the area where Litsey was hunting was littered with old gold mines that have since collapsed to open deep sinkholes. And in the high elevations special gear would have been needed to survive the extreme temperature drop at night. Litsey went missing Oct. 30 and a snowstorm forced rescuers to call off their search on Nov. 3. A search the following summer likewise came up empty.

"We assume he fell into one of those (mines)," his sister said. "I comfort myself with that idea at any rate. It's better than the image of some animal getting to him. A neighbor is a nurse and she said if the temperature dropped drastically, he would just go to sleep and that would be the end of it."

Still, his sister still has nightmares in which she has found him but the two simply cannot reach one another.

"There's no closure," she said. "His wife says, 'Well, he's gone, that's all I need to know.' I don't feel that way. It would just be helpful to me if I just knew what happened."

She says his wife held a small, private ceremony in February 2012, for which a few close friends came to her house to toast her husband. Barbara Litsey says she plans no further ceremonies.

"I don't know what you do. For a long time, it was hard to just give up on him. But there comes a point ... ," she said. "I have a friend who says, 'He's liable to knock on your door someday.' I said, 'If he does, I'm going to kill him.'"

A relative is facing stomach surgery, but I think I heard something about a new and less drastic procedure. Do you know anything about this? -- S.P., of Granite City

Here's a medical procedure that's easier to stomach: Instead of open surgery, doctors at St. Louis University are now repairing some problems in the esophagus, stomach and colon by using a flexible tube to run surgical instruments through the mouth or rectum.

It's called "endoscopic endoluminal suturing," and it's being used for such problems as gastrointestinal bleeding, bariatric repairs, fistulas and ulcers. The repairs are done by using suturing instruments and a tiny camera threaded through the tube. Patients typically go home the same day.

"There is no incision, no scar and it generally allows a patient to return to work in 24 to 48 hours," said Dr. Samer Alaade, a gastroenterologist. For more information, call 314-577-6000.

Today's trivia

How far back do many historians trace our Thanksgiving celebration?

Answer to Tuesday's trivia: When John Kennedy Jr. was just 13 years old he was mugged in New York's Central Park. But, according to family files released in 1999, his mother, Jackie Onassis, said it was a good experience for him, telling bodyguards that her son "must be allowed to experience life," and that "unless he is allowed freedom, he'll be a vegetable" according to a New York Times story on July 19, 1999.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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